Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The breeding season generally begins in May and although females normally dig hole-nests in the wild, they are capable of building mound-nests under certain conditions; the average clutch size is 30 - 40 eggs (6). In the wild, individuals can interbreed with the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) whose breeding season overlaps with that of the Cuban crocodile (6). This hybridisation appears to be natural but may pose a threat to the genetic purity of this species if population numbers fall. The changing nesting strategies may reflect evidence of hybridisation (5). Cuban crocodiles have broad back teeth that are adapted to crushing turtle shells, which enables these crocodiles to get to their main source of food (6). Fish and mammals are also consumed and historically this species appears to have preyed on the, now extinct, giant sloth (6). Possessing strong hind legs, this crocodilian is particularly agile on land, able to move quickly and leap into the air (6).
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Description

The Cuban crocodile is one of the most threatened New World crocodilians (5) (a group that includes alligators, caimans and the gharial). It is medium sized with a short, broad head and high bony ridges behind each eye; in large adults there is a medial ridge running between the eyes towards the snout (6). Toes are short and lack webbing, indicative of a species that spends more time on land compared with most other crocodilian species (2). Both juveniles and adults have a sprinkled black and yellow pattern on their back and are sometimes known as 'pearly' crocodiles for this reason (6).
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Distribution

The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) has the smallest range of any crocodile. It can be found only in Cuba in the Zapata Swamp in the northwest, and in the Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud.(Britton 1995; Alderton 1991).

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

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Range Description

This species is no longer found in most of its historic range and is currently restricted to two relatively small areas in Cuba. Its principal distribution is in the Zapata Swamp, where it occupies an area of 360 km². In the Lanier Swamp on the Isle of Youth its present distribution is 35 km².
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Continent: Caribbean
Distribution: Cuba (Zapata Swamp in the northwest, and possibly Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud)  
Type locality: Unknown; attributed to Cuba by Duméril and Bibron (1836: 101).
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Historic Range:
Cuba

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Range

The Cuban crocodile has the smallest known natural distribution of any living crocodilian and is today found primarily in 2 areas of Cuba; the Zapata Swamp in the northwest of the country and Lanier Swamp on the Isla de Juventud (5).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Adult Cuban Crocodiles generally do not exceed 3.5 meters (10.5 feet) in length, with males being larger than females. 5 meter (15 foot) individuals have been found in the past, but are rare. The Cuban Crocodile has a short, broad head with a bony ridge located behind the eyes. Large scales from the dorsal shield extend onto the back of the neck. Scales on the legs are larger than usual and heavily keeled on the two rear legs. Coloration is darker on the top portion of the body, consisting of a pattern of black and yellow speckles. The belly of the Cuban Crocodile is pale with no distinctive markings. The tail is marked with black blotches and/or bands. Cuban Crocodiles have a total of 66-68 large teeth, especially adapted for crushing turtle shells. Feet with reduced webbing aid the Cuban Crocodile on land, enabling them to move with increased agility and power. A strong tail aids the Cuban Crocodile in both jumping and swimming. (Britton 1995; Alderton 1991; CITES 2000).

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

Cuban Crocodiles prefer fresh water marshes or swamps similar to those of the Everglades. They rarely swim in saltwater. (Britton 1995).

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The Cuban Crocodile is a medium-sized crocodile found in freshwater marsh and inundated shrublands where it preys to a large degree on small mammals, particularly the native hutias (Capromys spp.) and freshwater turtles (Trachemys decussata). Females make mound-type nests at the beginning of the annual rainy season (May-June) and lay 20-40 eggs.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Inhabits freshwater swamps (6).
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Trophic Strategy

Juveniles of the species tend to feed on arthropods and small fish. Adult Cuban Crocodiles eat mainly fish,turtles and small mammals. Fossil records suggest that they once fed on now-extinct giant ground sloths, which may have led to the evolution of their blunt rear teeth, now used for crushing turtle shells. (Alderton 1991; Britton 1995).

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Life History and Behavior

Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
12.8 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
18.3 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 38.2 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

Little is known regarding the nesting behavior of the Cuban Crocodile. Depending upon conditions (such as the availability of nesting materials) Cuban Crocodiles either dig hole nests or construct hole nests. Breeding season generally begins in May and lasts for three to four months. The amount of eggs produced depends upon the size and age of the mother. 30-40 eggs are typically produced, although as many as 60 are possible. A large number of eggs are produced to compensate for the fact that as many as 99% of hatchlings do not survive. This is due to a variety of factors, primarily predation, on both eggs and hatchling crocodiles by various mammals, reptiles,and birds. Cannibalism of young by more mature Cuban Crocodiles has also been reported. The eggs are approximately 5 cm (2 inches)-7.6 cm (3 inches) in length and weigh an average of 112 gms (0.25 lbs). The eggs typically hatch 58-70 days after they are laid. Sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest. Males occur only when internal nest temperatures are between 30-32 degrees Celcius, while females are produced in nests that are above or below these temperatures. Cuban Crocodiles often interbreed with American Crocodiles and Siamese Crocodiles (in captivity). (Benyas 1992; Alderton 1991; Britton 1995; Encyclopedia Britannica 1992; Birchard and Marcellini 1996).

Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

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Conservation

Conservation Status

The Cuban Crocodiles main threat is humans, who have hunted the crocodile extensively and have largely encroached upon their habitats. They are also threatened by competition for food and land with Caiman in the Lanier Swamps. Today, 3000-6000 Cuban Crocodiles are estimated in the wild. Because much information on the ecology and natural history of the Cuban Crocodile is still unknown, much work needs to be done to increase and protect the remaining wild population. Cuban Crocodiles are well represented in captivity in the U.S., and are continually being studied and bred in an effort to avoid their extinction. (Britton 1995; Alderton 1991).

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
CR
Critically Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2cde

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
1996

Assessor/s
Targarona, R.R., Soberón, R.R., Cotayo, L. & Tabet, M.A. and Thorbjarnarson, J. (IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group)

Reviewer/s
Collen, B. and Ram, M. (Sampled Red List Index Coordinating Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Crocodylus rhombifer has been assessed as Critically Endangered. A decline greater than 80% in the population over the last three generations has been inferred due to the decline in habitat quality, exploitation, and effects of hybridization. Illicit hunting of crocodiles for meat has rapidly increased causing the resultant population decline. It is also highly likely that the percentage of hybrids in the population has increased. Therefore the risk of extinction has increased since the previous Red List assessment. There are conservation measures in place, however, further actions are required to reduce the illegal hunting that occurs within this species' range.

History
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Endangered
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Endangered
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Endangered
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Crocodylus rhombifer , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).
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Population

Population
The only population estimate available is from a study by Ramos et al. (1996). Based on this study the population of crocodiles in the Zapata Swamp is 3,000-5,000 individuals. The number in the Lanier Swamp has not been evaluated but is known to be much smaller than that in the Zapata Swamp. The total population size is likely to be 4,000 (Targarona et al. pers. comm.).
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Threats

Major Threats
There are two main threats: illicit hunting and hybridization with native American Crocodiles. Hunting increased substantially from the 1990s to the present and is principally for the sale of meat to private restaurants serving the tourist industry or for local consumption. Hybridization has long been suspected but poorly understood. Recent genetic studies provide preliminary evidence that extensive hybridization is taking place in the wild. A captive population is present in two areas (in the Zapata Swamp and in the Lanier Swamp) but hybrid animals are strongly suspected in these populations as well. Neither of these threats has been resolved.
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The Cuban crocodile is highly vulnerable due to the restricted nature of its distribution (5). Habitat destruction continues to encroach on the marshes where this species is found and competition with introduced and hybrid species poses further threats to survival (5).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
This species is listed under Appendix I of CITES. There are also direct conservation measures, including captive breeding programmes, reintroductions and protected areas. Illegal hunting continues to occur, therefore further harvest management is required to reduce the rate of population decline currently occurring. Further research and monitoring of the population, taxonomy, harvest levels, and threats to this species should be carried out.
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Conservation

Recent reports indicated that population numbers of the Cuban crocodile are showing signs of recovery; the population in the Zapata swamp is estimated at between 3,000 - 6,000 individuals (6). Active measures are underway to ensure this population remains well protected but a further important conservation priority is the establishment of an alternative wild population (5). In the 1950s to 60s, thousands of Cuban crocodiles were taken into captivity to be farmed for their skins and the population of captive animals is today substantial, one farm has recently been given CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) approval to trade internationally (6).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

unknown

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Skin is used for purses, boots, wallets, briefcases and curios. Meat is sold as a delicacy. (Ross 1989).

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Wikipedia

Cuban crocodile

The Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is a small but aggressive species of crocodile found only in Cuba.

Characteristics[edit]

The Cuban crocodile has numerous characteristics that set it apart from other crocodilians, such as its brighter adult colors, rougher, more 'pebbled' scales, and long, strong legs. This is a small to mid-sized crocodilian. Typical adults were found to have measured 2.1–2.3 m (6.9–7.5 ft) in length and to have weighed 70–80 kg (150–180 lb).[2] Large males can reach as much as 3.5 m (11 ft) in length and weigh 215 kg (474 lb) or more.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Today, the Cuban crocodile can only be found in Cuba's Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth, and it is highly endangered. It formerly ranged elsewhere in the Caribbean. Fossils of this species have been found in the Cayman Islands[4] and the Bahamas.[5][6]

The Cuban crocodile appears to favor freshwater habitat such as swamps, marshes, and rivers and rarely swims in saltwater.[7]

Biology and behavior[edit]

This species has been observed to display interesting behavior that other crocodilians do not. A colony of this species at Gatorland, Florida, has exhibited what is strongly suspected to be pack-hunting behavior, which may explain the predation of prehistoric megafauna that coexisted with this species, such as the giant sloth. The behavior has prompted much interest in the species, usually kept singly (especially so after such reports).[8] This species is also the most terrestrial of crocodiles, and also possibly the most intelligent.[citation needed]

