Dwarf crocodile
Temporal range: Plio-Paleocene - Present
250px-Crocodile nain aquarium porte dorée Paris.JPG
Dwarf crocodile
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Crocodylidae
Genus: Osteolaemus
Cope, 1861
Species: O. tetraspis
Binomial name
Osteolaemus tetraspis
Cope, 1861
  • O. t. tetraspis Cope, 1861
  • O. t. osborni Schmidt, 1919
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Range of the dwarf crocodile in green

The dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis), also known commonly as the African dwarf crocodile, broad-snouted crocodile, or bony crocodile, is an African crocodile that is also the smallest extant crocodile species. Recent sampling has identified three genetically distinct populations. Some feel that the findings should elevate the subspecies to full species status.


220px-The Childrens Museum of Indianapolis - Dwarf crocodile

Skull from the collection of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Dwarf crocodiles attain a medium adult length of 1.5 m (4.9 ft), though the maximum recorded length for this species is 1.9 m (6.2 ft). Adult specimens typically weigh between 18 and 32 kg (40 and 71 lb), with the largest females weighing up to 40 kg (88 lb) and the largest males weighing 80 kg (180 lb). Adults are a uniform black on their backs and sides with a yellowish underside with black patches. Juveniles have a lighter brown banding on body and tails and yellow patterns on the head.

As a result of its small size and heightened vulnerability to predation, this species of crocodile has a heavily armoured neck, back, and tail and also has osteoderms on its belly and underside of neck.

Osteolaemus has a blunt short snout, as long as it is wide, similar in fact to that of a dwarf caiman, probably a result of occupying a similar ecological niche. The dentition consists of four premaxillary teeth, 12 to 13 on the maxilla, and 14 to 15 on the dentary bone.

O. t. tetraspis has lighter colours, a more pointed, upturned snout, and more body armour than O. t. osborni.

Biology and behaviour

The dwarf crocodile is a slow, timid, and mainly nocturnal reptile. As with all crocodilians, it is an adept predator of vertebrates, large invertebrates such as crustaceans, and when presented with the opportunity, carrion. Foraging is mainly done in or near the water, though in areas with substantial ground cover, they may expand their feeding pattern to land in extensive forays, especially following rains.

The Congo Basin subspecies demonstrates seasonality in its dietary regimen, feeding on fish during the wet season's floods. When faced with the scarceness of food during the dry season, individuals turn to crustaceans, and food intake is generally reduced.

True to its solitary, nocturnal nature, a dwarf crocodile digs out a burrow in which to hide and rest during the day, which can sometimes have a submerged entrance. An individual lacking the right conditions to do so usually lives between tree roots that hang over the ponds where it lives.


Interacting closely only in breeding season, female dwarf crocodiles build their nest mounds at the beginning of the wet season, which spans May and June. The nest, situated near the water, is a mound of wet, decaying vegetation that incubates the eggs due to the heat generated by the decomposition of the plant material. A small number of eggs is laid, usually about 10, though in extreme cases up to 20, and they incubate in 85 to 105 days. Hatchlings measure 28 cm when emerging from the eggs. The female guards the nest during the incubation period, and after the eggs hatch, she watches over the young for an unknown period of time, as young can be eaten by a great range of predators (birds, fish, mammals and reptiles, including other crocodiles).

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