There are no alligators in Puerto Rico, but some alligator species are around the island. Crocodiles and alligators are not native to the island, but some people brought them as pets in the 1960s.
Today, these pets that the owners releasedhave had offspring occupying the island. The most popular species found in Puerto Rico is the Speckled Caiman.
What is the speckled caiman?
The speckled caiman, which many people also call the spectacled caiman, is part of the alligator family. However, it is not an alligator.
Both caimans and gators belong to the Alligatoridae family. The genus of the gator is alligatorinae, but the speckled caiman is caimaninae.
Here are the names that the speckled caiman goes by:
- White caiman
- Common caiman
- Spectacled caiman
People call it spectacled because it has a ridge between its eyes that look like spectacles. The maximum growth that it can achieve is eight feet, but it does not weigh much. It can only weigh up to 88 pounds.
Unlike gators, the speckled caiman does not lay a lot of eggs. During mating season, they only lay between 14 ad 40 eggs.
The speckled caiman is not just found in Puerto Rico, but in many areas of Latin America. They also have a presence in the United States.
The speckled caiman is nocturnal, and it is a carnivore. In its habitat in Puerto Rico, it eats crabs and shellfish. However, its diet changes during the dry season –it eats fish.
Small caimans eat insects and shrimp. Big individuals can take on mammals and fish. On some occasions, the caiman will eat snakes and lizards.
The speckled caiman is of least concern, according to the IUCN. It is one of the crocodilians that has a wide distribution. The estimate is that there are one million speckled caimans in the world.
Some caimans, like their crocodilian relatives, are cannibalistic. In the dry season, a caiman may stop eating if there is no food around. However, when push comes to shove, big caimans may eventually prey on small ones.
Caimans also hunt big mammals. It is not unheard of for a caiman to eat pigs. Some say that a caiman can pry on a tapir, an animal that looks like a cross between a pig and an elephant.
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Where can one find a speckled caiman in Puerto Rico?
Roughly, there are about 1,000 individual caimans in Puerto Rico. Since Puerto Rico is small, there is a caiman pretty much in many places. However, people are in the constant lookout to hunt these reptiles.
The area with the most caimans is Vega Baja. It is a municipality on the north coast of the island. The population of this town is 54,000 as of 2020.
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Are speckled caimans dangerous?
Yes, they are dangerous. While these are typically small, caimans can still pose serious dangers to humans. In Puerto Rico, it is not unusual for residents to prepare for a caiman onslaught.
When heavy rains pour, the island gets flooded. This flooding brings caimans to highly populated areas. There were even reports of caimans prowling school grounds.
Because of this, residents sharpen their knives and prepare their ropes or lassos to catch caimans and kill them.
Caiman population is big in Puerto Rico, which exploded in the lagoon close to some neighborhoods. Caimans can also grow to six feet, which is big enough to do serious damage.
Because of this problem, people taught themselves how to hunt these reptiles. They know how to capture the caiman, tie it, and shut its mouth with duct tape. They also know how to flash some lights in the waters to spot the caimans.
It is not illegal to kill caimans in Puerto Rico. People can hunt caimans as they please. The government authorizes the hunting of caimans because they are not native to the island. These caimans should not be here, anyway.
The only reason caimans are here is because people introduced the reptile to the island in the 1950s. When people do this, it almost always never ends up well. Some species that get introduced in new territories can eventually become invasive ones.
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Are the crocodiles and alligators in zoos in Puerto Rico?
The only official zoo in the territory is the Rivero National Zoological Park or the Dr. Juan A. Rivero National Zoological Park.
There is no crocodilian in the zoo, sad to say. Perhaps the facilities managers thought that gators and crocs were not an attraction as there are many caimans on the island.
Despite the absence of crocodilians in the zoo in Puerto Rico, one can still see caimans on the island through other means.
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Are there boat rides to see caimans in Puerto Rico?
Yes, there are residents who offer boat rides for people to see the caiman at night. One example of this is the Laguna Tortuguero.
LagunaTortuguero is a natural reserve that sits between Vega Baja and another town called Manati. It is a lagoon, and it is one of the only two in Puerto Rico.
In addition, this lagoon is the only freshwater lagoon on the island. While it carries 708 million gallons f water, it has many swamps and marshes—perfect for crocodilians to make a home.
Laguna Tortuguero is home to many birds. Right now, there are 83 species recognized here. Some are migratory, while others live permanently on the island. There are 23 species of fish in the lagoon, and their population is healthy enough to feed the caimans.
There are no alligators and crocodiles in Puerto Rico. The crocodilian species that have a presence here is the caiman. The caiman is not an alligator, and it is not a crocodile, but it is a crocodilian. So it is a sub-set or sub-species of the alligator. Caimans are not native to Puerto Rico and should not be there. People introduced caimans to the island in the 1950s and released them in the wild, which is how the caiman population grew. Today, they are a nuisance, if anything else.