Crocodiles spend much of their time in the water, waiting to ambush their prey. They are fearsome creatures, growing to enormous sizes, but they also have short limbs.
With all their weight and their bulky body structure, their swimming speed may come as a surprise.
Crocodiles can swim up to 18 miles per hour (29 km/h) in short bursts. They can outswim even the fastest humans over short distances. Crocodiles use their powerful tails to move through the water as well as propel themselves on land.
Crocodiles Excel In The Water
Crocodilians of the Crocodylia order include alligators, caimans, and crocodiles. True crocodiles, though, are their own family of semiaquatic reptiles.
They spend most of their time in the water, though they will warm themselves and nest on land. They like freshwater habitats like lakes, wetlands, and rivers.
Crocodiles have a gland inside their mouths that excretes salt. This allows them to also inhabit brackish or saltwater, unlike alligators. They can even travel hundreds of miles across the ocean.
They do this by timing their journeys with the currents. They’ll wait for the right season, and even hunker down until the currents match the direction they need.
Saltwater crocodiles can submerge underwater for over an hour. They’re able to reduce their heart rates to two to three beats per minute.
They also have transparent eyelids that protect their eyes while underwater. So not only can they stay underwater, but they can see while they’re below, too.
When not completely underwater or swimming, crocodiles float. They have a posture of “minimum exposure.” This means that only their sensory organs stay above water.
Crocodiles can keep an eye on their prey without the other animals seeing them.
In the rare instances the prey does notice the crocodile, the prey isn’t able to determine how big the crocodile (and this the danger) is. Then, the crocodile can strike with its large fangs and incredible bite force.
Crocodiles Are Fast Swimmers In Short Bursts
It turns out that even the top record holders can’t outswim a crocodile.
For example, Cesar Cielo Filho holds the world record for the fastest 50-meter freestyle swims at 20.91 seconds. That’s around 5.3 miles per hour or 8.6 km/h.
Saltwater crocodiles, on the other hand, can swim up to 18 miles per hour (29 km/h). That’s over three times as fast as one of the fastest-swimming humans.
A crocodile’s body excels at speed while in the water. Their tails in particular are very important. A crocodile’s tail is very muscular, propelling it forward in the water along with its back legs.
Researchers believe that the bony ridges on the back of a crocodile help it swim smoothly through the water. Even at high speed, the movement of a swimming crocodile hardly ripples the surface above it.
Crocodiles can only swim so fast in short bursts, however. Still, if they can use that speed to catch up to a world record holder, they could outswim the average human.
Crocodiles Are Slower On Land
Crocodiles are large animals; even the smallest of them – the West African dwarf crocodile – can grow up to 5.9 feet (1.8 meters). Saltwater crocodiles can reach over 23 feet (6.5 meters) and weigh over 2,200 pounds (more than 1,000 kg).
While they’re fast in the water, they’re more cumbersome on land due to their size and short limbs. They use a “high walking” gait in which their limbs hold their body off of the ground as they walk.
Using this walk, they only reach a pace of about one to two and a half miles per hour (2-4 km/h).
If they need to move quickly, they’ll use their powerful tails, just like they do in the water. The tail acts as a counterweight for both walking and sudden lunges.
The front and back legs meet in the middle on each side while the tail thrashes back in forth in sync.
The fastest a crocodile can move on land is through galloping, although this gait is rare. Instead of moving side to side, the tail moves up and down.
They can reach about 11 mph (18 km/h) by galloping, but they’ll exhaust themselves in under 350 feet (100 meters).
Moving quickly, whether on land or in the water, tends to be easier for lighter and smaller animals. However, a crocodile’s body, though large, can move quickly in both types of environments.
A crocodile can swim up to 18 mph and gallop up to 11 mph on land. They’re not only faster than the average human, but also faster than record-holding professional swimmers.
Crocodiles can also see underwater and stay submerged for a long time. These animals are all-around better in water than humans.