Explore by Animal
Most crocodilians are suckers for a sunny beach. But the dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus), the smallest of the caimans at 5 feet long, lives amid the shadows. Scientists think its larger, more aggressive cousins have butted it out of typical habitats in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins. It has adapted to the leftovers—rapid rivers, forests and shady areas.
The dwarf caiman’s hefty, bonier scales shield its internal organs from swift waters, rocky river bottoms and such predators as anacondas and jaguars. It has an unusually short, smooth, pointy skull with an upturned snout, a useful adaptation for burrowing into a riverbank or bottom during the day. Then it’s “Land, ho!” at night as the caiman hunts for terrestrial prey to supplement its aquatic staples.
During courtship, the male emits a low grunt to call receptive females. Once a female is fertilized, she scrapes together a mound nest of leaf litter and mud and lays around 10 eggs, carefully covering them with more mud and debris. She guards her nest fiercely during the three-month incubation period. When she hears the hatchlings peep from inside, she tears open the hardened mound. Like other crocodilian moms, she protects her infants from predators for awhile. More field studies are needed to learn more about these fascinating reptiles’ behavior.
The dwarf caiman’s diminutive size and tough exterior make it undesirable in the hide trade. Yet hunters in search of meat, as well as habitat destruction and toxic pollution from mining, pose significant threats. Visit Amazon Rising to learn more about this cryptic crocodilian and its value.