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Sunday Crocodilian - Paleosuchus palpebrosus Edition

This weekend feels shorter than it should, but that's what comes of having to go in on a day off. But there are crocodilians to learn about.

Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) is the smallest of all "New World" crocodilians, and can be found in the central and northern parts of South America. It goes by many names, including dwarf caiman, wedge head caiman, musky caiman, and smooth-fronted caiman. It lives in what are called riverine forests, which are forests near lakes and rivers that flood. It is capable of living in colder water than other types of crocodilians and moves from one temporary pool to another by walking across dry land.


Adult male Cuvier's Dwarf Caimans grow only up to a body length of a little over 5 feet (1.6 meters), while females do not usually grow larger than 4 feet (1.2 meters), and neither gender will weigh more than 15 pounds (7 kg) as an adult. While their small size makes them vulnerable to predators, they have developed thicker armor plates to help protect themselves. They are unique among crocodilians in that they have very dark irises. When it has to move from one water habitat to another, it will do so only at night, and the journey may take all night. During the day, they will sometimes shelter themselves in burrows, coming out to sun themselves when needed. They are nocturnal hunters.

As with other crocodilians, their diet depends on their size and what is available, but in general adults will prey on shrimp, fish, crabs, molluscs, birds and small mammals. Juveniles and hatchlings eat more size-appropriate prey like small fishes and molluscs. No specific breeding season can be determined for the Cuvier's Dwarf Caimans, as they can be found alone or in breeding pairs during any time of the year.


Female Cuvier's Dwarf Caimans will construct nests above grounds using earth and plant matter, and will lay clutches of 15 to 25 eggs. The incubation period lasts for 90 days, during which the female is constantly attending to her nest. When hatchlings are born during the dry seasons, the female will burrow with them to keep them healthy and safe. Hatchlings will remain with their mother and other adults until they are large juveniles, about 21 months of age.


Cuvier's Dwarf Caimans currently have a healthy population, though they are popular in the exotic pet trade (because of their size) and they are poached for sustenance as well as traditional medicine. Their greatest threats are destruction of habitat due to deforestation and pollution that occurs during the gold mining operations that are conducted within their home range.

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