Hunting and diet[edit]

Small fish, arthropods, and crustaceans make up the diet of young Cuban crocodiles. Adults of the species feed mostly upon small mammals, fish, and turtles. They have blunt rear teeth, which aid in crushing the shells of their turtle prey. Cuban crocodiles also demonstrate the jumping feeding technique seen in other crocodilians such as the American alligator. By thrusting with their powerful tails, they can leap from the water and snatch small animals from overhanging branches.[9] The Cuban crocodile, while not a particularly large species, is often regarded as the most aggressive New World crocodile[10] and is behaviorally dominant over the larger American crocodile in areas where the two species coexist.[11] Data regarding attacks on humans are limited, but occurrences are likely rare given the species' very small distribution area and separation from human populations. However, captive specimens show aggression towards their keepers, a behavior displayed at Gatorland.[citation needed]

Specimen at Zoo Miami

Reproduction[edit]

The mating season of the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is between the months of May and July.[12] This is thought to be related to environmental changes, such as rainfall and temperature.[13] In the wild, crocodiles will nest in wet marshes; where they will create trenches and cover the eggs with organic material.[13] In captivity, crocodiles will create mounds. During the nesting period the Cuban crocodiles will lay between 30-40 eggs and the estimated gestation period is 59–70 days.[12] Hatching can occur from late august to early September. Due to the predation of humans, raccoon's, and other animals; only 1-2 eggs will hatch. At birth, hatchlings are approximately 2-3 inches in length, and are 1/4th of a pound in weight.[13] As with most reptiles, the sex of the Cuban crocodile’s offspring is determined by the temperature in the nest. In conservations, the eggs are kept in incubators that provide a constant environment of 32 degrees Celsius in order to produce males.[13] Cuban crocodiles are an aggressive species and are known to have performed acts of cannibalism. This is a contributing cause for the majority of offspring not surviving to the juvenile stage. In 2012, two Cuban crocodile hatchlings were born in conservation at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C..[14] This was the first time in 25 years that the Cuban crocodile had been successfully bred at this zoo.[14]

Conservation[edit]

Cuban crocodile

The Cuban crocodile is a critically endangered species, listed on CITES appendix 1. Its restricted habitat and range make it very vulnerable. Humans have hunted this species to near extinction. Much research remains to be done on the remaining wild populations. The species is represented in captivity in Europe and the United States, where breeding projects are taking place. Problems in the past with hybridisation have occurred, especially with the American crocodile, which limits the pure gene pool of this species.[9][15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Targarona, R. R.; Soberón, R. R.; Cotayo, L.; Tabet, M. A.; Thorbjarnarson, J. (1996). "Crocodylus rhombifer". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2014-04-10. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Morgan, Gary; Franz, Richard & Ronald Crombie (1993). "The Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, from Late Quaternary Fossil Deposits on Grand Cayman". Caribbean Journal of Science 29 (3–4): 153–164. 
  5. ^ Franz, Richard; Morgan, G, Albury, N & Buckner, S (1995). "Fossil skeleton of a Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) from a blue hole on Abaco, Bahamas". Caribbean Journal of Science 31 (1–2): 149–152. 
  6. ^ Steadman, D. W.; et al. (2007-12-11). "Exceptionally well preserved late Quaternary plant and vertebrate fossils from a blue hole on Abaco, The Bahamas". PNAS 104 (50): 19897–19902. doi:10.1073/pnas.0709572104. PMC 2148394. PMID 18077421. 
  7. ^ National Zoo
  8. ^ Alexander, Marc (2006-01-01). "Last of the Cuban crocodile?". Americas (English Edition) (Organization of American States). ISSN 0379-0940. Retrieved 2010-07-09. 
  9. ^ a b University of Florida
  10. ^ http://www.markoshea.info/reptileworld_zone2-4.php
  11. ^ http://www.iucncsg.org/ph1/modules/Publications/ActionPlan3/ap2010_19.html
  12. ^ a b Kristen, P. (2001). Crocodylus Rhombifer. Retrieved from Animal Diversity Web : .http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Crocodylus_rhombifer/
  13. ^ a b c d Ramos Taragon, R. S. (2010). Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer). In S. M. C.Stevenson, Crocodiles Status Survery and Conservation Action Plan (pp. 114-118). Crocodile Specialist Group : Darwin .
  14. ^ a b Press., A. (2012, July 20). After decades, Cuban Crocodiles Born At D.C Zoo. Retrieved from CBS Baltimore: http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2012/07/20/after-decades-cuban-crocodiles-born-at-dc-zoo/
  15. ^ Weaver, J. P.; Rodriguez, D.; Venegas-Anaya, M.; Cedeño-Vázquez, J. R.; Forstner, M. R. J.; Densmore, L. D. III (2008). "Genetic characterization of captive Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) and evidence of hybridization with the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)". Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology 309A (10): 649–660. doi:10.1002/jez.471. 
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