Spectacled Caiman

INTRODUCTION

The Spectacled Caiman (Caiman Crocodylus) is one of the five species of caiman found in the Amazon River. It has a typical crocodilian appearance and is smaller than the Black Cayman and other family members. Other names for these crocodilians include Cayman White, Stifle, Cayman Brazil, Baba, Tinga.

As for the distribution of these reptiles they are found in the following countries: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba*, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guyana, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico*, Suriname, Tobago, Trinidad, United States*, Venezuela. Those marked with an asterisk have been introduced.

An important starting point is to differentiate crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gharials. Alligators differ from alligators in that the muzzle is not as wide but still flat. Crocodiles can be distinguished in that the head is longer and triangular, but also by visible fourth mandibular tooth on both sides of the mouth. Gharials have a much longer and narrower snout than the others making them easily distinguishable.

The average size of these caimans is 2.1m, with males of the species able to reach eight feet. Females are smaller than males reaching an average of 1.4m. Within 3 years under optimal husbandry they may reach 2m in length. It is called the Spectacled Cayman due to the frontal appearance of the bridge between the two orbits that looks like spectacles. Adults of the species have a uniform olive-green color, while juveniles have a darker, with yellow and black stripes on the ventral abdomen and tail green. Camouflage system , as in other species is less apparent with age.

A note of interest is the ability to "change color" - metacrosis. These animals have the ability to show a darker colour through changes in the distribution of black pigment in the melanophore cells.

Dental formula: 5PMaxilary, 13-14Maxilary, 18-20Mandibular
Total: 72-78teeth

Three subspecies of Caiman crocodilus were considered: Caiman crocodilus apaporiensis, Caiman crocodilus fuscus, Caiman crocodilus yacare, the latter now considered a specie: Caiman yacare.

An estimated 1 to 2 million caiman skins are exported from South America each year, and most of these are of Caiman crocodilus. Reduction of numbers causes an increase on Piranha numbers and plants are affected by the quantity of nitrogen excreted.

CAPTIVE HUSBANDRY

VIVARIUM

Proposed recommended minimum dimensions have been considered to be twice the body length by three times the body length with a terrestrial basking area. For an adult pair a much larger surface would be needed, ie 12m2 and 15m2 of land and water, respectively.

LIGHTING

They need a "total" spectrum which will include UVA and UVB (for behavior and metabolism, especially calcium). A photoperiod of 12-14 hours would be necessary for this specie.

TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY

An enviromental temperature of 24-30°C and a basking area of 35°C is reccomended. The water temperature should be between 24-27ºC. Relative humidity (RH) should range between 60-80%.

FOOD SUPPLEMENTS AND WATER

Spectacled Caimans are opportunistic predators. Their natural main diet consists of fish, capybara and peccaries. These animals also take advantage of cannibalism during the dry season. Juveniles start with tiny invertebrates gradually increasing in size and starting with vertebrates such as fish, amphibians, birds and reptiles as they grow. Captive alligators can eat red and white meat, and fish. Feeding frequency may be once or twice weekly. Farm animals where rapid growth is required they are even provided food every other day.

They have a very efficient protein digestion system through elevated gastric acid secretion. All crocodiles have an extremely high food conversion ratio. Most of the energy derived from digestion is stored as fat around the body. These stores include a fatty tail, dorsal and jaw area. This accumulation of fat allows the animal to survive when food is scarce.

In captivity the type of food depends on what is available. There are areas where they are given horse meat, beef, chicken. Other food sources include fish, mice and dry foods. We must be especially careful because with "pinkies" and a calcium supplement is generally needed. UVB (essential for the synthesis of vitamin D3) is essential for calcium absorption.

These animals are susceptilble thiamine (B1) deficiency through the presence of thyaminases and vitamin E deficiency through high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids present in fish. Care should be taken that fish are fresh or at least thawed at mild temperatures and without signs of putrefaction. A variety of fish should be offered and goldfish should not be the main source.

Most food and supplementary schemes are based on comparative theories with birds and carnivores. Vitamins supplements are considered important, especially vitamin E and vitmain D3. There is still work to be done to determine the exact nutritional needs of these animals.

REPRODUCTION

The reproductive cycle of these alligators closely follows the wet-dry cycle of the Amazon. In the wild reproductive behavior begins between May and August.

Clutch size is an average of 25 eggs (may reach 50) occurring mainly in July and August. The female digs a hole in a sandy substrate with the front legs near a river and is then covered with leaves and dead plants. Fermentation of vegetable matter aids in keeping the nest at a constant temperature.

These animals have temperature sex determination. A nest with a higher temperature will render more males, whilst one with lower temperature will render more females. In the wild females may nest in groups or even share nests. Predators such as Tegus (Tupinambis spp) can virtually destroy a nest and eat all of the eggs. The females are never far from the nests and watch them closely until hatching ocurrs. Hatching takes place after 90 days and females provide neonatal care until they are big enough to defend themselves.

Female alligators have an active reproductive life between 5 and 10 years old (0.9-1.2m). Males reach sexual maturity at a larger size but grow faster and are able to breed at the same age. Social ranking influences age of sexual maturity - those who eat more, grow quicker.

 

Written and translated from sister site reptiland.es by Ross Ashley Machin