KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Crocodylia
FAMILY: Alligatoridae
GENUS SPECIES: Three genera (Caiman, Melanosuchus, and Paleosuchus) encompassing 6 species)


DESCRIPTION: Varies according to species. All have wide, flat heads with rounded noses. Eyeline ridge is slightly more pronounced than in the closely related American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis. When mouth is closed, only teeth from upper jaw are visible.
MALE Smallest species = Paleosuchus palpebrosus, 1.5 m
Largest species = Melanosuchus niger, 4-6 m
FEMALE Smallest species = Paleosuchus palpebrosus, 1.2 m
WEIGHT: No data
DIET: As juveniles, the various caiman species feed on crustaceans, insects, small fish, amphibians, small mammals, and birds. As adults, they feed on fish, birds, other reptiles, amphibians, and various mammalian species.
INCUBATION: Varies according to species. Up to 115 days.
CLUTCH SIZE Nest size varies from 10-70 eggs - again, depending on species.
SEXUAL MATURITY: 5-15 years, depending on species
LIFE SPAN: Though somewhat undetermined, current estimates place caimans' life expectancy at 30-40 years. It should be noted, however, that larger crocodilians have been documented with lifespans of 70-90 years. Some accounts allow for crocodilian lifespans in excess of 100 years.
RANGE: Southern Mexico & the remainder of the Central American countries through South America to the northeastern portion of Argentina. Chile is the only South American nation which caimans to not inhabit.
HABITAT: Estuaries, swamps, lakes, streams, rivers, floodplains, and the surrounding terrestrial environment
POPULATION: GLOBAL Varies according to species.
STATUS: IUCN Varies according to species.
CITES Varies according to species. Listed on CITES Appendix I & II.
USFWS Varies according to species.


1. The black caiman, Melanosuchus niger, is the largest member of the family Alligatoridae.
2. Cuvier's dwarf caiman, Paleosuchus palpebrosus, is the smallest member of the order Crocodylia.
3. The common caiman, Caiman crocodilus, is the most numerous of all crocodilians.
4. The common caiman, C. crocodilus, is the most hunted of all crocodilians - accounting for 60-80% of the skin trade.
5. The black caiman, M. niger, is unique among crocodilians in that much of its juvenile coloration - yellowish strips and spots - is retained well into its adult life. This relatively vibrant coloration has caused considerable population pressures for the species as their hide is highly prized in the skin trade.
6. The skin of Cuvier's dwarf caiman, P. palpebrosus, is heavily ossified - making them less flexible than other crocodilians. Their rather extreme dermal armor, however, provides them with considerable protections. They are so well armored, in fact, that their patchwork of scutes have even been compared to the hardened shell of certain turtles.


While population figures widely vary among caiman species, each of them are affected to some extent by commecial hunting pressures and habitat loss. As they are - within their particular ecosytems - apex predators, they play a key role in maintaining an overall population balance with regard to the various species upon which they feed.


Encyclopedia of Animals. pgs. 662-664; Weldon Owen Pty Limited. 1993.

Crocodilian Biology Database @

Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan - Crocodiles @