Overview

Distribution

Geographic Range

Paleosuchus palpebrosus, Cuvier's dwarf caiman, is most commonly found in the wetlands of Brazil, French Guiana, Surinam, Guyana, and Venezuela. Widespread throughout the Orinoco and Amazon basins, P. palpebrosus inhabit areas extending from Colombia, Venezuela, and the Guianas south to Sao Paulo and the upper Rio Paraguay in southern Brazil and west to the Rio Pastaza in Ecuador.

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

  • Grenard, S. 1991. Handbook of Alligators and Crocodiles. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company.
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Continent: South-America
Distribution: Bolivia, Brazil (Goias etc.), Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, NE Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela.  
Type locality: "Cayenne," French Guiana.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

This species is the smallest of the alligator family. Males grow to about 1.3-1.5 meters, while the females grow to 1.2 meters. They can reach a mass of about 6-7 kg.

Paleosuchus palpebrosus retain a reddish-brown body color. The dorsal surface is mostly plain and nearly black, while the upper and bottom jaws are covered with several dark and light spots. The tail is marked with encircling bands to the tip. Most of these caimans have brown eyes, but some have also been known to have gold-yellow eyes. P. palpebrosus do not have the same dental formula as other caimans. Most caimans have 5 premaxillary teeth in the upper jaw, but this species only has 4. Scale characteristics allow the differentiations between all other species. P. palpebrosus has 17-20 longitudinal rows on their dorsal and its tail (double crest) has bands of 7-9 rows. Paleosuchus palpebrosus has more osteoderms (bony plates) covering its skin than any other species.

Range mass: 6 to 7 kg.

Range length: 1.2 to 1.5 m.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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This species can be found near rivers and inundated savanna areas including the Orinoco and Amazon rivers, as well as those in eastern Paraguay. This species prefers clean, clear, fast-moving streams or rivers in forested areas containing waterfalls and rapids. Paleosuchus palpebrosus mostly inhabit fordable freshwater, avoiding salty, briny waters. It likes cooler waters compared to other caimans. Across inhabited areas, P. palpebrosus has been known to occupy streams of varying sizes, where they are spotted resting near the shorelines. This species is also terrestrial, and has been seen relaxing on piles of small rocks and residing near decaying trees. Likewise, P. palpebrosus is known to dwell in burrows, which are up to 1.5-3.5 meters long. Populations in southern Brazil and Venezuela are limited to waters with very low nutrients. P. palpebrosus can be found resting on rocks, or in shallow water with its back exposed on the surface and its head facing the sun. Preferring colder temperatures, they can survive in cool conditions (as low as 6 degrees Celsius).

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; rainforest

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

Other Habitat Features: riparian

  • Halliday, T., K. Adler. 2002. The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Webb, G., C. Manolis. 1998. Australian Crocodiles: A Natural History. Australia: Reed New Holland.
  • Webb, G., C. Manolis, P. Whitehead. 1987. Wildlife Management: Crocodiles and Alligators. Australia: Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Limited.
  • Stevenson, C. 1999. "The Paleosuchus Page" (On-line ). Accessed 03/22/03 at http://crocodilian.com/paleosuchus/.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

P. palpebrosus is a nocturnal hunter, preferring to spend the daylight hours basking. The young feed on aquatic and shoreline insects of many species. Their food includes tadpoles, frogs, snails, crabs, shrimp, and small fish. Adults mainly consume tadpoles, frogs, snails, fish, small mammals, and a wide variety of insects. Diet changes with the size and age of this species. As an adult, there is an increase in the fish intake as well as a greater intake of small crabs, birds, reptiles, and small mammals. Like other crocodilians, P. palpebrosus experiment with their food, so they will capture whatever prey is available. Prey is usually swallowed whole or in large pieces. The stomach enzymes in crocodiles and alligators are so strong that pH levels are among the lowest ever recorded in any vertebrate. Another characteristic of P. palpebrosus is the amount of gastroliths (small stones) inside the stomach. The stones are found only in one chamber of the stomach, the gizzard, and this one chamber has walls with folds to permit expansion and contraction. It is said these gastroliths help in the process of digestion, the stones churn inside the stomach, breaking apart the food.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks; terrestrial worms; aquatic crustaceans

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates, Piscivore , Insectivore )

  • Platt, S., T. Rainwater, S. McMurry. 2002. Diet, gastrolith acquisition and initiation of feeding among hatchling Morelet's crocodiles in Belize. Herpetological Journal, 12/2: 81-84.
  • Santos, S., G. Mourao. 1996. Diets of Caiman crocodilus yacare from different habitats in the Brazilian Pantanal. Herpetological Journal, 6/4: 111-117.
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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Cuvier's dwarf caiman is considered a "keystone species" that maintains ecosystem structure and function by selective predation on fish species (such as piranhas) that if left unchecked, would transform the ecosystem. Although P. palpebrosus is small in size, it is known to have fewer predators than related species because of its uniquely armored and jagged skin.

