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Northern Caiman Lizard Fact File

Dracaena guianensis

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

4.5kg

(10lbs)

Length

90-120cm

(35.8-48in)

Lifespan

Wild 8-12 years

Captive 8-12 years

Diet

Carnivore

Snails, Reptiles

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The northern caiman lizard is a large lizard found in South America. Their name is taken from the large scales on their back which resemble the scales of a caiman crocodile.

They are carnivores with a strong jaw which is an adaptation allowing them to crush the shells of turtles and snails on which they feed.

Northern caiman lizards will deposit up to a dozen eggs in soil next to the water course they inhabit. After they hatch these young are independent.

This species was previously hunted in large numbers for their skins. Some are also captured for the pet trade.

Read on to learn more about these remarkable reptiles.

Appearance

What does the northern caiman lizard look like?

The head of the northern caiman lizard is broad with its color varying from green to orange. Across the rest of their body the scales are olive brown or dark green across the back with grey on the underside. Some yellow or brown patches may be present on their side.

Males and females can be distinguished using the color of their throat. Males have an orange and black throat while that of females is gray.

Their eye features a third eyelid. This can be closed over their eye, similar to goggles, when swimming to protect the eye and allow them to see.

At the end of the body is a long tail which comes to a point at its end. Running along the length of the tail are three rows of spines.

An average northern caiman lizard will measure between 90 and 120cm (35.8-48in) long with an average weight of 4.5kg (10lbs).

Diet

What does the northern caiman lizard eat?


Northern caiman lizards are carnivores. Their diet includes a range of invertebrates, reptiles such as turtles and eggs.

Their jaw is powerful to help crush through the shells of their prey.

The tongue of these lizards is forked. This helps them to located the direction in which to travel to find their prey.

Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis)

Credit: Public Domain

Range

Where can you find the northern caiman lizard?

South America is the native home of the northern caiman lizard. They can be found in Brazil, French Guiana, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the northern caiman lizard live in?

Northern caiman lizards will make their home in forests and wetlands.

These reptiles are considered semi-aquatic and will be found near rivers, flooded lowlands and swamps. When they leave the water they often remain close by and are often seen in low branches.

Records of the species of exist in cities where they make use of water courses.

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Reproduction

How does the northern caiman lizard produce its young?

Females will deposit up to a dozen eggs in to their nest which is located on land. Occasionally they will lay eggs in a termite nest which provides protection against predators.

These eggs incubate for roughly 179 days.

Hatchlings are independent from birth and require no parental care.

Behavior

What does the northern caiman lizard do with its day?

During the day these lizards can be seen basking on the banks of rivers or on debris which is floating down a river.

They are considered semi-aquatic and are regularly seen swimming in the water.

Northern caiman lizards are equally at home in the trees which they will climb while hunting or basking.

These animals are primarily active during the day. At night they will rest in a tree or bush.

Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the northern caiman lizard?

Natural predators of the northern caiman lizard include jaguars, snakes and crocodiles.

If threatened they can quickly drop in to the water below. If this is not possible they will whip their tail at prey and swing around to bite it if needed.

While scientists have not yet conducted any significant studies in to the population of the northern caiman lizard they are commonly reported by local individuals.

This species has faced significant threats including hunting for meat and skin. They may also be captured live for sale in to the pet trade. Breeding populations are maintained in Peru to supply the captive trade taking some pressure off wild populations.

They were once hunted in much larger numbers but when they were afforded protection in the 1970s this dropped significantly.

Quick facts

Their name is taken from the heavy scales on their back which resemble the scales of a caiman crocodile.

Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis)

Credit: Public Domain

References

Calderón, M., Perez, P. & Avila-Pires, T.C.S. 2019. Dracaena guianensisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T44579645A44579652. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T44579645A44579652.en. Accessed on 24 December 2021.

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2021. Caiman lizard. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/caiman-lizard> [Accessed 24 December 2021].

Zoological Society of London (ZSL). 2021. Caiman lizard. [online] Available at: <https://www.zsl.org/zsl-london-zoo/caiman-lizard> [Accessed 24 December 2021].

Rosamond Gifford Zoo. 2021. Caiman lizard – Rosamond Gifford Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org/experience/animals/reptiles/caiman-lizard/> [Accessed 24 December 2021].

Paignton Zoo. 2021. Visit Northern Caiman Lizard – A Zoo With Northern Caiman Lizard • Paignton Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.paigntonzoo.org.uk/animals-az/northern-caiman-lizard/> [Accessed 24 December 2021].

Wildherps.com. 2021. Wild Herps – Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis). [online] Available at: <http://www.wildherps.com/species/D.guianensis.html> [Accessed 24 December 2021].

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