Australian Crocodiles in Cape York

Both of the two species of Australian crocodiles are found in Cape York.

The most famous one is of course the man eating, deadly "Salty" - the world's largest crocodile.

The other one - the Freshwater Crocodile - is smaller and not deadly even though it can give you a bite if you harrass it.

The "Freshy" lives in freshwater creeks and gorges, while the saltwater crocodile is typically found in saltwater such as the ocean and river mouths, even though it can also live in freshwater.   

The Two Species of Australian Crocodiles

The Freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) is easy to recognise by its slender snout. It is found in freshwater creeks and billabongs, except near the eastern coast of Cape York.

It is only 2-3 metres long and eats small prey such as insects, fish, small frogs and reptiles, birds, bats and rats. While its habitat can occasionally overlap with this of the "Salties", the freshwater crocodile habitat reaches far further inland.

They are also easier to see than the "Salties" - they lay more often on the rocks and river banks, while salties tend to hide in the water. A good place to see them is Lakefield National Park.

freshwater crocodile fresh water crocodile

Australian Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) on the other hand is much larger (up to 7m long), has a broad snout and will kill a human for food. It can eat animals as large as cattle and buffaloes but does take fish, birds and other smaller prey as well. 

This deadly crocodile is most often found in the ocean water, in river mouths and well into the rivers, but can also live in freshwater swamps and billabongs.

You can occasionally spot it laying on a river bank, but it often hides in murky waters where you cannot see it, so you should always keep away from the water's edge in Cape York and the rest of northern Australia.
saltwater crocodile saltwater crocodiles

Some people do their whole Cape York trip and never see them, others see many on each trip. It's about putting some effort in and taking your time. Go fishing, spend some time in places where you can see them.

I have seen them for example in Jardine River, under and around Seisia Wharf, on the beaches of Red Island, and in the ocean water in Punsand Bay.

Freshwater Crocodile

Australian freshwater crocodile is not deadly.

Unlike its killer cousin - the Australian saltwater crocodile - the freshie (aka Johnston's crocodile, Crocodylus johnstoni) does not feed on humans.

It is also much smaller, but it still has very sharp teeth, and has been known to injure humans id agitated.

Its bites are known to be quite bad and take ages to heal so it's definitely worth leaving it alone and not going close to it.

They are found in freshwater creeks and billabongs throughout northern Australia. They do tolerate salt water as well, but are most often absent from it because they avoid saltwater crocodiles.

freshwater crocodiles

Some of the best places to see them in Australia are Kakadu National Park and Katherine Gorge in Northern Territory, however they are also found throughout the Kimberley area in the west and the Cape York peninsula in the east.

Freshwater Crocodile Habitat

The freshies usually live farther away from the coast than saltwater crocodiles.

They like to live in upstream areas of creeks and rivers, as well as wetlands, lakes, lagoons and billabongs that are away from the coastal reaches, which are inhabited by saltwater crocodiles.

However, they can also be found in lower areas.

Like the salties, freshwater crocodiles can move between different water bodies during the Wet Season floods.

If they need to move to a different waterbody while there are no floods, they can do the ‘high walk’ with nothing but legs and tail touching the ground.

They can apparently move fair distances, and they can even run.

Once the Wet Season ends the crocs go to different water bodies and stay there over the Dry Season.

They like larger, deeper waterbodies where they often spend time in shallow waters near the water's edge or sun basking outside the water.

They have been found to return to the same waterbody year after year.

freshwater crocodile

What Do They Look Like?

They are much smaller than the salties, reaching only two (females) to three (males) metres in length and up to 100kg in weight (a saltie can weigh a ton).

The most obvious thing that distinguishes them from the salties is their slender snout, compared to the big fat head of the saltie.

They are most often greyish brown, with darker markings on the back and a paler belly.

freshwater crocodile eating

What Do They Eat and What Eats Them?

Freshwater crocodiles eat mostly fish, insects, frogs and other small water creatures, but will occasionally also catch birds, small mammals, other reptiles, and even other, smaller, freshwater crocodiles.

Freshwater crocodiles are preyed on by other crocodiles, but their biggest killers are cane toads that poison them when eaten.

Their hatchlings are eaten by pythons, large fish, birds of prey, freshwater turtles and larger crocodiles. Their eggs are mainly eaten by goannas, but also by feral pigs.


freshwater crocodiles

Seasonality and Reproduction

If there is permanent water they can be active all year around. But if the water in their area dries up, they may hibernate in caverns dug into creek banks.

Their breeding season is usually the Dry Season (unlike the saltwater crocodile's). Mating starts in the beginning of the Dry, eggs are laid (in a burrow in the sand) in the end of the Dry, and the young hatch in the beginning of the Wet Season.

The adult crocodiles return to the nest, and about the hatching time they help the young out and carry them into the water. They also stay around for a while to protect the young.

