Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman

This beautiful boy was captive bred in North Carolina. He came to us at about a year old. He's still very grumpy but we're hoping he will calm down a little and make an amazing educational animal one day.
Common Name: Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman
Scientific Name: Paleosuchus palpebrosus
Type: Alligator
Diet: Carnivore
Average Life Span: Up to 60 years in captivity
Size: 13 to 15 lbs, 4 to 5 ft in length
IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern
Current Population Trend: Stable

About the Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman

Cuvier's dwarf caiman, is most commonly found in the wetlands of Brazil, French Guiana, Surinam, Guyana, and Venezuela. Widespread throughout the Orinoco and Amazon basins, P. palpebrosus inhabit areas extending from Colombia, Venezuela, and the Guianas south to Sao Paulo and the upper Rio Paraguay in southern Brazil and west to the Rio Pastaza in Ecuador. These caimans are the smallest of the alligator family. Many keepers refer to them as Palps to distinguish them from other caimans.

This species can be found near rivers and inundated savanna areas including the Orinoco and Amazon rivers, as well as those in eastern Paraguay. This species prefers clean, clear, fast-moving streams or rivers in forested areas containing waterfalls and rapids. Paleosuchus palpebrosus mostly inhabit fordable freshwater, avoiding salty, briny waters. It likes cooler waters compared to other caimans.

When hatched, the young have almost the identical features as an adult. The sex of hatchlings is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs. Differences in size can be used to differentiate the sexes. Growth continues throughout their lifespan. The fastest rate of growth occurs during the first 2 years, then declines with age thereafter. It takes approximately 10 years to for one of these caimans to complete maturity and develop full adult characteristics.

Paleosuchus palpebrosus is a social species with diverse and interesting behaviors. Like most crocodilians, they can convey social messages through sounds, postures, movements, smells, and touch. Although most crocodilians are somewhat social, P. palpebrosus are typically found alone or in pairs. When in pairs or small groups, P. palpebrosus are known to migrate long distances due to competition. Systematic studies of adults indicate that there are dominance hierarchies within groups. The most hostile and aggressive individuals appear to be the most dominant. These individuals control access to mates, nest sites, food, and living space. Dominance is asserted and maintained by social signals and displays. Challenges within a group may occur, but physical combat is rare.

Communication begins in the egg and continues throughout their entire life. Sound, postures, motions, and touching are few of the many methods of communication in this species. Along with vocal signals, Paleosuchus palpebrosus communicate via nonverbal sounds, performing actions such as head-slapping or jaw-clapping at the water's surface. Like most caimans, P. palpebrosus males emit a grunt-like "chumph" sound by expelling air through the nostrils during courtship. When in water, exposure of the head, back, and tail above the surface conveys important information about an individual's social status and intent.

P. palpebrosus is a nocturnal hunter, preferring to spend the daylight hours basking. The young feed on aquatic and shoreline insects of many species. Their food includes tadpoles, frogs, snails, crabs, shrimp, and small fish. Adults mainly consume tadpoles, frogs, snails, fish, small mammals, and a wide variety of insects. Diet changes with the size and age of this species. As an adult, there is an increase in the fish intake as well as a greater intake of small crabs, birds, reptiles, and small mammals. Like other crocodilians, P. palpebrosus experiment with their food, so they will capture whatever prey is available. Prey is usually swallowed whole or in large pieces. The stomach enzymes in crocodiles and alligators are so strong that pH levels are among the lowest ever recorded in any vertebrate. Another characteristic of P. palpebrosus is the amount of gastroliths (small stones) inside the stomach.

The most dangerous time in a caiman's life is while it is still in the egg. Without protection, predators such as rats, procyonids, and other carnivores can hastily clean a nest of eggs. If the eggs hatch, the young are still at a high risk of predation. The young are taken primarily by wading birds, snakes, and a host of other carnivorous animals. Due to the large number of bony osteoderms underneath the scales, many predators are not able to swallow this species. The only predators of adult P. palpebrosus are large boas, green anacondas, and jaguars. Although P. palpebrosus is small in size, it is known to have fewer predators than related species because of its uniquely armored and jagged skin.

Palps as Pets
Small crocodilians such as Paleosuchus palpebrosus and Paleosuchus trigonatus are currently popular in the pet trade due to their relatively small and theoretically manageable size. However, as pets, P. palpebrosus are notoriously hostile and cannot be handled comfortably. Bites from adults are exceedingly painful.

Source: Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan