Freshwater crocodile


The freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni), also known as the Australian freshwater crocodile, Johnstone's crocodile or also known as freshie, is a species of crocodile endemic to the northern regions of Australia. Unlike their much larger Australian relative, the saltwater crocodile, freshwater crocodiles are not known as man-eaters, although they bite in self defence, and brief, nonfatal attacks have occurred, apparently the result of mistaken identity.

Freshwater crocodile
Temporal range: Pleistocenepresent, 2.6–0 Ma[1]
Freshwater crocodile.jpg
CITES Appendix II (CITES)[3]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Crocodylidae
Genus: Crocodylus
C. johnstoni
Binomial name
Crocodylus johnstoni
Krefft, 1873[4]
Crocodylus johnstoni range.png
Range of the freshwater crocodile in black
  • Crocodilus johnsoni
    Krefft, 1873
  • Crocodilus (Philas) johnstoni
    Gray, 1874
  • Philas johnstoni
    Wells & Wellington, 1984
  • Crocodylus johnstoni
    Cogger, 2000

Taxonomy and etymologyEdit

When Gerard Krefft named the species in 1873,[7] he intended to commemorate the man who first reported it to him, Australian native police officer and amateur naturalist Robert Arthur Johnstone (1843–1905).[6][8] However, Krefft made an error in writing the name, and for many years, the species has been known as C. johnsoni. Recent studies of Krefft's papers have determined the correct spelling of the name, and much of the literature has been updated to the correct usage, but both versions still exist. According to the rules of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, the epithet johnstoni (rather than the original johnsoni) is correct.[9][10][11]


The genus Crocodylus likely originated in Africa and radiated outwards towards Southeast Asia and the Americas,[12] although an Australia/Asia origin has also been considered.[13] Phylogenetic evidence supports Crocodylus diverging from its closest recent relative, the extinct Voay of Madagascar, around 25 million years ago, near the Oligocene/Miocene boundary.[12]


Below is a cladogram based on a 2018 tip dating study by Lee & Yates simultaneously using morphological, molecular (DNA sequencing), and stratigraphic (fossil age) data,[14] as revised by the 2021 Hekkala et al. paleogenomics study using DNA extracted from the extinct Voay.[12]




Crocodylus anthropophagus

Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni

Crocodylus palaeindicus

Crocodylus Tirari Desert


Crocodylus johnstoni Freshwater crocodile  

Crocodylus novaeguineae New Guinea crocodile

Crocodylus mindorensis Philippine crocodile

Crocodylus porosus Saltwater crocodile  

Crocodylus siamensis Siamese crocodile  

Crocodylus palustris Mugger crocodile  

Africa+New World

Crocodylus checchiai

Crocodylus falconensis

Crocodylus suchus West African crocodile

Crocodylus niloticus Nile crocodile  

New World

Crocodylus moreletii Morelet's crocodile

Crocodylus rhombifer Cuban crocodile  

Crocodylus intermedius Orinoco crocodile

Crocodylus acutus American crocodile  


The freshwater crocodile is a relatively small crocodilian. Males can grow to 2.3–3.0 m (7.5–9.8 ft) long, while females reach a maximum size of 2.1 m (6.9 ft).[9] Males commonly weigh around 70 kg (150 lb), with large specimens up to 100 kg (220 lb) or more, against the female weight of 40 kg (88 lb).[15] In areas such as Lake Argyle and Katherine Gorge, a handful of confirmed 4 metres (13 ft) individuals exist. This species is shy and has a slenderer snout and slightly smaller teeth than the dangerous saltwater crocodile. The body colour is light brown with darker bands on the body and tail—these tend to be broken up near the neck. Some individuals possess distinct bands or speckling on the snout. Body scales are relatively large, with wide, close-knit, armoured plates on the back. Rounded, pebbly scales cover the flanks and outsides of the legs.[9]

Distribution and habitatEdit

Freshwater crocodiles are found in Western Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory. Main habitats include freshwater wetlands, billabongs, rivers, and creeks. This species can live in areas where saltwater crocodiles cannot, and are known to inhabit areas above the escarpment in Kakadu National Park and in very arid and rocky conditions (such as Katherine Gorge, where they are common and are relatively safe from saltwater crocodiles during the dry season). However, they are still consistently found in low-level billabongs, living alongside the saltwater crocodiles near the tidal reaches of rivers.

In May 2013, a freshwater crocodile was seen in a river near the desert town of Birdsville, hundreds of kilometres south of their normal range. A local ranger suggested that years of flooding may have washed the animal south, or it may have been dumped as a juvenile.[16]

A population of freshwater crocodiles has been repeatedly sighted for a number of decades in the Ross River that runs through Townsville.[17] The predominate theory is that the heavy flooding common to the area may have washed a number of the animals in to the Ross River Catchment area.

