Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus)
As the smallest crocodilians, caimans have bony plates over their eyelids. They are distinquished by a high, smooth skull and brown eyes, instead of yellow, which are common in most crocodilians. The skull sits very high and the snout makes and upturned curl. The structure of the skull suggests that they make use of burrows as shelter during the day. Beacuse of its smaller size, caimans also have scales on the underside for protection.
Their skin is heavily ossified, making them less flexible than other crocodilians. Their rather extreme dermal armor, however, provides them with considerable protections. They are so wel armored, in fact, that their patchwork of scutes have even been compared to the hardened shell of certain turtles.
Femail caimans are mound-nesters, using available vegetation and mud. As the vegetation rots, the heat incubates the clutch of 10 to 25 eggs. Incubation period lasts around 90 days.
Newly hatched young may not enter the water until the end of their first day.
Habitat: They live in forest areas near large lakes and rivers across South America in the Amazon, Orinoco and Sao Francisco River systems as well as in the Northern Panama and Paraquay river systems.
Size: Range from 3.9 to 5 feet in length
Food: Caimans are carnivorous and eat fish, invertebrates and shrimp in the wild. At the zoo, they eat mice and small fish.
Lifespan: Current estimates place caiman's life expectancy at 30-40 years. In captivity, they can live to be 60 years old. It should be noted, however, that larger crocodilians have been documented with lifespans of 70-90 years or in a few cases in excess of 100 years.
Threat: Caimans are considered widespread and the population is stable. The value of its skin is not considered to be very high, given both its small size and the poor 'quality' of the belly skin. Double osteoderms are present in the ventral scales, making the skin tough and too costly to tan. Threats, therefore, come more than habitat destruction and pollution (for example, through gold mining activities).