The Nonindigenous Occurrences section of the NAS species profiles has a new structure. The section is now dynamically updated from the NAS database to ensure that it contains the most current and accurate information. Occurrences are summarized in Table 1, alphabetically by state, with years of earliest and most recent observations, and the tally and names of drainages where the species was observed. The table contains hyperlinks to collections tables of specimens based on the states, years, and drainages selected. References to specimens that were not obtained through sighting reports and personal communications are found through the hyperlink in the Table 1 caption or through the individual specimens linked in the collections tables.

Caiman crocodilus
Caiman crocodilus
(Common Caiman)

Copyright Info
Caiman crocodilus Linnaeus, 1758

Common name: Common Caiman

Synonyms and Other Names: spectacled caiman, caimán, pululo

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Caiman crocodilus is a medium-sized crocodilian that reaches a total length of 1.1-1.8 m (3.5-6 ft), with a record of 2.64 m (8 ft 8 in) (Conant and Collins, 1998). The snout is not as broad and round as in Alligator mississippiensis, the American alligator (Conant and Collins, 1998). Unlike A. mississippiensis and Crocodylus acutus, the American crocodile, the common caiman has a unique bony ridge in front of and between the eyes (Behler and King, 1979; Conant and Collins, 1998; Powell et al., 1998). See the species accounts titled "Crocodylus acutus (Cuvier, 1807)" and "Alligator mississippiensis (Daudin, 1801)" on this website for comparison. Adults and young have a dorsal coloration that ranges from greenish-, brownish-, or yellowish-gray with darker crossbands (Conant and Collins, 1998).

A variety of authors have illustrated the common caiman (Neill, 1971; Smith and Smith, 1977; Behler and King, 1979; Alvarez del Toro, 1982; Smith and Brodie, 1982; Hirschhorn, 1986; Gorzula, 1987; Lang, 1989; Ross, 1989; Ross and Magnusson, 1989; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Carmichael and Williams, 1991; Grenard, 1991; Bartlett, 1994; Conant and Collins, 1998; Magnusson, 1998; Powell et al., 1998; Rivero, 1998; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999; Behler, 1999; Aguirre and Poss, 2000).

Size: total length of 1.1-1.8 m

Native Range: The common caiman is indigenous to southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, including Trinidad and Tobago, as far south as northern Argentina with occasional vagrants showing up at Grenadines and the Lesser Antilles (Smith and Smith, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1993; Hoogmoed, 1979; Alvarez del Toro, 1982; Savage and Villa, 1986; Groombridge, 1987; King, 1989; Ross and Magnusson, 1989; Grenard, 1991; Schwartz and Henderson, 1991; Flores-Villela, 1993; Powell et al., 1996; Murphy, 1997; Censky and Kaiser, 1999).

Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs) Explained
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences:

Table 1. States with nonindigenous occurrences, the earliest and latest observations in each state, and the tally and names of HUCs with observations†. Names and dates are hyperlinked to their relevant specimen records. The list of references for all nonindigenous occurrences of Caiman crocodilus are found here.

StateFirst ObservedLast ObservedTotal HUCs with observations†HUCs with observations†
AZ199619961Lower Salt
CA197619893Middle Kern-Upper Tehachapi-Grapevine; San Gabriel; Suisun Bay
CT196519963Farmington River; Outlet Connecticut River; Quinebaug River
FL195920226Big Cypress Swamp; Cape Canaveral; Everglades; Florida Southeast Coast; Southern Florida; Upper St. Johns
IN200220021Upper White
IA198019801Middle Des Moines
KS200420041North Fork Ninnescah
MD200420102Gunpowder-Patapsco; Middle Potomac-Catoctin
MA198919912Narragansett; Westfield River
MN200420041Twin Cities
NY200120082Lower Hudson; Southern Long Island
OK197019701Arkansas-White-Red Region
PA199720112Lower Monongahela; Upper Ohio
PR196520245Cibuco-Guajataca; Culebrinas-Guanajibo; Eastern Puerto Rico; Puerto Rico; Southern Puerto Rico
VA196419824Lower James; Lynnhaven-Poquoson; Middle Potomac-Anacostia-Occoquan; Middle Potomac-Catoctin
WA199519951Lake Washington

Table last updated 6/25/2024

† Populations may not be currently present.

Means of Introduction: When trade in baby Alligator mississippiensis, American alligators, became illegal, the pet industry imported thousands of young C. crocodilus as a substitute, from the 1950s through the early 1980s, with numerous pet escapes and intentional releases as a consequence (King and Krakauer, 1966; Webb, 1970; Bury and Luckenbach, 1978; Ellis, 1980; Wilson and Porras, 1983; Grenard, 1991; Bartlett, 1994; McCann et al., 1996; Rivero, 1998). Most nonindigenous occurrences of C. crocodilus are from these releases. Additional, common caiman were added to Dade County, Florida, following the destruction of their holding facilities by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (Belleville, 1994). Rivero (1998) provides two other hypotheses for the means of introduction of common caiman in Puerto Rico: 1) The animals were intentionally stocked by illegal narcotics traffickers to protect their site of operation, and 2) they were intentionally stocked by an individual attempting to "enrich" the island's fauna. These hypotheses are not as likely as the introduction of exotic pets (Rivero, 1998).

