The spectacled caiman takes its name from the bony ridge near its eyes that resembles a pair of glasses. The caiman, Costa Rica’s only member of the alligator family, differs from its crocodile-family cousins in that it lacks a lingual salt gland, which regulates the internal salt balance in crocodiles and limits the spectacled caiman to freshwater habitats. Also, unlike crocodiles, when a caiman’s mouth is closed, no large fangs from the lower jaw are visible.
The spectacled caiman is relatively small compared to crocodiles, growing only to about 6 to 8 feet in length. Adult caimans feed on fish, amphibians and waterfowl, while juveniles eat insects and snails. Juvenile caimans frequently fall prey to egrets and herons, and caiman eggs are a favorite delicacy of raccoons.
Humans are the main predator of adult caimans. Until the 1980s, adult caimans were hunted for their skins. But populations have bounced back in many areas of the country with increased protection. Indeed, caimans are frequently observed in the rivers and marshes of many NatureAir destinations, in particular in Tortuguero.