Scientific name: Osteolaemus tetraspis
Country: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierre Leone, Togo
Diet: Fish, frogs and crustaceans. In the Zoo, they are given fish, rats or mice which are already dead, and live locusts.
Food & feeding: Carnivore
Habitats: Freshwater, tropical rainforest, tropical grassland
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Relatives: Nile crocodile, caiman
Description: The dwarf crocodile is the world's smallest crocodile, growing up to 190 cm in length (by contrast, the Nile crocodile can reach 5 m in length). It is found alone or in pairs in burrows near the water's edge. As with all crocodiles, their impressive jaws are designed to close on prey with maximum force, but they cannot chew or bite pieces off their prey.
Lifestyle: They remain in their burrows during the day, coming out at night to hunt in the water, along the banks of the river or pool and into the forest. During the dry season (for those living in savanna areas) they may spend longer period within the burrow.
Family & friends: Perhaps surprisingly, crocodiles are good mothers, building and guarding nests and escorting the hatchlings.
Keeping in touch: Baby crocodiles near hatching call to their mother from within the nest with a curious twanging note.
Growing up: When the female is ready to lay eggs, a nest of rotting vegetation is built by dragging leaves into a pile, which breaks down like a compost heap, keeping the eggs warm. The female breeds once a year, laying up to 20 ( more usually about 10) eggs. The incubation period lasts 85-105 days. The female guards the nest and escorts the newly hatched young in the water. Some of the young may stay with the mother for a few weeks. The young are attractively marked: a black background with red-yellow cross bands and yellow spots on the body.
In the wild, many species of crocodiles are hunted for their skins which are then made into shoes, handbags and wallets. The dwarf crocodile does not have a valuable skin and fortunately has not been hunted for this reason.
Conservation news: They are vulnerable to habitat change and hunting. They are often killed for food. They are designated as a vulnerable species in the wild. They may be locally abundant in some countries such as Cameroon, but not in others such as Gambia, but information is very limited. In the Zoo, they are now part of a European breeding programme.