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The black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) is a crocodilian. It is a carnivorous reptile that lives along slow-moving rivers and lakes, in the seasonally flooded savannas of the Amazon basin, and in other freshwater habitats in South America. Once common, it was hunted to near extinction primarily for its commercially valuable hide. It is now listed as Conservation Dependent.


The black caiman has a bony ridge over red eyes, and black, scaly skin. The skin coloration helps with camouflage during its nocturnal hunts, but may also help absorb heat (See thermoregulation).


The black caiman is one of the largest reptiles and is the largest member of the family Alligatoridae. The black caiman can grow to 5 m (16.5 ft) long, making it the largest member of the Alligator family and the largest predator in the Amazon basin. Most adult black caimans are 3 to 4.26 meters (10-14 feet), with old males rarely growing larger than 5 meters (16.5 ft)


They eat fish, including piranhas, catfish, and other animals, including birds, turtles, and land-dwelling animals like the capybara and deer when they come to the water to get a drink. Larger specimens can take tapirs, anacondas. Jaguars are a known predator of all other caiman species and juvenile Black caimans, but any caiman over 4 meters in length generally has no natural predator, as is true of other similar sized crocodilian species (given the size, weight and immense biting strength). Their teeth are designed to grab but not rip, so they swallow their food whole after drowning it. Immature specimens eat crustaceans and insects. Their main predator is humans, who hunt them for leather or meat. There are tales of this species devouring humans and given its size this is most definitely probable, although (like the critically endangered, but potentially dangerous Orinoco Crocodile of Venezuelamarker) it is very unlikely humans have been attacked in modern times due to the species' low population. And given that most man-eaters in other species tend to be large adult males, this lowers the probability even more.

In Fiction

They were also mentioned in Matthew Reilly's best selling book "Temple", where they are constantly eating people that fall in the water. As well, it was featured rather prominently in "Amazonia" by James Rollins wherein a Special forces soldier is eaten by a Black Caiman after it capsizes the inflatable boat in which he is riding.


In December, females build a nest of soil and vegetation, which is about 1.5 meters (5 ft) across and 0.75 meters wide (2.5 ft). They lay from 50 to 60 eggs, which hatch in about six weeks. They sometimes eat their young. It has been shown that these animals frequently remove their young from the nest,in their mouths [thus the belief of some, they eat their young] at hatching, and transport them to a 'holding pool' area. The mother will even assist hatchlings to break out of their eggs, [they 'squeak' inside the egg, which the mother hears] which are tough and leathery, by chewing the egg to break it open for the young to emerge. The mother will look after her young for several months. The female black caiman only breeds once every 2 to 3 years.


  1. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is Conservation Dependent.

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