Dracaena paraguayensis Amaral, 1950. Sao Louren^o, Mato Grosso, Brazil.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
French: Dracene de la Guyane; German: Krokodilteju. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
These are large teiids that may reach more than 39 in (1 m) total length and more than 17.7 in (450 mm) snout-to-vent length. Individuals have large, blunt heads and molariform crushing teeth for dealing with hard-shelled molluscan prey. The dorsum has enlarged scales that look like a crocodile's scutes. The tail is laterally compressed with two rows of crestlike scales.
Pantanal region of southwestern Brazil and northern Paraguay. HABITAT
Seasonally flooded freshwater marshes and savannas in the Pantanal region.
This semiaquatic lizard basks on tree limbs and on the banks of pools and water courses. It forages in the water for snails. Excellent swimmers, caiman lizards use the laterally compressed tail to propel themselves through the water. They forage in water and escape predators by diving into the water.
Specialists on snails as prey, caiman lizards capture large freshwater snails and crush them in powerful jaws. They have specialized molariform teeth for crushing hard prey.
This species is oviparous, but few details of its natural history are known.
Not threatened, and common in the Pantanal ecoregion. Caiman lizards are valued by the exotic leather trade for their skins, which are used to make leather for boots and other fashion accessories. Threats include destruction of wetlands in the Pantanal and direct overexploitation of the species for the skin trade. Trade levels in the 1990s were not high, but no management plans for the species are in place.
Local people in parts of the species' range often believe the myth that caiman lizards are venomous and dangerous. Their skins are valued by the exotic leather trade. ♦
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