Spectacled Caiman

Spectacled Caiman

Spectacled Caiman information

The Spectacled caiman, Caiman crocodilus, has the widest distribution of any species in the family Alligatoridae and is found throughout much of Central and South America. It is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List and has actually benefited from the depletion of competing crocodilians within its range.

Spectacled Caiman taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Reptilia
Order:           Crocodilia
Family:          Alligatoridae
Genus:           Caiman
Species:         Caimancrocodilus

There are three recognized subspecies:

  • Caimancrocodilus crocodilus
  • Caimancrocodilus apaporiensis (Rio Apaporis Caiman)
  • Caimancrocodilus fuscus (Brown Caiman)

The Yacare Caiman used to be considered a subspecies (Caimancrocodilus yacare) but is now widely accepted as a separate species: Caiman yacare.

Spectacled Caiman conservation status

Caimancrocodilus is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The estimated wild population exceeds 1 million individuals.

The Spectacled caiman is one of the most common of all crocodilian species, but depletion has taken place in certain areas. The subspecies C. c. apaporiensis is for instance under severe threat in Colombia and serious depletion is reported from El Salvador. The major threat comes from illegal hunting.

The Spectacled caiman has actually been promoted by the depletion of other crocodilians within its range (chiefly the American crocodile, Orinoco crocodile and Black caiman) since this has allowed the caiman to take over new habitat from which it has traditionally been outcompeted. When the more valuable species started to become increasingly scarce in the mid 20th century, Spectacled caiman hunting did however increase.

Despite intense hunting plus collection for the pet trade, the Spectacled caiman populations are in relatively good condition in most parts of the species range. It has taken over habitat from more severely depleted species and is also making use of man-made bodies of water. Well developed sustainable use programs exist in several countries.  

Caiman crocodilus as an invasive species
Feral populations of Caiman crocodilus is believed to be primary cause behind the dramatic decline of Crocodylus rhombifer on Isla de la Juventud in Cuba.

Spectacled Caiman range

The Spectacled caiman is native to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, Tobago, Trinidad, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. The species has been introduced to Cuba and the United States (including Puerto Rico). On Cuba and Puerto Rico, you will find the subspecies C. c. fuscus.

Caiman crocodilus has the widest distribution of any species in the Alligatoridae family.

Spectacled Caiman habitat

The Spectacled caiman is an adaptable species that tolerates fresh, brackish and saltwater. It prefers still waters but is present in virtually all types of lowland wetland and riverine habitats within its range. 

If necessary, the Spectacle caiman will excavate a burrow and aestivate until conditions improve.

Spectacled Caiman size and appearance

Males are normally 2-2.5 meters (6.6-8.2 feet) long, while the largest reported specimen approached 3 meters (9.8 feet). The females are smaller and will normally not exceed 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) in length, although occasional females may reach a size of nearly 2 meters (6.6 feet).

The Spectacled Caiman has a bony ridge between its eyes (infra-orbital bridge), hence the name. Another ridge (a triangular one) can be seen on the upper eyelids, which are heavily ossified. The number of teeth varies from 72 to 78.   

Adult Caiman crocodilus are dull olive green, while juveniles are yellow and adorned with black spots and bands on body and tail. As the caiman matures, the markings grow less and less noticeable.

The different subspecies vary in size, colour and skull shape. The social status of an individual will also affect its size by affecting its growth rate. Submissive animals grow slower than the dominant ones and are less likely to breed.  

Spectacled Caiman feeding and diet

Juvenile Spectacled caimans feed on aquatic invertebrates, such as crustaceans, insects and molluscs. As they grow larger, they gradually learn to overtake bigger and bigger prey, chiefly fish, amphibians, reptiles and water birds. Large adult caimans are capable of taking midsized mammals like wild pigs. Cannibalism also occurs, especially during dry periods when other prey is scarce. Spectacled caimans can also refrain from eating anything during the dry season.

Spectacled Caiman breeding

The female Spectacled caiman attains sexual maturity when she’s 1.2 m (4 feet) long, something which normally happens at an age of 4-7 years. The males matures at a similar age, but not until they’ve reached a size of 1.4 m (4.6 feet).

Towards the end of the dry seaon (April to May), the gonads of the male caiman begins to increase in size but they will not reach their maximal size until the wet season has commenced (May to June). Courtship occurs between May and August.

A mound nest consisting of soil and vegetation is built, usually under cover but sometimes in more open environments or on floating mats of vegetation. Inside the nest, the female will deposit 14-40 (22 is the average) eggs in July or August. Sometimes, several females will share one nest.

Females stay close to their nests in order to ward off introducers but many fail and a large share of the nests is raided by predators before the eggs hatch. The habit of sharing a nest with other mothers may be a way for the female caiman to lower the risk of her eggs getting eaten since there will be more than one parent watching over the nest.

Hatching normally takes place after roughly 90 days of incubation and the hatchlings will stay close to the female for some time and follow here wherever she goes. Sometimes one female takes care of not only her own hatchlings but the hatchlings of others as well.

Spectacled Caiman facts

Spectacled Caiman facts # 1
Within its native range, Caiman crocodilus is known under common names such as Baba, Babiche, Babilla, Cachirré, Caiman Blanco, Caiman de Brasil, Cascarudo, Jacaretinga, Tinga, Lagarto, Lagarto Blanco, Yacaré Blanco, Spectacled caiman, and Common caiman. Some of these names are also used for Caiman yacare.

Spectacled Caiman facts # 2
The name “Spectacled caiman” alludes to the bridge of bones visible between the eyes on this species.

Spectacled Caiman facts # 3
The Spectacled caiman has a limited ability to change colour (metachrosis) by changing the distribution of black pigment in its melanophore cells.

Spectacled Caiman facts # 4
The Spectacled caiman is often mistaken for the Yacara caiman.

Spectacled Caiman facts # 5
The skin of the Spectacled caiman is not very valuable. The ventral scales feature well-developed osteoderms and only the lateral flanks provide skin of an acceptable quality for tanning. Despite this, Caiman crocodilus hides became increasingly sought after as other more desirable crocodilian species began to peter out during the 20th century. Since then, an immense number of Spectacled caimans has been harvested and this species currently supply the vast majority of the hide market in the Americas. Sometimes, Caiman crocodilus skin is erroneously sold as Alligator mississippiensis.


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