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The Black Caiman in Peru Amazon

Learn about the Black Caiman in Peru.

Did you know that current species of crocodiles and alligators are considered close relatives of prehistoric dinosaurs like the archosaurus?

PeruAmazonTrips’ article for today is focused on caimans, which only live in Central and South America. These reptiles are represented by 7 species belonging to the Alligatoridae family, 5 of which live in Peru.

The Black Caiman in Peru has lower teeth that fit inside the upper jaw when the mouth is closed. Also, the fourth lower jaw fang hides in a cavity of the upper jaw when it closes its mouth.

The Black Caiman or Melanosuchus niger has a considerable population in Manu's National Park.
The Black Caiman or Melanosuchus niger has a considerable population in Manu’s National Park.

DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT

In South America, the Black Caiman is widely distributed throughout almost the entire Amazon River basin, from Peru and Bolivia to its mouth, however there have been reports of sightings in Paraguay. In Peru, there are significant populations in the Manu National Park. The Black Caiman inhabits both slow-moving rivers, as well as deep oxbow lakes, swampy areas and flooded forests, where it finds the food it needs to survive.

MORPHOLOGY

  • BODY: The skin of the Black Caiman is bluish-green in color.
  • LENGTH: It grows throughout its life, able to measure up to 7 meters.
  • WEIGHT: It can weigh more than 400 kilos.
  • ARMOR: The Black Caiman is an armored, almost indestructible creature, thanks to its hard armor that not even the natives’ spears can penetrate.
  • BELLY: Its belly has a thick skin reinforced with sturdy bony plates, however it is vulnerable.
  • TAIL: Its tail is long and powerful, which allows it to propel itself in the water and swim at high speeds.
  • EYES: The Black Caiman’s eyes have very prominent superciliary arches that protect them from the searing Amazonian sun and its reflection in the water. It is almost always possible to see bees and wasps perched on its eyes, which feed on mineral salts and some organic waste.
  • JAW: It has a powerful jaw with numerous sharp teeth that are prepared to tear and not to cut.
  • SWIMMING: The Black Caiman swims close to the surface, only sticking its nose out to breathe.
Black Caimans only surface partly while swimming.
Black Caimans only surface partly while swimming.

BEHAVIOR

The Black Caiman is a reptile with mainly nocturnal habits, with special adaptations for this lifestyle. It is a very agile animal in the water, but very clumsy on land. When young, caimans have numerous predators, including some fish like piranhas, as well as large herons, eagles, peccaries, ocelots, river wolves and even other caimans. Upon reaching adulthood, the Black Caiman has almost no predators as it is at the top of the food chain. Nevertheless, its main enemy is the human being.

Illegal hunting focuses on its stomach skin for luxury items. Measures of proctection are needed to prevent its disappearance.

During the floods that occur in the Amazon between May and July, the population disperse across wide territories. During the dry season between September and December ,Black Caimans congregate in oxbow lakes, rivers and swampy areas.

DIET

Black Caiman’s diet can vary according to the age, size and habitat of this predator. Young specimens eat insects, crustaceans, mollusks and other invertebrates; however, upon reaching adulthood they feed on fish, birds, large rodents such as capybaras and some mammals like deer and otters, which they hunt stealthily and patiently.

The Black Caiman lies in wait among fallen leaves and branches to await its victims. When its prey is close enough, it takes a great leap propelled by its tail and hind legs, thus managing to catch them with its powerful jaw and sharp teeth, so strongly that it is impossible to break free.

Then, it drags them to the bottom of the river or oxbow lake to drown them and, finally, brings them back up to devour them almost whole on land, since it cannot eat underwater.

A black caiman wanders the shores of Manu's River.
A black caiman wanders the shores of Manu National Park‘s River.

NATURAL PREDATORS

Being at the top of the food chain, the Black Caiman has natural enemies as powerful as itself, among which the Anaconda (Eunectes murinus), the Giant Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) and the fierce Jaguar (Panthera onca) stand out.

A predator of lesser power, but similar effect, is the black vulture, which eats the eggs of this reptile. Some chroniclers narrate bloody clashes between the Jaguar and the Black Caiman:

“The caiman delivers powerful blows with its tail to the jaguar and tries to bring it into the water, while the jaguar grips the caiman’s neck firmly with its claws, dragging it onto land. Even trapped, the blows from the caiman’s tail are fearsome. In the end, the jaguar prevails, opening the white belly of the lizard with its claws.”

Video of the Melanosuchus Niger in Manu (Credit to the Homonym Channel in Youtube)

YouTube video

Venture into the Amazon for more!

Peru Amazon Trips offers tours to Manu’s National Park if you’re keen to observe these unique animals.

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