Common caiman

Caiman crocodilus

SUBFAMILY

Caimaninae

TAXONOMY

Caiman crocodilus Linnaeus, 1758, type locality not specified. Four subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Spectacled caiman, brown caiman; French: Caiman e lunettes; German: Brillenkaiman, Krokodilkaiman; Spanish: Caimán común.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Dark cross-banding, tough dorsal armor, and a bony facial ridge are the most distinguishing features of this greenish gray to brownish gray crocodilian. Adults can reach 4-6 ft (1.2-1.8 m), with rare individuals growing up to 10 ft (3 m).

DISTRIBUTION

The species is found primarily in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins, but it extends from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago north of eastern Venezuela. It also inhabits southern Florida and has been introduced in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

HABITAT

The common caiman inhabits freshwater areas, particularly swamps but also lakes, rivers, and even water-filled roadside ditches.

BEHAVIOR

During the breeding season, the males bellow to help establish their territories. More than one female may mate with a single

male and build a nest in his territory. During the remainder of the year, which usually is much drier than the wet breeding season, caimans congregate in whatever freshwater pools are available.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The caiman diet varies from land invertebrates among the youngest individuals to snails among juveniles and mainly fish among adults.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Caimans begin breeding during the annual wet season. Females lay about one dozen to three dozen eggs in a terrestrial nest made of vegetation. The mother provides parental care by helping in the hatching process and by carrying the neonates, which are typically about 8 in (20 cm) long, to nearby water. The male guards the nest. After hatching, the young generally remain near the parents until they are almost a year old. Common caimans have been known to live into their 60s, though this is rare.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN. One of the four subspecies (C. c. apa-poriensis) of the common caiman, however, is under threat by range overlap and cross-breeding with another subspecies, C. c. crocodilus.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The common caiman is harvested, sometimes illegally, as food or for its skin. It also has been seen in the pet trade. ♦

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