Cuvier's dwarf caiman

Paleosuchus palpebrosus

This caiman inhabits the basins of the Orinoco, Amazon and other South American tropical rivers; primarily in flooded jungles and surrounding large lakes, rivers and streams. It basically feeds on invertebrates and fish.


The shape of its skull is very characteristic—bringing to mind that of a dog—and it is the smallest member of the species, with males no longer than 1.5 metres.

Natural habit

Northern Bolivia, north and central Brazil, eastern Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guiana, Surinam, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Northern Bolivia, north and central Brazil, eastern Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guiana, Surinam, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela
  • Distribution / Resident
  • Breeding
  • Wintering
  • Subspecies

Risk level

  • Extint
  • Extint in the wild
  • Critically endangered
  • In Danger
  • Vulnerable
  • Near threatened
  • Minor concern
  • Insufficient data
  • Not evaluated
Least Concern



Physical characteristics

6 - 7
Birth Weight:
1,2 - 1,6 m
More than 40 years


Fresh water
Social life


80 - 95
10 - 25 eggs

Discover how they are



The Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, belonging to the Paleosuchus genus, shares adaptation to life in dense forests with another species in the same genus, the Schneider’s smooth-fronted caiman, Paleosuchus trigomatus. They are small with very bony skin and no bony ridge between the eyes, which is why they are known as smooth-fronted caimans. They have short tails and often move with outstretched necks and their heads raised.


They are different from the other species in this genus due to the short snout and raised, smooth cranium. The dorsal ridges are not so prominent are they have brown eyes. This is the smallest crocodile in the Americas, with males up to 1.6-metres long and females, 1.2 metres.


It lives in the flooded forests of the Amazon and Orinoco river basins and gallery forests of the surrounding savannahs. They seem to prefer fast-flowing rivers. Sub-adults are seen in temporary watercourses.


Adults feed on fish, amphibians, small mammals, birds, crabs, prawns, molluscs and other invertebrates, which they capture both in the water and on land. The young eat less fish, but also consume crustaceans, tadpoles, frogs and snails, as well as land invertebrates like beetles.


They build mound-shaped nests of mud and vegetation in the areas near flooded jungles, laying from 10 to 25 eggs. The incubation period is three or four months and the gender of the babies depends on the nest temperature during this time.


When the eggs start to hatch, the female opens the nest when she hears the cries of the babies. When coming out of the egg, the babies have a type of mucous layer on their skin and they may delay entering the water for a few days until they dry


They have very nocturnal and terrestrial habits, living in isolation or in pairs, and defend small territories. This species is considered a good indicator of a good balance in ecosystems, as their absence can cause a fast increase in certain fish species like piranhas. Their main predators are jaguars and large snakes like boas and anacondas. 

Status and conservation programs

There is no information about the number of individuals in the wild, given that their lifestyle makes it difficult to count the populations. However, they do seem to be a quite common species still in a large part of their area of distribution and they are not considered endangered. This situation can mainly be explained by the fact that they are not hunted for their skin because it is very bony and cannot be used in the leather industry.