Spectacled caiman

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The spectacled caiman is a small crocodilian living in Central and South America and Mexico. These reptiles are named for the ridge across their snout between the eyes that looks like the bridge of some glasses. You can see this a little on the lower caiman in the picture above, and its even easier to see in the picture below.

The caiman in the bottom picture is a different color than the ones in the picture above. This is because it is a juvenile. The juveniles are yellow with black markings. As they mature, they become an olive-green/gray color with less distinct markings. Some scientists think this species has some control over its color and can change it slightly.

There are currently three subspecies of this caiman, and they differ in size, color, and the shape of their skull. At one time there was a fourth subspecies, but it is now recognized as its own species, the Yacare caiman.

Size

Although spectacled is smaller than most crocodilians, it is still a large creature. Males typically grow to 8.2 feet (2.5 m) while the females are around 6.6 feet (2 m). Some males can be even larger, almost ten feet (3.1 m) long! On average, the adults weigh about 88 pounds (40 kg), and the largest individuals can weigh 128 pounds (58 kg).

Diet

These crocodiles feed on a wide variety of animals, both aquatic ones and land dwelling ones. The juveniles, being smaller, can only eat smaller foods, such as insects, snails, crustaceans, and small fish.

The adults don’t eat as many invertebrates, instead eating larger fish as well as amphibians, reptiles, and water birds. The largest spectacled caimans may even eat mammals, such as deer and pigs. During the dry season, prey is sometimes scarce. If food is hard enough to find, some of these caimans may resort to cannibalism to survive.

Habitat and range

These caimans sometimes live in the areas where rivers meet oceans. These areas, called estuaries, have varying salinities. The areas further in the river have fresh water, while the areas more out to sea have salt water. In the middle is water that is saltier than fresh water but not as salty as sea water. This is called brackish water. These caimans can survive a large range of salinity, both in the brackish areas and in areas with fresh waters. Since they can survive a large range of salinity, they are called euryhaline.

Often these crocodilians live in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and other still or slow-moving freshwater areas.

Spectacled caimans are native to northern South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. They have also been introduced to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and even parts of Florida.

Status and threats

These caimans are classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Redlist. They are not hunted as much as many crocodilians as their bony belly scales make them much harder to use in purses and other items. Illegal hunting for meat, eggs, and the pet trade is still a threat. Habitat destruction and pollution also harm these creatures.

There are also some natural threats to the spectacled caiman, mostly for the eggs or juveniles. These include other crocodilians, snakes, water birds, large fish, foxes, and coatis.

Reproduction

The spectacled caiman mating season occurs between April and August. Both the males and females will try to attract a mate by bellowing, rubbing backs, circling each other, and blowing bubbles. After mating, the female will go to the male’s territory to build a nest.

The female waits until between July and November to lay her eggs, from 20 to 40 of them. Eggs that are incubated at higher temperatures produce mostly males, while being incubated at lower temperatures gives mostly females. It takes about 90 days for the eggs to hatch. During this time the female guards the nest, though some eggs are still stolen by predators.

After they hatch, the young form a nursery group including juveniles from several different mothers. All the mothers help to protect the young caimans, but one mother usually takes charge of the whole group. If the nursery pool they are in dries up, the females will guide the young across land to a new pool.

The young usually stay under the females’ care for about 18 months. After this, they disperse and begin to get their own territory. The young are ready to mate by the time they are 7 years old. Spectacled caimans typically live between 30 and 40 years in the wild, but some have lived for up to 60 years!

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Spectacled caimans – Public domain
  • Spectacled caiman head – Bernard Dupont
  • Spectacled caiman range – Achim Raschka

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