CAIMAN

Scientific Name: Caiman crocodilus


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Juvenile Caimans are yellow in color with black spots and bands on the body and tail. As they mature, they lose this yellow color and the markings become less distinct. Adults are dull olive-green.

 

Spectacled caimans are the most common species of the crocodilian family. The Spectacled Caiman is one of the smallest crocodilians, but is the largest of the caiman family. Males generally reach 2-2.5 meters (6-7 feet long), with the largest specimens reported to approach 3 meters. But a caiman that is 9 feet long is very rare. Females are smaller, usually reaching a size of 1.5 meters, and rare individuals may reach 2 meters.

Caiman is a Spanish term for "alligator" or any crocodilian. A spectacled Caiman’s common name derives from a bony ridge which is found near the front of the eyes appearing to connect the eyes like a pair of spectacles.

Caimans swim very well, mainly using their tails to propel themselves through the water, and also using their webbed feet.

 

Caimans are nocturnal, preferring to hunt at night. Young caimans eat a variety of aquatic invertebrates (insects, crustaceans, mollusks). As they grow, various vertebrates take up a greater percentage of the diet. These include fish, amphibians, reptiles and water birds. Older animals are capable of taking larger, mammalian prey. It’s been said that an adult caiman can hunt a wild pig or even a tapir. Scientists have discovered that when the caiman’s habitat becomes drier, during the dry season, caimans stop feeding. Often, a caiman will eat other caimans under such conditions, this is known as cannibalism.

Unlike the bigger crocodilians, like the American Alligator and Freshwater Crocodile, the Caiman population is quite strong. The skin of Caimans is not ideally suited to tanning, so therefore the caiman is not hunted as much as its larger cousins.

Yet, the caiman is still threatened by habitat loss. They live in freshwater habitats in South and Central America, including the Amazon basin. They prefer still water, but also live in lowland wetlands and rivers. When people move into the caiman’s habitat, the caiman does not respond well. Caimans need large ranges to hunt their prey.

The caiman is a a protected species throughout much of the world. There are farms throughout the caimans’ habitat that is helping to restore the caiman to their natural habitat.


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Caiman farms, like this one, breed caimans and reintroduce them into the wild. Caimans are also common reptile pets, though the spectacled caiman often grows too large to keep as a pet.


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The largest adult caimans usually get to be 6-7 feet long. They hunt their prey like other crocodilians along muddy river banks.


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Adult caimans eat a variety of foods, sometimes including other caimans. Though, generally a caiman’s favorite meal is fish and other reptiles.

Dave Freeman is the Executive Director of the Wilderness Classroom. Dave and Amy Freeman have traveled over 30,000 miles by kayak, canoe and dogsled through some of the world’s wildest places. National Geographic named the Dave and Amy Adventurers of the Year in 2014.

When the Freemans aren’t on expeditions or conducting school assemblies, they guide canoe, kayak and dogsled trips.

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