Dwarf Caiman

Paleosuchus palpebrosus

Scientific Name

Dwarf Caiman:  
Paleosuchus palpebrosus

Distribution and Habitat

Geographic Range

Cuvier’s dwarf caiman are most commonly found in the wetlands of Brazil, French Guiana, Surinam, Guyana & Venezuela. They are also widespread throughout the Orinoco and Amazon basins.

Natural Habitat

This species can be found living near rivers, swamps, and savanna areas. They prefer clean, clear and fast moving water in forested areas with waterfalls and rapids. Cuvier’s dwarf caiman like cool freshwater.

Physical Characteristics

  • Cuvier’s dwarf caiman are the smallest of the alligator family. Males grow to about 4-5 ft. and weigh up to 15 pounds, while the females grow to about 4 ft and weigh about 11 pounds. They are reddish brown in color. The back is mostly black, while the upper and lower jaws are covered with several dark and light spots. The tail is also marked with encircling bands. Cuvier’s dwarf caiman have more bony plates covering their skin than any other species. These bony plates protect the dwarf caiman from predators and the fast moving waters in which they live. The dwarf caiman have an unusually short, smooth and pointy skull with an upturned snout. This may be a useful adaptation for burrowing into riverbanks during the day. Their total number of teeth is 78-82. The short, backward teeth are suited to eating invertebrates such as crustaceans.

Quick Facts

  1. Dwarf caimans are considered a “keystone species” that maintains ecosystem structure and function by selective predation on fish species that if left unchecked would transform the ecosystem.

  2. This caiman walks with a distinctive head-raised posture.


M&T Bank Rainforest Falls

Conservation Status

Least Concern: The Dwarf Caiman is common or abundant and is likely to survive in the wild.

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Cuvier’s dwarf caiman are nocturnal hunters. The young feed on aquatic and shoreline insects, tadpoles, frogs, snails, crabs, shrimp and small fish. Adults mainly eat tadpoles, frogs, snails, fish, small mammals and a wide variety of insects. Their diets change with their size and age.