What Do Crocodiles Eat?

Crocodiles have few natural predators and are known for taking down big prey. But unlike what you’ll see in most nature documentaries, crocs don’t eat only large game. So, what do crocodiles eat, then?

Crocodiles eat just about all animals they can fit in their mouth; this includes invertebrates, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Young crocodiles eat more frequently than older ones. An adult crocodile can go a year without a meal in extreme circumstances.

Scientists have studied crocodiles over the last 100 years and found that they have not needed to evolve much since the age of the dinosaurs. They are an apex-predator that can adapt to their environment with ease.

what do crocodiles eat

What Do Crocodiles Eat?

You often see crocodiles attacking giant prey like buffalo, zebra, and other mammals, but that is not the only kind of food crocodiles eat. 

Whether the crocs are in fresh or saltwater, they can eat anything from fish to big mammals and birds.

Crocodiles have a highly adaptive metabolism that can conform to their environment.

For example, crocodiles can slow their metabolism enough in extreme conditions where food is scarce, so they won’t need to feed as often. 

Still, if the food shortage lasts too long, scientists have observed them turn to cannibalism to survive. They pick on, attack, and eat the weaker or smaller crocodiles.

Seasonal changes also play a significant role in what crocodiles eat. During the rainy months, crocodiles eat more aquatic creatures like fish and almost anything that can’t swim away fast enough.

However, during the drier months, crocodiles will hunt larger land animals rather than aquatic animals.

Do Saltwater And Freshwater Crocodiles Eat The Same Food?

saltwater crocodile on land

The diets of saltwater and freshwater crocodiles differ according to the available prey and the size of the crocodile.

Saltwater crocodiles are the largest of all crocodiles, while freshwater crocodiles are smaller in size. Their size helps determine the kind of prey they are likely to attack and eat.

Most saltwater crocodiles feed on fish, small reptiles, turtles, wading birds, wild pigs, and larger animals like zebra, buffalo, eland, and livestock.

Whether a crocodile is fresh or saltwater, they are highly opportunistic hunters. They will also eat mollusks and giant snails in a pinch.

They are not picky about whether their prey is alive or dead. The dead chickens, mice, and other animals captive crocodiles eat are good examples.

The dead animal (called carrion) is easier for a crocodile to shake (using a death roll) or roughly crush into smaller pieces with its jaws.

Freshwater crocodiles typically eat smaller prey like insects, frogs, fish, snakes, water birds, and turtles.

However, saltwater crocodiles are also more aggressive than their freshwater counterparts, making them much more likely to attack even when unprovoked.

After extensive research, experts have found that saltwater crocodiles are more prone to attacking humans and eating human flesh than freshwater crocodiles.

Freshwater crocodiles try to keep away from humans, generally.

How Much Do Crocodiles Eat?

Crocodiles eat between 2-5 pounds of meat in a day. However, the food they eat daily depends on how much prey and what type of prey is available at the time.

They usually eat around 5% of their total body weight per week, but that can change depending on their size and if they are in the wild or captivity.

The Journal of Herpetology found that adolescent crocodiles living in the wild need to eat at least 4% of their overall weight each week to survive.

Crocodiles are cold-blooded animals, also called ectotherms, which affects how much food they need to eat to stay alive.

crocodile sunbathing on a fallen tree

Ectotherms like crocodiles gather heat from their environment (the water and the sun), so they don’t need to rely on the digestion of their food to warm their bodies.

It also saves them enormous energy as they burn fewer calories to regulate their body temperature. Thus they need less food than warm-blooded mammals that are the same size or smaller.

How Often Do Crocodiles Need To Eat?

In the wild adult, crocodiles need to eat at least 50 meals per year to stay healthy and maintain their body weight. Adolescent crocodiles eat at least 1-2 times weekly to sustain their growing bodies.

We all know crocodiles need to stay close to the water. That means there are times (usually during the winter) when these mass bodies of water shrink because of drought.

When the food runs out, a crocodile’s body shuts down all non-essentials and lives off the fat stored in the crocodile’s body. That means adult crocodiles can go a whole year between meals when times are tough.

What Do Crocodiles In Captivity Eat?

Crocodiles in captivity need to eat more than crocodiles in the wild. Where most adolescent crocodiles eat 1-2 times a week, crocodiles in captivity need to eat at least four times that to survive.

Therefore, captive crocodiles have a different diet than that captive crocodiles.

Many zoos and wildlife centers feed their captive crocodiles:

  • Fish
  • Insects like locusts
  • Rats
  • Mice 
  • Raw beef
  • Raw chicken

Do Crocodiles In Different Countries Eat The Same Food?

When you think of crocodiles, you tend to think of Africa, but crocodiles can be found on many continents around the globe.

Crocodiles have similar diets in different countries, but there are some differences depending on their size, the time of year, if they are in captivity or the wild and if they are fresh or saltwater crocodiles.

Here are some foods crocodiles from around the world eat:

Australia

The crocodiles in Australia are salt and freshwater crocodiles. The saltwater crocodiles eat a wide range of prey, including crustaceans (squid, shrimp, snails), small mammals like marsupials, and bigger game like water buffalo, dear and wild hogs.

The freshwater crocodiles in Australia like to eat small mammals like marsupials, crustaceans, fish, birds, and insects.

Africa

Africa is the most popular crocodile destination. Crocodiles are found chiefly in large bodies of water, rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. 

Crocodiles in Africa eat the following:

  • The Nile Crocodile mainly eats fish, small hippos, porcupines, birds, and other small mammals that cross its path.
  • West African crocodiles primarily eat fish, crustaceans, small birds, and small mammals like water chevrotain. They attack when these mammals come to the lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water for a drink.
  • Central African crocodile (slender snout) usually eats amphibians, fish, and crustaceans. 
  • The African Dwarf Crocodile eats toads, frogs, fish, crustaceans, insects, snakes, lizards, and crabs.
dwarf crocodile

Asia

The smaller crocodiles, like the gharial, that live in most Asian countries eat mainly fish, small birds, small mammals, and reptiles. 

South America

We all know South America is famous for dangerous animals that won’t think twice about making you their last meal.

So what do the crocodiles in South America eat? They eat frogs, fish, birds, turtles, and small to medium mammals.

Final Thoughts On What Crocodiles Eat

Crocodiles are known as aggressive predators that will eat anything they can.

That is true if you look only at saltwater crocodiles, but the smaller crocodiles, like the Dwarf crocodile or the gharial, mostly eat fish, crustaceans, and frogs.

Saltwater crocodiles are more likely to attack and eat humans than freshwater crocodiles.