Ecosystem Impact: keystone species

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Predation

The most dangerous time in a caiman's life is while it is still in the egg. Without protection, predators such as rats, procyonids, and other carnivores can hastily clean a nest of eggs. If the eggs hatch, the young are still at a high risk of predation. The young are taken primarily by wading birds, snakes, and a host of other carnivorous animals. Due to the large number of bony osteoderms underneath the scales, many predators are not able to swallow this species. The only predators of adult P. palpebrosus are large boas, green anacondas, and jaguars.

Known Predators:

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Communication begins in the egg and continues throughout their entire life. Sound, postures, motions, and touching are few of the many methods of communication in this species. Along with vocal signals, Paleosuchus palpebrosus communicate via nonverbal sounds, performing actions such as head-slapping or jaw-clapping at the water's surface. Like most caimans, P. palpebrosus males emit a grunt-like "chumph" sound by expelling air through the nostrils during courtship. When in water, exposure of the head, back, and tail above the surface conveys important information about an individual's social status and intent.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Cycle

Development

When hatched, the young have almost the identical features as an adult. The sex of hatchlings is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs. Differences in size can be used to differentiate the sexes. Growth continues throughout their lifespan. The fastest rate of growth occurs during the first 2 years, then declines with age thereafter. For the first 5 years, P. palpebrosus grow at a rate of 6-8 cm per year. It takes approximately 10 years to for one of these caimans to complete maturity and develop full adult characteristics.

Development - Life Cycle: temperature sex determination

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

The crocodilians are known to have long lifespans. Although P. palpebrosus adults are long lived, the exact longevity is not known. Generally, the adults have been known to live for 20-40 or more years. In captivity this species has a better longevity than of wild individuals.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
20 to 40 years.

Typical lifespan

Status: captivity:
20 to 60 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 24.1 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

Courtship and copulation take place at the end of the dry season. At this time, the males, are seen to lift their heads high and hold their tails almost vertically out of the water. The males release what is described to be a "roar"-like sound. The description of the "roaring" varies, and it commonly heard as simply a grunt-like call. The varying sounds and noises indicate the actual complexity of mating rituals within this species. The male, which mates with multiple females, performs distinctive mating displays, then approaches any receptive female. Rather than during the day, P. palpebrosus prefer to mate during the night. Normally in shallow waters, copulation takes place with the female mounting the male and twisting her tail under his. The actual mating process can last anywhere between 5-10 minutes or even up to a whole day. It can also occur repeatedly over several days, after which both male and female settle in the water for a period. Most females are only able to breed once a year, but on the other hand, if bred in captivity and fed efficiently, the females are able to breed 2 or 3 times a year.

Mating System: polygynous

This species is reported to nest during the dry season, during the wet season, or all year round, depending on the locality. More specifically, studies show P. palpebrosus prefer to nest at the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season in areas with warm climates. When ready to start nesting, the females stop feeding and begin the mating process. The females can lay around 10-25 eggs. Both female and male P. palpebrosus build nests for their eggs. These nests are made of soil, usually mud, blended with fresh and rotten leaves, small branches, and other vegetation. Like other caimans, this species is a mound-nester where the females lay their eggs and bury them underneath the mound. These nests are generally small in diameter and height. These eggs are white, long, and weigh anywhere from 61-70 grams. The eggs hatch after 90 days. The female opens the nest in response to vocalizations of the young from within the nests. After the young hatch from their eggs, they continue to stay beneath the debris of the nest for several days, staying away from the water. It is said that the adults open the nest and direct their young toward the water, but studies do show the lack of parental care. The general behavior of adult males are to leave once after the female lays her eggs. Males do not regularly stay near the females during the hatching or post-hatching period. Sexual maturity is dependent on size, and relates to age as it correlates with growth. When a male reaches a size of 1.1 meters, it has become sexually mature and the females are ready to breed when they are about 1 meter in length. For P. palpebrosus to become completely sexually mature, it could take more than 10 years.

