Description: Caiman lizards get their common name from the enlarged dorsal scales on their backs that resemble crocodile scutes. They have a green body, a red-orange head, short powerful limbs and a heavily muscular jaw with strong, modified molar teeth. The muscular jaw and teeth are necessary for cracking the shell of their favorite and primary food source — freshwater snails in order to remove its soft parts. Their tail is powerful, long and flattened and is used for swimming and self-defense. They also have a clear third eyelid which protects their eyes while underwater. Both sexes are similar in appearance, except the male’s head is redder and broader.
Size: Caiman lizards are large, reaching lengths of two to four feet (0.6-1.2 m) and weights up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
Behavior: They are both aquatic and terrestrial; spending most of their time in or near water. They are also excellent climbers, basking on branches overhanging the waterways. If they fall or jump in the water, they are good swimmers, with assistance from their laterally flattened tail. The tail can also be used to lash out at predators if needed. Strong, short limbs, with sharp claws, stay close to their body when swimming but are extended for digging and climbing tree trunks. At night, they hide in trees and bushes.
Diet: Caiman lizards are carnivorous predators. Although large freshwater snails are their primary food source, they will digest other insects, crabs, fish, rodents and amphibians.
Senses: The bifurcated (split or forked) tongue helps them detect prey. By extending its tongue, the lizard uses scent particles to locate food, a mate or possible predators.
Communication: Caiman lizards use their colorful body to communicate with each other, being able to discriminate male from female.
Reproduction: After mating, female Caiman lizards lay their eggs in a hole in the riverbank and then cover them up for protection. Clutch size is 8 to 10 eggs and eggs stay underground for five or six month. Once the baby lizards hatch, they are completely independent and there is no parental care given.
Habitat/range: Caiman lizards inhabit the rainforest and swampland areas of South America in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana and Peru.
Status: IUCN: Least Concern; listed on Appendix II of CITES because it is threatened by exploitation and habitat loss.