Alligators are some of the most dangerous predators in the world, and few are more feared than the black caiman. These semi-aquatic reptiles are the largest alligator species on the planet, and the deadliest killers in the Amazon rainforest. They tend to stick to shallow waters, so your Amazon River cruise guides will be on the look-out for these creatures on skiff excursions through the South American jungles.

Black caiman typically grow to be about 13 feet in length on average, but there have been reports of individuals reaching nearly 20 feet from their snouts to the tips of their tails. This is one of the largest alligator species in the world, and easily one of the largest caiman species in South America. Not only are these hunters massive in size, but they can live anywhere from 50 to 80 years.

Adult black caiman typically feed on fish such as the piranha and catfish, but have been known to snatch large mammals from the banks of the Amazon River. They sometimes even venture into flooded wetlands and savannahs to find prey, including capybaras, deer, dogs and pigs. When they are young, these gators stick to smaller prey, such as crustaceans and smaller fish.

Breeding season for these reptiles is thought to occur around the start of the dry season. This allows females easy access to fish trapped in shallow pools when water levels drop. Black caiman build nests and lay as many as 65 eggs each year. This provides some safety in numbers when the babies emerge from their shells.

In recent years, the black caiman was listed as endangered by IUCN Redlist, as the beasts were hunted for their skin. However, anti-hunting laws have helped restore the population to a level of least concern. In fact, the repopulation was so successful that black caiman hunting may soon be allowed in specific regions. The Wildlife Conservation Society claims this will protect populations of fish that local communities rely on for food and commerce.

Black caiman are typically pale yellow or whitish in color with bands of darker scales when they are young. As they age, the light colors darken and they become a solid black, as their name suggests. They look very similar to American alligators, but are only found in the Amazon region and a few outlying areas. Keep an eye on the water for a chance to see these predators during IE’s small group travel in the Amazon.

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