Caiman Lizard

a Caiman Lizard basking on a log in their enclosure

With the growing interest in exotic pets, especially reptiles, there are more Caiman Lizards available for adoption. Caiman Lizards are known to be difficult to handle, and difficult to care for. If you get past that, they are very pleasant to have around.

The biggest obstacle for most families to own them is the upfront cost of ownership. They require a fairly large enclosure to be happy lizards. As you can guess this is something that you are likely going to be building yourself because there aren’t any Caiman Lizard enclosures on Amazon.

If cost isn’t going to scare you away there are a few other things that might. Don’t get us wrong, these can be great pets, but one of the biggest problems people have is they don’t fully understand what they’re getting into with Caiman Lizards before they get one and take it home.

Finding food for them that they will eat can be one of your biggest challenges. Some Caiman Lizards will only eat snails. Finding a reliable supply of these can be challenging, and making sure they’re free from any diseases or parasites. The last thing you’ll want to do is buy some poor quality food for your lizard and have them get sick or die.

If you are still interested, read on. There is a lot you’ll need to learn before you decide if this is a pet for your family.

Caiman Lizard Information

  • Average Length: 2 to 5 feet
  • Average Weight: 8 to 12 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Flat with horn-like scales
  • Skin Colors: Olive to bright green
  • Grooming Needs: Low 
  • Shedding: Every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: Sometimes
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: No tolerance to cold
  • Good Pet: No 
  • Safe with Children: No
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Good for Less Experienced Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Respiratory Infections, Ear, Eye, Parasitic Infections and Shedding Problems
  • Average Life Span: 8 to 12 years

Physical Appearance of Caiman Lizards

a Caiman Lizard looking for food while resting on a branch

Caiman Lizards are large lizards that have a muscular body. They have horn-like scales on their back which protects them from predators. The bumps on their back look fairly similar to the bumps on alligators. They have a long flat tail that helps them swim in the water. They can use their tail to whip predators when they feel threatened.

Their legs are very strong and their feet have sharp nails that help them climb.

Caiman Lizards have an olive to bright green body with a bright red or orange head. Their tail is a black or brown on top with yellow stripes.

The males have wider heads that are a brighter red than the females. Males also tend to be longer and can get up to 5 feet long while females only get up to 4 feet long.

Temperament of Caiman Lizards

Caiman Lizards have a balanced temperament. They are not very social but still not completely solitary. They generally do not get aggressive, unless they feel scared or threatened. If they feel scared they may bite or whip their tail at you.

Caiman Lizards can be trained to be handled. They are intelligent and can learn very fast. Not all Caimans may become receptive to being handled even after training. It’s impossible to know if your Lizard will be open to being handled, not knowing makes it difficult to know how they will be as a pet.

Caiman Lizards like to spend most of their time soaking in water, swimming or basking in the heat. The lizards like to climb and explore their enclosure. Doing lizard things generally keeps them happy.

Their Compatibility with Children

2 Caiman Lizards on a fallen tree above the water

While Caiman Lizards do not usually get aggressive with humans, they do sometimes bite or whip their tails. These lizards can get large which doesn’t make them a great pet for children. If you want children to handle Caiman Lizards, it is best if you have a younger lizard. With their size, adult Caimans can seriously injure your children.

Anyone handling reptiles should always wash their hands after handling them. This is because most lizards are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands after handling the lizard should prevent your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses.

Living Space for Caiman Lizards

These lizards can get very long and like to climb, and that makes keeping them inside a large enclosure very important. They are semi-aquatic lizards and need an area with water inside their enclosure. As we will discuss in the next section they’ll need a rather large space to be kept happy.

Enclosure Size

Young Caiman Lizards can be kept in a 55-gallon tank but adults will need a much larger enclosure. Adult Lizards can grow up to 5 feet (including their tail) and an enclosure that is at least 6’Lx10’Wx4’H will be needed. Adult Caimans are really going to need a specially built enclosure if they will be happy lizards.

Most people that own Caiman Lizards will build an enclosure. The main reason why people build enclosures is because it’s easier and cheaper than trying to find an aquarium big enough. Even a 500 gallon aquarium is going to be too small, and they cost thousands of dollars. Many owners will build them a small in-ground pool so they can swim, and build the rest of the enclosure around it. You’ll want to have space for them to move around on the floor of their enclosure and a lot of room for them to climb up for basking.

Decorations

a Caiman Lizard basking on a branch

Adding natural decorations will help make your Caiman Lizard’s enclosure look more natural and will also give them several hiding spots. Decorations like rocks, branches and plants can be added for a more natural feel.

Since Caiman Lizards love to climb and can get long, the branches need to be sturdy. The branches should be placed at their higher ends of the tank. The branches should be secured so that it can’t hurt your lizard while climbing or resting on them. The branches should be added to all areas of their enclosure.

To create a hiding spot you can get some cork. The cork should be large enough to completely hide your Caiman Lizard. If you add living plants, make sure they are strong so that brief contact doesn’t damage them. The plants will help keep humidity levels higher in their enclosure. If you are worried about real plants being damaged, artificial plants will be a good choice too.

