Black Caiman

Black Caiman

Black Caiman information

The Black caiman, Melanosuchus niger, is the largest member of the family Alligatoridae. It lives in South America and the largest individuals are capable of devouring other powerful predators like anacondas and jaguars.

Black Caiman taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Reptilia
Order:           Crocodilia
Family:          Alligatoridae
Genus:           Melanosuchus
Species:         Melanosuchus niger

Black Caiman conservation status

Melanosuchus niger is listed as Conservation Dependant on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The estimated wild population consists of 25,000-50,000 individuals.

This species was once severely depleted by overhunting, but has recuperated fairly well in parts of its range. Illegal hunting does however continue to be a problem and habitat destruction is also a threat. During the years of severe over-hunting, Caiman crocodilus took advantage of the situation and moved into areas earlier inhabited by Melanosuchus niger. M. niger is therefore facing competition as it tries to recover.
Management programs exist, including captive breeding and reintroduction schemes. The skin of M. niger produces a shiny, black leather.

Black Caiman range

The Black caiman is native to Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, and Peru. Unconfirmed reports exist from Venezuela.

Black Caiman habitat

The Black caiman is a freshwater species found in lakes and wetlands, in slow-moving rivers and streams, and in the seasonally flooded savannas of the Amazon basin. Its range overlaps that of other caiman species but it has not been observed sharing habitat with them.  

Black Caiman size and appearance

The Black caiman is the largest species in the family Alligatoridae and also one of the largest reptiles in the world. It can exceed 5 meters (16.5 feet) in length, although most males stay around 3-4 meters (10-13 feet). Reports of 6 meter (20 feet) Black caimans exist but remain unverified.

The name Black caiman hails from the dark scaly skin of this species. The color is believed to serve as camouflage. The lower jaw is adorned with grey banding which turns brown in older specimens. White or pale yellow bands are visible across the flanks but can be difficult to distinguish in adults since they tend to become less prominent as juveniles mature.

The Black caiman has red eyes over which you can see a bony ridge that continues down the snout. The shape of the skull distinguishes this species from the other caimans. The snout is narrow and the eyes very big. The number of teeth varies between 72 and 76.

Black Caiman feeding and diet

The Black caiman is a nocturnal hunter that feeds on a long row of different prey. It is for instance known to take fish (e.g. catfish and piranhas), turtles, birds and land-living mammals like deer and capybara. Large adults can even kill domestic animals, tapirs, anacondas, jaguars and pumas. Young specimens chiefly feed on insects and crustaceans.

The Black caiman normally grabs hold of an animal and drowns it rather than killing it by ripping, since its teeth and more suitable for holding than tearing. The prey is swallowed whole.

Black Caiman breeding

Nest building takes place in December. The female constructs a nest measuring roughly 1.5 x 0.75 meters (5 x 2.5 feet) in which she deposits 30-65 eggs. Nests have been reported from both concealed and open locations. The incubation time varies between 42 and 90 days during which the mother will stay close to the nest. When its time for the young to emerge they will start emitting chirping sounds that alert the mother who will help them out of the eggs. Females have also been observed carrying the hatchlings from the nest down to the water in the mouth and place them in a “holding pool” area. Hatching normally coincides with the onset of the rainy season. The mother will protect her offspring for several months.

Female Black caiman only breeds every 2-3 years. It is common for many females to nest close to each other.  

Black Caiman facts

Black Caiman facts # 1
The name Melanosuchus niger is derived from both Greek and Latin. Melanosuchus is derived from melas, the Greek genitive for “black”, and suchus, which is a Latin word derived from soukhos, the Greek word for “crocodile”. The word niger is Latin for “black”; another reference to the dark skin of this species.

Black Caiman facts # 2
Within its native range, Melanosuchus niger is known under names such as Caimán, Caimán negro, Caïman noir, Lagarto negro, Jacare Açu, Jacaré Assú, Jacare Uassu, Jaracé Una, and Yacare Assu.

Black Caiman facts # 3
The Black caiman is the largest predator in the Amazon basin.

Black Caiman facts # 4
Unconfirmed tales of Black caimans devouring humans exist and given its great size it is not unfeasible to believe that large individuals would be capable of killing humans, especially children. However, none of these rumours have been verified. In fiction, the Black caiman is often depicted as a vicious man-eater that will attack anyone who falls into the water. A Black caiman did for instance devour a Special Forces soldier after capsizing his inflatable boat in James Rollin’s “Amazonia”.   

Black Caiman facts # 5

Juvenile Black caimans are preyed on by animals such as the jaguar but adult individuals exceeding a length of 4 meters (13 feet) are usually only attacked by humans.



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