CSL
Paleosuchus palpebrosus (CUVIER, 1807)


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]

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

COMMON NAMES:
Cuvier's dwarf caiman, Cuvier's smooth-fronted caiman (reflecting the lack of infraorbital ridge found in Caiman crocodilus - leading to the suggestion that Paleosuchus ('ancient crocodile') is an older lineage, branching off from other Caiman over 30 mya), Cachirré, Jacaré pagua; Coroa, Musky caiman

NAME ETYMOLOGY:
> Paleosuchus means "ancient crocodile", derived from palaios (Greek for "ancient") + soukhos (Greek for "crocodile"), referring to the taxonomy and age of the genus
> palpebrosus means "bony eyelid", derived from palpebra (Latin for "eyelid" or palpebrals) + osus (Latin for "full of"), referring to the bony plates (palpebrals) on the upper eyelids

DISTRIBUTION:
[CLICK ON MAP FOR DETAILED RANGE]
Distribution map Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela. Slightly larger distribution than that of the sympatric Paleosuchus trigonatus, extending into Paraguay and further into Brazil.

HABITAT:
Freshwater forested riverine (drainages between and including the Amazon and Orinoco rivers, in addition to those in Paraguay) and flooded forests around larger lakes. Also known from rivers and small streams in Bolivia (exposed shoreline and around dead wood). Found on more open stretches of rivers and streams in Bolivia. Although it generally prefers clean, faster-flowing stretches of river, it does occur in very nutrient-poor waters in southeastern Brazil and Venezuela. Known to utilise burrows for long periods during the day. Can cover large distances terrestrially at night. May be more tolerant of cooler water conditions. Subadults have been found in temporary, isolated bodies of water.

STATUS:
     CITES: Appendix II
     IUCN Red List: LRlc (LOW RISK, LEAST CONCERN)
     Estimated wild population: over 1,000,000
Summary: Widely distributed with healthy populations and lack of significant population pressure

APPEARANCE:
[click on image for enlargement]
Head drawing Smallest extant species of crocodilian, males reaching a maximum of 1.5 or 1.6 m, females rarely exceeding 1.2 m. Heavily ossified armour on both dorsal and ventral surfaces - protection which serves to make up for its small size, perhaps, and reduces injury in more fast-flowing riverine habitats, as well as from obstacles and predators during terrestrial forays which are common in the adults. Has one of the most remarkable head shapes of any crocodilian, being short, very smooth and concave (high skull, upturned snout), with a pronounced overlapping of the lower jaw by the upper. Skull shape may reflect increased use of burrows, which are used as shelter by adults during the day. Juveniles are brown with blank banding. Adults are darker. Head is chocolate brown, with an iris colour to match. Lower jaw is flecked with white bands. Less prominent dorsal scutes than Paleosuchus trigonatus.

Dentition codeDENTITION:
4 pre-maxillary; 14-15 maxillary; 21-22 mandibular
Total no. of teeth = 78-82

IMAGES:
[click on image for enlargement]

Click Two adult dwarf caimans holding onto a log Click Head portrait of adult dwarf caiman Click Adult caiman head from behind

Click Developing head shape Click Head of adult in water Click Head of juvenile with water reflection

Click Gaping juvenile

DIET:
The diet of caimans is known to be dependent upon the habitat in which the caiman lives. Paleosuchus palpebrosus juveniles eat mainly invertebrates (crustaceans, terrestrial invertebrates such as coleoptera), whereas adults include a greater proportion of fish in their diets in addition to a variety of aquatic (e.g. crabs, molluscs, shrimps) and terrestrial invertebrates. The short, backward-curved teeth are particularly suited to taking invertebrates such as crustaceans. Prey also varies depending upon its availability, of course.

BREEDING:
Data are sparse concerning breeding ecology. May be found singly or in pairs for most of the year, although no set breeding season has been noted. Females are mound-nesters, using available vegetation and mud. The mound is usually built under cover, and in a concealed position. Size of the clutch is reported to range from from 10 to 25 eggs, and the incubation period lasts around 90 days. Although it has been noted that adults will open the nest and move the juveniles to the water, information on parental care following hatching is lacking and implies that there may be none. Newly hatched young may not enter the water until the end of their first day. Until then, they are coated with a slowly-drying, protective mucus layer. Although such a covering is present in the hatchlings of all crocodilians, it has been suggested that the drying of layer may help to reduce the growth of algae on the body of this species.

CONSERVATION:
The value of the skin of this species is not considered to be very high, given both its small size and the poor 'quality' of the belly skin. Double osteoderms are present in the ventral scales, making the skin tough and too costly to tan. Threats, therefore, come more from habitat destruction and pollution (for example, through gold mining activities). Although legal subsistence hunting and collection for the pet trade (commercially in Guyana) reduce crocodile densities in local areas of some countries, there is no evidence that the populations have been significantly depleted in those areas. Extensive survey data are available for this species, usually collected during surveys of other crocodilian species. The data show that P. palpebrosus is widespread and relatively stable. There is little incentive for commercial exploitation, such as sustainable-yield management. Improvements in tanning technology and decreasing populations of more suitable species may result in greater le vels of exploitation.

Despite the information regarding population status, little is known about the biology and ecology of this species, and further research is required in this area. It would also be useful to understand more fully the interactions between different crocodilian species, about which nothing is known for the dwarf caiman.

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

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCES:

  • Godshalk, RE (1982). The habitat and distribution of Paleosuchus in Venezuela. In: Crocodiles. Proceedings of the Fifth Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, Gainesville, Florida. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. pp.31-38
  • Magnusson, WE (1992). Paleosuchus palpebrosus. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles: 554.1-554.2
  • Magnusson, WE, Da Silva, EV, Lima, AP (1987). Diets of Amazonian crocodilians. J. Herpetology 21(2): 85-95
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