Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)
Order: Crocodilia, Family: Alligatoridae
The caiman is small in comparison to other lizard species.
It has a short tail and a short, smooth head with a high skull and upturned snout. They also have a pronounced overbite.
Their irises are generally brown but can take on greenish tinge.
Juveniles are brown with banding; adults have chocolate brown heads, and their jaws are flecked with white bands.
Caimans closely resemble alligators except for the small bony scales embedded in the skin of their belly.
II. GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
- The caiman is small in comparison to other lizard species.
- It has a short tail and a short, smooth head with a high skull and upturned snout. They also have a pronounced overbite.
- Their irises are generally brown but can take on greenish tinge.
- Juveniles are brown with banding; adults have chocolate brown heads, and their jaws are flecked with white bands.
- Caimans closely resemble alligators except for the small bony scales embedded in the skin of their belly.
- Native to South America, caimans inhabit Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela.
- They live in freshwater rivers and shallower forest streams.
- Escaped caimans, imported as part of the exotic pet trade, inhabit parts of the American tropics, including South Florida and Louisiana.
IV. LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
- The caiman's diet changes with age and also depends on the animal's habitat preferences.
V. SPECIAL NOTES/ADAPTATIONS:
- Caimans are shy and usually solitary.
- Adults spend much of the day in burrows away from water and travel overland between burrows and water to forage; they patrol the territory along waterways and forage from their burrow at night, often near water but also in surrounding forest within territory.
- Caimans walk with a distinctive head-raised posture.
- They reach sexual maturity at 10 to 20 years of age.
- Female begins constructing nests out of available vegetation and mud before the onset of the annual rains; incubation lasts 90 to 115 days — hatchlings emerge as water level rises from rains and disperses over wide range.
- Newly hatched young are coated with a slow-drying, protective mucus layer and may not enter water until the end of the first day; when it's time, the female will open the nest and move the juveniles to water.
VI. EFFECT ON ENVIRONMENT:
- The caiman's heavily ossified armor on both dorsal and ventral surfaces helps protect it in more fast-flowing riverine habitats, as well as from obstacles and predators.
- It has short, backward-curved teeth particularly suited to eating invertebrates such as crustaceans.
- The dried protective mucus layer of young may help to reduce growth of algae on body.
- The caiman has a bony flap that comes down and completely protects its eye when its upper eyelid is lowered.
VII. POPULATION STATUS:
- Jaguars and other large carnivores prey on the caiman.
- As a top predator in its habit's food chain, the caiman consequently forms part of the natural cycling of nutrients that maintains stability of ecosystem.
- There is a high mortality rate among juvenile caimans, but adult mortality is very low.
- The caiman is an endangered species. Present and future threats include habitat destruction and pollution associated with gold mine activities.