How Long Can Crocodiles Hold Their Breath?

Crocodiles are one of the fiercest animals you will ever see in water or on land. They prefer water because they are excellent swimmers, and their ambush and death roll tactics work best there.

Being in the water for long periods must mean they can stay submerged for long periods, right? But how long can crocodiles hold their breath?

Crocodiles can typically hold their breath for between 15 minutes and two hours. The time increases if the crocodile is in brumation. Crocodiles rarely go into brumation as they mostly live in tropical climates, but if it is in a colder climate, they will only come up for air once every few hours.

Let’s look at how crocs can do this and what factors affect how long they can hold their breath.

how long can crocodiles hold their breath

How Long Can Crocodiles Hold Their Breath?

When we look at crocodiles, we tend to think crocodiles can only hold their breath underwater as long as we can. We know they hunt and eat in water but do they stay submerged for long?

Many preconceived notions about crocodiles have changed in the last few years.

A saltwater crocodile can hold its breath for between 15 minutes and two hours. There are times when crocodiles need to stretch this ability further, though, and we will go into further detail later in this article. 

Researchers at Cambridge University have found that the crocodile’s ability to hold its breath for extended periods depends on a small part of the crocodile’s hemoglobin.

Hemoglobin is a protein; it carries oxygen from the crocodile’s lungs to the rest of its body. 

Crocodiles have an intriguing ability to use a byproduct (waste) of their metabolism as a trigger for the hemoglobin to release the oxygen it has stored. 

The bigger the crocodile, the longer it can hold its breath, hence the salty being able to hold its breath for so long.

The crocodiles’ heart also plays a massive role in helping them stay underwater and hold their breath for extended periods. They have a four-chamber heart, as we do. 

Their heart takes the deoxygenated blood and sends it to the lung to get reoxygenated.

crocodile underwater

When crocodiles go underwater, this process changes. They have a tiny opening called the Foramen of Panizza between their heart’s left and right aorta. 

This opening means their hearts don’t need to send the blood to their lungs to get reoxygenated when they are underwater. Their heart rate also falls between 2-3 beats per minute, so they expel less energy.

Researchers have observed crocodiles voluntarily diving and only resurfacing two hours later. That is only sometimes the case, though.

Crocodiles need all the energy they can to survive when they are underwater. That is why you will see crocodiles surface to get air after they’ve eaten or attacked their prey.

Oxygen in their system will deplete when they exhort too much energy.

Does Brumation Affect A Croc’s Ability To Hold Their Breath?

It’s at this point things become more interesting. The American alligator goes into brumation. It is the reptile version of mammal hibernation, where an animal goes into a deep sleep for the winter and won’t get up to eat or drink.

Alligators and other reptiles can’t fully hibernate like mammals because they are cold-blooded or Ectotherms. It means they can’t regulate their bodies’ temperature on their own. So instead, they need the sun’s warmth and surroundings to warm up their blood.

That is where brumation comes in. Brumation is a reptile’s version of hibernation because reptiles will go into a sluggish state (not deep sleep), stop eating, and keep drinking water to stay hydrated.

Then, they will retreat to underwater mudholes or nests and come up for air once every 24 hours.

Now that we know what brumation does, how does it affect a crocodile’s ability to hold its breath?

Crocodiles typically live in tropical climates and rarely go into brumation. 

Still, there are times when they have to go into brumation to survive. 

Let’s look at a few examples of crocodiles that would be forced to go into brumation:

1. Crocodiles That Were Bought As Pets

A crocodile bought as a pet grew too big for the owner to take care of, and they think the best thing to do is to release it into the wild. 

However, if the owner is located in a state or country with freezing winters, the crocodile will be forced to go into brumation to stay alive.

2. Crocodiles In Crocodile Farms

a crocodile farm

These crocodiles are in the same situation as the ones bought as pets. 

Their bodies can’t handle the cold temperatures, and they would need to go into brumation to survive. 

3. Unexpected Food Shortages 

When there is a shortage of food, and the crocodile cannot find any food, it will go into brumation until it can spot prey when it comes up for air every few hours.

It rarely happens, but it is possible.

4. Unexpected Cold Fronts

Even if the crocodile is in a tropical area, if the water and the outside temperature drop below 65-70°F, it will force the crocodiles to go into brumation.

It can happen if there is frigid weather, like a cold front or a storm breaks, creating colder weeks than the crocodile is used to.

What makes this phenomenon so fascinating is that in one such case, the crew of the reality TV show Ripley’s, Believe It Or Not recorded one such incident. 

A typical saltwater crocodile was forced into brumation due to the weather and stayed underwater for 8 hours before resurfacing for air.

So, while it is not likely that you will see a crocodile in brumation on a winter fishing trip, it is possible. They can hold their breath for extended periods if the situation demands it.

Crocodiles and alligators are built to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and do whatever they can to survive.

Factors That Affect How Long A Crocodile Can Hold Its Breath

To get an accurate idea of how long crocodiles can hold their breath, we need to look at all the factors that might influence it.

Some of the factors that will cause them to either hold their breath for longer or shorter periods than they typically would include:

1. Stress

As it turns out, we are not the only ones negatively affected by stress.

For example, crocodiles being hunted by humans or forcibly relocated and in distress use up more energy than they should and won’t be able to stay underwater for longer than 20-30 minutes.

Unfortunately, there have been times when the crocodile fought back so hard that it used up all its energy and drowned while the people tried to catch it. 

2. Health

If a crocodile is sick or recovering from an injury or sickness, it won’t be able to stay underwater for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Their bodies will be too exhausted trying to repair themselves to worry about saving energy to stay underwater.

3. Size

young crocodile swimming

Researchers have found that juvenile crocodiles cannot hold their breath as long as their adult counterparts.

It is because they don’t have the same lung capacity, and they don’t have the same amount of blood in their bodies.

The bigger they grow, the longer they can hold their breath.

4. Weather

As already mentioned, cold weather can affect how long a crocodile can hold its breath.

The cooler the temperature is, the less energy the crocodile will use and the longer they can stay underwater.

Final Thoughts On How Long Crocs Can Hold Their Breath

Crocodiles can hold their breath for between 15 minutes and two hours. 

It is rare for crocodiles to go into brumation, but if they do, they can hold their breath for about 8 hours. 

Factors like stress, the croc’s health, size, and the outside weather affect how long a crocodile can stay submerged.