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Crocodiles are generally large, ponderous, amphibious animals of the reptile order Crocodilia, somewhat lizardlike in appearance, and carnivorous in habit. They have powerful jaws with many conical teeth and short legs with clawed, webbed toes. The tail is long and massive and the skin thick and plated. About 20 species are recognized.
The group is of particular interest because of its evolutionary position: the crocodiles are the last living link with the dinosaur-like reptiles of prehistoric times. They are, at the same time, the nearest living relatives of the birds. A large variety of crocodile fossils have been discovered; three of the four suborders of Crocodilia are extinct. On the basis of this extensive fossil record, it has been possible to establish well-defined relationships between the crocodiles and other vertebrate groups.
The habitat of the crocodile is mainly the tropics and subtropics of the northern and southern hemispheres. The Mississippi, or American, alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) are the only species found outside the tropics. The true crocodiles (family Crocodylidae) occur in most of Africa south of the Sahara, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, the East Indies, northern Australia, Mexico and Central America, the West Indies, and most of South America east of the Andes and north of the mouth of the Río de la Plata. The caimans are confined to South America. The gavial occurs in India. ♣
Crocodiles, Tanzania and Uganda
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