AppearanceThe black caiman has a bony ridge over brown eyes, and black, scaly skin. The skin coloration helps with camouflage during its nocturnal hunts, but may also help absorb heat . Mothers on guard near their nests are tormented by blood-sucking flies that gather around their vulnerable eyes leaving them bloodshot.
Small black caiman can be distinguished from large spectacled caiman by their proportionately larger head and shorter tail, as well as by the color of the jaw, which is light colored in the spectacled caiman and dark with three black spots in the black caiman.
ReproductionAt the end of the dry season, females build a nest of soil and vegetation, which is about 1.5 meters across and 0.75 meters wide . They lay up to 60 eggs, which hatch in about six weeks, at the beginning of the wet season, when newly-flooded marshes provide ideal habitat for the juveniles. Unguarded clutches are quickly devoured by a wide range of animals. It is well documented that, as with other crocodilians, caimans frequently move their young from the nest in their mouths after hatching , and transport them to a safe pool. The mother will assist chirping, unhatched young to break out of the leathery eggs, by delicately breaking the eggs between her teeth. She will look after her young for several months. The female black caiman only breeds once every 2 to 3 years.
FoodImmature specimens eat crustaceans and insects but quickly graduate to eating fish, including piranhas, catfish, and perch, which remain the primary food source for all black caiman. Various prey will be taken by opportunity, includes turtles, birds and mammals, the latter two mainly when they come to drink at the river banks. Larger specimens can take tapirs, anacondas, deer and capybara. Jaguars are a known predator of all other caiman species as well as juvenile black caimans, but mature black caimans likely have no natural predators, as is true of other similarly-sized crocodilian species . Their teeth are designed to grab but not rip, so they generally try to swallow their food whole after drowning it. 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 probable, although it is very unlikely humans have been attacked in modern times, due in part to the species' low population - and given that most man-eaters in other crocodilian species tend to be large adult males, this further reduces the probability.
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