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Animals of Cuba: Cuban Crocodiles

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Located less than 100 miles from Cuba’s capital, Havana, Zapata Swamp is one of the island’s most treasured national parks. A plethora of animals, many of them found only in this part of the world, live in this 2,200-square-mile wetland, including some of the last remaining Cuban crocodiles in the wild.


Heads lifted out of the water, two Cuban crocodiles float in a pond.
Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) are endemic to this island nation.
© iStockPhoto/K. Aksenov

The Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is a big animal, reaching up to 12 feet in length. Males of this brightly colored freshwater species, which occurs only in the Cuban archipelago, are notable for the bony protrusions adorning the backs of their heads.

In captivity, these animals have developed a reputation among zookeepers for being too clever by half. Some have even suggested that the species displays pack-hunting instincts, a behavior that is otherwise unheard of in crocodiles.


Newborn crocodile crawls out of its egg onto a sandy area covered with broken seashells.
Baby Cuban crocs are cute, but grow into crafty predators up to 12 feet in length.
© G. Amato

“There’s an impression among researchers that Cuban crocodiles are notably curious and notably aggressive—two attributes that are not normally associated with crocodiles,” says George Amato, director of the Museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, who has been working with the species since the 1990s and has traveled to Zapata Swamp each year of the past three years.

Stay tuned to the Museum blog to learn more about efforts to conserve wild populations of Cuban crocodiles. In the meantime, you can see a model of the Cuban crocodile—and other amazing Cuban wildlife—in ¡Cuba!, which is free for Members and opens to the public on Monday, November 21.


Two adults and two children view a re-creation of a crocodile leaping out of a swamp to grab a spoonbill flying overhead.
A model of the Cuban crocodile is part of the Museum’s ¡Cuba! exhibition, open now.
© AMNH/D. Finnin

 A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.