Breeding interval: Paleosuchus palpebrosus usually breed once a year. In captivity, however, when a female is well-fed, she can breed 2 or 3 times a year.

Breeding season: Nesting takes place at the end of the dry season and the beginning of the rainy season in warmer climates.

Range number of offspring: 10 to 25.

Range gestation period: 4 to 5 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 8 to 15 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 8 to 15 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous

The degree of parental care after hatching varies with local conditions. The nest is made by both parents. Studies show that the females remain with the hatchling group for only a few weeks before the hatchlings disperse. Then, the young are left alone and the mother leaves. The female rarely returns to her nesting site to search for her young, but can recognize them by smell. The nesting period is very dangerous for the young. Many predators lurk around nests to snatch eggs for food. In response, the female and male parents become defensive and take whatever action is necessary to guard their eggs. The female is always alert and remains near the nest during this period and will react to the slightest movement. Males do not regularly stay near the female during the hatching or post-hatching period. Furthermore, captive caimans are much more aggressive during their nesting period. The female can become very hostile and charge from the water at any sudden movement near the nest. She remains by the eggs for long periods, even without an apparent threat. Other defensive behaviors are tail slapping and splashing water by snapping their jaws. Sometimes, P. palpebrosus hatchlings are found alone or in pairs without any parental protection at all.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Female)

  • Grenard, S. 1991. Handbook of Alligators and Crocodiles. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company.
  • Halliday, T., K. Adler. 2002. The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Webb, G., C. Manolis. 1998. Australian Crocodiles: A Natural History. Australia: Reed New Holland.
  • Webb, G., C. Manolis, P. Whitehead. 1987. Wildlife Management: Crocodiles and Alligators. Australia: Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Limited.
  • Guggisberg, C. 1972. Crocodiles: Their Natural History, Folklore, and Conservation. Great Britain: David & Charles Limited.
  • Stevenson, C. 1999. "The Paleosuchus Page" (On-line ). Accessed 03/22/03 at http://crocodilian.com/paleosuchus/.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Paleosuchus palpebrosus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 4 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

AACCGCTGATTTTTCTCCACAAACCACAAAGACATCGGCACCCTGTACTTCATCTTCGGGGCCTGATCCGGAATAGTAGGCACAGCACTC---AGCCTTCTCATCCGAACAGAACTAAGCCAACCAGGACCCCTACTAGGAGAC---GACCAAATCTACAATGTAATCGTCACTGCCCACGCCTTTATTATAATCTTTTTTATAGTAATACCCGTCATGATCGGCGGATTCGGAAACTGACTCCTGCCCTTAATA---ATTGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCGCGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTACTCCCCCCATCCTTCACACTGCTGCTCGCCTCTTCCTGCATTGAAGCGGGGGCCGGAACAGGATGAACCGTCTATCCCCCCCTAGCTGGAAACATAGCCCACGCCGGACCATCAGTAGACCTA---ACCATCTTCTCCCTACACCTTGCCGGAGTATCTTCCATCCTAGGCGCAATCAACTTCATCACAACAGCCATTAACATAAAACCCCCAGCCATGTCCCAATACCAAACACCCCTATTTGTTTGATCGGTCTTAATCACAGCCGTACTACTCTTACTCTCCCTCCCAGTACTAGCTGCC---GGAATTACTATACTACTCACAGACCGAAACCTAAACACAACCTTCTTTGACCCCGCAGGAGGGGGGGACCCCATCCTATACCAGCACCTTTTCTGATTCTTCGGCCACCCCGAAGTCTACATCCTCATCCTACCTGGATTTGGAATAGTCTCACACGTCGTCACCTTCTACTCAAACAAAAAA---GAACCATTCGGCTACATAGGAATAGCATGAGCCATAATATCTATCGGATTCCTAGGATTCATCGTATGGGCCCACCACATATTCACAGTCGGAATAGACGTCGACACACGAGCATACTTTACTACTGCCACAATAGTTATTGCCATCCCCACCGGGGTAAAAGTGTTTAGTTGACTA---GCAACCATCTACGGGGGC---ATCGTCAACTGACAAGCCCCAATACTATGAGCACTAGGCTTCATCTTCTTATTCACCGTAGGTGGCCTTACTGGAATCGTCCTAGCCAACTCCTCCCTAGACATCGTTCTCCACGACACCTACTACGTAGTCGCCCACTTCCACTACGTA---TTATCAATAGGAGCAGTCTTTGCCATCATATGCGGATTTACCCACTGATTCCCACTATTCACAGGATTTACCCTCCACCCAACATGAACAAAAATCCAATTCACAATTATATTCTTAGGAGTAAACCTTACCTTCTTCCCACAACACTTCCTAGGGCTATCTGGAATACCTCGA---CGATACTCTGACTACCCAGACGCATACACC---ATCTGAAATCTAACATCATCAATTGGATCCCTAATCTCCCTAACCGCTGTCATCCTACTAATGTTCATTGTATGAGAAGCATTTTCTTCCAAACGAAAAACA---ACCACACCTGAGATAACAACAACCAAC
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Paleosuchus palpebrosus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LR/lc
Lower Risk/least concern

