The spectacled caiman gets its name from the bony ridge between the fronts of its eyes, which appears to join them like a pair of glasses. Males can reach eight to nine feet (2.4 - 2.7 m) in length, making the spectacled caiman a relatively small crocodilian in comparison to species like the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), which can reach up to 19 feet (5.8 m). Females are smaller in size, and juveniles are yellow with black spots and bands along their bodies and tails. These markings, along with their bright coloring, become less distinct as the caimans mature. Adults are a dull olive green.
The spectacled caiman has the widest distribution of any species in the Aligatoridae family and can be found in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Surinam, Tobago, Trinidad and Venezuela. The species has been introduced into Puerto Rico, Cuba and the United States. The spectacled caiman is very adaptable and can thrive in many habitats including rivers and all lowland wetlands, preferring areas with still waters. If their environment becomes too harsh, the spectacled caiman will burrow into the mud and estivate. Estivation is summer hibernation, where animals in hot, dry climates sleep or become dormant in order to live through the heat and lack of food sources. The spectacled caiman expanded much of its range due to the decrease in larger crocodilian species in the early 1900s.
These reptiles eat just about anything they can get their large, strong jaws around, including birds, fish, amphibians, insects and small mammals. As juveniles, spectacled caimans eat aquatic insects, small fish, crustaceans and mollusks.
Alligators, caimans and crocodiles are hunted for their skin, which is used for shoes, handbags, belts and wallets. Crocs are often killed simply because they are large and fierce looking, making many species threatened or endangered. The spectacled caiman is endangered in many countries, including El Salvador. Adult crocodiles are considered a "keystone species" because of their place at the top of the food chain and the role they play in controlling certain prey populations. Their disappearance could threaten the balance of entire ecosystems.