Welcome to ELL Q&A, where Wordsmyth answers questions submitted by English Language Learners. Today, let’s compare and contrast animals that look similar.

“Alligator” vs. “Crocodile”

An alligator with covered teeth and a wide snout

Alligators and crocodiles are similar animals, but alligators have a wider and rounder snout than crocodiles. Crocodiles, on the other hand, have a fairly pointed snout.  

A crocodile with exposed teeth and a longer snout

Crocodiles also show quite a lot of teeth when their mouths are fully shut, whereas alligators have an upper jaw that is wider than their lower jaw. Therefore, they can cover their teeth more completely.  

In the United States, alligators tend to live in freshwater lakes, marshes, and swamps, and crocodiles tend to live in similar areas but in places where the water is saltier.

“Ape” vs. “Monkey”

Apes and monkeys are both primates, but they have different classifications and physical differences between them.  

Chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans are some apes that most of us are familiar with. Some of the best known monkeys are the spider monkey, the squirrel monkey, the howler monkey, the baboon, the mandrill, the marmoset, and the macaque.   

“Monkey? I’m an ape!

One easy distinction between apes and monkeys  is that monkeys, with very few exceptions, have tails, but apes never have tails.  Apes have wider bodies than monkeys, especially around the chest area. In this way, they are more similar to humans than monkeys.  

A monkey with long limbs sitting on a branch

Monkeys are built more like cats or dogs, meaning they can walk along the branches of trees on all four legs.  By contrast, apes move through the forest by swinging from branch to branch because their shoulders are equipped to do so.  Although both apes and monkeys typically walk on all fours, apes can stand on two legs considerably longer than monkeys.

Although monkeys are intelligent animals, apes have greater cognitive abilities.  Apes have been able to master sign language and even to use adapted computers.

“Sea lion” vs. “Seal”

Sea lions and seals appear similar, but sea lions have large front flippers used to hold their chest and head upright. By contrast, seals’ front flippers are relatively small.  Sea lions are able to “walk” on land because of their ability to support themselves upright, whereas seals waddle along on their bellies.

A seal laying on a rock

Though the practice may be vanishing now, sea lions, rather than seals,  are trained by humans to perform tricks like bouncing rubber balls on their noses.

Image result for sea lion balancing ball
Sea lions can balance balls on their noses!

One other important difference between seals and sea lions is that sea lions have visible flaps over their ear holes. However, seals do not.

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