Caiman

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Caimans
Temporal range:
PaleocenePresent, 60–0 Ma
Caiman yacare.jpg
Yacare caiman, Caiman yacare
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Alligatoridae
Subfamily: Caimaninae
Brochu, 1999
Type species
Caiman latirostris
Genera and species

See below

A caiman is an alligatorid crocodilian belonging to the subfamily Caimaninae, one of two primary lineages within Alligatoridae, the other being alligators.

Description[edit]

Caimans inhabit Central and South America from marshes and swamps to mangrove rivers and lakes. Caimans have scaly skin, and live a fairly nocturnal existence.

They are relatively small sized crocodilians, with an average maximum weight of 6 to 40 kg (13 to 88 lb) depending on species, with the exception of the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), which can grow more than 5 m (16 ft) in length and weigh up to 1,100 kg (2,400 lb). The black caiman is the largest caiman species in the world and is found in the slow-moving rivers and lakes that surround the Amazon basin. The smallest species is the Cuvier's dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus), which grows to 1.2 to 1.5 m (3.9 to 4.9 ft) long. There are six different species of caiman found throughout the watery, jungle habitats of Central and Southern America. The average length for most of the other caiman species is about 2 to 2.5 m (6.6 to 8.2 ft) long.

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. The calcium rivets on its scales make their hides stiffer, and thus less valuable, than those of alligators and crocodiles, both of which have a similar appearance but are more pliable.[1] Several extinct forms are known, including Purussaurus, a giant Miocene genus that grew to 12 m (39 ft) and the equally large Mourasuchus, which had a wide duck-like snout.[2]

Behaviour[edit]

Spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus)

The caimans are predators and, like the alligators and the crocodiles, their diet consists of a great deal of fish. The caimans also hunt insects, birds and small mammals and reptiles.

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 species.

Female caimans build a large nest in which to lay their eggs, which can be more than 1.5 metres wide. Female caimans lay between 10 and 50 eggs which hatch within about 6 weeks. Once they have hatched, the mother caiman takes her young to a shallow pool of water where they can learn how to hunt and swim.

Broad-snouted caiman (Caiman latirostris)
Yacare caiman (Caiman yacare)

Taxonomy[edit]

Black caiman (Melanosuchus niger)
Cuvier's dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus)
Smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus)

Phylogeny[edit]

Below is a cladogram modified from Brochu (2011).[3]

 Alligatoridae 

Alligatorinae

 Caimaninae 

Eocaiman cavernensis

Necrosuchus ionensis

Tsoabichi greenriverensis

Paleosuchus palpebrosus

Paleosuchus trigonatus

Mourasuchus

Orthogenysuchus olseni

Purussaurus mirandai

Purussaurus neivensis

 Jacarea 

Caiman crocodilus

Caiman yacare

Caiman latirostris

UCMP 39978 (referred to Caiman lutescens)

Melanosuchus fisheri

Melanosuchus niger

Below is a cladogram modified from Hastings et al. (2013).[4]

Stangerochampsa mccabei

Brachychampsa montana

Brachychampsa sealeyi

 Alligatoridae 

Alligatorinae

 Caimaninae 

Culebrasuchus mesoamericanus

Eocaiman cavernensis

Tsoabichi greenriverensis

Paleosuchus palpebrosus

Paleosuchus trigonatus

Centenariosuchus gilmorei

Purussaurus neivensis

Mourasuchus

Orthogenysuchus olseni

Caiman crocodilus

Caiman yacare

Caiman latirostris

Caiman lutescens

Melanosuchus fisheri

Melanosuchus niger

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mendal, Abram. "Comparing Exotic Leathers: American Alligator vs. Caiman Skins". Retrieved 2016-12-04.
  2. ^ Brochu, C. A. (1999). "Phylogenetics, Taxonomy, and Historical Biogeography of Alligatoroidea". Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Memoir. 6: 9–100. doi:10.2307/3889340. JSTOR 3889340.
  3. ^ Brochu, C. A. (2011). "Phylogenetic relationships of Necrosuchus ionensis Simpson, 1937 and the early history of caimanines". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 163: S228–S256. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.2011.00716.x.
  4. ^ Hastings, A. K.; Bloch, J. I.; Jaramillo, C. A.; Rincon, A. F.; MacFadden, B. J. (2013). "Systematics and biogeography of crocodylians from the Miocene of Panama". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 33 (2): 239. doi:10.1080/02724634.2012.713814.