It is a species endemic of the subtropical and tropical regions of central South America, which can reach three meters long. It has a heavily armoured black or dark olive back, and the delicately bony plates juvenile specimens have on the sides made this species a long-time favourite of shoe manufacturers. During the last years, protection measures have made possible the restoration of a great part of its distribution area.
North-East Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and south-western Brazil.
- Distribution / Resident
- Extint in the wild
- Critically endangered
- In Danger
- Near threatened
- Minor concern
- Insufficient data
- Not evaluated
Discover how they are
It has a long and narrow snout, and it is blackish or very dark, with noticeable spots on the sides, tail and lower jaw. Its belly is yellowish and devoid of bony armour, while the scales on its back have prominent osteoderms. Juveniles have a set of black stripes over a brown or yellowish background, which become darker with time. Its limbs are strong and short. The rear fingers are connected by a membrane which makes swimming easier, although the driving force comes generally from its brawny tail, representing 30% if its total body length.
It is a very adaptable species, and is present in all open aquatic environments: swamps, marshlands, wetlands, ponds, lakes and slow water riversides.
It feeds on different small and medium-sized animals: crustaceans, snails, crabs, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and small mammals.
The mating season takes place at the beginning of summer, when males mark their territory and fight to expel the weakest specimens. Females copulate repeatedly along the area, to ensure the fertilization of eggs. They build a mound-shaped nest with the materials available in the area, always near a water body, where they lay between 20 and 40 eggs. Females take care of the nest during the two or three months long incubation period, as well as of the new-born, for a certain period.
In areas where water is not abundant it can be spotted in loose groups, although they are generally solitary animals, except during the mating season. Under suitable conditions, they remain idle in the same territory for most of the day. On the hottest hours of the day they remain underwater and normally feed at night. During the mating season they become territorial and aggressive. The social status is determined by size and the biggest animals exert their dominance for reproduction.
Juveniles have a high mortality rate of predation, specially by carcaras, buzzards and jabirus.
It is still quite common in certain protected areas, while in other regions it is endangered to the degradation of its habitat, excessive hunting for the leather industry, pet trafficking or for its meat among local populations, who also have a high regard for its eggs.