Named for its crocodile-like skin, the caiman lizard is interesting for its habitat, anatomy, behavior and diet. Inhabiting swamps in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana and Peru, it has developed an interesting way to exploit its environment when escaping predators. Its anatomy is also specialized according to its territory and very limited diet. Differences between males and females are only easily seen when the two are observed side by side.
Most lizards live in dry habitats, but caiman lizards spend most of their time in or near water. Their habitat is forested swamps and areas around rivers, where they have access to vegetation. During the daytime they lie in the sun on roots or branches that overhang water. At night they hide in bushes and trees. Native to the Amazon Basin, the greatest threat to their existence is habitat loss, although poachers also hunt them for their skin.
Interesting facts about caiman lizard anatomy include their coloration and physical adaptations to their environment. Both sexes are green with red-orange heads, but the male's head is redder and broader. Both also have powerful, whip-like tails flattened to help with swimming and self-defense. Male caiman lizard tails have a modified scale. They have extremely strong molar teeth, necessary for their diet of hard-shelled creatures. Caiman lizards are between 2 and 4 feet long and weigh between 3 and 6 pounds.
Caiman lizards make interesting use of their aquatic surroundings. Spending most of their time lying above water, once threatened or disturbed they immediately drop down and swim away. When face-to-face with predators they are very aggressive, biting or attempting to hit their attacker with their tails. Caiman lizards are not solitary or social creatures. In captivity they live side by side quite peaceably, interacting with other animals such as fish, turtles and other lizards.
The caiman lizard diet in the wild is fairly narrow. They exist almost entirely on apple snails and clams. When eating snails, they tilt back their heads so the snail slides to the back of their mouths. There, they crush the snails with their powerful teeth, then spit out the shell. In captivity, caiman lizards also eat fish, rodents, fruit, ground turkey and hard-boiled egg, as well as snails. Baby lizards eat crickets and other insects. Lizards also receive vitamin and mineral supplements.
A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about travel, gardening, science and pets since 2007. Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.