Bio Facts: Lizard, Caiman
Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Guyana
Forested areas near water
Body form elongate; head pointed; neck, trunk, and tail long; limbs well developed; body scalation consists of dorsal granular scales and large, rectangular ventral plates; the head bears large plates. Head is a read-orange color in contrast to the body that is green. Lengths range between 2 to 4 feet, and weights range between 3 to 6 lbs.
In captivity, the record is 9.3 years.
In the wild they eat snails. In the Zoo they are fed snails and a supplementary mix of ground turkey, capelin, hard boiled egg, and vitamin and mineral supplements.
IUCN – Lower Risk, Least Concern; CITES – Appendix II
The northern caiman lizard spends most of its time in or near water. At night, it hides in trees and bushes. It feeds almost entirely on snails. It takes the snail in the jaws, raises its head up so that the prey will slide into the back of the mouth, then crushes it with its back teeth. It then spits out the pieces of shell.
The caiman lizard lives primarily in low swamps and flooded forests, often resting on roots or branches hanging over the water. If disturbed or threatened, the lizard will drop into the water and quickly swim away. The lizard has a laterally flattened tail that helps it to swim through the water. The whip-like tail is also used for defense; it can deliver a powerful blow to any would be predator. The caiman lizard’s tongue is forked, and is used to enhance its ability to smell and locate prey.
The genus Dracaena is a Romanized form of the Ancient Greek δράκαινα - drakaina, which means “female dragon.” The name “caiman” comes from their appearance, which resembles the caiman crocodile of South America.
Threatened by exploitation, the caiman lizard (Dracaena guianensis) is listed on Appendix II of CITES. In 1995, skins and boots of this species worth $1 million wholesale were confiscated from the Tony Lama Boot Company of El Paso, Texas, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Among the seizures were 907 pairs of caiman lizard cowboy boots and 2,554 pairs of boot vamps. A 15-count felony indictment for smuggling and violations of the Lacey Act was issued by a Grand Jury against two people who sold the skins to Tony Lama, using fraudulent export permits obtained in Mexico. The Lacey Act prohibits importation of species protected in their country of origin without permits. This lizard is native to the Amazon Basin, and its lustrous skins are highly prized for boots, which can retail from $700 to $1,000 per pair. Four lizards are used to make one pair of boots. More than 13,800 caiman lizards were killed and sold to the Tony Lama Boot Company for the manufacture of the boots and skins seized. The indictment was the result of an undercover investigation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, begun in 1993.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
The unique caiman lizard has been exhibited since 2004.