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Sunday Crocodilian - Caiman latirostris Edition

Sundays are not just for crocodilians. They are also for making spanakopita, which is good stuff.

The Broad-snouted Caiman (Caiman latirostris) is a medium-sized crocodilian that can be found in the freshwater mangroves, swamps, marshes and even cow-ponds of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. They prefer still or slow-moving water to live in, and their broad snouts are well-shaped to rip through the underwater vegetation that thrives in such environments.


Adult Broad-snouted Caimans average about 6.6 to 8.2 feet (2 to 2.5 meters) in total length, and sexual dimorphism is not as pronounced in this species as in other crocodilians. They can weigh up to 137 pounds (62 kg), and they have olive-colored skin, sometimes with dark spots, and large eyes. Like all reptiles, they rely on external conditions to regulate their body temperature, absorbing the heat of the sun through their skin and into their blood. Their heart rate rises to spread the heat more quickly through their bodies. When they need to cool down, their heart rate lowers along with their body temperature.

The bulk of a Broad-snouted Caiman's diet consists of water-dwelling snails, smaller fish and amphibians. The larger individuals are big and strong enough to take turtles and crack their shells open in order to eat them. They have been observed eating fruit while in captivity, but it is unknown whether this behavior exists in the wild. If it does, then it may play a role in dispersing the seeds of the plants that grow in their home environments.


Much of what is known about the breeding habits of Broad-snouted Caimans comes from observing the behavior of captive individuals, but it is known that they nest during the rainy season, and the males actually help the females construct the nests in which their eggs will be lain. After the female lays the eggs, and the longer the eggs incubate, however, she becomes more aggressive and drives the male off. He's not allowed to be present when the eggs hatch, but he does help to guard the hatchlings afterward. Like other crocodilians, the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperatures at which the eggs are incubated. The eggs (about 20 to 50) are distributed in layers, sometimes from multiple layings. After about 70 days, the female assists the hatchlings in escaping their shells and nest, and takes them into the water in her mouth.


Broad-snouted Caimans were hunted heavily starting in the 1940s, and while illegal hunting still goes on now, it is not considered to be a significant threat to the overall population, because the Broad-snouted Caimans are now more easily found in remote regions, and are harder to get to. The risk of getting caught and the difficulty of the hunt isn't usually worth it to poachers. Now, the greatest threat facing these animals is habitat destruction due to deforestation.

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