“Are they real?” is a question Jennifer D., assistant manager of Interpretive Delivery, hears often beside the yacare caiman exhibit in the Graham Amazon Gallery. After all, the crocodilians in front of them don’t move, they don’t even blink in that moment. She says, “How amazing is it that they can stay so statuesque to fool us all?”
This behaviour is meant to fool other animals into thinking that nothing out of the ordinary is going on. As ambush predators, yacare caimans stay very still before pouncing on their prey. Jennifer likes to point out to visitors that even when the caimans look like they’re floating at the surface, their tails are usually touching the bottom, keeping them in place.
These animals, grouped in the same family as alligators, are found in the wetlands of South America: Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay. Yacare is the regional term for “alligator” and “caiman” is a Spanish term for a crocodilian. While they are considered an animal of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, their numbers have decreased compared with historical populations.
Jen says to stick around when the simulated rainstorm comes on in the exhibit. The area darkens, “rain” starts falling from the ceiling and the sound of thunder and lightning commence. She says, “That’s when you might see the most action. Some slight moving or adjusting and blinking.” Otherwise, she says, “It’s a never-ending staring contest with these animals. You’re not even sure if they’re looking back at you or if they are looking somewhere else entirely.” See the caimans move during feeding in this video below:
Written by Karen Glanzberg, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.