Biology and behaviorEdit

They compete poorly with saltwater crocodiles, but are saltwater tolerant. Adult crocodiles eat fish, birds, bats, reptiles, and amphibians, although larger individuals may take prey as large as a wallaby.

An individual being eaten by an olive python Liasis olivaceus has been filmed; it was reported to have succumbed after a struggle of around five hours.[18]


Eggs are laid in holes during the Australian dry season (usually in August) and hatch at the beginning of the wet season (November/December). The crocodiles do not defend their nests during incubation. From one to five days prior to hatching, the young begin to call from within the eggs. This induces and synchronizes hatching in siblings and stimulates adults to open the nest. If the adult that opens a given nest is the female which laid the eggs is unknown. As young emerge from the nest, the adult picks them up one by one in the tip of its mouth and transports them to the water. Adults may also assist young in breaking through the egg shell by chewing or manipulating the eggs in its mouth.[19]


Feeding in the wild, freshwater crocodiles eat a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate prey. These prey may include crustaceans, insects, spiders, fishes, frogs, turtles, snakes, birds, and various mammals. Insects appear to be the most common food, followed by fish. Small prey is usually obtained by a 'sit-and-wait' method, whereby the crocodile lies motionless in shallow water and waits for fish and insects to come within close range, before they are snapped up in a sideways action. However, larger prey such as wallabies and water birds may be stalked and ambushed in a manner similar to that of the saltwater crocodile.

Digestive systemEdit

The crocodiles have teeth that have adapted for capturing and holding prey, and food is swallowed without chewing. The digestive tract is short, as their food is relatively simple to swallow and digest. The stomach has two compartments - a muscular gizzard that grinds food, and a digestive chamber where enzymes act on the food. The crocodile's stomach is comparatively more acidic than that of any other vertebrate and contains ridges that lead to the mechanical breakdown of food. Digestion takes place at a faster pace at high temperatures.

Circulation systemEdit

The hearts of other reptiles are designed to contain three sections, including two atria and one ventricle. The right atrium, which collects the returned deoxygenated blood and the left atrium, which collects the oxygenated blood collected from pulmonary arteries of the lung, takes the blood to a common ventricle. When just one ventricle is available to receive and mix oxygenated and deoxygenated blood and pump it to the body, the mixture of blood the body receives has relatively less oxygen. Crocodiles have a more complex vertebrate circulatory system, with a four-chambered heart, including two ventricles. Like birds and mammals, crocodiles have heart valves that direct blood flows in a single direction through the heart chambers. When under water, the crocodile's heart rate slows down to one to two beats a minute, and muscles receive less blood flow. When it comes out of the water and takes a breath, its heart rate speeds up in seconds, and the muscles receive oxygen-rich blood. Unlike many marine mammals, crocodiles have only a small amount of myoglobin to store oxygen in their muscles.

Conservation statusEdit

Freshwater crocodile at Australia Zoo

Until recently, the freshwater crocodile was common in northern Australia, especially where saltwater crocodiles are absent (such as more arid inland areas and higher elevations). In recent years, the population has dropped dramatically due to the ingestion of the invasive cane toad. The toad is poisonous to freshwater crocodiles, although not to saltwater crocodiles, and the toad is rampant throughout the Australian wilderness.[20] The crocodiles are also infected by Griphobilharzia amoena, a parasitic trematode, in regions such as Darwin.[21]

Relationship with humansEdit

Although the freshwater crocodile does not attack humans as potential prey, it can deliver a nasty bite. Brief and rapidly abandoned attacks have occurred, and were likely the result of mistaken identity (mistaking a part of the human as a typical prey item).[22][23] Other attacks have occurred in self defense when the crocodile was touched or approached too closely.[24] No human fatalities are known to have been caused by this species.[24] A few incidents have been reported where people have been bitten whilst swimming with freshwater crocodiles, and others incurred during scientific study. An attack by a freshwater crocodile on a human was recorded at Barramundi Gorge (also known as Maguk) in Kakadu National Park and resulted in minor injuries; the victim managed to swim and walk away from the attack. He had apparently passed directly over the crocodile in the water. In general, though, swimming with this species is still considered safe, so long as they are not aggravated.[25] There has, however, been a freshwater crocodile attack at Lake Argyle.[26]



