Why Do Alligators And Crocodiles Go On Land? (Vet Tech Explains)

Why Do Alligators And Crocodiles Go On Land

Crocodiles and alligators are mainly aquatic reptiles. They sleep, socialize, mate, and eat in the water. But, even though these animals spend a lot of their time submerged, they do still go on land. Crocodiles and alligators are one of the few animals in the world that are just as proficient on land as they are in the water.

So, why do crocodiles and alligators go on land?

Crocodiles and alligators have good reasons to go on land. Crocodilians are cold-blooded and need to spend time basking in the sun to warm up.  They’ll also go on land to lay their eggs and chase prey down. Crocodiles and alligators may also traverse the land to move to a new watering hole.

This article will go into detail about all of the reasons why alligators and crocodiles go on land. We’ll also mention just how fast these giant reptiles can run when on land.  First, we’ll go over what the natural habitat is for both an alligator and a crocodile.

What Is An Alligator’s Natural Habitat?

Although there are several extinct alligator species only to remain today. American alligators are found in the southeastern United States, while Chinese alligators are found only in the Yangtze River Valley. Despite being so far away, geographically, both of these pieces of alligators have similar habitats.

Alligators spend most of their time in bodies of freshwater. Their preferred environments are things like ponds, marshes, slow, moving, rivers, lakes, swamps, and wetlands, in some cases, you may find them in your pool. Alligators don’t tolerate salt water well, but can’t spend limited time in brackish water or even in the ocean.

Alligators are incredibly important to the environment because they also dig holes called gator holes. These gator holes provide them with a place to nap and cool off during the day and help create more ponds for the wildlife around them.

What Is A Crocodile’s Natural Habitat?

Crocodiles have a much larger habitat range than alligators do. Crocodiles can be found along the coast of North and South America, Asia, and Australia. All crocodile species tend to live in humid and tropical areas.

Just like alligators, crocodiles are semi-aquatic and spend a lot of time in bodies of freshwater like rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Many species of crocodiles also spend time in brackish and salt water. It’s not uncommon to find a crocodile, traversing the coast of the ocean while moving from one watering hole to the next.

Why Do Alligators And Crocodiles Go On Land?

When alligators and crocodiles go on land, they’re out of their element. These giant reptiles are faster and stronger while in the water. So, what could entice them to get out of their comfort zone and go on flat ground?

Here are four huge motivations for crocodiles to get out of the water and onto land.

To Lay Eggs

One of the biggest reasons that alligators and crocodiles go on land is to lay their eggs.

Laying eggs is a common reproductive trait of reptiles. Both gators and crocs put effort into the spot where they choose to lay their eggs. Females of these species, often spend time digging large holes to turn into nests. They’ll pile old vegetation on top of the nest before they lay their eggs. Afterward, they might even cover their eggs with more vegetation.

Alligators and crocodiles are special in the reptile world because they stay with their eggs and their young. These reptiles will spend time on land protecting and guarding the eggs until they hatch.

After hatching, the mom and babies will usually head to the water.  Since the eggs take around two months to hatch, the mother will be on land guarding her eggs for that period of time.

To Bask In The Sun

Another reason that alligators and crocodiles go on land is to bask in the sun.

Reptiles are ectotherms, which means that they require energy from external sources to warm up. Ectotherms, or cold-blooded animals, often need to change locations in order to warm up or cool down.  If an alligator or crocodile isn’t feeling warm enough in the water, they’ll usually emerge onto land to dry off and heat up.

It’s not uncommon for crocodilians to spend most of the afternoon basking in the sun on dryland. If they get too hot, they may simply open their mouth to pant or move to a shady spot.

In the video below, you can see a great example of a crocodile going on land just so it can warm up a little bit.

To Chase Prey

Crocodiles and alligators are fierce predators and aren’t shy to go on land to find their next meal.

As carnivores, crocodilians can eat almost any animal protein. Common prey items for these reptiles include fish, invertebrates, water, fowl, turtles, frogs, and even land mammals. It’s easy enough for crocodiles and alligators to hunt prey in the water.  But, if something looks easy enough to catch on land, they’ll go for it.

Crocodiles and alligators definitely sneak up and chase prey on land. Things like deer, buffalo, bobcats, and foxes can become unlikely meals for these reptiles if they’re not paying attention.  Alligators have even been known to go after dogs from time to time. Crocodilians also have no problem eating carcasses that they find on land.

Dry land can be a great place for a crocodile or an alligator to find prey.

To Move Watering Locations

The last reason that a crocodile or an alligator might go on land, is to move watering locations.

If a crocodile or an alligator is in a confined body of water like a lake they might need to hop out and walk to get to another location. Crocodiles and alligators may have to move locations due to territorial issues or food shortages.

If there’s a way for a croc or gator to swim to another location, they’ll probably take that route. But, if there isn’t any water between their destinations, they’ll just go on land and walk.

It might take a little longer, but crocodiles and alligators. Don’t have many natural predators, and are usually pretty safe taking the land route.

How Fast Are Crocodiles On Land?

Crocodiles don’t usually need to run on land. A crocodile needs to make a quick escape. They’ll likely get to the water as fast as they can. However, if a crocodile is chasing a prey animal on land, it might run. Though it varies among species, many crocodiles can run between 18 and 22 mph for short periods of time.

For such a large animal this is pretty dang fast. These large reptiles can definitely outrun a human. If you ever cross a crocodile’s path don’t forget that even though they might look slow and lethargic, they are quick on land.

How Fast Are Alligators On Land?

Sources vary and don’t agree on how fast alligators are on land.

The consensus seems to be that alligators usually run at about 11 mph on land. However, speeds twice as fast have been reported for alligators on land. Either way, an alligator at a full sprint is still faster than a human which is the only thing I’m truly concerned about!

Both alligators and crocodiles are much faster in the water and are at a slight disadvantage while on land.

Final Thoughts

Crocodiles and alligators are semi-aquatic reptiles. Even though many people think of them as fully aquatic reptiles, they do spend a good amount of time on land.

To lay and protect their eggs, females may spend around two months on dry land. Both male and female crocodilians emerge from the water to bask in the sun on warm days. Crocs and gators will go on land to chase prey and move to a new watering hole.

Even if you see a crocodile or an alligator lying still on land remember that they are fast and dangerous, and keep a healthy distance away from them.