Cuvier’s Caiman

Cuvier’s 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. Juveniles are brown with black banding. Adults are usually darker. They are believed to be the most primitive species of crocodilian.


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


Curviers range

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, which they catch in the water or, on land. 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 such as crustaceans.

Threats for Cuvier’s dwarf caiman come from habitat destruction, and pollution (for example, through gold mining activities). Collection for the pet trade has reduced population densities in local areas of some countries. Despite extensive survey data regarding population status, little is known about the biology and ecology of this species, and further research is required.


Est. wild population: More than 1,000,000
Main conservation threats: Habitat destruction, pollution and collection for the pet trade


IUCN Red List (September, 2014)


At the zoo

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


We have had success breeding Cuvier’s dwarf caimans and in the autumn the zoo is often home to noisy caiman hatchlings!



  • Letty Steer
  • Deana Horwill
  • Jessica Patman-Smith
  • Caroline Walton

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