  1. ^ Rio, Jonathan P.; Mannion, Philip D. (6 September 2021). "Phylogenetic analysis of a new morphological dataset elucidates the evolutionary history of Crocodylia and resolves the long-standing gharial problem". PeerJ. 9: e12094. doi:10.7717/peerj.12094. PMC 8428266. PMID 34567843.
  2. ^ Isberg, S.; Balaguera-Reina, S.A.; Ross, J.P. (2017). "Crocodylus johnstoni". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2017: e.T46589A3010118. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-3.RLTS.T46589A3010118.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  3. ^ "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  4. ^ "Crocodylus johnstoni". Integrated Taxonomic Information System.
  5. ^ ... johnstoni means "of Johnstone", derived from the name of the first European to discover and report it to Krefft. Unfortunately Krefft misspelled the name "johnsoni " in his initial description and his subsequent correction was ignored until 1983 when the nomenclature was reviewed thoroughly by Hal Cogger (Cogger 1983). Although the majority of scientific literature, including all Australian Federal, State and Territory legislation has been using "johnstoni " correctly since then, the uncorrected version is still popular especially in the US on the basis of a later taxonomic review (King and Burke 1989) that ignored Cogger's revision. Crocodilian Species List, Crocodylus johnstoni (KREFFT, 1873).
  6. ^ a b "Crocodylus johnsoni ". The Reptile Database.
  7. ^ "Crocodylus johnsoni Krefft 1873 (crocodile)". PBDB.
  8. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. (Crocodylus johnstoni, p. 136).
  9. ^ a b c Britton, Adam. "Crocodylus johnstoni ". Florida Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
  10. ^ "International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature".
  11. ^ Cogger H (1983). Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Reed.
  12. ^ a b c Hekkala, E.; Gatesy, J.; Narechania, A.; Meredith, R.; Russello, M.; Aardema, M. L.; Jensen, E.; Montanari, S.; Brochu, C.; Norell, M.; Amato, G. (27 April 2021). "Paleogenomics illuminates the evolutionary history of the extinct Holocene "horned" crocodile of Madagascar, Voay robustus". Communications Biology. 4 (1): 505. doi:10.1038/s42003-021-02017-0. ISSN 2399-3642. PMC 8079395. PMID 33907305.
  13. ^ Oaks, Jamie R. (2011). "A time-calibrated species tree of Crocodylia reveals a recent radiation of the true crocodiles". Evolution. 65 (11): 3285–3297. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01373.x. PMID 22023592. S2CID 7254442.
  14. ^ Michael S. Y. Lee; Adam M. Yates (27 June 2018). "Tip-dating and homoplasy: reconciling the shallow molecular divergences of modern gharials with their long fossil". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 285 (1881). doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.1071. PMC 6030529. PMID 30051855.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Crocodile turns up in river near Birdsville". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 23 May 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  17. ^ "'Scared the crap out of each other': Freshwater croc that attacked woman accidentally hit with oar". ABC News. 28 February 2022. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  18. ^ "Snake eats crocodile in battle at Australian lake". The Daily Telegraph. 6 March 2014. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014.
  19. ^ Somaweera, Ruchira; Shine, Richard (September 2012). "Australian freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnstoni ) transport their hatchlings to the water". Journal of Herpetology. 46 (3): 407–411. doi:10.1670/11-056. S2CID 85800873.
  20. ^ "Crocodiles falling victim to cane toads". ABC News. 29 December 2008.
  21. ^ Platt TR, Blair D, Purdie J, Melville L (1991). "Griphobilharzia amoena n. gen., n. sp. (Digenea: Schistosomatidae), a parasite of the freshwater crocodile Crocodylus johnstoni (Reptilia: Crocodylia) from Australia, with the erection of a new subfamily, Griphobilharziinae". Journal of Parasitology. 77 (1): 65–68. doi:10.2307/3282558. JSTOR 3282558.
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  24. ^ a b Hines, K.N., and Skroblin, A. (2010). Australian Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) attacks on humans. Herpetological Review 41(4).
  25. ^ "How Embarressing". 26 September 2003.
  26. ^ Somaweera, Ruchira (2011). "A report of a probable unprovoked attack by an Australian freshwater crocodile at Lake Argyle in Western Australia". Australian Zoologist. 35 (4): 973–976. doi:10.7882/AZ.2011.049.

Further readingEdit

  • Boulenger GA (1889). Catalogue of the Chelonians, Rhynchocephalians, and Crocodiles in the British Museum (Natural History). New Edition. London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, printers). x + 311 pp. + Plates I–III. (Crocodilus johnstonii, pp. 279–280).
  • Cogger H (2014). Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, Seventh Edition. Clayton, Victoria, Australia: CSIRO Publishing. xxx + 1,033 pp. ISBN 978-0643100350.
  • Gray JE (1874). "On Crocodilus johnstoni, Krefft". Proc. Zool. Soc. London 1874: 177–178 + Plate XXVII.
  • Krefft G (1873). "Remarks on Australian Crocodiles, and Description of a New Species". Proc. Zool. Soc. London. 1873: 334–335. (Crocodilus johnsoni, new species, p. 335).