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Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology



  • Sometimes observed in riverbank burrows (beneath water level) (Neill 1971; Medem 1981; Trutnau and Sommerlad 2006)
    • Length: usually 150 to 350 cm (4.9 to 11 ft)
    • Entrance often located between tree roots
    • Also see observations by Medem (1958) and Roberto (2014)
  • In areas surrounding the Pantanal, may remain in burrows during cool periods of dry season (aestivation) (Campos and Magnusson 2013)
    • Body temperature can remain as low at 20°C (68°F)

Movements and Dispersal

Home range

  • Little known; size said to vary widely (Campos et al. 2017)

Terrestrial movements

  • May move long distances over land to reach ephemeral wetlands (Paolilla and Gorzula 1985; Campos et al. 1995; Roberto 2014)

Social Behavior

Social behavior not well known

  • Medem (1958) describes dwarf caimans as solitary, even as juveniles

Agonistic Behavior and Defense


  • Can be aggressive towards humans, if caught or cornered (Medem 1958)
    • Otherwise, tend to flee perceived danger
  • Drumheller et al. (2019) did not find that dwarf caiman exhibited death roll behavior



  • Thought to move easily in shallow-water habitats (Medem 1983; Campos et al. 2017)
  • Locomotion on land not well described in scientific literature


  • Quick and agile (Medem 1958)
    • Cross rivers without difficulty
    • Able to swim against strong water currents
    • “Jump” into water, when startled

Capable on Land

Dwarf caiman among reeds

Dwarf crocodiles are adapted for shallow-water habitats and may make extensive movements over land.

Some individuals use riverbank burrows.

Image credit: © Pedro Correia de Siracusa / iNaturalist. Some rights reserved, CC BY-NC 4.0.

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