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Dwarf Caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) Fact Sheet: Distribution & Habitat


Wide range

  • Widespread across northern South America (east of the Andes, south to Paraguay) (Medem 1958; Thorbjarnarson 1992; Grigg and Kirshner 2015; Magnusson et al. 2019; Campos et al. 2019).
    • Mainly found in Amazon and Orinoco River drainages, and Atlantic coast drainages that lie between the Paraná and São Francisco River (except the Pantanal)
  • Found in 11 countries (Magnusson et al. 2019)
    • Recent range expansion (first observed 2012) into Trinidad and Tobago (Ali et al. 2016)


Aquatic habitats

  • Flooded forests (e.g., Magnusson 1985)
  • Forest streams (Medem 1958; Thorbjarnarson 1992; Rebelo and Louzada 1984, as cited by Magnusson 1989; Rebelo and Lugli 2001)
  • Palm swamps (Godshalk 1982, as cited by Campos et al. 2018 and Magnusson et al. 2019; Paolilla and Gorzula 1985; Campos and Muniz 2019)
  • Rivers (Medem 1958; Magnusson 1985, 1989; Thorbjarnarson 1992; Rebelo and Lugli 2001; Campos et al., 2019; Magnusson et al. 2019)
    • Low- and high-flow areas
  • Lakes (e.g., Magnusson 1985; Magnusson 1989; Roberto 2014)
    • Includes oxbow lakes (Carvalho and Veras Batista 2013)
  • Water reservoirs (Roberto 2014; Campos 2015)
    • Includes associated headwater streams (Carvalho and Veras Batista 2013)
  • Uncommonly, coastal areas (reported from Suriname) (Stevenson 2019)

Habitat preferences

  • Occur in habitats with clean, cold water and rapids (Medem 1967; Campos, Marioni, et al. 2013)
    • Also, slow-flowing and isolated bodies of water (e.g., Neill 1971; Paolilla and Gorzula 1985; Botero-Arias 2007)
  • Can tolerate cooler temperatures compared to other tropical crocodilians (Campos, Marioni, et al. 2013; Campos and Magnusson 2013)
  • Well-adapted to life on land (Kalin 1933, as cited by Medem 1958; Campos et al. 2019; Magnusson et al. 2019)
  • Typically not found in same habitat areas as smooth-fronted caiman, Paleosuchus trigonatus (Magnusson 1989)
    • However, range distributions of both species overlap (Medem 1958)
  • No evidence that this species breeds near large bodies of water (Magnusson 1989)

Dwarf Caiman Distribution

Distribution Dwarf Caiman, Paleosuchus palpebrosus

The dwarf caiman is widespread across northern South America.

Adapted from according to IUCN fact sheet. Click here or on map for detailed distribution (IUCN).

Flooded Forest

Dwarf caiman habitat, Brazil, (c) Zilca Campos

Flooded forests and forest streams are preferred habitats of the dwarf caiman.

Dwarf caimans can tolerate cooler temperatures compared to other tropical crocodilians.

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

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