Substrate

Use a substrate that helps trap moisture. A good substrate will help keep their enclosure humidified.

Cypress mulch combined with sand and soil can be a great choice. They will absorb moisture and don’t pack down very hard so that your lizard can dig.

Best Climate for Caiman Lizards

a close up of a Caiman Lizard's head

Caiman Lizards have specific needs when it comes to temperature and humidity. They are semi-aquatic lizards that need both a warm and moist climate. 

Separate warm and basking areas should be created inside their enclosure. These different temperature areas are needed to help your lizard regulate their body temperature.

Temperature

The temperature in their basking area should be kept between 100°F and 105°F while the rest of the enclosure should be kept between 80°F to 90°F. At night the temperature should never fall below 75°F.

A halogen lamp can be used to create a basking area. The halogen bulb will help supply both heat and light inside the enclosure. 

Lighting

A normal 12-hour day and night cycle should be kept inside their enclosure. Timers connected to the lighting are the easiest way to create a day and night cycle. Normal bulbs can be used to light the enclosure with other lights or equipment for heat. If you have added a halogen bulb as a heating source, then a separate lighting source will not be needed. Depending on your lighting setup you may need UV bulbs as well.

Halogen bulbs can supply heat and light but they cannot supply UV light to your lizard. UV lighting is important for reptiles to absorb calcium and regulate Vitamin D3. A normal full spectrum (UVA & UVB) UV light bulb can be used to give the UV as well as light the enclosure. UV bulbs should be replaced every 6 months because they tend to lose their intensity after a few months.

Humidity

Caiman Lizards are well-adapted to living in tropical climates. They need high humidity level that needs to be kept between 60 to 80 percent. Given the large size of their enclosure, it can be difficult to keep the humidity this high. 

Adding an electronic mister will make it much easier to keep the humidity high. The mister can be paired with a timer that can turn the mister on and off on its own. Adding an automatic mister is a great option if you know the humidity will drop during the day while you are away. If you have an automatic mister that is paired with a hygrometer then manual misting will not be needed.  

Water Source

a close up of a Caiman Lizard's head as they bask in the sun

A large water source should be kept inside their enclosure. The water area should be large enough so that your Caiman Lizard can not only soak themselves but swim, at least a little. A large plastic container is not going to be anywhere near large enough. Many owners will build a small in-ground pool for their lizard. This will let them live the aquatic life they would have had in the wild.

Like with any water source you’ll need to either replace it regularly or keep it clean. Because regularly flushing the water and replacing it is expensive and not environmentally friendly, many tanks are kept clean with aquarium filters. Using a filter is very important to keeping your water tank clean and your lizard healthy. 

Another often overlooked aspect of the water tank is keeping it heated. Again this is where aquarium products usually come into play. Many owners will have several heaters placed in the tank to keep the water tropical. One nice thing about a large tank of warm water is this really helps keep the entire enclosure very humid.

The Attention a Caiman Lizards Needs

Caiman Lizards need expert care and should be kept as pets only by experienced reptile owners. The large enclosure and feeding needs of the lizard are not easy for new pet owners to manage.

While they can be trained to be handled, expert knowledge is still needed. Stressing them can cause your Caiman Lizard to bite you or whip their tail at you. A lot of patience and attention is needed to train them to become receptive to handling. Handling should be infrequent and short, you’ll want to put them back in their enclosure if they don’t appear happy.

The temperature conditions inside their enclosure need to be monitored regularly. The large enclosure and the setup make it complex to keep the temperature and humidity in check. Separate thermometers should be added to both the warm and basking areas of the enclosure. The water temperature should be checked regularly.

Hygrometers need to be used to monitor the humidity level and keep it between 60 to 80 percent. As we mentioned earlier in the article, a large heated pool will do most of the heavy lifting here. Warm water evaporates and will keep the humidity of the enclosure up.

Health Issues

Common health issues in Caiman Lizards are:

Metabolic Bone Disease

MBD is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Internal Parasites

Intestinal Parasites like roundworms, hookworms or pinworms can cause serious health issues in reptiles. In mild cases, the disease may not show symptoms but in severe cases it can result in:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Behavioral issues
  • Diarrhea
  • Loose Stool
  • Throwing up food

Captive lizards generally contract parasitic infections from other infected reptiles, contaminated food or objects. Regular cleanings to their enclosure can reduce the chances your reptile will be infected from parasites in their environment. Take your pet to your vet if they have the above symptoms.

Parasitic infections have the potential to destroy the digestive tracts of your turtles and must be treated as soon as signs are noticed.

Mites

Mites are tiny black insects that are parasites. They feed off the blood of your reptile, and they can be quite the pain in the butt to get rid of once you have them. Most times they will be caught and sold already having mites, or they’ll get them from another pet.

Symptoms of mites on your reptile:

  • Long soaks in their water
  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on your reptile or objects in their enclosure
  • Tiny black specs on you from handling your reptile

We recommend contacting your vet to find out what treatment they recommend for killing mites. Keep in mind that mites don’t tend to stay in one place, and any other snakes or reptiles kept in the same room could be infested with mites as well. Distance between pets is key, just as washing up between handling pets is key to not spreading mites from pet to pet.

