Are There Crocodiles In Brazil?

credit: Yay

Known for its rainforests and diverse wildlife, Brazil is home to several reptilian species, including the black caiman and the spectacled caiman. They number over ten million in the region and are referred to as crocodiles but are closer to alligators than true crocodiles. So, are there crocodiles in Brazil?

The American crocodile, found in Florida, Central America, and northern South America, is not found as far south as Brazil, and there are no reports of any crocodile population in the country. However, the caimans are closely related and part of the crocodilian family, as are alligators and true crocodiles.

After establishing that there are no true crocodiles in Brazil, but millions of crocodilians, the first task is to examine the differences between the various types, the common family traits, and why there is such confusion.

Also read: Bears In Brazil

What Are The Families In The Crocodilian Order?

Crocodilia is an order of mostly large, predatory, semiaquatic reptiles, and it includes:

  • True crocodiles (family Crocodylidae) occur in Africa south of the Sahara, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, the East Indies, northern Australia, Mexico and Central America, the West Indies, and northern South America
  • Alligators and caimans (family Alligatoridae) are found in Central America, northern South America, parts of southern and western Central America and Mexico, the southeastern United States, and a small area of eastern China.
  • Gharial and false gharial (family Gavialidae). Native to Malaysia, Sarawak, and Indonesia (Sumatra and Borneo), but eliminated in Singapore and Thailand and not part of Brazil’s reptile population. They exclusively inhabit swamps and lakes.

A member of this order is correctly called a crocodilian, but unfortunately, that’s not where the confusion ends because they are often, in verbal and written communication, colloquially called crocodiles.

What Crocodilia Are Found In Brazil?

While there are no true crocodiles in Brazil, it is home to the largest population of crocodilians in the world.

Yacaré Caiman (Caiman yacare)

Beautiful close up portrait of young caiman in water.
Yay Yacaré Caiman

A species of caiman, a crocodilian in the family Alligatoridae, the yacare caiman, was heavily hunted for its skin, which caused its population to decrease significantly.

However, with protective measures in place, it’s now estimated that there are now over 10 million in the Brazilian Pantanal – the largest crocodilian population on Earth. Males grow to a total length of 10 ft, and females to 4.6 ft.

Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger)

Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger)
Allan Hopkins Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger)

The black caiman male, the largest of the Alligatoridae, can reach well over 14 feet in length and weigh more than 1000 lbs. It is not uncommon to find them up to 17 feet in length. The females are smaller, with an average length of 9 to 10 feet. It is found in the North and Center-West regions of Brazil.

The black caiman has been labeled “potentially dangerous” to humans, and attacks have been recorded, so photographers should stay well clear and use their telephoto lens to capture them on film! The largest predator in the Amazon Basin, capable of taking any animal within its range, the black caiman is vital in maintaining the structure of the ecosystem.

An interesting fact about black caimans is that much of their juvenile coloration, which consists largely of yellowish stripes and spots, is retained into adulthood. This has made them the target of the skin trade, resulting until relatively recently in a considerable threat to this species. However, official limitations on trade have succeeded in stabilizing the black caiman population.

Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)

Spectacled Caiman
Yay Spectacled Caiman

The spectacled caimans, also known as white or common caimans, are so-called because of the ridges around their eyes that look like a pair of spectacles. Relatively small compared to the black caiman, the spectacled caiman male rarely attains more than 7 feet in length and weighs between 15 and 90 lbs, the females being even smaller.

Sadly, spectacled caimans are intensely harvested for their hide, which is used for handbags, shoes, belts, and wallets. Nevertheless, there are over a million in the Amazon basin, and they, like the other caiman species, are vital in maintaining the balance in the ecological system of Brazil.

Caiman Vs. Crocodile – What’s The Difference?

Caimans and crocodiles are both descendants of the dinosaur and have remained relatively unchanged for around 200 million years, so one can be forgiven for confusing the two – there are many similarities.

  • The easiest way to differentiate between caimans and crocodiles is to look at the shape of their snout. Crocodiles have elongated V-shaped noses, while caimans’ snouts are more rounded and U-shaped.
  • The lower and upper jaws of crocodiles are of equal length, so the teeth are interlaced when the jaw is closed and are more visible. The upper jaws of a caiman are oversized, giving them an overbite so you cannot see their bottom teeth when their mouths are closed.
  • Except for the black caiman, caimans are smaller than crocodiles and usually grow to about 6 feet in length with a weight of 80 pounds, whereas there are reports of crocodiles weighing as much as 2000 pounds and measuring 23 feet in length.
  • Crocodiles live up to twice as long as a caiman, averaging 70 to 80 years and even as long as 100 years.

What Is The Difference Between A Caiman And An Alligator?

Because both caimans and alligators are members of the Alligatoridae family, the differences between the two are harder to spot. Nevertheless, there are ways to distinguish between the two.

  • Alligators have rounded, more conical teeth, while caimans have longer, sharper, more jagged ones.
  • Caimans also have larger and more protuberant eyes than an alligator, and they are set higher on the head.
  • Caimans also have stronger overbites with more extended upper jaws than alligators.
  • Caimans are more agile and crocodile-like in their movements than alligators.
  • Caimans have more scales on the head than alligators, with rougher scales on the belly and back.
  • Alligators are generally larger than caimans, except for the black caiman, but it is easy to confuse a caiman with a small alligator.
  • In their natural habitat, alligators are found in North America, while caimans live in Central and South America. Unfortunately, caimans are often bought and sold by traders who bring them into the US and release them into areas very different from their native environment.
  • If you’re brave enough, look inside the mouth of the reptile in question. Alligators have light brown mouths and gums, while those of a caiman are more orange.

Having a clear picture of the differences between caimans, alligators, and crocodiles hopefully clears up the confusion and answers the question about whether crocodiles exist in Brazil. While many people call them crocodiles, the reptiles found in Brazil are more than likely to be the spectacled caiman, the most common of the Alligatoridae.

The fact that their scientific name is Caiman Crocodilus might blur the issue a bit. Many people will continue to refer to them as crocodiles, but the true American crocodile lives in North America, and it’s the South American cousin, the caiman, that inhabits the swamps and rivers of Brazil.