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Snap, Crackle, and Croc: Meet Our Cuvier’s Dwarf Caimans!

September 6, 2018

It may be the smallest of the crocodiles, but don’t underestimate the snap and bite from our resident Cuvier’s dwarf caiman crocodiles – scientifically known as Paleosuchus palpebrosus. They grow to a maximum length of 1.5 metres, which is where the ‘dwarf’ name comes from.

They may be small, but they do like to swish their tails out. You can find them in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Venezuela, and can visit them at Blue Reef Newquay!

Home, Sweet Home

These cute crocs (definitely not the shoes) prefer freshwater to dip their claws in. They can also be found in flooded forests near large lakes. They’re not too fussy about where they stay because they love swimming in rivers and small streams that are either close to shorelines or contain dead wood.

These snappy creatures often live close to fast-flowing water, but they’re quite the night-owls as they use burrows for shelter during the day. When the moon rises their little legs work overtime by travelling extremely large distances at night.

Characteristics

Weighing between 15 to 20 kg, the cuvier’s dwarf caiman have one of the most fascinating head shapes of any crocodiles. Their heads are short, smooth, and have extremely apparent overlapping upper jaws, which jut out above their lower jaws. They have concave-shaped heads with high skulls and upturned snouts. Another way to differentiate these tiny crocs from others is by their cheek bones  – which are extremely bony and very distinguishable.

The main body of a dwarf caiman is usually a brownish colour and can be decorated with yellow stripes to help camouflage them in the wild. Despite their small size, these crocs have a strong armour – their thick skin protects them from injuries and from larger predators. As the old saying goes – it’s not size that matters.

What’s for dinner?

As with many creatures, the menu for caimans depends upon its habitat, age, and availability of prey. Young crocs mainly feed on shrimps, crabs, and crayfish, whereas older ones will consume larger creatures such as piranhas, frogs, and snails. Adult dwarf caimans can sometimes dine on small mammals like field mice, depending on their preying abilities.

As they’re often inactive during daylight hours, they are known as nocturnal hunters and often search for food when it’s dark. They are known as ambush predators and despite their size can swallow their prey whole!

Crocodiles are known for patiently floating along moving waters before making their jump for their prey, and they can do this by using their scent glands. Their scent glands are located on their bottom jaw, which is why they must keep half their heads above the surface when hunting. Thanks to their elliptical pupils, they have binocular vision – so they can see their prey from miles away!

It’s family time

Even though they’re small, caimans aren’t afraid to be on their own. In fact, it’s the total opposite – they are very territorial and are usually found alone or in pairs. The only time they come together is during breeding season.

There isn’t a defined time for the dwarf caiman breeding season, but during this time the males are the ones found looking for their partners. By releasing a loud sound known as a ‘roar’ they let their female counterparts know they are ready to mate. This species is not monogamous, meaning the males mate with more than one female during breeding season.

The females are known as ‘mound-nesters’, where they use vegetation and mud to build a cover for their eggs. Ranging from between 10 to 25 eggs per nest, the dwarf caiman incubation period lasts for 90 days. The baby crocs are born brown in colour with white bands across their lower jaw.

Snap-tastic Facts

  • They can swim up to a speed of 30 mph
  • They don’t shed skin, they shed scales
  • The gender of a dwarf caiman depends on the temperature of the egg during incubation
  • When underwater, they close their nostrils and throat to avoid the risk of drowning
  • Their name comes from French zoologist, Georges Cuvier, who discovered them

We bet you’re snapping at the chance to get a look at our cute caimans, right? Well, your luck is in because you can see them everyday at one of our talks and feeds. You best get your claws on your tickets now and get your crocodile stare-off at the ready!

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