Cuvier’s dwarf caiman is the smallest member of the alligator family. Males are larger than females reaching an average length between 1.3 and 1.5m (4.3-4.5ft) long while females reach 1.2m (3.9m) long. An average weight for this species is up to 20kg (40lbs) for males and 12kg (26lbs) for females.
Their body is a reddish-brown color. They have dark marking along the upper and lower jaw. Along the tail are bands of darker color. On the underside of their body they are colored tan, cream or yellow.
They have a short head with an upturned snout. This snout is short and v-shaped. When the mouth is closed the fourth tooth on each side of the lower jaw will slot in to a space on the upper jaw meaning it is not visible while the mouth is closed.
Cuvier’s dwarf caimans have a brown eye. This is covered with a nictitating membrane which is a clear membrane which covers the eye while under the water.
Each of the legs has five digits with a short claw.
Cuvier’s dwarf caimans are carnivores. They feed on a range of invertebrates, birds, reptiles such as turtles and lizards, frogs, fish and small mammals. Some large males may feed on smaller crocodilians. They have been able to eat animals up to the size of a capybara.
Some have been recorded to swallow stones which aids in their digestion.
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South America is the native home of Cuvier’s dwarf caiman. Here they can be found in the following countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela.
They can be found in both the Orinoco and Amazon river basins.
They make their home in tropical rainforests and swamps. Most of their time is spent in the water of fast flowing streams and rivers. They tend to show a preference for clean and clear water.
Breeding occurs towards the ends of the dry season in most populations so the young emerge at the start of the rainy season. They may breed year round though.
Males will form a territory prior to breeding which is aggressively defended against intruders.
During mating season the pair will come together and swim alongside one another while the male makes nasal chuffs. They will mate multiple times over a number of days.
Following a successful mating the female will come on to land above the waterline and build a nest mound by bringing together plant material and mud.
In to the nest the female deposits between 18 and 25 white oblong shaped eggs. These are then covered over. They will incubate for three months. The mother remains near the eggs during this time and will defend them against predation.
When the mother hears the young start to call she will open up the nest so the hatchlings can emerge.
The gender of the hatchlings is tied to temperature. Warmer temperatures produce males while cooler temperatures will produce female hatchlings.
Sexual maturity is reached after 10 years old. Females typically mature later than males. This milestone is typically determined by their length.
Cuvier’s dwarf caimans are active at night when they will hunt. During the day they may bask in the sun to obtain warmth.
They are mostly solitary and will fiercely defend their territory.
These animals are occasionally observed in burrows in the riverbank.
To communicate with one another they use a mixture of sounds, movement, smells and touch.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of Cuvier’s dwarf caimans include birds of prey such the harpy eagles, snakes such as boas and anaconda, carnivorous fish and cats such as the jaguar.
Young animals face further predators including raccoons, large rats and birds. They may also be cannibalized by larger caiman.
Humans impact their population through habitat destruction and pollution. One contributor to pollution is gold mining. They are also collected in small amounts for the pet trade. Cuvier’s dwarf caiman are also victims of vehicle strike.
Their skin is luckily not often sought after as it is very bumpy.
Cuvier’s dwarf caiman is the smallest member of the alligator family.
By Llez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15654952
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=125700
By Nilfanion – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9794241
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