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Cuvier’s dwarf caiman

Paleosuchus palpebrosus

Description: Cuvier’s dwarf caimans (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) are dark reddish-brown. They are heavily armored on their back and stomach (this provides protection from predators). Their head is short and smooth with a high skull and an upturned long snout. The head is void of bony ridges between the eyes. The dorsal surface is mostly plain, while the upper and bottom jaws are covered with several dark and light spots. The tail is marked with encircling bands to the tip. The eyes are brown. Their fourth tooth on each side of the bottom jaw fits into a socket within the upper jaw and is not visible when the jaws are closed.

Size: This species is the smallest living New World crocodilian. Males grow to about 4.3 – 4.9 feet (1.3-1.5 m) and the females to about 4 feet (1.2 m).

Behavior: They are nocturnal hunters, preferring to spend the daylight hours basking in the sun. When in pairs or small groups, they are known to migrate long distances due to competition.

Diet: The diet differs for the young and adults. The young feed on insects, crabs, frogs, tadpoles, shrimp, snails and small fish. Adults feed on fish, frogs, tadpoles, snails, small mammals and a wide variety of insects. Their prey is usually swallowed whole or in large pieces.
Senses: Even though their skin is heavily armored, it is very sensitive, allowing them to detect physical and chemical stimuli. As carnivores, their senses are extremely powerful – hearing (can hear young call while inside the egg), eyes on top of their head, and well-developed senses of taste and smell.

Communication: They communicate through sounds, postures, movements, smells, and touch. Non-verbal communication is done by head-slapping or jaw-clapping at the water’s surface. During courtship, males make a grunting sound.

Reproduction: Female caimans build mound nests using soil mixed with rotten and green leaves, grasses and twigs. The nest contains an egg chamber at the center, where anywhere from 10 to 25 white, oblong, shaped eggs are laid. The eggs are incubated for about 2.5 – 3 months and during this time the mother guards the nest. The nest is opened by the female in response to vocalizations of the young. After the young hatch from their eggs, they stay beneath the debris of the nest for several days before venturing out on their own.

Habitat/range: Dwarf caimans prefer clean, clear, fast-moving streams or rivers in forested areas containing waterfalls and rapids. They are widespread throughout the Orinoco and Amazon basins, inhabiting areas extending from Colombia, Venezuela and the Guianas, south to Sao Paulo and the upper Rio Paraguay in southern Brazil and west to the Rio Pastaza in Ecuador.

Status: Listed as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List; CITES: Appendix II.