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Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) Fact Sheet, 2015  

Last Updated: Mar 14, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) Fact Sheet, 2015

Image credit: ©San Diego Zoo Global. All Rights Reserved.

TaxonomyPhysical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Crocodylia

Family: Crocodylidae

Genus: Osteolaemus

Species: Osteolaemus tetraspis

Body Weight
Male: 18-45.4 kg (40-100 lb)
Female: 13.6-31.8 kg (30-70 lb)

Total Length
102-180 cm (3.3-5.9 ft); rarely exceeds maximum length of 200 cm (6.6 ft)

Tail Length
40-50% of total length

Sexual Dimorphism: No apparent dimorphism in body length exists between sexes. Adult males are typically heavier.

Other Features: Smallest crocodile species, typically much smaller than the maximum length of c. 2 m (6.6 ft). Both sexes may become quite bulky and wide. Proportionally more than doubles its weight for each 30 cm (1 ft) of growth in length between 91-182.9 cm (3-6 ft).

Distribution & StatusBehavior & Ecology

Western & Central Africa, as far south as northern Angola and ranging to just east of the Congo River. Northernmost populations are found in southern Guinea-Bissau east to near Yobe, Nigeria.

Small rivers and pools in forests and swampy regions. They require dense rotting vegetation to construct nests.

IUCN Status
Vulnerable, but last assessed in 1996

CITES Appendix
Appendix I

Population in Wild
Approximate number is unknown; abundant numbers in parts of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Gabon, Congo & Cameroon. Hunting and habitat loss is a threat in some areas.

Activity Cycle:  Nocturnal, hunting for prey at night and resting in the water during daylight hours.

Locomotion: Considered one of the most terrestrial of crocodiles, commonly venturing on land. Can "high walk," as is common with crocodiles. When swimming, will propel with the limbs (paraxial), tail (axial), and can use both simultaneously, producing a hybrid motion. Also uses the tail to propel the body vertically out of the water to ambush prey on overhanging tree branches.

Diet: Opportunistic predator with a varied diet, including millipedes, beetle larvae, fish, crabs, shrimp, reptiles, amphibians, birds and small mammals. Plant debris and rocks (gastroliths) are often found in the stomach. 

Interspecies Interactions:  Has a large degree of diet and habitat overlap with the Nile Monitor, which also preys on dwarf crocodile eggs and juveniles.

Reproduction & DevelopmentSpecies Highlights

Courtship: Males produce drumming vocalization, often throughout the night, and partners will rub one another’s head and jaw. 

Nesting:  Mothers build mound nests of fallen leaves and rotting vegetation about 17 meters from the water and 1-2 meters above the water line. They guard and visit their nests.

Clutch Size:  Mean of 10-14 eggs, 6 - 17 observed.

Inter-clutch Interval:  Typically 1 clutch per season, annually

Incubation: c. 100 days

Growth:  Growth continues after reaching sexual maturity

Sexual Maturity:  Estimated maturity 6.8 – 15.7 years

Longevity: Commonly survive >40 years.   

Smallest crocodile species, typically reaching a maximum total combined body and tail length of c. 170-180 cm (5.6-5.9 ft).

One of the most terrestrial crocodiles. It searches for prey along well-defined trails in the forest and is often observed in small pools, far from a river.

Competes with other crocodiles but minimizes direct resource competition through habitat partitioning, utilizing small streams, pools, and swamps within forests.


About This Fact Sheet

© 2015 San Diego Zoo Global. Updated August 2015.

How to cite: Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) Fact Sheet, 2015. c2015. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd].
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Sep 10)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to



Many thanks to Dr. Mitchell Eaton for providing expert content review of this fact sheet. Dr. Eaton has conducted extensive research on African Dwarf Crocodiles in the wild, and his studies have greatly advanced understanding of the ecology, population dynamics, and spatial genetic structure of this species.

Dr. Eaton is currently a Research Ecologist with USGS and serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Applied Ecology Department at North Carolina State University. His research focuses on applied wildlife ecology with emphases on decision analytic techniques and the use of quantitative methods for ecological inference.

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