The spectacled caiman has dull olive colour scales. When it is cold the black pigment in the skin expands leading them to appear darker and giving the appearance that they can change colour. Their snout is broad and blunt.
On average these small to medium crocodiles measure between 1.5 and 2.1m (4.9-6.9ft). Males are larger than females. In the past it was not uncommon for specimens up to 3m (9.8ft) long to be found but these were a prime target for hunters and are now hardly ever seen.
They weigh up to 58kg (127.75lbs).
Their name comes from a bony ridge between the eyes which some believe look like a pair of spectacles.
Spectacled caiman are carnivorous animals. They mainly eat fish, water snails, insects, crustaceans, small birds, frogs, turtles and mollusks. The larger specimens are able to also feed on mammalian prey such as the wild pigs and deer. Cannibalism may also occur in the event that food is scarce.
When hunting they may trap a fish up against the shore meaning it is easier to catch.
South and Central America are the native homes of the spectacled caiman. Here they can be found throughout Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad, Tobago and Venezuela.
Introduced populations of this species have been established in Florida, Cuba and Puerto Rico.
In their native territory they are found in both salt and fresh water areas. Their preference is for areas of slow moving water in the rivers, marshes, floodplains and wetlands. They can live in quite shallow bodies of water only needing enough space to submerge their bodies.
Mating takes place from April to August. Courtship involves the pair swimming together, bellowing, blowing bubbles, touching snouts and rubbing backs. Males may mate with a number of females and vice versa.
Once a successful mating occurs the female will dig a nest in the males territory. The nest is built out of dense vegetation. How large it becomes is dependent on how much vegetation is around.
Into this nest 40 eggs are laid. The mother stays with them defending them against threats but often they will be taken by predators or flooded away. After 90 days the eggs will hatch. Gender is determined not by genes but by temperature. When the nest is 31oC or below then males will hatch. In the event it sits above 32oC then females are hatched.
The mother assists the hatchlings by digging them up and helping them to hatch by gently rolling their egg. Once they hatch the young are carried to the water in their mouth.
After hatching the young are yellow with black spots which eventually fades to the olive green of their parents.
Young are raised in creches. This is where a female cares for a number of other females offspring. This continues for two to four months. If they move watercourse the mother will call to them to make sure that there are none left behind. After 18 months the young disperse to find their own territory. Straight after birth they are responsible for finding their own food.
Maturity occurs at between 4 and 7 years old. Smaller males are normally excluded from breeding until they get bigger.
Spectacled caiman maintain a territory but this is loosely defended and they will often tolerate others entering this when there is enough food. Most of the day is spent immobile with the middle of the day spent completely submerged. In the morning and afternoon they may come to the shore and bask.
Humans are the only predator capable of attacking an adult. Juveniles may be taken by wading birds, large fish, other crocodilians and large snakes such as the anaconda. Nests may be raided by tegu lizards, coatis and foxes.
The spectacled caiman is also referred to as the common caiman.
Spectacled caiman are the most common crocodilian species.
Caiman is a Spanish term for “alligator.”
By Keven Law from Los Angeles (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus) juvenile) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Berrucomons (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Balaguera-Reina, S.A. & Velasco, A. 2019. Caiman crocodilus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T46584A3009688. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T46584A3009688.en. Downloaded on 27 April 2020.
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