The dwarf caiman, also known as Cuvier's dwarf caiman, is the smallest of all crocodile species. It lives throughout the Amazon Basin, from the foothills of the Andes in the east to the Atlantic in the west, and from Venezuela in the north to Paraguay in the south. Preferring fast-running, clear water, it is mainly found in rivers, but it also ventures into flooded forests, stagnant pools and swamps.
Dwarf caimans spend the day in burrows or basking in the open, becoming active at night, when they hunt for small animals such as frogs, snails, fish, aquatic mammals and crabs. Their short, curved teeth are particularly good at crushing shellfish. Younger individuals feed on smaller prey, including insects. Like all crocodiles, dwarf caimans have very strong stomach acid, which is capable of dissolving bone. They also swallow small stones (gastroliths) that help to grind the stomach contents into a more digestible paste.
The dwarf caiman has more scutes, or osteoderms, than any other species. The scutes are bony plates that cover the skin and protect the body from damage by debris carried in fast-flowing water.
Breeding takes place at the end of the dry season, when the males attract mates by roaring in shallow water with the head and tail raised above the surface. Females lay up to 25 eggs in mounds of rotting vegetation. (Well-fed females can lay eggs two or three times a year.) The young hatch after about 90 days, and the female opens the nest when she hears their cries.
Distribution: Amazon Basin.
Habitat: Rivers and wetlands.
Food: Frogs, shellfish, snails and small fish.
Size: 1.2 - 1.6 m (4 - 5.25 ft).
Maturity: 10 years.
Breeding: Eggs laid in nests in dry season.
Life span: 30 years.
Status: Lower risk.