CSL
Melanosuchus niger (SPIX, 1825)


NAMES | DISTRIBUTION | HABITAT | STATUS | APPEARANCE | IMAGES | DIET | BREEDING | CONSERVATION

FAMILY:
ALLIGATORIDAE

A. mississippiensis
A. sinensis
C. crocodilus
C. c. apaporiensis
C. c. fuscus
C. latirostris
C. yacare
M. niger
P. palpebrosus
P. trigonatus

FAMILY:
CROCODYLIDAE

C. acutus
C. intermedius
C. johnstoni
C. mindorensis
C. moreletii
C. niloticus
C. novaeguineae
C. palustris
C. porosus
C. rhombifer
C. siamensis
M. cataphractus
O. tetraspis
T. schlegelii

FAMILY:
GAVIALIDAE

G. gangeticus

DICHOTOMOUS KEY
[German]

MAIN MENU

STATUS OF INFORMATION:
This information was most-recently updated July 2009 and is considered up-to-date. Please contact me directly regarding updates or corrections.

COMMON NAMES:
Black caiman, Caimán, Caimán negro, Caïman noir, Lagarto negro, Jacare Açu, Jacaré Assú, Jacare Açu, Jacare Uassu, Jaracé Una, Yacare Assu

NAME ETYMOLOGY:
> Melanosuchus means "black crocodile", derived from melas (Greek genitive for "black") + soukhos (Greek for "crocodile", leading to the Latin suchus)
> niger means "black" (Latin), referring to the very dark colouration of this species

DISTRIBUTION:
[CLICK ON MAP FOR DETAILED RANGE]
Distribution map Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela (unconfirmed)

HABITAT:
Found in various freshwater habitats (e.g. slow-moving rivers, streams, lakes and flooded savannah and wetlands). Although overlapping with the range of other caiman species in South America, it appears to occupy different habitat niches.

STATUS:
     CITES: Appendix I
     IUCN Red List: LRcd (LOW RISK, CONSERVATION DEPENDENT)
     Estimated wild population: up to 1,000,000
Summary: Widely distributed, but historically heavily exploited. Most populations appear to be recovering well.

APPEARANCE:
[click on image for enlargement]
Head drawing Largest species in the family Alligatoridae (males can reach at least 4 metres, and huge 6 metre caimans have been reported but not confirmed). General appearance not dissimilar to Alligator mississippiensis. As the common name suggests, they have a dark colouration. The lower jaw has grey banding (brown in older animals), and pale yellow or white bands are present across the flanks of the body, although these are more prominent in juveniles. This banding fades only gradually as the animal matures. Structurally dissimilar to other caiman species, particularly in the shape of the skull. Has distinctly larger eyes, and a relatively narrow snout. The bony ridge extending from above the eyes down the snout, as seen in other caiman, is present.

Dentition codeDENTITION:
5 pre-maxillary; 13-14 maxillary; 18-19 mandibular
Total no. of teeth = 72-76

IMAGES:
[click on image for enlargement]

Click Head portrait of juvenile Click Juvenile held in hand Click Juveniles in a holding container
Click Juvenile's disruptive camouflage patterns Click Adult black caiman floating in water Click Sub-adult caiman head

DIET:
Eats fish (including piranhas and catfish) and aquatic vertebrates, including large Capybara (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) rodents. Shows more terrestrial hunting activity, particularly at night, having acute sight and hearing. Juveniles take crustaceans before moving onto larger, terrestrial prey. Larger adults have been reported to attack domestic animals and humans.

BREEDING:
Information concerning reproductive ecology is scarce. Constructs a mound nest (1.5 m diameter) during the dry season into which 30 to 65 (50 to 60 being the usual range) eggs are laid. Nests can be found in both concealed and open locations. Females remain close to the nests. Once the eggs are ready to hatch, she will open the nest and assist in the hatching process. Hatching reported to occur between 42 and 90 days, coinciding with the beginning of the wet season. As many females often nest within close proximity, the number of hatchlings is one area can be high. This leads to safety in numbers.

