Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodylia
Suborder: Eusuchia
Family: Crocodylidae
Subfamily: Crocodylinae
Species:Crocodylus rhombifer

Not only is the Cuban crocodile unique to Cuba, endangered in all the usual ways and the victim of a near genetic holocaust, but it is also something of a identity icon for Cubans

All crocodilians are ancient and the cuban crocodile is no exception. (I won't go into the usual difference between an alligator and a crocodile). It is a medium size crocodile species, having an average length of 10 feet, the females being slightly smaller. Its skin has a distinctive yellow pearly diamond scale pattern that may account for the scientific name given to the species by Georges Cuvier in 1807 and for one of its common names: Pearly Crocodile. The Cuban crocodile also claimed the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands as its habitat and was the biggest badass predator around those parts before man arrived on the scene. The webbing on its large powerful legs is less pronounced than in other members of the family as an adaptation to help him hunt down his original primary prey, the now extinct giant ground sloth. They also have a characteristic high stanced walk that helps them chase down prey on land, and they are great leapers, even snatching squirrels from tree branches overhanging the swamp waters with a push of its powerful tail. His diet also includes fish, turtles (his back teeth are specialized to crack turtle shells), birds, snakes, frogs, other small mammals, and invertebrates

The Cuban crocodile has not fared well since man arrived in the Caribbean, first they make its primary food go the way of the dodo, then they slowly destroy its habitat to make way for agriculture, start killing them for their hides and meat, well, you know how it goes. On top of that, in the 1950s, when the leather industry takes off (which my grandfather worked in) they decide to import caymans from the United States to beef up production, as there are not that many cuban crocodiles around anymore. Big mistake. The cuban crocodiles and the caymans start interbreeding in such a way that their characteristics are getting washed out onto offspring that show a continuum from pure crocodile to pure cayman but as with any hybridization, the pure forms were fast dissapearing. This would not have been a problem for the caymans as there were plenty of them back home, but the cuban crocodile was down to about 3,000 individuals in a 300 km2 area. Thanks to conservation efforts, it is beginning to bounce back and there are very active breeding populations in captivity in zoos and farms.

To Cubans, the shape of the island is reminiscent of a crocodile and often refer to it as the 'cocodrilo verde' (green crocodile). I remember that the pond in the Havana Zoo where the cuban crocodiles were kept had a Cuba shaped island in the middle. There are many references in afro-cuban poetry and in popular songs to the 'cocodrilo verde'.


cuban crocodiles—Ancient Reptiles in Danger,http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Support/AdoptSpecies/AnimalInfo/CubanCroc/default.cfm, 7/28/2004
Crocodylus rhombifer (CUVIER, 1807) ,http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/brittoncrocs/csp_crho.htm, 7/28/2004

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