Dwarf Caiman, Cuvier’s Caiman, Smooth Fronted Caiman, Musky Caiman.
Firstly a crocodilian may not be the first animal you think of to keep in your home, word of that can have a downside as most people remember watching crocodiles pulling huge animals into water and eating them as well as watching television programs where documentaries contain stories of man killers.
Think twice about this, these animals are not pets, will always remain a dangerous wild animal that can inflict serious injury or harm.
Another reason they are not a pet is because they don't do much, they do what they do best, sit around, shy away and threaten. They are not very active during the day yet become more active at night. They're not sociable.
Baby caiman do look fantastic but do not buy a caiman if you do not plan out their lifetime enclosure! A caiman is not just until 2ft, it's for life may it be 4-5ft plus!
Too many caiman get neglected, difficulty rehoming or otherwise disposed of and in a way the initial buyer is responsible for the healthy life long care and even to the animals death even to the amateur inexperience keeper that does not research.
CITES Appendix ll (low risk or least concern)
Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela. Slightly larger distribution than that of the sympatric Paleosuchus trigonatus, extending into Paraguay and further into Brazil.
Found mainly in fast flowing freshwater rivers of the amazon, orinoco and some in paraguay and flooded forests, they are known for the use of burrows for daytime dwelling, more active during the night and can travel long distances on land, sub adults can also be found in small pools/lakes that have been temporarily separate to the main clean water rivers.
They are the smallest species of crocodilian reaching sizes of five foot for males and four foot for females, heavily armored on their back and tail area, this makes up for it's small size and protects against injury in fast water bumps and knocks about as well as conflict with other caiman or predators, being one of the most recognizable caiman it's head is a brown color, short and smooth and concave with an upturned snout and overlapping upper jaw. Juveniles are more vivid in pattern and color, being lighter in color than adults and a banded appearance on the body and tail.
Hatchlings can be housed in 100-200 liter aquariums or larger, if you're going to get a larger aquarium make sure you have more than enough places for them to hide and cover behind plants, I started with two hatchlings in a 550 liter aquarium and had divided it in two with plexi glass to create half land and half water with a turtle dock to climb onto the land easily, make sure you have plenty of plants on the back wall and even some plastic floating ones like duckweed do well. I personally used the reptile exo-terra range of plants and stuck them on the aquarium walls and they gave cover for both the caiman, plenty of plants makes hiding spaces, hiding spaces mean your new caiman will settle in with a bit more ease than being exposed in the open, they are easy to get stressed so try not to bother them unless it's absolutely needed( eg. quick health check or full water change or prolonged intrusive tank maintenance), they can be moved to a storage tub covered by a towel in a warm area to reduce stress. They will make use of cork bark tubes on land as a hide during the day.
You may choose to use gravel for an aquarium substrate, sand would not be good because things get kicked up a lot from time to time and it would get stuck in your filter. When you choose a water filter choose one that is capable of more than just the amount that it will be filtering, you will need it. I personally used large gravel but have now a bare aquarium to do more cleaning in a short space of time, this also allows you to see uneaten food so you can scoop it out.
Now for lighting,
A lot of debate goes on about uva and uvb, now as you can imagine, they spend most of the day in the wild in a burrow, in hiding or with their head floating on the surface under trees/logs and over grown green plants, so they do get some sunlight, not a lot but some and can even be found basking at river banks, for this reason I recommend a low to mid percentage uvb like reptisun/reptiglo 2.0 - 5.0(2%-5%), you want to replicate the natural daylight cycle as close as possible. 9 am - 8 pm works well on the timer for the uvb, I recommend the basking start the same time but stay on until 10 pm as they will use this basking spot more in the evening, it can even be left on 24 hrs if you are getting the right temperatures constant, for heating and basking I recommend using infrared night time spot bulbs this way when on 24 hrs it will not disturb their natural night time activity and also allows you to see them without intrusive lighting, you will want to judge what wattage to use for you size aquarium, for basking, aim for temperatures of 33 - 34 celsius, and an ambient of 30 celsius with a cooler area of 26 celsius, this should be ideal for your caiman and I am happy with how mine are doing at those temperatures, they have the full range of thermoregulation, just make sure if you don't divide your aquarium in half use 2 - 3 turtle docks one each end of the tank or better yet cut some large thick reptile cork bark to fit tightly from the back of the tank to the front to create a wooden platform, it will stain the water for a few weeks but it won't be harmful, just keep a close eye for any mould, and of course submerge the in water too with the middle part or other out of water.
For adults you're going to be looking at 6 ft x 8 ft land and 8 ft x 10 ft x 3 ft water. Any room for a sofa or bed when that goes in? Because when you buy these guys you're also buying their adult home! Because it won't be long before they grow out of their aquarium.
They are quite the opportunistic feeders in the wild and that seems the same in captivity, you'll notice that your new caiman is aware of when feeding time is, what days and or what they favor, but most of all they will recognize that food dish coming closer to the tank. If you do not use a dish placed on land make sure you use reasonably sized tongs/tweezers to save some nipped fingers if they're leaping out of the water in anticipation.