CONSERVATION:
Historically widely distributed throughout the Amazon basin and beyond. However, once populations of both Crocodylus acutus and Crocodylus intermedius became severely depleted due to over-zealous commercial hunting, attention was turned to those species with slightly smaller or lower-grade skins. The skin of M. niger produces a shiny, black leather. Hunting was directed very intensely towards M. niger during the 1950s, only declining in the following decade when commercial interests turned to Caiman crocodilus. Some areas were affected more severely than others, with hunting pressures continuing into the 1970s and beyond. Estimated to have been reduced in numbers by 99% in the space of the last century. Population recovery today is impeded both by continued illegal hunting and through increased competition with the more numerous Caiman crocodilus. This latter species has moved into areas once inhabited by M. niger and proliferated due to its increased reproductive capacity. Hunters can take both of these species with ease. Habitat destruction through deforestation and burning of swamplands (French Guiana) continues the onslaught.

Little information was available about this species until the 1980s, when research was carried out into both biology and population ecology. There is still much to be learned however. Although some data are available concerning interactions with other South American caiman species, the dramatic decline in populations of M. niger have obscured trends. Some partitioning of habitat is apparent, however. Population declines have been correlated with a decrease in fish production in rivers, due to the removal of the nutrient-recycling component in the ecosystem as provided by M. niger. Both piranha and capybara have benefited from the reduction of their main predator. This has led to increased agricultural and livestock losses. Survey data, which is available throughout most of the species' range, reveals drastically reduced populations. Further survey work is required to update this information. M. niger is severely depleted in over half of the countries in which is occurs, and considered to be depleted in the rest. Only populations in isolated locations remain stable.

Management programs centre around the legal protection of remaining wild populations, but these laws are difficult to enforce effectively. The skins can be difficult to differentiate from those of C. crocodilus.Captive breeding and reintroduction was initiated in Bolivia in 1990. Both of these conservation strategies need to be extended and implemented as effectively as possible in other countries.

MORE INFORMATION:
For more information on distribution and conservation issues for this species,see the CSG
Action Plan resource.

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCES:

  • Asanza, E (1992). Population dynamics, ecology and conservation of the black caiman, Melanosuchus niger in Ecuadorian Amazonia. In: Crocodiles. Proceedings of the 11th Working Meeting of the Crocodile Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. pp.22-30
  • Brazaitis, PJ, Rebêlo, GH, Yamashita, C, Odierna, EA & Watanabe, ME (1996). Threats to Brazilian crocodilian populations. Oryx 30(4): 275-284
  • Fittkau, EJ (1973). Crocodiles and the nutrient metabolism of Amazonian waters. Amazonia 4:103-133
  • Herron, JC (1991). Growth rates of black caiman, Melanosuchus niger, and the spectacled caiman, Caiman crocodilus, and the recruitment of breeders in hunted caiman populations. Biol. Conserv. 55:103-113
  • Herron, JC, Emmons, JE & CADLE, JE (1990). Observations on reproduction in the black caiman, Melanosuchus niger. J. Herpetology 24(3): 314-316
  • Magnusson, W.E., Da Silva, E.V. & Lima, A.P. (1987). Diets of amazonian crocodilians. J. Herpetology. 21:85-95
  • Pacheco, LF (1990). Feeding, reproduction and growth in captive Melanosuchus niger. In: Crocodiles. Proceedings of the 10th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. pp. 109-122
  • Pacheco, LF, Aparicio, J & Thorbjarnarson, JB (1991). The first reintroduction of black caiman, Melanosuchus niger, into the wild. Herp. Review 22(3): 90-91
  • NAMES | DISTRIBUTION | HABITAT | STATUS | APPEARANCE | IMAGES | DIET | BREEDING | CONSERVATION

    SPECIES LIST | BIOLOGY DATABASE | COMMUNICATION | CAPTIVE CARE
    CROCS ON FILM | CROC SHOTS | CHINESE ALLIGATOR FUND | CROC LINKS


    Return to Crocodilians Natural History & Conservation
    Design and content by Adam Britton © 1995-2012 All rights reserved. [email]