Ticks

Ticks are blood sucking parasites that are just as bad for your lizard as they are for people. They can pass on quite a number of terrible diseases to your reptile. Depending on what the ticks carry, or if left untreated, they can cause your reptile to die.

Symptoms of ticks on reptiles:

  • Rubbing on objects in their enclosure
  • Long soaks
  • Weight loss
  • Red spots or deformities on their skin

Usually with the above symptoms, especially red spots on their skin people will be suspicious of either ticks or mites. Ticks are a lot easier to see than mites are and with a close inspection of your reptile you should be able to spot them pretty easily.

The treatment is fairly straightforward and can be done at home, or you can have your vet do it. Once you find a tick attached to your lizard, rub it with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, then use tweezers to pull the tick off. Using alcohol first should help the tick release their grip and make them easier to pull off. If you are at all worried about diseases your reptile might have gotten from the ticks you can have your vet take a look and they may prescribe medication based on what they find.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Shedding Problems

Some Caiman Lizards will have problems shedding their skin. Some parts of their skin may not shed during the process, especially on their legs and toes. Keeping their enclosure warm and humid or soaking them in water once a day should help them shed their skin. The stuck skin should usually come out when your lizard sheds next. If they still are unable to shed their skin, take them to see your vet.

Salmonella

All reptiles are potential carriers of salmonella bacteria. The bacteria is present on their skin and shells (for turtles) but doesn’t seem to harm them. A major concern is that the disease can be transmitted to humans. Salmonella can cause serious and life-threatening conditions in humans. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain in humans

As a preventive measure, we always recommend washing your hands after handling any reptiles. Pregnant women, young children and older people system.

Ear and Eye infections

Poor water quality inside their enclosure may cause some lizards to develop ear or eye infections. Red eyes, scratching or itching in these areas can be signs of eye infection. This may happen in one or both ears. Swelling around the ears or frequent rubbing can indicate ear infections. If they get an ear or eye infection, drain the water inside their enclosure and replace it with fresh water. If the infection does not get better, take them to your vet for treatment.

Grooming and Care

Caiman Lizards have low grooming needs. The water inside their enclosure should help them stay clean by allowing them to soak themselves. Adding a water filtration system to the enclosure will help keep the water clean for longer. You may still need to change the water if your lizard defecates in the water. Reptiles often defecate in water while soaking themselves, so even with a filter the water will still be changed regularly because of the poop.

The nails of your Caiman Lizard don’t need trimming. The Caiman Lizards climbing and digging should naturally wear down their nails.

The substrate should be spot cleaned every day and replaced entirely once a month.

Their enclosure should be deep cleaned once every few months. To clean the enclosure, take out and place your Caiman Lizard in a separate enclosure. Remove all the decorations and use a reptile-safe disinfectant to clean the enclosure. Wipe the walls, floor and decorations using a clean cloth. The decorations can be washed in water.

Rinse and let everything dry completely before placing your Caiman Lizard back inside their enclosure. You want everything to dry off to prevent your lizard from getting exposed to any cleaning chemicals.

Feeding A Caiman Lizard

a Caiman Lizard eating a snail

Caiman Lizards are semi-aquatic carnivores. They are generally used to eating aquatic snails which are found in water bodies. It can be difficult to feed them aquatic snails in captivity. Because it can be hard to feed them snails, a variety of canned reptile food is recommended for them.

One big problem to be aware of is that a good amount of Caiman Lizards will ONLY eat snails and nothing else. We recommend you find a reliable supplier of snails BEFORE you buy a Caiman Lizard so you have one less problem later.

Caiman Lizards have strong jaw muscles and molar-like teeth which helps them crush and eat aquatic invertebrates. Their strong jaws allow them to eat shrimp, crawfish and freshwater clams. They also enjoy eating insects like crickets and super worms.

Young Caiman Lizards should be given smaller snails in a feeding bowl and should be fed daily. Adults can be fed canned or live prey every other day. Uneaten food should be removed to keep their enclosure clean. Tropical fruits like bananas, mangoes and kiwis make an occasional tasty treat for them.

To make sure they get all the nutrients they need, dust their food with calcium supplements once a week.

Related Questions:

Are Caiman Lizards related to Caiman Crocodiles?

While Caiman Lizard and Caiman crocodiles have similar names, they are not related. The lizards are named Caiman because they have large, heavy horn-like scales on their body which resemble those on Caiman crocodiles. Both the lizard and crocodile are semi-aquatic reptiles. Apart from this, there is no other similarity between them.

Why is My Caiman Lizard not Eating?

When you first get them home, it can take a few days for your lizard to get used to their new enclosure. They may spend the initial days hiding or basking in the warm area. After 3 to 7 days, they should ideally start coming out and eating. If it takes longer, you can contact your vet to find out if there are any health issues that might be preventing them from eating.

Can I Take My Caiman Lizard out of Their Enclosure?

You can do this if you are an experienced reptile owner. They like to bask more than they like roaming on the ground and should be kept in an area with lots of sunlight. If you want to let them move around your home, make sure you only leave them in a reptile safe room or area. You don’t want them getting injured or trying to escape.