Common caiman, Tinga, Baba, Babilla, Babiche, Cachirré, Caiman Blanco, Caiman de Brasil, Cascarudo, Jacaretinga, Lagarto, Lagarto Blanco, Yacaré Blanco, White caiman, Speckled caiman
The Spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) is a crocodilian with large range and population. It is native to much of Latin America and has been introduced to the United States, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Its common name comes from a bony ridge between its eyes, which gives the appearance of a pair of spectacles. The Spectacled caiman is the most widely distributed New World crocodilian, and is the most geographically variable species in the Americas, making it a highly adaptable species.
The upperside of the Spectacled caiman is mostly brownish-, greenish-, or yellowish-gray colored and has dark brown crossbands, with a lighter underside. It has a greenish iris and wrinkled eyelids. It changes color seasonally - during colder weather, the black pigment within its skin cells expands, making it appear darker. The species has an enlarged 4th tooth, and the teeth in its lower jaw penetrate into a socket in its upper jaw. It has a long snout that tapers moderately, with an unexpanded tip. Several ridges begin in front of its eyes and travel to the tip of its snout.
Spectacled caimans are found in various countries throughout the Americas. They live in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela, and may also be extant in Belize and Bolivia. They usually lives in forests, inland bodies of fresh water (such as wetlands and rivers), grasslands, shrublands, and savannas. They prefer habitats with calm water containing floating vegetation, usually flooding and drying seasonally. They are most common in low-lying areas, but may also occur in hilly areas. In Brazil, they live in the rivers Amazon, Araguaia, Araguari, Itapicuru, Rio Negro, Paranaíba, Solimões, Tapajós, Tocantins, and Xingu. Spectacled caimans can also live in human-inhabited areas.
Spectacled caimans live together in loose-knit groups but prefer to be solitary except in the mating season. They are nocturnal and usually hunt at night, being immobile most of the day and staying submerged. In the morning and early afternoon, they will bask on the shore. They remain in the same territory. During summer, they hibernate by burrowing into the mud if their environment becomes too harsh and food is not readily available. Spectacled caimans use nine different vocalizations and 13 visual displays to communicate with individuals of its species. Both adults and young produce calls for group cohesion. Males are known to communicate by moving their tail to a certain position, such as making it vertical or arched. Juveniles vocalize when in distress and adult females emit calls to warn young of threats.
Spectacled caimans are carnivorous and their prey changes along with their increase in size. They will eat insects, snails, crabs, shrimps, fish, lizards, snakes, turtles, mammals, and birds. Cannibalism can occur, especially during drought conditions, with many caimans of varying sizes together in small areas.
Spectacled caimans are polygynous. Males attempt to mate with as many females as possible. They gain reproductive maturity between 4 and 7 years old. They become aggressive and territorial during the mating season. Social rank is dependent on size: the larger, the more dominant. Mating occurs from May to August. Depending on the local climate, eggs are laid between July and November. The clutch is 10 to 30 eggs and incubation lasts for about 65-104 days. Juveniles stay with their parents for about 1.5 years, for protection from predators.
Spectacled caimans are the species most intensely harvested by humans for their hide. Their skin is used for handbags, shoes, belts and wallets. However, some are often killed because they look dangerous, which leads to many species being threatened or endangered. The Spectacled caiman itself is endangered in several countries, including El Salvador.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Spectacled caiman is around 1,000,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Spectacled caimans are a "keystone species," and control certain prey populations. The balance of entire ecosystems could be upset by their disappearance. They are predators of fish, as well as other aquatic and shoreline vertebrates. They are important members of aquatic communities and riparian shorelines.