Differentiating between alligators, crocodiles and caiman

Differentiating between alligators, crocodiles and caiman

Several websites are currently selling products made from lower quality caiman leather and passing this cheaper inferior product off to you, the consumer, as Classic Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) or Crocodile. There is no such critter as a caiman/crocodile, or caiman /alligator. Products sold under these names are usually manufactured in some Far East or third world country using caiman leather. Please read on if you wish to protect yourself and the integrity of the Classic American Alligator and the legitimate Foreign Crocodile leather industries from the unscrupulous merchants on the web.

Alligators, crocodiles and caiman are all crocodilians. Classic leather is made exclusively from the skins of alligators and crocodiles and is manufactured into some of the most elegant, unique, expensive and durable leather products in the world. With the exception of the scutes (the bony osteoderms or calcium protrusions that appear on the back of these animals), the rest of the alligator or crocodile leather, including the most valuable belly section, is soft and pliable. In the event that the bony portion of the alligator skin is sold, the product is referred to as hornback alligator. Caimans have osteoderms or bones on the back and stomach areas causing the belly portion to appear blotchy and uneven. Since bones are not flexible, the belly portion of caiman leather has the propensity to bend in the small flexible leather area between the osteoderms. Due to the massive amount of irregular bone formation imbedded in the belly, caiman leather tends to crack or split in the only place that has a limited amount of flexibility. The belly is a mass of discoloration and ordinarily, the only “quality” leather on a caiman originates on the flank or side. Caiman leather is cheaper and has its place in the leather business but it does not have the qualities or value of the classic leather that is exclusively limited to American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) and some of the Crocodiles. Unfortunately, after some people buy low quality caiman crocodilian leather and it splits, they leave the quality classic leather market forever. Remember that you are going to pay for what you get and if you are lucky, you may get what you paid for. After examining the purse images, you should be able to differentiate between alligator and caiman.

Caiman Purse. Click the image to enlarge.
Alligator Purse. Click the image to enlarge

American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) and various species of crocodiles are the crocodilians that are used to produce all of the classic leather that is available on the world market today. The only legal commercial source of wild alligators is the southeastern states of the United States. Alligator skins are more expensive than crocodile. Legal commercial quantities of crocodiles are by far more plentiful and located primarily in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. While alligators are primarily found in fresh water, Crocodiles are found in both salt and freshwater.

If you would like to read more alligator trivia see Alligator Facts.

If you would like more detailed information on specific animals www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cnhc/csl.html is a useful source of information