The Different Species of the Caiman Crocodile

The black caiman is the largest of the alligator species.
The black caiman is the largest of the alligator species. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Caimans, although commonly called crocodiles, are members of the alligatoridae family of crocodylia. All but one of the eight species in the alligator family are native to the Americas. All six species known as caimans live in Central or South America, with just the American alligator found in North America.

Spectacled Caiman

The spectacled caimain grows to between 6 and 8 feet but can reach lengths of almost 10 feet. It gets its name from a bony ridge between its eyes that gives the appearance of spectacles. It ranges from Central America down into northern South America. It prefers slow moving rivers or small lakes but is adaptable and can be found in most wetland areas of its range.

Broad-Snouted Caiman

The broad-snouted caiman grows to just over 6 feet on average but has been recorded at around 11 feet in rare cases. Compared to the pointed snouts of crocodiles, it has a wide snout proportionality -- wider than that of the American alligator. It is found in a few South American countries including Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. It favors wetlands and swampy mangrove habitats.

Jacare Caiman

The Jacare caiman grows to between 8 and 10 feet in length. It was, for a while, classed as a subspecies of spectacled caiman, but is now accepted as its own species. It lives in areas of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay and is as adaptable as the spectacled caiman, living in most types of wetland habitat. It is sometimes locally called a piranha caiman, likely due to the amount of the predatory fish on which it feeds.

Black Caiman

The black caiman is the largest of all the alligator species. It grows to 13 feet in length on average but has been recorded at lengths of over 19 feet. It has a more pointed snout than most caiman species and tends to be darker in color. It ranges in northern countries of South America such as Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. It lives in a wide range of fresh water habitats such as rivers, lakes and flooded Savannah.

Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman

Cuvier's dwarf caiman is the smallest of all crocodilian species. It grows to around 5 feet in length and has a markedly different head shape to most other species. Its head is shorter with an upturned snout, an adaptation to burrowing, which this species does to create a place to hide. It lives in most of the northern countries of South America and is adaptable in its choice of habitat. Most water sources are suitable for the species.

Schneider's Dwarf Caiman

Schneider's dwarf caiman is just slightly larger than Cuivier's. It grows to between 5 and 7 feet in length. It has a distinctive posture when walking and tends to keep its head raised. The species ranges in countries such as Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia and Surinam, preferring shallow, fast-moving water sources. Like Cuiviers caiman, it also spends a great deal of time in burrows and makes long trips across land between water sources.

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