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Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) Fact Sheet: Summary

Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) Fact Sheet

Dwarf caiman, Brazil, (c) Zilca Campos

Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus)

Image credit: © Zilca Campos. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia — reptiles

Order: Crocodylia — alligators, caimans, crocodiles, gharials

Family: Alligatoridae — alligators and caimans

Genus: Paleosuchus — dwarf and smooth-fronted caimans

Species: Paleosuchus palpebrosus — dwarf caiman, Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, Cuvier’s smooth-fronted caiman

Male: Up to 20 kg (40 lb)
Female: Up to 12 kg (26 lb)

Male: Up to 2.0 m (6.7 ft)
Female: Up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft)

Body rich brown to dark brown or black. Dark markings on lower jaw.

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Northern South America: east of the Andes, south to Paraguay

Flooded forests, forest streams, palm swamps, rivers, lakes, water reservoirs; uncommonly, coastal areas.

IUCN Status
Least Concern

CITES Appendix
Appendix II

Populations in the Wild
No global estimates. Considered widespread and abundant.

Move easily on land and in water. Cross strong currents without difficulty. Well-adapted for life on land.

Social Groups
Thought to be solitary, except during mating season.

Many types of aquatic and terrestrial animals. Vertebrates: fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, small mammals, birds, other small crocodilians. Invertebrates: crabs, shrimps, molluscs (snails, shellfish), insects (especially beetles), and spiders.

Humans, other crocodilians, anaconda; possibly jaguar and other big cats.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity
Females: about 8 years old
Males: about 6 years old

Incubation Period
About 90 to 95 days

Clutch Size
14 eggs, on average; range: 6 to 21 eggs

Weight at Hatching
About 38 to 43 g (1.3 to 1.5 oz)

Typical Life Expectancy
Wild populations: not reported
Managed care: no AZA estimates

Feature Facts

  • Smallest living crocodilian
  • Well-adapted to life on land and shallow water; may move long distances over land to reach water
  • High profile skull for crushing and subduing prey
  • Tolerates cooler temperatures, compared to other tropical crocodilians
  • Mother provides care to young for up to 21 months after hatching
  • Burrowing behavior observed in several scientific studies; little known
  • Little commercial take; small, bony skins not sought for leather goods
  • Roles in some traditional cultures of Brazil: food source, protection from snake bites, traditional medicine
  • Likely the least-studied New World crocodilian; much basic biology still unstudied

About This Fact Sheet

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© 2020 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance


How to cite: Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) Fact Sheet. c2020. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. dwarf-caiman.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2019 Dec 31)


Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to


Thank you to Dr. Zilca Campos for providing expert content review of this fact sheet and photographs of dwarf caimans from wild populations.

Dr. Zilca Campos, Research Scientist at Embrapa Pantanal, has conducted research on the ecology, evolution, and conservation of South American crocodilians for more than 30 years. She has published more than 20 research articles on the dwarf caiman, and is an author of the dwarf caiman IUCN Red List assessment and the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group's dwarf caiman Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan.

Dr. Campos is also broadly interested in Brazilian zoology and sustainable wildlife management practices. View a list of Dr. Campos's publications.

Thank you to SDZG Associate Curator of Herpetology and Ichthyology Brett Baldwin, SDZG Animal Care Manager Brandon Scott, and SDZG Senior Keeper Lawrie Arends for sharing their knowledge of caiman husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.

Dwarf Caiman

dwarf caiman at san diego zoo

Dwarf caiman at the San Diego Zoo.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

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