The yacare caiman is a medium sized member of the crocodilian family. They have a broad, short snout. At the end of the body is a long, muscular tail which is used to push them through the water. The tail can make up as much as 30% of their length.
The skin of a yacare caiman has plates of bone called osteoderms embedded in it. This skin is colored black or dark olive. On the underside the scales are yellowish. On the sides, tail and lower jaw they have spots.
Inside their mouth is an average of 74 teeth but these fall out and are replaced often meaning this number varies between 70 and 82. Through their life they go through up to 40 sets of teeth. The fourth tooth on the lower jaw will sit in a socket when the mouth closes.
Like most crocodilians the eyes and nostrils sit on the top of the head meaning they can float at the water’s surface with most of their body submerged while still being able to see and breath.
An adult yacare caiman will grow to measure between 1.5 and 3m (5 and 10ft) long and weigh between 25 and 55kg (55 and 120lbs).
The yacare caiman is a carnivore. Their diet is made up of a range of vertebrates and invertebrates. Vertebrate prey items may include birds, mammals such as the capybara and fish. One fish which is commonly eaten is the piranha which has lead to the nickname of the piranha caiman.
They have powerful stomach acid which helps them to digest the shell of snails.
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South America is the native home of the yacare caiman. Here they can be found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.
Within the Brazilian Pantanal there is thought to be as many as 10 million individual yacare caimans. This may be the single largest crocodilian population on Earth.
They make their home in the lowlands of South America where they spend much of their time in the water. Watercourses which they inhabit include swamps, rivers, marshlands, wetlands, ponds and lakes.
Severe hunting pressures in their natural habitat have forced some in to areas such as grassland, scrub or farmland.
Egg laying peaks from December to February. Males will mark out a territory and fight to expel weak animals from this territory.
A clutch of 22-35 eggs will be laid in a mound of rotting vegetation and mud. The largest clutch recorded had 42 eggs.
Females will provide some protection for the nest. They defend it against predators such as snakes, lizards and birds of prey which may attempt to take the eggs. Incubation takes 2-3 months.
Females provide some care to their young if they are still around at hatching but it does not take long before they are independent.
Most of their feeding occurs at night. During the day they will nest under water to avoid the heat of the day.
There is a social structure which is determined by size. The largest animals will have the greatest success with reproduction.
Outside of breeding season they are mostly solitary but in some regions they may form loose groups.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the yacare caiman include cats such as the jaguar and snakes such as the green anaconda. Young may face predation from birds such as herons and storks.
The delicate bony plates on their side were favored for use in shoe making and this led to large amounts of hunting. Protections applied to them in recent years have helped to reduce this pressure and allowed populations to increase.
They still face a number of threats including habitat destruction and modification.
The yacare caiman has a number of other names including Jacare caiman, Paraguayan caiman and Red caiman.
By Norbert Kaiser – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1246062
By Lea Maimone – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99990
By Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43602413
By Rodrigovigil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10814040
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Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. 2020. Yacare Caiman. [online] Available at: <https://www.beardsleyzoo.org/yacare-caiman.html> [Accessed 27 October 2020].
Campos, Z., Llobet, A., Piña, C. and Magnusson, W., 2010. Yacare Caiman Caiman Yacare. [ebook] pp.23-24. Available at: <https://www.iucncsg.org/365_docs/attachments/protarea/05_C-78894f16.pdf> [Accessed 27 October 2020].
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