Dwarf Caiman

Name: Dwarf Caiman
Scientific name: Paleosuchus palepebrosus
Range: Central and South America
Habitat: Semi aquatic; living in swamps, ponds, and lakes
Status: Not classified as endangered 
Diet in the wild:  Aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates (some fish); crustaceans, crabs, mollusks, and shrimp
Diet in the zoo: 
Location in the zoo:  Herpetarium

Physical description: 

Paleosuchus pose courtesy of http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/brittoncrocs/csp_ppal.htm

  •  Length of males is 4' 6" (about 1.5 m) and females 3' 9" (about 1.2 m).
  • Color for juveniles is brown with blank banding.
  • Adults are darker, though their heads appear to be a lighter brown.
  • Unique shaped head; short and smooth. 
  • Upper jaw overlaps the lower. 
  • Skin is tough and considered poor quality compared to other crocodilian.
  • Heavy scales cover the back as well as the belly ( serving as protection as a result of size).
    General information: 

    Dwarf caimans are usually found alone or in pairs.  The females use mounds for egg laying, which are usually made of mud and are hidden.  Hatchings do not occur until after 90 days and parental involvement decreases after birth.  The sex of the offspring is determined by the incubation temperature within the nest.  High temperatures usually produce males, while females are produced in low temperatures. 

    A film coats the newborns, therefore they must remain on land the first day while the covering dries.  The layer is used for protection and prevents mold and other such growths on the body. 

    Special anatomical, physiological 
    or behavioral adaptations:

    Dwarf caiman are often distinguished by the unusual shape of their head.  The skull sits very high and the snout makes an upturned curl.  The structure of the skull suggests that they make use of burrows as shelter during the day. 

    The diet of the dwarf caiman, including invertebrates, is a result of the structure of their teeth.  The short and backward curved feature contributes to the desire of invertebrates as a main source of food.


    Juvenile Paleosuchus courtesy of hhttp://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/brittoncrocs/csp_ppal.htm

    Comments about the dwarf caiman of the Fort Worth Zoo:

    There are presently four dwarf caiman at the Fort Worth Zoo.  There are three females and one male.  They were not bred at the Fort Worth Zoo, but were transferred from the Baltimore Zoo.  Their original habitat would allow them to continue with their nocturnal lifestyle, but while maintained in the zoo they are expected to eat during the day when keepers are able to provide food. 

    Personal Observations: 

    After visiting the Fort Worth Zoo, one may notice that the dwarf caiman are not very active creatures.  Although, they are quite unique in size and probably an exciting feature of the herpetarium when compared to the other crocodilians.  Because they are nocturnal, they are normally found in a still position.  A Fort Worth keeper noted that they did not move from the water very often.  While observing, although no movement occurred, it appeared that each dwarf caiman was resting with its head slightly above water.  It is amazing that they are able to remain in such awkward positions for an extensive amount of time.  The most interesting feature I found was their size.  They are so small compared to the typical crocodilian! 

    Source Materials and Related Links:

    * Lamar, William 
        The World's Most Spectacular Reptiles and Amphibians
        World Publications, 1997 

    * Smith, Hobart and Edmund Brodie 
       Reptiles of North America
       Goldern Press, 1982 

    * http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/brittoncrocs/csp_ppal.htm

    Page author: Ashley McCampbell 

    Send E-mail to ashleymccampbell@hotmail.com

    or to mac@whozoo.org

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