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Similar to the American Alligator, the Black Caiman is the largest carnivore found in the Amazon Rainforest and the second largest reptile in existence (only the Saltwater Crocodile is larger). Growing to a maximum length of nearly 20 feet, and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, the Black Caiman is black in coloration with light white or yellow banding on the sides and brown or gray banding on the lower jaw. The black coloration is an effective camouflage for this nocturnal hunter and may help it absorb heat.
The Black Caiman is an opportunistic hunter that preys more heavily on fish than alligators and reptiles. Caimans take large quantities of piranhas and other Amazon River fish, as well as mollusks, catfish, and some mammals and birds.
Habitat and Range
The Black Caiman is limited to slow-moving freshwater lakes, rivers, swamps, marshes, and wetlands of the Amazon region in eastern and northeastern South America.
Females lay between 20-40 eggs anytime during the Amazon Dry Season, which runs from September to December. The female remains close to the nest site but will not actually defend it. After two or three months, the hatchlings emerge and form groups called pods. The female will sometimes carry the hatchlings in her mouth to the nearby water source. Black Caimans have slow reproductive rates and the female only breeds once every two or three years.
Populations of Black Caimans have been in serious decline for several decades. The current population is thought to be only a fraction of historical populations. Caimans are hunted extensively for their skin and are negatively impacted by continued deforestation in the Amazon region.