In the very cool, interesting world of reptiles there is a group that is a massive power house when it comes to other reptiles. These are the Crocodilians! Crocodiles are especially large and are very well known. Crocodiles are ancient beings that evolved around 95 million years ago and spent a long time ruling the land and evolved over a decent period of time into very cool animals. Although it is hard for many people to tell the difference there is actually multiple groups that are represented in the group Crocodilia and that is the Ture Crocodiles, Alligators, Gharials, False Gharials, and the Caimans. The target of our article today is SMALLEST members of the croc world, the Caimans! Caimans are really cool, especially our animal of the week that Wedgehead Caiman. Now, Wedgehead Caiman is actually a nickname for the pet trade and people who own them as pets. A more appropriate common name for this species is the Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman.
Stones in the Gizzard
Cuvier's Dwarf Caimans are literally one of the coolest looking reptiles in my opinion. They are found pretty wide spread throughout South America being found in over 10 countries! The are currently in the genus Paleosuchus, which only has one other member, the Smooth Fronted Caiman. These guys are super cool and great hunters. The will eat almost anything they can catch, including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and crustaceans. A Caiman's mouth is like a giant trap and after catching some prey there is not much time to chew. So, Caimans and other Crocodilians will swallow their food whole or they will rip off massive chunks. Once swallowed by the Caiman the food will breakdown inside the gizzard with the help of stones! These stones are referred to as gastroliths and there is actually quite a few animals that utilize the use of them. Gastroliths have even been found in dinosaurs going as far back as the Early Cretaceous Period. Imagine needing to maintain life and digest your food with rocks in your body!
Keystone species play a vital role in the overall health and well being of an ecosystem. The Wedgehead Caiman is proudly the aquatic keystone species in its region, even though it is known for its relatively small size. Wedgeheads are great hunters and their hard work and energy put in on hunting keeps multiple animals from becoming over populated. When Wedgeheads are not keeping the population in check, other species grow out of control and begin to over eat, depleting other food sources so low that sustaining a population becomes harder. Without keystone species present scientist see both huge spikes in populations and decreases in others, creating an imbalance in the ecosystem. With keystone species present the populations densities are better kept in check, creating an all around healthier ecosystem.
Luckily the Wedgehead Caiman aka the Curvier's Dwarf Caiman is considered least concern by conservationists, so there is plenty of them out there keeping check on the prey in their habitats. The unique reptile is a valuable asset to the planet and hopefully we can work hard to protect their habitats and the species that rely on them. Do you know of any other keystone species? Contact us on social networking to chat with us about other keystone species! Don't forget you can head over to the animal kingdom in the kids' zone to learn more about keystone species and check out all the other awesome activities!