Caiman crocodilus
Caiman crocodilus
(Common Caiman)
Reptiles-Crocodilians
Exotic
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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).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
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Alaska
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Hawaii
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Puerto Rico &
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Guam Saipan
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: Arizona:  Sometime between 1995 and 1996, a C. crocodilus was collected from the Papago Park Ponds, Phoenix, Maricopa County, Arizona (M. Demlong, personal communication 1997).

California:  In 1989, a common caiman was collected from west of Arvin, Kern County, California (D. Holland, personal communication 1997).  At unspecified dates, two C. crocodilus were observed (one collected) from Heather Pond near Walnut Creek, in the San Francisco area, Contra Costa County (Bury and Luckenbach, 1978), and another was collected from an ornamental pool in Long Beach, Los Angeles County (St. Amant in Bury and Luckenbach, 1978).

Connecticut:  In 1985, in Hartford County, a C. crocodilus was collected from the Farmington River in Windsor, and another was observed in the Connecticut River in East Hartford (H. Gruner, personal communication 1996).  A common caiman was collected from a pond called "Blue Lake" in North Stonington, New London County, Connecticut in 1996 (Altimari, 1996; Crombie, 1996; H. Gruner, personal communication 1996). 

Florida:  L. Porras (in Wilson and Porras, 1983) first observed common caiman of various sizes in Florida in a canal extending from Maule Lake, Miami, Dade County, in the late 1950s.  In 1960, C. crocodilus were observed in various canals in Miami, Dade County (Shirley in Ellis, 1980).  King and Krakauer (1966) reported C. crocodilus living in "various canal systems" in South Florida and included Palm Beach County.  King and Krakauer (1966) did not think these animals were reproducing.  In 1974, a breeding population of common caiman was found at Homestead Air Force Base, Dade County (Carter and Douglas in Ellis, 1980).  Ellis (1980) collected natural history data from individuals collected in a federal and State of Florida sanctioned extirpation program begun in 1977.  Common caiman also were found in Florida City, Dade County (Ellis, 1980), and Lake Jessup, Seminole County (Hines in Ellis, 1980).  In 1976 an adult C. crocodilus with young on its back was observed near Coopertown on the Tamiami Trail, Dade County (Wasilewski in Wilson and Porras, 1983) and in 1980 hatchlings were collected from the same locality (McDermott in Wilson and Porras, 1983).  Populations of C. crocodilus also are known from adjacent Broward County (Grenard, 1991; Florida Museum of Natural History records).  Additional C. crocodilus were liberated in Dade County in August 1992, when Hurricane Andrew destroyed their cages at an exotic animal dealership (Belleville, 1994).  More recently, specimens were reported from both Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Preserve in 2007 (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 2009).

Iowa: Reported from Saylorville Reservoir in 1980 (Christiansen, 2001)

Indiana: A single individual was collected from a private pond in Marion County in June 2002 (Seng and White, 2003).

Kansas: A single caiman was collected in August 2004 from Cheney Reservoir (Pearce, 2012).

Maryland: At least three specimens have been collected from Maryland.  One in Seneca Creek in 2004 (ng, 2004), Glen Burnie in 2008 (Anonymous 2008), and one in Patapsco Valley State Park in 2010 (Roylance 2010).

Massachusetts:  In Massachusetts, a C. crocodilus was collected from a swamp in Taunton, Bristol County, in 1989, and another from a wetland in Plainfield, Hampshire County, in 1991 (Cardoza et al., 1993).

Minnesota:  In 2004, a single individual was captured in the Mississippi River in Hennepin County at Brooklyn Park (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2005).

Missouri: In 2003, a C. crocodilus was collected from a pond off Sinks Road, near the town of Ferguson, St. Louis County. (Bergman, 2003)

New York:  In 2001 a C. crocodilus was collected from a pond in Central Park, New York City, New York, amid much publicity (Anonymous, 2001a, b, c; DeSantis, 2001; Heaton-Jones, 2001; Stewart, 2001).

Oklahoma:  Common caiman are occasionally captured from various localities (not specified) in Oklahoma (Webb, 1970).

Pennsylvania:  In 1997 a C. crocodilus was collected from Peters Creek, south of Pittsburgh, Washington County, Pennsylvania (Anonymous, 1997; R. Bamrick, personal communication 1997) and from Chartiers Creek, Allegheny County, in 2011 (Santoni, 2011).

Puerto Rico:  Common caiman were introduced to Puerto Rico during the early 1970s (Watlington, 1998) and are established in many areas (F. Grana, pers. comm.)

Virginia:  In Virginia, individual C. crocodilus were collected from Lake Whitehurst, Norfolk in 1964, a pond in eastern Henrico County in 1978, and Four Mile Creek, Arlington, Arlington County in 1982 (Mitchell, 1994).  Another C. crocodilus was collected from a lake in Lake Fairfax Park, Fairfax County, in 1972 (D'Alessandro and Ernst, 1995; Ernst et al., 1997; D. Ernst, personal communication 1997).

Washington:  Several C.crocodilus have been collected in the past decade in Seattle area lakes. (Roesler, 2003)

Cuba:  Caiman crocodilus were introduced to Isla de la Juventud (=Isle of Youth or Isle of Pines), Cuba, in 1959 (Schwartz and Henderson, 1985, 1991; Estrada and Ruibal, 1999).

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: 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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Williams, E. H. 1995. Parasites of caiman in Puerto Rico. Crocodile Specialist Group Newsletter (IUCN) 14(4):18-19.

Author: Louis A. Somma, and Pam Fuller

Revision Date: 6/22/2012

Citation Information:
Louis A. Somma, and Pam Fuller, 2017, 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: 10/23/2017

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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Page Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2017

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The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2017]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [10/23/2017].

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