Dwarf Crocodile

Osteolaemus tetraspis

Order: Crocodilia

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

    • We house them in a large round, with a magnetic drive circulating pump, with a sump,and activated carbon.
      They are cleaned and siphoned everyday, though being so small they are pretty clean. (Adventure Aquarium)

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, dwarf crocodiles eat fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and possibly other terrestrial prey. In captivity, they are fed mice.
  • We have target and station trained our 0.2 4 yr olds to allow us to feed them easier. We use small tongs to feed them. We also use a small cow bell to indicate the beginning of feeding session. They are fed 3x per week about 11gms ea. We use a variety of fish, pork pieces, and mice. (Adventure Aquarium)

Veterinary Concerns

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification

Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies, like giant millipedes).

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling

  • We have 0.2, 4yr old dwarf crocs. We acquired them when they were under a year old and started handling them right away. We find it is really important to keep handling them as they get older to keep them calm. (Adventure Aquarium)

Potential Messaging

Acquisition Information

Anyone thinking about more crocodilian species in programs is encouraged to contact Dr. Kent Vilet, (kvilet@ufl.edu) who is the Chair of the Crocodilian Taxon Advisory Group. He is a wealth of knowledge on in situ and ex situ issues surrounding crocodilian management and conservation.

Comments from the Rating System

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Dwarf crocodiles are native to Africa. They primarily live in permanent pools in swamps and areas of slow-moving freshwater rivers in rainforests.

Physical Description

Adults are a uniform black along the back and sides of the body, while the underside is yellowish with black patches. Juveniles have a lighter brown banding pattern on the body and tail, and yellow patterns on the head. The snout is short and blunt – it is as long as it is wide.
The average adult length is 1.5 meters (5 feet), though the maximum recorded length for this species is 1.9 meters (6.3 feet.) As a result of its small size and heightened vulnerability to predation, this species of crocodile has a heavily armored neck, back, and tail. It also has osteoderms on the belly and underside of the neck.

Life Cycle

The nesting period starts at the beginning of the wet season, May or June. Females lay a small number (usually 10, but up to 20) of eggs in a nest mound that she has constructed. She will guard the nest for the 85 to 105 day incubation period. Hatchlings measure 28 cm. The female will continue to guard the hatchlings for an unknown period of time.


West African dwarf crocodiles are nocturnal, slow, and timid. They spend most of the day in self-constructed burrows. These burrows are sometimes partially submerged, with the entrance under the water surface. Except for during the breeding season, this species is solitary.

Threats and Conservation Status

This species is listed on CITES Appendix I and is Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. The estimated wild population is 25,000 to 100,000. Most reports indicate that the species is in no immediate danger throughout most of its range because it is so widely distributed, and some populations have high numbers. Other areas (particularly Gambia and Liberia) have severely depleted populations that are in danger of local extirpation.
The main problem with this species is a lack of reliable and widespread survey data. Without such information, the overall status of the species cannot be determined, and thus the CITES Appendix I classification will remain, despite anecdotal evidence of a thriving population. The Crocodile Specialist Group lists the species as Low Risk because of its distribution and healthy population sizes in some areas, but the IUCN Red List (last updated in 1996) gives a category of Vulnerable to reflect the uncertainty of its status in the wild. Lack of survey data is due to the difficulty in accessing available habitat. The implementation of national parks has been slow in western Africa, and the skin of Osteolaemus has little value – and therefore the incentives for management and thus monitoring are low.
The skin of this species is considered to be very poor quality; in areas where it is used by the local people, the skin is used for low-grade products. Meat through subsistence hunting is the main reason this species is taken in the wild. Although some reports indicate that this is likely to have an impact on the population in some areas (such as Congo), habitat destruction is a far bigger threat to a species which otherwise has little value to the people who control what happens to the forest. An increasing local awareness is necessary for the future of Osteolaemus where it is threatened in the wild.

Did you know…

  • Alligator vs. crocodile: The easiest way to tell an alligator from a crocodile is by looking at the snout from above. Alligators have a rounded, U- shaped snout, while crocodiles have a more defined, V- shaped snout. Additionally, crocodiles have a notch on their upper jaws that clearly shows the 4th tooth on their lower jaw, while most of the teeth on the lower jaw are not visible on alligators.
    • There are several other differences that are not as obvious. Crocodiles have glands to process saltwater, while alligators do not. Alligators have a bony septum dividing their nose, while alligators do not. Crocodiles also have dermal pressure receptors covering most of their body, while alligators only have them near their lower jaw.
    • Caiman, which fall under the alligator family, have the same U-shaped snout as true alligators, but lack a bony septum (nasal divider). The scales on their belly are also much harder than those of either alligator species, and are made of bony scutes that are joined by a suture. Finally, caiman exclusively occupy Central and South America.
  • Osteolaemus means “bony throat,” derived from osteon (Greek for “bone”) and laimos (Greek for “throat.”) Tetraspis means “four shields,” derived from tetra (Greek for “four”) and aspis (Greek for “shield”), referring to the cluster of four body plates (nuchal scales) on the back of the neck.


Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.



Contributors and Citations

  • The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Adventure Aquarium

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