Almost like a crocodile but not quite, the Spectacled Caiman (Latin name: Caiman crocodilus) is a small- to medium-sized crocodilian species ranging from about 1.5 to 3 meters in length, according to AnimalDiversity.org. It is extremely adaptable to a wide variety of living conditions, often living in “rivers, caños or creeks, lagoons, lakes, borrow pits, swamps, dams and marshes,” according to Alvaro Velasco and José Ayarzagüena, who wrote about the species in the 3rd edition of the book Crocodiles: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan.

Spectacled Caimans are very intelligent animals that communicate with each other using sounds, body language, and sub-audible vibrations. Oftentimes, they live for about 30 to 40 years, but there have been records of specimens reaching 60 years of age.

Why “Spectacled”?

This crocodile-like species has a bony protuberance joining both eyes, making it look like they’re wearing eyeglasses and earning them their “spectacled” nickname, according to Rainforest-Alliance.org. – Ed.

Behavior

Spectacled Caimans are often solitary creatures as adults. They prefer to live and hunt alone, except during the mating season when they copulate. However, they are surprisingly good parents. In the wild, hatchlings often remain with their mothers for about 12 to 18 months.

Sadly, in captivity, eggs are separated from their parents. Sometimes, the separation occurs as soon as the young ones could to eat on their own. Their behavior is slightly altered as well, with captivity driving them to live in a communal setup.

Conservation Status

Spectacled Caimans are very hardy animals. Despite their exploitation in the ‘50s, their numbers increased in a short period of time after hunting was regulated in most countries and captive breeding efforts paid off.

The primary threats to wild populations are illegal hunting, habitat loss, and the construction of hydroelectric dams which may prevent migration and breeding.

Nowadays, Spectacled Caimans still occupy a large territory in interconnected bodies of water and their wild populations are regularly evaluated by officials. According to the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, their wild population is currently stable.

Lethal Leather

The growing demand for genuine animal skins poses a threat to this species, what with them eventually being harvested in large numbers to meet the market’s demand. In the past, leather from these animals was considered inferior to that obtained from alligators because of the bony inclusions. However, they were soon exploited for their skin in the 1950s.

Did You Know?

Caimans are responsible for managing the numbers of capybaras and piranhas in their natural habitats. On the other hand, the primary predator of caimans is the jaguar.

Caiman Curiosity

Caiman keeper Donie S. Regala tells us more about the Caiman crocodilus.

Q: What makes it challenging to care for a caiman?It’s the constant risk of getting bitten by one. [At one point], I got bitten and my entire finger almost got mutilated.

Caimans are very unpredictable animals that must always be handled with extreme caution and respect. My caiman is slightly territorial, but after five minutes of handling, it eventually calms down.

Q: What do Spectacled Caimans eat?

I feed them a mixed diet of chicken, pork, beef chops, carabao chops, rats, and frogs to maintain their health and support their nutritional needs.

Q: How do you keep them happy?

Always make sure they have access to water where they can swim, and a basking area with natural sunlight. Caimans love two things: sun and water.

Q: What lessons have you learned caring for these wonderful creatures?

Handle them with extreme care, caution, and alertness. Always respect these animals.

 

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September 2018 issue.