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Caimans in vancouver.jpg
Scientific Classification

Genus: Caiman

Genus: Melanosuchus

Genus: Paleosuchus

Sunning caiman.jpg
Spectacled Caiman in Bolivia

Caimans are a group of alligators found only in central and South America. There are 3 taxonomic genera and 6 living species collectively known as caimans, with the type genus defined by their common name. The best known species is the Common caiman (Caiman crocodilus).


A caiman feeding on one of its prey, the toad.

A Caiman's appearance can usually be defined by their yellow, green, or brown color and the bony ridge behind their eyes. The Spectacled Caiman is named and known for an additional bony ridge below its eyes. It was said that the ridge appeared as if the animal was wearing "spectacles" and that is where it got its name. The Spectacled Caiman is also one of the species that is able to slightly change his skin color [1]. As caimans mature their distinguishing black bands and spots become more dull and their color darkens [2]. They are between 1m and 3m depending on their species. The Yacare Caiman [3] is known as typically being the largest, and the Brown caiman is usually smaller, reaching only 2m maximum [4].

The different species of this genus have other slight distinctions between them as well. The Broad-snouted Caiman has a larger and more broad nose then others. The Brown Caiman is known for its deep brown, almost red coloring.


Both male and female Caimans start to breed about the age of five, once they have reached physical maturity. They continue to breed until approximately the age of ten. Caimans usually live in groups throughout the year except for the courtship season when males disperse and start to claim their territory [5]. During the month of May, the testes of the males and the eggs of females begin to grow larger until they reach their peak. The majority of mating occurs between the months of May and August.

After two caimans mate, the egg laying process starts in around July and lasts until August. Females dig a hole in sandy soil, by the water's edge, and then lay her eggs. The number of eggs laid by a mother at one time (called the "clutch size") is approximately 15-45 eggs depending on the species. She covers her eggs with various vegetation to help keep them warm and protect them from predators.[6]. The male will guard the nest until they hatch and then the mother will carry her young to the water's edge [7]

A baby Caiman's sex is determined while he is still in the egg. Their gender is determined by the temperature of the nest. A cooler nest will create more females and a warmer nest will generate more males. This unique process is known as TSD, temperature-dependent sex determination. [8].


Caimans are found throughout the country of South America and along the Gulf of Mexico. The exact geographic area is more specific for each species. The most common species, Caiman crocodilus, inhabits the northern region of South America[9], but the Yacare Caiman lives in the middle and southern region of South America[10]. They enjoy warmer regions and make their homes by or in swamps, lagoons, rivers, ponds, lakes, and forests[11].

When they are young Caimans eat mostly aquatic invertebrates like snails and mollusks, but as they grow older they increase their range to include birds, fish, and much larger animals including vertebrates [12]. They complete the majority of their hunting at night because they are nocturnal creatures [13].

Caimans are at the top of the food chain so they face almost no predators besides humans and those that hunt caimans while they are still in the nest, mostly lizards. The mother or father stay around the nest in order to protect their eggs. The females also share nests in hopes of preventing the destruction of all their eggs[14].


Even though Caimans are nowhere near extinction they still face the problem of being illegally hunted and collected for the use of pets. People have been hunting these animals for years to gain profit from their hides as well as their meat. Throughout the 1950's, 60's, and 70's hunting of these animals experienced a major increase[15]. Since then there have been farms created to try and help restore the Caiman to it's natural habitat and it has worked very successfully. Members of the genus Caiman have benefited from the hunting of the Black Caiman. From that they have been able to increase in numbers because of less competition for their homes and meals[16].

In most places it is illegal to sell Caiman hides except for those that have been collected from a farm and properly tagged and registered. The number of Caiman farms in South America is increasing because they find it is a reliable source of income. [17].