The spectacled caiman got its name from the bony ridge between its eyes which give it the appearance of wearing a pair of glasses. These caiman can grow up to approximately nine feet in length, with females being of smaller size than males. They have a stout snout, and a triangular ridge of skin atop each eye which give the appearance of a type of 'eye brow'. Mature individuals are olive-green with faint black spots and banding on their tails, this coloration is usually more distinct in younger individuals. Its coloration overall is quite variable, with some individuals having different coloration, sizes, and skull shape - these features have led to distinction between three subspecies of spectacled caiman.
Range and Biology:
This species is widely distributed compared to other crocodilians. The spectacled caiman and its subspecies can be found in Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, and Ecuador - it has also been introduced as a nonnative species in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Florida, USA. Theses animals thrive in all lowland wetland and riverine habitats, preferring bodies of still water like lakes, ponds, and marshes. They are also tolerant to moderate salinity.
The caiman is highly adapted for water life. It is a superb swimmer and aquatic predator. The adult caiman feed on fish, amphibians, reptiles, and water foul - particularly large individuals have also been know to take on mammals including deer and pigs! In dry conditions when food sources are scare this species is also known to cannibalize smaller individuals.
The spectacled caiman was first sighted in Florida in 1960, and span across two counties in the state. It poses threat to a variety of native vertebrates and competes for food and space with the native American alligators. They are presumed to have been released or escaped from the pet trade, and can be found in Broward and Dade counties throughout marshes, lakes, ponds, and canals. These crocodilian are susceptible to colder weather, which has confined them from moving further north. There have been efforts to remove the caiman populations, and in 2001 a nest of 41 eggs was found and collected, and 39 of those eggs hatched in captivity. Since 1970 there have been no reports of breeding, however the populations are still present.
Last month one of our bloggers had the chance to travel to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada for the Children & Nature Network Annual Conference & International Summit. There were oodles of panels and “walkshops” teaching educators, administrators, and other environmentally-focused people best practices for leading classes to students of all ages. There were even classes with doctors discussing the benefits of time in nature on a person’s physical and mental health.
The biggest focus was how to get the whole family outside and interacting with nature.
The plan was to achieve this through running Family Nature Clubs, which are exactly what they sound like: kids and adults, from babies through senior citizens, enjoying time learning about nature and playing in it with other families in their community. Lots of organizations run these, but they can also be totally informal and run by its own members. We heard from speakers who run these clubs all over the world, including in the United States.
There are tons of resources online, especially through the Children & Nature Network where these clubs were first coined. (Scroll down for the “Nature Club Toolkit for Families” in English and several other languages).
What was really surprising was that there is even an app for parents of 0-3 year olds to help them have nature activity time! This app, GROW With Nature Play, is a parenting tool which lists hundreds of nature activities, organized by age appropriateness, which parents can use after they’ve gone home and put their child to rest for a nap, to track what they’ve done that day. Activities can be as simple as looking at a bird flying by!
The Grow With Nature Play app was created by an Austialian father who wanted to be sure his kids were experiencing nature and family time daily from the start of their lives.
The ideas didn’t stop there. We talked about how to make activities fun and educational for families with mixed ages-- trying to get a 6 year old and a 16 year old enjoying the same things can be scary even for seasoned teachers! As much as kids may act like they don’t want to be with the family, they overall enjoy hanging out with their siblings and don’t like to be divided by age, so partner them together. We learned a really important tip that sometimes adults forget: teenagers like to know they’re trusted, as they’re trying to come into their own as indivuals and young adults, so give them some responsibility, like watching the kids or guarding the first aid kit.
When it comes to activities that kids of different ages just can’t physically do or understand in the same way, find ways to work around it. For example, nature photography is a great way to get everyone exploring. Preteens and up like to get creative with their camera angles and lighting or finding something really challenging to take a picture of, while for littles they just want to play I Spy. Both are alright! You can even make a scavenger hunt or activity sheet for each age range: for the youngest, instead of writing the words, use drawings, like of a flower or leaf, to tell them what to look for.
A few more activities that kids of all ages can enjoy:
As one speaker said, “They don’t need to understand the biology to develop the wonder.” People of all ages just love spending time with animals and nature!
If you try any of these activities with your family (or find a new one), let us know how it went! Later this year we’ll let you know too.
Kids have great eyes to spot well-camouflaged creatures like this Northwestern Mole Salamander (be sure to always use clean hands devoid of chemicals or oils before handling any amphibian, their fragile skin absorbs everything!)
Sarah is a conservation educator and trained zookeeper currently working at an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoo in New Jersey while also starting a freelance nature program in Jersey City. Her education specialties include urban environmental programming and access, while her keeping specialties are focused on small mammals, arthropods, and birds of prey.
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!