Crocodiles and alligators are both very large reptiles with thick, scaly skin. Both alligator and crocodile skins are used to make various leather products, including purses, shoes, coats and wallets. Crocodiles and alligators look similar, but come from different families and habitats. The caiman alligator skin is also available on the market, but is considered a cheap alternative to real alligator. There are a few important differences between crocodile and alligator skins.
One key difference between alligator and crocodile skin is that the alligator has an umbilical scar on its belly, similar to a belly button. This scar is in the middle of its belly, and looks like a cluster of very tiny scales in a triangular shape.
Crocodile have integumentary sensory organ pores, or ISOs. These pores usually contain a tiny hair that helps the crocodile sense its surroundings. After tanning, the hair is removed, but the pore will remain. The pore looks like a tiny hole in each scale.
If the head skin is still attached to a skin, it is very easy to tell the difference between the leathers. Alligators have three rows of two pronounced bumps on the top of their head, while caimans have three rows of bumps. The first row has four bumps, the second row also has four bumps and the third tow has two bumps. The crocodile only has two rows of bumps, and the first row has four bumps and the second has two bumps.
Alligator skins are extremely durable, but both alligator skins and crocodile skins are pliable, which means they bend easily without damage. Caiman skins are not as durable and can crack or crease when the skin is bent or folded.
References and ResourcesCrocodile Leather; Crocodile Alligator and Caiman Leather How to Tell the Difference; June 2, 2009
Crocodilian Biology Database: What's the Difference Between a Crocodile and an Alligator