What’s the Difference Between an Alligator and a Crocodile?

istock / chloe effron
istock / chloe effron

Despite being entirely different animals (sharing the order Crocodilia, but not a family), people often wonder about the difference between crocodiles and alligators. After all, they appear to be very similar. To the untrained eye, both look like prehistoric swamp lizards, but there are some tricks you can use so you don’t make a faux pas the next time you’re in Florida. 

The quickest way to tell the two reptiles apart is by their smile: In both animals' lower jaws, they have a long tooth on either side. When crocodiles close their mouths, you can see these long teeth protrude from their faces. Alligators, on the other hand, slip them into sockets in their upper jaw. As a general rule, the toothier the crocodillian, the more likely it is a crocodile.  

Crocodile snout, iStock

Other things to look for include head shape and skin color. Crocodiles tend to have V-shaped faces, while alligators sport shorter, U-shaped snouts. Gators also have darker, greener skin than their tannish brown counterparts. 

In terms of geography, crocodiles are much more common, inhabiting a good chunk of the eastern hemisphere and Central America. Alligators are more modest in their population, living mostly in South America and the southern United States, with a tiny pocket in China. 

There are 23 species of crocodilians, so there is a lot of variation to consider. When trying to identify your giant reptile, the tooth rule is key. Like sharks, crocodiles and alligators can regrow their missing teeth, so the pointy indicators are very likely to always be there.

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What's the Difference Between Straw and Hay?

iStock.com/dusipuffi
iStock.com/dusipuffi

The words straw and hay are often used interchangeably, and it's easy to see why: They're both dry, grassy, and easy to find on farms in the fall. But the two terms actual describe different materials, and once you know what to look for, it's easy to tell the difference between them.

Hay refers to grasses and some legumes such as alfalfa that are grown for use as animal feed. The full plant is harvested—including the heads, leaves, and stems—dried, and typically stored in bales. Hay is what livestock like cattle eat when there isn't enough pasture to go around, or when the weather gets too cold for them to graze. The baled hay most non-farmers are familiar with is dry and yellow, but high-quality hay has more of a greenish hue.

The biggest difference between straw and hay is that straw is the byproduct of crops, not the crop itself. When a plant, such as wheat or barley, has been stripped of its seeds or grains, the stalk is sometimes saved and dried to make straw. This part of the plant is lacking in nutrients, which means it doesn't make great animal fodder. But farmers have found other uses for the material throughout history: It what's used to weave baskets, thatch roofs, and stuff mattresses.

Today, straw is commonly used to decorate pumpkin-picking farms. It's easy to identify (if it's being used in a way that would be wasteful if it were food, chances are it's straw), but even the farms themselves can confuse the two terms. Every hayride you've ever taken, for example, was most likely a straw-ride.

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How and Why Did Silent Letters Emerge in English?

iStock/Bychykhin_Olexandr
iStock/Bychykhin_Olexandr

Kory Stamper:

The easy answer is “"because English can’t leave well enough alone."

When we first started speaking English around 600 AD, it was totally phonetic: every letter had a sound, and we sounded every letter in a word. But English—and England itself—were influenced quite a bit by the French, who conquered the island in 1066 and held it for a long time. And then later by Dutch and Flemish printers, who were basically the main publishers in England for a solid two centuries, and then by further trading contact with just about every continent on the planet. And while we’re shaking hands and stealing language from every single people-group we meet, different parts of the language started changing at uneven rates.

By the 1400s, English started to lose its phonetic-ness: the way we articulated vowels in words like “loud” changed slowly but dramatically, and that had an effect on the rest of the word. (This is called “The Great Vowel Shift,” and it took place over a few hundred years.) Somewhere in the middle of the GVS, though, English spelling became fixed primarily because of the printing press and the easy distribution/availability of printed materials. In short: we have silent letters because the spelling of words stopped changing to match their pronunciations.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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