Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman

Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman

Scientific Name: Paleosuchus palpebrosus
Common Names: Dwarf Caiman, Cuvier’s Smooth-fronted Caiman

Maximum adult length: 1.5 metres (4.9 feet)


N.B. Exceptionally large specimens can be found in all species of crocodilian.


Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, also known as Cuvier’s smooth-fronted caiman, is a small caiman from northern and central South America. With an adult length of up to 1.6 metres (5.2 feet) in males, and up to 1.2 metres (3.9 feet) in females, it is the smallest species of crocodilian. Having said that, populations surrounding Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands, males have been observed that exceed 2m in total length.


Juveniles are brown with black banding. Adults are usually darker.


Cuvier’s dwarf caiman is classified as Lower Risk/least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

It is listed on CITES Appendix II.


Red List Category & Criteria: Lower Risk/least concern ver 2.3
Year Published: 1996
Date Assessed: 1996-08-01


Curviers status

Countries: Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; Venezuela; Trinidad & Tobago.


Cuvier’s dwarf caiman is a freshwater species native to tropical northern and central South America. It is found in forested riverine habitats and areas of flooded forest around lakes. It seems to prefer rivers and streams with fast-flowing water but is also found in quiet, nutrient-poor waters. It is able to travel quite large distances overland at night and individuals have sometimes been found in isolated, temporary pools.


Cuvier’s dwarf caiman seems relatively tolerant of cool water compared to other species of crocodile.

Adult Cuvier’s dwarf caiman feed on fish, crabs, shrimps, molluscs, and other invertebrates, along with amphibians and small mammals – both on land and in the water. Juveniles eat fewer fish but also consume crustaceans as well as land invertebrates such as beetles. They have short, backward-curved teeth, which are particularly suited to taking invertebrates and crustaceans.

Threats for Cuvier’s dwarf caiman come from habitat destruction, and pollution (for example, through gold mining activities). As jungle habitat is developed further and roads encroach into these jungles, dwarf caimans are becoming victims of car strikes as they move about at night. Collection for the pet trade is permitted in Guyana, but under strict quotas that are rarely filled. Dam construction can impact dwarf caimans, but the effect can be difficult to quantify (some impacts negative, some positive).


Despite extensive survey data on population status, little was known about the biology and ecology of this species. In recent years, these gaps are beginning to be filled.


Est. wild population: More than 1,000,000
Main conservation threats: Habitat destruction, pollution.


IUCN Red List (September, 2014)


At the zoo

Our three Cuvier’s dwarf caimans cohabit in a small social group, together with native turtle species and Amazonian fish.


We have had success breeding Cuvier’s dwarf caimans and in the autumn the zoo is often home to noisy caiman hatchlings! Look out for some hatchlings near our Australian freshwater crocodiles, or in the nursery area in the Main Zoo building.


Adopting this species can help us not just with the caimans at the zoo, but in supporting ongoing ecology projects in South America.


  • Safa Maqsood

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