Red List Criteria

Version
2.3

Year Assessed
1996
  • Needs updating

Assessor/s
Crocodile Specialist Group

Reviewer/s

Contributor/s

Justification
Widespread and remains locally abundant although quantitative data on trends is lacking.
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Right now, P. palpebrosus is not considered in need of active conservation. The IUCN rates at as Lower Risk, and of Least Concern. However the species is listed in Appendix II of CITES, which regulates international trade in the animals or their parts. The recent removal of larger, dominant crocodilian species (e.g. Caiman crocodilus) may have allowed smaller species like P. palpebrosus to expand into habitats from which it formerly was excluded.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix ii

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: lower risk - least concern

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It is listed on CITES Appendix II.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

This species has no negative economic affect on humans.

As pets, P. palpebrosus are notoriously hostile and cannot be handled comfortably. Bites from adults are exceedingly painful.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings)

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Although the meat of P. palpebrosus is indeed very palatable, these small animals do not produce enough to be considered beneficial. The skin is also traded to a degree. However, alternatives are usually favored over the small and extremely tough hide of this dwarf caiman. Also hunting Cuvier's dwarf caiman is difficult due to their reclusive, solitary nature and their preference for densely forested habitat.

Small crocodilians such as Paleosuchus palpebrosus and Paleosuchus trigonatus are currently popular in the pet trade due to their relatively small and theoretically manageable size.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; body parts are source of valuable material

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Wikipedia

Cuvier's dwarf caiman

Cuvier's dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus), also known as Cuvier's smooth-fronted caiman or the musky caiman, is a small crocodilian from northern and central South America. It is found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam and Venezuela. It lives primarily near fast stretches of stream, but also in nutrient-deficient waters.

With a total length averaging 1.3–1.5 m (4.3–4.9 ft) in males and typically up to 1.2 m (3.9 ft) in females, it is not only the smallest extant species of the alligator and caiman family, but also the smallest of all crocodilians.[2] The largest specimen on record measured 1.72 m (5.6 ft) in length.[3] An adult will typically weigh around 6 to 7 kg (13 to 15 lb), around the same weight as a 6–12-month-old specimen of several larger species of crocodilians.[4] Juvenile dwarf caimans eat invertebrates and small fish and frogs, while adult dwarf caimans eat fish, amphibians and invertebrates, such as large molluscs. It uses burrows as shelter during the day, and lays eggs on a mounded nest which hatch in about three months. They are sometimes kept as pets in captivity.

Etymology[edit]

Cuvier's dwarf caiman was first described by the French zoologist Georges Cuvier in 1807. The genus name Paleosuchus is derived from the Greek palaios meaning "ancient" and soukhos meaning "crocodile". This refers to the belief that this crocodile comes from an ancient lineage that diverged from other species of caiman some thirty million years ago. The specific name palpebrosus is derived from the Latin palpebra meaning "eyelid" and osus meaning "full of". This refers to the bony plates (palpebrals) present on the upper eyelids.[5]

Description[edit]

