Not a Caiman But a Lizard!

Not a Caiman But a Lizard~ by Roel Plecker

Beware of confusion

Very often I hear visitors say: “look a caiman!”, although our sign marks “Dracaena guianensis or the caiman lizard” also called water tegu.

They inhabit seasonally flooded lowland forests, swamps and margins of rivers and streams at the Amazon Basin of Brazil and Peru. These semi-aquatic lizards certainly do look like caimans, maybe not the head, but their body scales resemble those of crocodilians. On their back they have though raised scutes, which can cause lacerations when handling them.

They even swim alike with their long tails that are flattened sideways. Their eyes are equally adapted for swimming and seem to have goggles with a third clear eyelid that allows them to see underwater. The coloration of the reptile is bright green with some darker banding which again makes people think they are caimans. Plus, in the wild they share the same habitat with these big predators.

The head of the male caiman lizards is typically red, the one of the female only shows some orange around the eyes. Both sexes have very bulky heads and powerful jaws and teeth! These are used to crush their prey like snails, crawfish and clams. The shell fragments are expelled with their tongue. During the dry season, when the flooded forests dry out, these lizards are often seen in trees, looking for insects and possibly bird eggs.

Not a Caiman But a Lizard

Caiman lizards are oviparous. This means that they lay eggs. In the wild it often happens in termite nests. At Reptilandia they are bred every year successfully. They are kept in big enclosures, especially designed for the needs of this species, they have branches for basking and a nice pool for swimming. Other animals from their habitat, like the crocodile tegu (Crocodilurus amazonicus), the mata mata turtle (Chelus fimbriatus) and Amazonian fish join them in their daily activities.