Are There Crocodiles in the Panama Canal and Gatun Lake?

Are you ready for a new tropical adventure? If so, you’re in for a treat, traveling through the 48-mile Panama Canal. Over a million people visit this engineering marvel to see how it works, making it Panama’s most famous landmark.

But a major concern for most tourists is the wildlife that calls the Panama Canal home. If you’re planning to visit Panama Canal and Gatun Lake, you might ask: are there crocodiles in the Panama Canal and Gatun lake?

It’s likely for you to encounter them, especially if you look blew the Bridge of the Americas. Also, the crocodiles in Gatun Lake experienced a population growth spike since they’re placed under protection. But they aren’t dangerous, as long as you don’t step into the water.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the crocodiles that inhabit the Gatun Lake and Panama Canal. That way, you’ll know the safest time to visit these great locations. Read on and find out more today.

Are the Crocodiles in Panama Dangerous?

In normal situations, the crocodiles shouldn’t be a danger to you. Some tourists got attacked by these beasts recently, but these are more likely to happen when you step right into the waters. Take note, the crocodiles often stay in the shallows.

What this means is that the best way to avoid an attack is to stay out of the water. Most of the time, you need to stay vigilant and be aware of your surroundings. If you’re planning to land on a shore, check for crocodile footprints or other evidence of recent activities.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the American Crocodiles have the highest rates of recorded attacks on humans in both Americas. The good news is that fatalities are at a lower rate.

The reason for this higher attack incidence rate is the fact that crocodiles show more aggression towards humans compared to alligators. But compared with the saltwater and Nile crocodile, their American counterpart isn’t as likely to attack. 

When is the Best Time to Avoid the Crocodiles?

To make your trip safer, you need to ensure that you know when the crocodiles are at their most aggressive. That means knowing the specific species of crocodiles that live in the Panama Canal and Gatun Lake. Enter the American Crocodile.

These massive beasts make Panama their home due to its tropical climate. Thankfully, they aren’t as bad-tempered as the other members of the crocodilian family. That doesn’t make them any less scary for the average traveler.

The crocodiles are at their most dangerous during the mating season. That means you need to know their reproduction cycle to know the best time to avoid them.

Average Reproduction Cycle of the American Crocodiles

These crocodiles will start breeding around late fall or early winter. The males emit low-frequency bellows used to attract females. During February or March, they will start creating nests using sand, mud, and dead vegetation.

These nests are often near the edge of the water. The crocodiles ensure that their nests are in a place with the right amount of vegetation. More than that, their location needs to have the right temperature since the eggs will only develop within a small range.

The duration of the crocodiles’ incubation period is 75 – 80 days. During this time, the parents will be on guard, making a hole in a nearby bank as their home. Female crocodiles will often be at their most ferocious state and will fight anything that gets too close.

With this, the young will start hatching before the start of the rainy season. During this development stage, their mother will take care of the young within five months. After that, the young will disperse and lead independent lives, though most of them won’t survive.

Are There Alligators in the Panama Canal and Gatun Lake?

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about confusing crocodiles and alligators in Panama. After all, the latter doesn’t exist in the region, except for the caiman. They belong to the same family as alligators, the genus Alligatoridae.

But if you want to distinguish between the two, crocodiles mostly have a longer, thinner snout compared to alligators. Also, the former will have two long teeth located on their lower jaw. You can see this whenever they close their mouths.

The American crocodile also has a lighter complexion compared to the American alligator.

What Other Animals Live in the Panama Canal?

Panama Canal isn’t all about boats and crocodiles. The diversity of wildlife in this area is great since the canal has various ecosystems that can support different species of fauna. If you plan to have an eco-trip to Panama, here are some of the animals you might encounter:

1. Bradypus Sloths

Panama houses three species of sloths, thriving in the climate conditions offered by the country. It’s easy to spot these curious creatures in Panamanian soil compared to other places in Latin America. Take note, it’s unlikely for you to find the Pygmy sloth since it’s located in a highly-restricted area in Panama since it’s the rarest sloth around.

But don’t lose hope yet — you’re likely to see the Bradypus sloth more. It’s about as large as a plump house cat. It has long arms, beady eyes, and an eternal smiling expression.

These sloths will spend most of their time relaxing on a sturdy, comfortable tree branch. They will go down from their spot once per week on average. In most situations, they only do so to relieve themselves.

2. Geoffroy’s Spider Monkeys

This spider monkey has black hands. They’re part of the few species of primates that live in the tropical jungles surrounding the Panama Canal. They’re considered as an endangered species due to poaching and loss of their natural habitat.

Regardless, Geoffroy’s spider monkey needs to feed daily. That’s why they climb down more often compared to the other primates living in the area. With that, you’re more likely to encounter one on your visit to Panama.

3. Panamanian Tamarins

This is the most common primate living along the Panama Canal. It’s a small monkey, often living in groups of 5 – 10 mates. They have black and white fur colors and belong to the same family as the above-mentioned Geoffroy’s spider monkey.

The Panamanian Tamarin thrives in both Panama and Colombia. Its flourishing numbers are due to its shorter gestation period compared to other primate species in the region. A curious fact about this monkey is that they live better in secondary forests.

That means they can thrive without issues even when primary forests get cut due to agricultural reasons. With that, it’s easy for you to spot this monkey even in settled areas with a moderate human population.

4. Panamanian Night Monkeys

The Panama Canal houses around a dozen various nocturnal monkey species. All of them have these cute round eyes that help them see better in the dark. Take note, these creatures are elusive, meaning most people don’t know how many of them exist in the wilds.

Do you want to spot these adorable critters? If so, you need to have a keen pair of eyes and go to the Panama Canal jungle lodge. Book an overnight stay and you might end up spotting one.

5. Blue-footed Boobies

This bird enjoys wandering around. It’s found in the volcanic islands of the Galapagos as well as Panama’s tropical forests. They’re not endemic in the Galapagos since you can spot this bird in several other areas in the Americas.

They’re also known as Lords of the Dance. They get this moniker since male Boobies will always show off their dance skills when they try to get a mate.

6. White-headed Capuchins

Another species of monkeys, they’re also known as mono cariblanco. It’s a cute little critter, but most experts believe it’s the most intelligent. They’re known for their resourcefulness — using rocks to break open hard nuts when needed.

They’re also known to use food or favors for bartering. Regardless, the white-headed capuchin prefers Panama’s lowland forests. They’re agile, and their usual fur color is black with white on the face and chest.

It also has this small black spot of fur on top of its head, resembling a cap. With this, the Spanish Conquistadors saw their uncanny resemblance to Capuchin Friars, thus the name.

7. Green Iguanas

The Green Iguana is one of the scarier reptiles living in the Panama Canal with their spiked body. The truth is that they’re often docile and calm. They actively avoid conflict, making them great exotic pets.

The sad part is that they aren’t well-adapted to captivity, meaning they’ll only live around 2 years in a home tank. But in the forests surrounding Panama Canal, the green iguana can live up to 20 years.

8. Capybaras

Two species of Capybaras live in Panama. The good news is that you’ll have better chances of spotting the Lesser Capybara, which is the rarer variant. They’re semi-aquatic, meaning you’ll see them more along the river shores and lakes.

Final Thoughts

Panama Canal and Gatun Lake teem with various fauna that can make your trip worthwhile. If you want to stay safer, make sure to step next to the Gautn lake when crocodiles are at their least aggressive. That way, you don’t need to worry about getting attacked.

Take note, as long as you exercise safety precautions and stay out of the water, you’ll be fine.

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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