Caimans are reptiles that are related to alligators and are usually placed with them in the family Alligatoridae.
There are six species of caiman.
They are native to northern South America, Central America, and certain parts of the Caribbean.
Caimans are found in freshwater habitats as well as some salt water habitats. Rivers and wetlands, usually slow moving water, are preferred. They are found in both deep and shallow water, as they only need enough depth to submerge their bodies.
The average lifespan of caimans from 30 to 40 years. the longest known lifespan in the wild was estimated at about 60 years old.
The largest of caiman species is the black caiman, a potentially dangerous animal attaining a maximum length of about 4.5 meters (almost 15 feet) long. The smallest species is the Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, which grows to 1.2 to 1.5 meters (3.9 to 4.9 feet) long. The other species normally attain lengths of about 2 to 2.5 meters (about 6.6 to 8.2 feet).
Caimans are usually dull browns, grays, or greens. Their coloration helps them to camouflage while hunting. Caimans have a bony ridge that extends from the eyes, down the snout. They have large eyes to help them hunt at night.
Caimans are distinguished from alligators, their closest relatives, by a few defining features: a lack of a bony septum between the nostrils, ventral armour composed of overlapping bony scutes formed from two parts united by a suture, and relatively longer, more slender, teeth than those possessed by alligators.
These reptiles spend much of their time basking on mudflats or in sunlit, muddy jungle streams. In the dry season, large numbers may accumulate in pools as the surrounding land dries up.
They are nocturnal hunters and usually rely on ambushing their prey.
Caimans eat just about anything they can get their large, strong jaws around, including birds, fish, amphibians, insects and small mammals. As juveniles, spectacled caimans eat aquatic insects, small fish, crustaceans and mollusks.
Caimans are strong swimmers and can move on land with some rapidity. They hiss when disturbed, and young individuals can inflate themselves before opening their jaws aggressively.
During summer or droughts, the caiman may dig a burrow and go into a form of summer hibernation called aestivation.
Caimans are solitary creatures that gather only during the mating season.
A caiman nest is a mound of vegetation and mud consolidated by the female by lying on it. She then digs a hole in it and buries 10 to 50 eggs in it. When these hatch, the juveniles use their egg teeth to break their way out. They look like miniature versions of their parents but have relatively shorter snouts and larger eyes.
Due to the large size and ferocious nature of the caimans, they have few natural predators within their environments. Humans are the main predators of the caimans as they have been hunted for their meat and skin. Jaguars and anacondas are the only other predators of the caimans but they prey only on the smaller specimens.
Alligators, caimans and crocodiles are hunted for their skin, which is used for shoes, handbags, belts and wallets.
Caimans do not usually attack humans but domestic livestock are at risk.
Caimans are one of the longest surviving species on the planet having evolved very little over the past 200 million years.