caiman

/kay"meuhn/, n., pl. caimans.
any of several tropical American crocodilians of the genus Caiman and allied genera: some are endangered.
Also, cayman.
[1570-80; < Sp caimán < Carib]

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Any member of several species of Central and South American reptiles of the alligator family.

Like the rest of the crocodile order, caimans are amphibious, lizardlike carnivores. They live along the edges of rivers and other bodies of water, and reproduce by laying hard-shelled eggs in nests built and guarded by the female. The largest species is the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), a potentially dangerous animal with a maximum length of about 15 ft (4.5 m). Average lengths for the other species (genera Caiman and Paleosuchus) are 4–7 ft (1.2–2.1 m).

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▪ reptile group
also spelled  cayman  
 any of several species of Central and South American reptiles that are related to alligators and are usually placed with them in the family Alligatoridae. Caimans, like all other members of order Crocodilia, are amphibious carnivores. They live along the edges of rivers and other bodies of water, and they reproduce by means of hard-shelled eggs laid in nests built and guarded by the female.

      Caimans are placed in three genera: Caiman includes the broad-snouted (C. latirostris) and spectacled (C. crocodilus) caimans; Melanosuchus, the black caiman (M. niger); and Paleosuchus, two species (P. trigonatus and P. palpebrosus) known as the smooth-fronted caimans.

      The largest of these species is the black caiman, a potentially dangerous animal attaining a maximum length of about 4.5 metres (15 feet). The other species normally attain lengths of about 1.2–2.1 metres, with a maximum of about 2.7 metres in the spectacled caiman.

      The spectacled caiman, a native of the tropics from southern Mexico to Brazil, takes its name from a bony ridge between the eyes that resembles the nosepiece of a pair of eyeglasses. It is abundant along quiet, mud-bottomed waters. After the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) was placed under legal protection, large numbers of spectacled caimans were imported into the United States and sold to tourists.

      The smooth-fronted caimans, smallest of the caimans, are usually inhabitants of fast-flowing, rocky streams and rivers in the Amazon region. Their common name refers to the lack of the bony ridge present in the spectacled caiman. They are strong swimmers and feed on fishes, birds, insects, and other animals.

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Universalium. 2010.

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