Alligator vs. Crocodile
The “alligator-crocodile” confusion is purely cultural by nature, considering that Europeans call all crocodilians “Crocodiles,” and Americans refer to them as “Alligators,” which often caused mislabeling of final skin products. For example, Italian-made Alligator bags could be often mislabeled as “Crocodile,” thus prohibited by USFWS from export-import due to the ban on some crocodile species, such as American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus).
In fact, in the 1960s, president of Lucille Bags Inc., Peter Hahn, believed that some shops called their bags “Crocodile” purely for snob appeal, just because they were often made in Europe known for high quality merchandise. In his opinion, terminology was not as important as skin origin. He believed that Alligators from Florida yielded first class skins, while scorned Caiman from Argentina was brittle and hard. As Mr. Hahn noted, the Crocodile skin could be both of high and low quality, depending on its origin in northern Australia, Africa or Asia.
Today, confusing the situation even further is the myth claiming that only Alligators have umbilical scars (navels). In reality, like other animals, both Alligators and Crocodiles have umbilical scars on their underbelly, although they are slightly different in appearance. The Alligator umbilical scars are more elaborate, with multiple lines branching out from the stem, sometimes resembling a spider-web. The Crocodile umbilical scars are usually less distinct having fewer and narrower lines. Located on the valuable underbelly cuts, umbilical scars were often prominently displayed in a handbag construction on the front - right under the frame - to show off its high value as an authentic, genuine skin product. Sometimes several umbilical scars could be seen on different parts of a vintage designer handbag. It means that several well-matched belly skins from several animals were used in its construction representing a highly valuable example of wearable art.
There were also affordable handbags patched from scrap of Alligator, Crocodile, or Caiman using their skins with various patterns on different parts of the same bag. Those were "economy class" handbags, but if you want the best for your collection, don't waste your money on those bargains.
Finally, mislabeling of Caiman as "Alligator" or “Crocodile” was quite common regadless the obvious difference in their skin patterns' appearance. Brittle, plate-scaled skins of Caiman showed uneven, mottled tanning effect as oppose to smooth, even coloration of pliable Alligator or Crocodile. Also mistaken for Crocodile or Alligator could be Turtle or Tegu Lizard often misrepresented as “baby-alligator” or “baby-crocodile.” To put it short, do your homework when buying vintage exotic skin handbags for your collection to be completely assured of their 100% authenticity!
The main feature that distinguishes alligator from crocodile is the ISO - an integumentary sense organ - which is a small sensory pore or a hair follicle located close to the edge of the scale. ISOs assist crocodiles to detect change in water pressure, and locate and capture their prey. Alligators don't have them on their body; but Crocodiles do have from one to four ISOs on their body scales. To tell the skins apart, carefully examine their scales for ISOs. If you see tiny follicles close to the scale edge, you know the skin is Crocodile, not Alligator.
Alligator vs. Crocodile vs. Caiman vs. Turtle vs. Lizard
KNOW YOUR SKINS