The Spectacled caiman in Coral Gables; 21 March 2015

Caiman crocodilus, the Spectacled caiman;
Miami-Dade county, Florida (21 March 2015).

Native to the southern reaches of Central America and the northern half of South America, the Spectacled caiman in a non-native species now found throughout parts of south Florida. Only averaging between four and six feet in length, you can sort of think of this species as a miniaturized crocodilian, so to speak. There’s been a breeding population of Spectacled caimans in the Homestead area for decades, but this one was photographed in Coral Gables, Florida. It was the last thing I expected to find on this particular day.

When I found this caiman (or, really, when it found me) I was actually trolling the edge of a mangrove in Coral Gables for a triple-set of non-native lizards: Brown basilisks, Green iguanas, and Knight anoles. I remember scouring the mangrove line, right at the edge of the water, convinced I would find a Brown basilisk in the limbs, a species I’d seen plenty of in this immediate area. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a small crocodilian quietly slinking in my direction. I assumed at first it was just a young alligator checking me out and didn’t really pay it much attention. The trick was, however, it just kept coming closer. I started to wonder if somebody had been feeding the young gator, which is a very bad thing to do. When people feed gators, they are conditioning these same gators to associate humans with food, which is generally not a good idea. Anyhow, shifting my attention to the small gator, I realized it was not, in fact, a young American alligator at all. It was an adult Spectacled caiman — checking me out. I stepped back from the waterline a few steps and shot some picks. The caiman scoped me out for a few minutes and then silently retreated back into the aquatic tangles of the mangrove habitat.

I’d actually considered heading to Homestead to look for caimans earlier on this trip but punted that side trip for my next sojourn south. Crocodilians may be very cool, but snakes and lizards have always been my main collective focus. Fortunately for me, however, this particular caiman decided to scope me out, saving me the effort.

You never know what you’ll find what will find you in South Florida.

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