Up to 20 eggs are laid (but most often about 10-15). Like in the saltwater crocodiles, the sex of the young depends on the outside temperatures.

About the same amounts of both sexes are born at temperatures of 30˚C, while warmer temperatures produce more males and cooler temperatures produce more females.

Only one percent of hatchlings survive until maturity.

fresh water crocodile

Danger to Humans

As opposed to the saltie, freshwater crocodile is generally not dangerous to humans since it does not target us as food.

However, it bites if cornered and its teeth are razor sharp.

It also has the habit to hold on and shake whatever it bites, making the wounds even worse.

Its bites are known to get badly infected and take a long time to heal.

cane toad

Danger to Freshwater Crocodiles

The biggest danger to themselves is the poisonous cane toad that kills them when they eat it. The second danger is habitat destruction.

Like saltwater crocodiles, the freshies are protected and it is illegal to kill or keep them without a permit.

Australian Saltwater Crocodile

Australian saltwater crocodile is huge and dangerous.
saltwater crocodile

salt water crocodiles

australian saltwater crocodile

australian crocodile

man eating crocodile

australian crocodiles

It is the so-called Saltwater, or Estuarine Crocodile Crocodylus porosus, and it is the world's largest crocodile.

Although the other one of Australia's two species of crocodiles, the Freshwater Crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni is also found in Cape York, the larger, saltwater one is the only one to kill you.

It is a massive animal that can weigh over a tonne.

Adults reach easily up to five metres of length, but the largest one ever shot in Australia was eight metres long.

Australian Saltwater Crocodile is easy to distinguish from the freshwater species by their size and by their broad snout - which reflects the large prey they eat.

They are opportunistic feeders and they often hunt near the water's edge, where they catch kangaroos, feral pigs and other large prey.

They can take animals as large as buffaloes and cattle - so they can easily kill and eat a human.

They have a good eyesight and good night vision, and they are often active during the night time.

They also have a good sense of smell, and a good feeling for vibration.

They don't need to see, hear or smell you - if you are around, they know it from the vibration in the ground.

They breed during the Wet Season (October - April). Female lays eggs in a mound, often in the high grass close to riverbanks.

Once the eggs hatch, the female looks after the young for up to five weeks. Despite that, very few survive and reach adulthood.

The eggs are threatened by floods, heat and goannas that eat them.

The young are so small they can be killed by turtles, fish, birds of prey and other crocodiles.

But once they are adult they have nobody to fear except us and each other.

saltwater crocodile
A salty on the bank of Daintree River.

Australian saltwater crocodiles were hunted a lot until 1974 for their skin.

Even today, the skin of farmed crocodiles is valuable, and croc meat is also eatable. However they are protected now so it is illegal to shoot them.
Habitat destruction is now their worst threat, particularly with more and more people moving to northern Australia.

It is important to respect that this is croc country.

We don't want to lose them - they are a very important part of both freshwater and saltwater ecosystems, and being top predators they keep the habitats clean and the ecosystems in balance.

They also keep being an attraction for tourists and travellers.

A salty on the bank of Endeavour River, Cooktown. 

Australian Saltwater Crocodile is found in northern Australia - in the oceans, along the coasts, in the river mouths and rivers, and even in freshwater lagoons and billabongs.

They are found in all these habitats
both on Cape York peninsula and Torres Strait Islands.

How to Prevent a Crocodile Attack

Below you have a summary of how to avoid a crocodile attack.

And it is an important one, if you are from the southern parts of Australia, and not used to thinking along those lines.

If you are from other parts of the world and not sure if our crocodiles are dangerous - our saltwater crocodile is an extremely efficient killer.

crocodile warning sign

crocodile attack

dangerous crocodile

crocodile warning

crocodile sliding mark

Every now and again it takes a kid, a drunken swimmer or a tourist, and while you don't need to be paranoid about it, you need to be, what we call, croc-wise.

* Never ignore a crocodile attack warning sign.

* Even if there is no sign, there may still be a crocodile.

* Don't go back to the same spot every day - they will remember, and they will be watching - until they get the perfect chance.

* If you fish, stand on a river bank that is higher from the water. Don't stand right next to the water, or on branches that hang over the water.

* Do not clean fish near the rivers and never throw your fish scraps in or near the water - it will attract them.

* Don't camp on low river banks - camp well away from the water.

* Do not leave any food scraps around your campsite. I have read stories where crocs got out of the water during the night to get them. Scary stuff if you are in the tent.

* If you are in the boat,
keep yourself and your arms inside the boat. Don't dangle over the sides.

* Never harrass or feed or any other way interfere with wild crocodiles.

* A crocodile slide mark means the croc may still be around.

* Be even more careful during their breeding season (December to April).

* Don't think that they are not there because you haven't seen one. They are very clever hiding under the water surface, as they move closer to you and then attack.  

The most dangerous crocs are the ones that you cannot see.

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