Caiman lizard

Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Teiidae
Genus and Species: Dracaena guianensis
  • Two caiman lizards on a log
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Caiman lizard

The caiman lizard is a semi-aquatic species named for its large, heavy scales that resemble those of the caiman crocodile. It has a green body and a reddish-orange head.
Physical Description

The caiman lizard is a large reptile with a green body and reddish-orange head. It has a long, laterally flattened tail and raised, horn-like scales along its back that offer some protection from predators. When threatened, caiman lizards often choose flight over fight, dropping into the water to swim away. They can, however, whip their tails around to strike a predator in defense.  This lizard has a forked tongue for locating prey and powerful jaws with short, rounded teeth.

This large lizard varies in length from .6 to 1.3 meters (2 to 4 feet) and can weigh up to 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds).
Native Habitat

Caiman lizards are found in Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Peru and the Guianas. They live in swampy habitats, where they spend most of their time basking on low, overhanging branches and roots of marshes, flooded forests and streams. This allows them to make a quick escape from sudden danger by dropping into the water. 

Jaguars, snakes and crocodiles prey on these large lizards, but they have few other predators in the wild. Their ability to both climb and swim helps them to avoid danger. 

Food/Eating Habits
Caiman lizards are carnivorous and feed on invertebrates, including snails, clams and crawfish. They are also known predators of Amazon river turtles. At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, they eat crickets, mealworms, snails and crawfish. 
Reproduction and Development
Little is known about the reproductive behavior and cycle of the caiman lizard. This species lays five to seven fertilized eggs per clutch, with an incubation period of about 179 days. Females lay their eggs in holes in the riverbank, which they then cover. Hatchlings are born independent, requiring no prenatal care. 

The caiman lizard has not been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It was once widely hunted for its leather, but in the 1970s, regulations were imposed to control hunting for the leather trade. Since then, wild populations have been able to recover. In its place, farms now raise caiman lizards to supply the demand for their leather. 

 Though hunting has decreased, other complex issues affect local populations. Pollution, deforestation and habitat loss in certain areas of its range likely impact this species, as it depends on forested and aquatic environments that are often subject to these human pressures.  Local, rural people also hunt caiman lizards for their meat. This practice may not be a significant threat to the wild population, but more research is needed to determine whether hunting practices are sustainable for the caiman lizard's local populations.

Further research is needed to understand this animal's status in the wild and its response to anthropogenic change.