Cuvier's dwarf caiman is the smallest living New World crocodilian. Males grow to a maximum length of about 1.6 metres (5 ft 3 in) while females do not usually exceed 1.2 metres (3 ft 11 in) in length.[5] This may be an underestimate of the animal's maximum size as nearly all large adults have lost the tips of their tails.[6] The Cuvier's dwarf caiman has strong body armour on both the dorsal (upper) and ventral (lower) sides which may compensate for its small body size in reducing predation. The head has an unusual shape for a crocodilian with a dome-shaped skull and a short smooth, concave snout with an upturned tip, the shape rather resembling the head of a dog. The upper jaw extends markedly further forward than the lower jaw. There are four pre-maxillary and fourteen to fifteen maxillary teeth on either side of the upper jaw and twenty-one or twenty-two teeth on each side of the lower jaw giving a total of about eighty teeth. The neck is relatively slender and the dorsal scutes are less prominent than in the smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus). The double row of scutes on the tail are small and project vertically. Adults are dark brownish-black with a dark brown head while juveniles are brown with black bands. The iris of the eye is chestnut brown at all ages and the pupil is a vertical slit.[5][7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Cuvier's dwarf caiman is native to tropical northern and central South America. It is present in the drainages of the Orinoco River, the São Francisco River and the Amazon River, and the upper reaches of the Paraná River and the Paraguay River.[7] The countries in which it is found include Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. The range of this species is rather larger than that of the sympatric smooth-fronted caiman as it extends into Paraguay and includes a larger area of Brazil.[5]

Cuvier's dwarf caiman is a freshwater species and is found in forested riverine habitats and areas of flooded forest around lakes. It seems to prefer rivers and streams with fast-flowing water but is also found in quiet, nutrient-poor waters in Venezuela and southeastern Brazil. It is able to travel quite large distances overland at night and sub-adult individuals have sometimes been found in isolated, temporary pools. In the northern and southern parts of its range it is also found in gallery forests in savannah country, but it is absent from such habitats in Los Llanos and the Pantanal. Cuvier's dwarf caiman seems relatively tolerant of cool water compared to other species of crocodile. During the day, individuals sometimes lie up in burrows.[5][7]

Behaviour[edit]

Cuvier's dwarf caiman

Adult Cuvier's dwarf caiman feed on fish, crabs, shrimps, molluscs and other invertebrates which they catch in the water or on land. Juveniles eat fewer fish but also consume crustaceans as well as land invertebrates such as beetles.[5]

Adult Cuvier's dwarf caiman are usually found singly or in pairs. The breeding of this species has been little studied but it does not appear to be seasonal in nature. The female builds a mound nest out of vegetation and mud somewhere in a concealed location and lays a clutch of from ten to twenty-five eggs. The incubation period is around ninety days and there are reports of adult caimans opening the nest and helping hatchlings to reach water. Newly emerged young have a coating of mucus and may delay entering the water until this has dried. Its continuing presence on their skin is believed to reduce algal growth.[5]

Status and conservation[edit]

Many crocodilians are hunted for their skins but this is not the case with the Cuvier's dwarf caiman. This may be because the ventral skin in this species is too heavily armoured to make it easy to tan. Some individuals are killed by indigenous peoples for food and others, particularly in Guyana, are collected for the pet trade but there is no evidence that populations are dwindling as a result.[5] There are some threats to this species from habitat destruction, including the mining of gold, but these are not thought to be of great significance. The estimated total population is over one million individuals.[5]

In its Red List of Threatened Species, the IUCN lists Cuvier's dwarf caiman as being of "Least Concern". This is because its range is extensive, covering much of northern and central South America, and although its population trend is unknown, it appears to be abundant in many of the localities in which it is found.[1] It is listed in Appendix II of CITES.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Crocodile Specialist Group (1996). "Paleosuchus palpebrosus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2013-11-06. 
  2. ^ CROCODILIANS Natural History & Conservation. Paleosuchus palpebrosus. Accessed 27-01-2009.
  3. ^ Paleosuchus CROCODILIANS Natural History & Conservation
  4. ^ Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman, The Animal Files
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Britton, Adam (2009-01-01). "Paleosuchus palpebrosus (Cuvier, 1807)". Crocodilian species list. Retrieved 2013-10-28. 
  6. ^ Campos, Zilca; Sanaiotti, Tânia; Magnusson, William E. (2010). Amphibia-Reptilia 31 (3): 439–442. doi:10.1163/156853810791769392. 
  7. ^ a b c Ross, Charles A. (ed.) (1992). Crocodiles and Alligators. Blitz. p. 62, 119. ISBN 9781853910920. 
  8. ^ Ross, Charles A. (ed.) (1992). Crocodiles and Alligators. Blitz. p. 220. ISBN 9781853910920. 
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