Small but tough, dwarf crocodiles live in shallow streams and swamps in the tropical forests of western Africa. They hunt at night and spend their days in streamside burrows. Their speed and thick, dark scales protect them from attacking predators while their strong jaws and sharp teeth make them formidable hunters.

What They Eat

West African dwarf crocodiles eat insects, crabs, and amphibians but will also consume fish, small mammals, and reptiles like snakes and lizards. They generally swallow their prey whole.

Where They Live

These water-loving reptiles live in and along shallow streams and swamps in heavily forested areas. Dwarf crocs are the most terrestrial crocodile species, avoiding deep water and sometimes wandering far inland in search of food or mates. They spend most of their time very close to their burrows and will run quickly into their underground dens if threatened.

What They Do

Dwarf crocodiles start their lives inside small eggs buried in nests of warm, rotting vegetation. Females guard the nests for about three months until the eggs hatch. The newborns make loud “urk” noises that signal the mother that they are out of their shells. She then digs them out of the nest and carries them to the water, marking the beginning of a life that may last 50 to 100 years.

How They’re Doing

Habitat destruction in parts of their range and hunting (for their meat and sometimes their skin) in others have made the West African dwarf crocodile vulnerable. More research is needed to fully understand this species’ conservation needs.


Where in the World



River, Lake, Wetland

Conservation Status


Animal Facts

Body length: 5 feet
Weight: 40–70 pounds
Lifespan: 50-100 years

Taxonomic Category


Where at the Zoo

Tropics Trail

  • Crocodiles have see-through eyelids they can close to protect their eyes in the water without blocking their vision.
  • A special valve in a crocodile’s throat keeps it from swallowing water when it swims with its mouth open.
  • Some ancient crocodile species grew to be up to almost 50 feet. That’s longer than a school bus!
  • The temperature at which a crocodile egg incubates determines the gender of the animal that hatches from it.
  • Some crocodiles can stay under water for an hour without coming up for air.
  • Crocodiles lived alongside dinosaurs but survived beyond them, evidence that they were (and remain) well adapted to their environments.

We know little about how threatened African dwarf crocodiles really are. In some places populations appear stable, while in others people are concerned they could be eliminated locally by habitat loss and hunting. This issue is additionally complicated by the fact that populations in different regions are threatened by different processes.  For example, in Central Africa, the largest threat is hunting for bushmeat, while in West Africa hunting is a much rarer activity and habitat loss is likely the biggest problem.

West African Dwarf Crocodiles are threatened by loss of wild habitat and by hunting.

The African dwarf (Osteolaemus tetraspis) and slender-snouted (Mecistops cataphractus) crocodiles are considered the least known crocodilians in the world. They often occur in the same places, preferring forested rivers and wetlands throughout the Upper Guinea and Congo Basin forests of West and Central Africa.

Both species have been highly susceptible to deforestation and illegal harvest over the past century, and as a result, there have been large-scale local and regional extinctions.  In preparation for a potential reintroduction project, a research group is conducting surveys and habitat assessments in Senegal and Gambia.  The Minnesota Zoo supports this research through its Ulysses S. Seal Conservation Grant Program.

Despite fears that they had become locally extinct, preliminary results from this project have found that, fortunately, both of these crocodile species can still be found in the Senegambia region, though populations remain critically small. In Gambia, the dwarf crocodiles are highly threatened by impending conversion of swamp and palm forest into rice paddies and cattle pastures and this project is working to use them as a flagship species for the conservation of this threatened and highly sensitive ecosystem. By partnering with Gambian wildlife managers and NGO’s this project is ensuring the long-term success of our efforts through training, education, and environmental awareness.