Babies are famous for not feeding, that's why it's very important to have your tank well covered with plants, and temperatures right, you may even find that by warming the water to 30 celsius will bring an appetite back, if they are not feeding, the food dish may be the best bet, and leave the room altogether, cuviers are very shy and may/will not eat in front of people.
On having your caiman brought home initially you want a vet to check for parasites or any illness/injury. Live crickets in the water will also trigger a feeding response, if your caiman still refuses to eat, leave the food item on land and leave the room until morning and whatever you do don't harass the little thing with the food, it will then associate food with a bad/stressful feeling and will make matters worse, that's another reason to have 2, one will stimulate the other to eat, but be careful if one gets bigger than the other or the smaller one may become dinner too. If they still refuse to eat contact a vet that deals with and specialized in crocodilians.
It is said that this species feeds better in pairs or groups, seeing that I own a pair myself I cannot compare to the ones housed individually.
In the wild what do they eat? They eat bugs, fish, amphibians, lizards, birds, small animals and parts scavenged from the larger animals being fed off by neighbouring caiman, piranha and what not. You are going to want to vary the food types a good bit to ensure the right diet, their main source should not be fish.
For the hatchling caiman gutloaded crickets and small locust hoppers lightly dusted with calcium/vitamins, make sure to add vit b1 that I mentioned earlier(thiamin), dust lighly every feed to every second feed.
Also I found it great that by cutting up rat pups into small easy to swallow pieces with a scissors placed on a reptile dish on your land area I found they will hone in on the smell and eat from the dish, make sure to add calcium/vits. This technique will create a more relaxed stress free feeding behavior and will tend to those caiman who are shy. For the shy ones, you'll want to limit or restict all human movement/traffic in the room. And make sure to vary those meat types! Other types that can be used are chicken breast/offal(preferably free range/organic), quail meat, beef heart, tongue, skinned day old chicks chopped up, defrost rat weaner parts, minimum fur but don't exclude it completely, liver and kidney pieces from cow/sheep. Avoid pork for the obvious tapeworm that resides in the animal, think red meat more so than white meat as it is more nutritionally adequate. Mixing the food around on the dish every second day or so you may find no longer the need for insects as food. Of course watch how much they eat or check the dish next morning to determine how much they eat and take note! Little and often helps their metabolism more so than one big meal every half week or more. And as they get bigger you can cut meat pieces to larger sizes and even start them on small whole items like mice pinks, crawlers, rat pups and so on. Make it easy to swallow, you don't want any uneaten rotting meat contaminating your water by floating around and/or getting lodged somewhere you can't see, this also applies to feeder insects that have been dusted/or just plain floating dead in a corner.
Adults can be fed once, twice, three times a week depending on how big or small of a meal they get. And take note, the higher your water temperature and overall temperatures the quicker food gets digested, the lower it is they might not eat at all.
In my personal experience myself on fish biochemistry of some species, avoid goldfish and minnows completely!
Why? Firstly, Somatostatin, this is a growth inhibiting hormone in these fish, secondly, bombesin suppresses appetite and thirdly thiaminaise content needs to be taken into account, that's another thing in these fish that breaks thiamin (vitB1)apart, and thiamin is needed for the proper survival of crocodilians, any frozen food will have a lack of thiamin, by the freezing process of food, remember, freezing any item of living tissue breaks down the cell walls completely, and thiamin will be completely lacking. It helps to warm defrost food to 30 degrees celsius.
I know for sure trout and guppies are the most ideal feeder fish/meat, they contain little to no thiaminaise.
It makes no harm to lace the water with a little thiamin, I have been using tetrafauna reptosol for the thiamin part of care.
With the correct diet fish should only serve as a snack between feeds.
You will find them very shy as youngsters, secretive and will be quick to dive in to water out of sight, They recognize the person feeding them, mine can tell me apart from someone else by staying put when I enter the room but dive into water when my other half goes in. I have also noticed that they never call out when they have been fed and even the day after but will call out the third day, and that means to me that they're hungry, so when I enter the room they advance to the front of the tank a bit.
It's very important to realize that anything that is on top of the tank or in the tank is fair game for food so mind your hands!
Tank maintenance should only ever be carried out during the day, I personally give the tank a quick glance for poops in water that need removing and water changes are very important, full water changes. I do a full water change every 3 - 4 weeks and that's 225 liters, when removing them, that's the dodgy part, mind them fingers! They will try to swim away, bite so make sure to grab lightly but firmly quickly behind the head and support the body/tail(depending on size) with the other hand as soon as you can to avoid unwanted trashing about. Once picked up they calm down a bit, reasonably anyway and tolerate the handling, this gives me a bit of time to examine them for mould, fungus, cuts, injury, mouth check and eye check.
I do not personally recommend handling cuviers dwarf caiman for any purpose other than to remove them from intrusive prolonged tank maintenance or to examine them if something appears wrong.
While waiting for me to finish doing things with their home they wait in a large tub with a covering towel, to pick them back up to pop them back in their home, I towel them first.
(Because I have not bred my cuvier's yet I'm taking this breeding information from another source)
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.
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.
I hope this care sheet is as informative as my memory allows, I am sure at some point I will have much more to add as I continue my studies over the years.