The nonindigenous records of C. crocodilus provided in this account must surely underrepresent the number of animals that show up across the United States.

Status: In Florida, C. crocodilus is established (Smith and Kohler, 1978; Ellis, 1980; Moler, 1988; Wilson and Porras, 1983; Ashton and Ashton, 1991; Carmichael and Williams, 1991; Bartlett, 1994; Dalrymple, 1994; Frank and McCoy, 1995; McCoid and Kleberg, 1995; McCann et al., 1996; Butterfield et al., 1997; Bartlett and Bartlett, 1999; Aguirre and Poss, 2000; King, 2000; Meshaka et al., 2003). In Dade County, attempts to eradicate them have failed (Ellis, 1980; McCann et al., 1996). Common caiman are established and invasive in Dade and Broward Counties (Ellis, 1980; Wilson and Porras, 1983; Grenard, 1991; McCann et al., 1996; Conant and Collins, 1998). An isolated population in Palm Beach County is established but apparently not reproducing (Conant and Collins, 1998), and the C. crocodilus in Seminole County, east-central Florida, probably failed to establish this far north; they are not mapped by Conant and Collins (1998). Meshaka et al. (2003) will provide an updated assessment of the status of common caiman in Florida.

Caiman crocodilus are established in Puerto Rico, and Isla de la Juventud, Cuba (Schwartz and Henderson, 1985, 1991; McCoid and Kleberg, 1995; Williams, 1995; Powell et al., 1996; Conant and Collins, 1998; Rivero, 1998; Watlington, 1998; Estrada and Ruibal, 1999; Thomas, 1999).

There are no established populations of common caiman in any other state ; however, Howland (1996) confusingly lists this species as "not well established" in Arizona.

Impact of Introduction:
Summary of species impacts derived from literature review. Click on an icon to find out more...

EcologicalEconomicHuman Health

In those states where C. crocodilus did not establish colonies there was no impact. These opportunistic, carnivorous generalists have a great potential to negatively impact indigenous fauna in Florida where they are invasive (Aguirre and Poss, 2000). Research should be conducted to determine if C. crocodilus could compete with indigenous A. mississippiensis.

In Puerto Rico, nonindigenous Micropterus salmoides (largemouth bass) and Cichla ocellaris (peacock cichlid) that occur in waters with nonindigenous C. crocodilus are infested with larval caiman tongueworms (Pentastomida, Sebekidae) (Williams, 1995). In Florida, this same parasitic infection potentially can be transmitted by caiman to indigenous fish and crocodilians.

Remarks: The taxonomy of C. crocodilus has been reviewed or summarized by Smith and Smith (1977), King (1989), and Crother et al. (2000). Liner (1994) provides a Spanish vernacular name for common caiman. Several authors have studied or summarized the natural history of C. crocodilus (Ellis, 1980; Alvarez del Toro, 1982; Gorzula, 1987; Grenard, 1991; Schwartz and Henderson, 1991; Allsteadt, 1994; Murphy, 1997; Rivero, 1998; Aguirre and Poss, 2000).

Caiman crocodilus is an adaptable, generalist, with an omnicarnivorous diet that includes a broad variety of aquatic invertebrates and vertebrates, including terrestrial insects (Ellis, 1980; Alvarez del Toro, 1982; Grenard, 1991; Schwartz and Henderson, 1991; Murphy, 1997; Aguirre and Poss, 2000). They can occupy almost any body of water, natural or man-made (Gorzula, 1987; Grenard, 1991; Schwartz and Henderson, 1991; Murphy, 1997). This species does not seem to tolerate temperatures below 1.7° C (35° F) (Grenard, 1991).   In portions of South America, populations of C. crocodilus can be large and dense (Gorzula, 1987; Lang, 1989). The female lays hard-shelled eggs in terrestrial mound nests constructed of surrounding vegetation; the nests may be guarded by the mother, opened by either parent to assist neonates during hatching, and additional parental care extended toward the young for several months afterwards while they remain together in a crèche (Alvarez del Toro, 1982; Wilson and Porras, 1983; Shine, 1988; Magnusson et al., 1989; Allsteadt, 1994; Rivero, 1998).

The common caiman is subject to international and federal trade regulations, with additional state level legislation (including some restrictions) in a variety of states (Levell, 1997).

References: (click for full references)

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Author: Louis A. Somma, and Pam Fuller

Revision Date: 6/22/2012

Citation Information:
Louis A. Somma, and Pam Fuller, 2024, Caiman crocodilus Linnaeus, 1758: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?speciesID=222, Revision Date: 6/22/2012, Access Date: 6/25/2024

This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


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