The Smooth-Fronted Caiman
Schneider's dwarf caiman, Schneider's smooth-fronted caiman
Species: Paleosuchus trigonatus.
The smooth-fronted caiman is endemic to South America where it can be found along the rivers Amazon and Orinoco in Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname.
It lives in cool fast-flowing rivers and can be found even at 1300 above the sea level. It oftern dwells near the waterfalls.
The smooth-fronted caiman is an amphibious type of reptile, therefore it always lives near the water. It can mainly be found in the woodland rivers and streams, near the waterfalls and rapids. Also it can live in lakes and even marshes.
The smooth-fronted caiman is not large. Females typically grow to about 1.5 m (even less in captivity). Males are larger and normally grow to about 1.8- 2.3 m.
Actually it is the second smallest crocodile in the world. It has large scutes that serve as protection against predators on the ground. The eyes are usually brown with the shade of green. The tail is relatively short and inflexible. Its snout is smooth which helps the caiman to move faster in the water. The back is usually dark-brown and the belly is light. Young caimans have darker stripes on the back. A new-born smooth-fronted caiman has a gold patch at the top of its head which disappears when it grows up. This is why this species is often referred to as the crowned caiman.
The smooth-fronted caiman is a predator that eats smaller animals. Occasionally it can be eaten itself by larger predators. In the rivers and streams it is certainly a dominating predator. Adult caimans spend a lot of time in their holes away from water. They are mostly nocturnal. At daytime they hide in their holes. As a rule, one caiman has several of them. Males control quite large areas up to 1 km along the banks where they live and hunt. They are territorial, so they don’t let other males into their territory. The caiman scares away the rivals with growling, guttural sounds and frightening postures. Fights also happen.
During the mating season females protect their nests but their level of defense is not as efficient as with American alligator. This makes the life of small caimans quite dangerous.
During the hunt the smooth-fronted caiman raises its head high and looks for a potential prey.
Mostly they live alone, rarely in couples.
There have been reports about caimans attacking people during the mating season. Usually it happens when people travel by boat near caimans’ nests. Caimans kept in captivity also become very aggressive during the mating season: they start hissing and threaten people that collect eggs for artificial incubation. This kind of behavior is characteristic not only for females but also for males.
A smooth-fronted caiman needs a large tank, at least 100 litres. The proportion between the water and the substrate in the tank has to be about 3:1. Small gravel is the ideal substrate. You will have to put large stones and branches on the substrate: they will serve as hiding places. You will also have to put on the water a big piece of cork tree bark: it will help the reptile to come on the ground. The slope to the water has to be low-angle. Above the ground you should install a heating lamp (ideally an infra red) for the caiman to bask under it. You will need a powerful external filter because caimans soil the water very quickly.
The ambient temperature should be between 25 and 35°C.
The caiman needs 12 of light per day with infra red and fluorescent lamps.
The ideal water temperature is between 22 and 25°C.
The smooth-fronted caiman eats fish and occasionally rodents: rats and rabbits. Young caimans have more varied diet: big insects (cockroaches, crickets), small fish, shrimps. They don’t need calcium supplements since they get calcium from the bones of swallowed animals, that’s why you have to feed your crocodile with the whole animal. Young caimans should be fed daily, and the adult ones – every second day.
The amount of food should be average. You can watch your caiman in order to define the exact amount of food: if in the area of the tail and the stomach there are no lacunas or bulges, it gets the right quantity of food.
Very aggressive and dangerous animals.
They require a large tank.
You have to be careful when feeding the smooth-fronted caiman: they remember the feeding time and start jumping up to get the food. In order to avoid injuries, you have to follow the safety rules when feeding your reptile.
The caimans caught in the wild can have tapeworms. This is easily treated with the help of antihelmintic medicines.
If the caiman is fed only with frozen fish it may develop vitamin deficiency. In this case you should change the caiman’s diet and give to it vitamins.
The smooth-fronted caiman becomes sexually mature at the age of 10 years old. They do not breed in the captivity.
The mating period starts during the dry season, approximately one month before the rainfall season. In contrast with other crocodiles, the smooth-fronted caiman doesn’t attract a potential partner with sounds. The couple copulates staying submerged under the water.
In the end of the season a female lays 10-20 eggs. Before that it builds a nest. Often a male helps in this process. For the successful incubation the temperature has to be quite high all the time. That’s why the caiman uses rotting plants as building material (they emit warmth while deteriorating) and they build the nests close to termite mounds. The caiman’s nest is always on the ground: it is a hump about 1.5 m in diameter and about 0.5 m high. Once a female has laid eggs, the nest closes and after a while it becomes a hard closed capsule. This enables the caiman to protect its breed from predators.
The incubation period can reach 115 days. All this time the female protects its nest vigorously. When she feels that the youngsters are about to hatch, she opens the nest and accompanies the hatchlings to the water. After that the female completely loses interest in its breed.
Average life span is about 30 years.