Dracaena (lizard)

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Teiidae
Genus: Dracaena
Daudin, 1802

The genus Dracaena (romanized form of the Ancient Greek δράκαινα - drakaina, "female dragon"[1]), also called caiman lizards or water tegu, is in the teiid family, along with tegus and ameivas. Caiman lizards are found in South America in Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Brazil. These lizards spend a lot of time in the water and they inhabit marshes, streams and flooded forests. Caiman lizards often bask on branches overhanging the water.


Listed alphabetically.[2]


The caiman lizard is built similarly to its cousin the tegu, with a large heavy set body and short but powerful limbs. Its head is bulky and often a red or orange color. Their jaws are heavily muscular to help aid in eating its normal prey of snails, crawfish and fresh water clams. It also has a few adaptations that help it in its watery habitat. It has a long, laterally flattened tail, similar to its name sake, the yacare caiman. The long tail helps the caiman lizard to successfully swim and dive. It also has a clear third eyelid which is thought to act like a pair of goggles underwater. The coloration of the northern caiman lizard (Dracaena guianensis) is very similar to that of a crocodile. It is typically a bright green with slight dark green banding. The Paraguayan caiman lizards (Dracaena paraguayensis) are typically much more drab, with gray bodies and heads. There are tough raised scutes along the dorsal portion of the back. These give the caiman lizard a crocodilian appearance, and help to provide some protection against predators. These lizards can become up to 4 feet long and weigh up to 10 lbs.

Specimen on display at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Washington, DC


Caiman lizards are kept in private collections, but they are not yet kept in large numbers due to their tendency to only accept snails, and their high price. Additionally, caiman lizards are arboreal, aquatic, and burrowing, so suitable enclosures are usually only made by zoos. Caiman lizards born in captivity have been known to take a variety of food items, including snails, fish, cat food, and crustaceans. Their temperament is comparable to that of a tegu.


  1. δράκαινα, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. Dracaena, The Reptile Database
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