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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Species Fact Profile: Northern Caiman Lizard (Dracaena guianensis)

Northern Caiman Lizard
Dracaena guyanensis (Daudin, 1802)

Range: Northern South America
Habitat: Wetlands, Flooded Forest
Diet: Aquatic Invertebrates (especially snails), Fish
Social Grouping: Solitary
Reproduction: Females deposit 8-10 eggs in a hole dug in the riverbank.  Incubation is 5-6 months.  No parental care is provided
Lifespan: 10-12 Years (Captivity)
Conservation Status: IUCN Least Concern, CITES Appendix II

  • Body length is 1.2-1.5 meters (males larger than females), with a weight of 3.5-5.5 kilograms.  The body is olive- or bright-green, while the head is red or orange.  Males also differ from females by having broader heads
  • Highly aquatic, the caiman lizard spends much of its time on branches overhanging the water; if it feels threatened, the lizard will drop into the water and swim to safety.  Aquatic adaptations include a clear third-eyelid (the nictitating membrane) and a laterally flattened tail used in swimming.  At night, they hide in trees or bushes
  • Unlike many lizards, the tongue is bifurcated (forked), allowing the lizard to better detect prey
  • Caiman lizards are considered snail-specialists, crushing the shells of their prey with their back teeth and spitting out the shells (they have been known to predate turtles in a similar manner).  This specialized diet has made them a challenge for some zoos to accommodate, though captive-born hatchlings will take a wider array of foods
  • The common name is a reference to their resemblance to the alligator-like caimans, especially with their dorsal scales and their manner of swimming
  • While not considered aggressive, threatened caiman lizards will defend themselves with powerful bites or blows from their tail
  • The species was once heavily hunted for its skin, but has been legally protected since the 1970's and is now considered to be recovering

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