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Common Name: Caiman Lizard

Scientific Name: Dracaena guianensis


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Sauria

Family: Teiidae

Genius: Dracaena 

Species: D. guianensis


When you hear “caiman” you may think the Caiman alligator, but this caiman is the Caiman Lizard. It has a green to light brown body and an orange to a vibrant redhead. The males tend to have a brighter reddish color on their heads. Adults grow to about 4 feet and usually weigh in at about 3 to 6 pounds. They are thick bodied lizards with large raised cone-shaped scales on their head and flattened tail, this feature makes them look like a crocodile. Also, they have moveable eyelids, powerful jaw, and a forked tongue.


They live in vegetated marshes, swamps, and flooded forests in South America, Peru, Brazil, And the Amazon. All these habitats are wet, vegetated, and have many trees. The lizards do well in these ecosystems because of the source of food and the protection under the water. The Caiman Lizards were common in pet stores in the 1960’s and 70’s but then were protected against being over exported from their habitats.


Finally, international law relaxed allowing them to be exported again to zoos in 1998. They use their powerful jaws and flattened molars to eat and or crush shelled snails, insects, and other mollusks. They locate their prey underwater, bring it to the surface, and crush the shelled snail. After crushing the prey, they carefully spit out the bits of shell and continue on with their meal. Before being protected hundreds of thousands were killed for their leather-like skin. Also young Caiman Lizards can be consumed by larger mammals and birds. When threatened, these lizards will most likely hide in the water and swim away.


Although they are not aggressive normally, they may defend themselves by biting. Something that stood out for me was how crocodile-like these specimens are! They also have a unique forked tongue that is used for locating and smelling their prey.


Author: Kelsey G

Published: 2/5/09


Sources: Life: Nature Library- The Reptiles; Carr, Archie; Time Inc.; 1963; pgs. 53 & 114

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