New born to juveniles; Hatch-lings and young alligators up to 12" may be housed in a 40 gallon long reptile tank. Avoid using small pebbles especially as these materials can and do get lodged in the intestinal tracks actually leading to an untimely death. Babies and the very young are very healthy eaters and usually will eat the substrate along with the food being offered. I use larger natural rocks (boiled in water with a bleach additive of 1:10 parts bleach to water prior to placing in the tank. This avoids any bacteria or parasites to contaminate the Alligators). Under-gravel filters work well if maintained on a consistent basis. However, harmful bacteria can build up under the gravel if not properly cleaned. I recommend a complete water change regardless of the substrate at LEAST twice a month or more if necessary. Be sure to use a de-chlor product suitable to amphibians. For larger more mature Alligators, 12 inches plus regardless of age, I use children�s play sand that has been thoroughly cleaned (play sand can be boiled clean in a large container, heated to a boil and stirred. This will kill and potentially harmful bacteria and/or parasites that may be present.) A smaller pond and/or pool filter can be used for larger enclosures. Check out your local classifieds for used filtration systems. You can save a bundle. Be sure when housing a larger Alligator outside during acceptable weather that any fencing provided as a barrier is placed at least 1 to 2 feet below the ground as these guys love to dig. Having your neighbor ask you if you have seen her cat is an awkward way to discover your 4 foot pet is not in its enclosure. Water temperature, regardless of the size or age of the Alligator should be maintained at approximately 75 to 85 degrees F. This can be maintained in an aquarium with non-glass heaters(if you use a glass heater, be sure to disguise it well as broken glass and young Alligators who will eat anything is not a good mix). For larger indoor or outdoor enclosures, child wading pools or pre-fabicated ponds work very nicely. Relatively inexpensive pond heaters, pool heaters or even larger aquarium heaters can be used. Be sure that no matter what the size of the enclosure, whether an aquarium for the young or the wading pool for the larger, be sure there is enough water to allow the Alligator to totally submerse itself. Air temperatures of ranging in the high 70�s to 80�s is acceptable but be sure to provide and area in the enclosure for basking. This can be achieved easily using heat lamps designed for reptiles. Caution: DO NOT purchase standard clip-on light fixtures; these are not meant to be on for long periods of time and there is a very REAL possibility of fire. Use only the heat lamps that have the ceramic fixture where the bulb is inserted. Please remember that water and electricity do not mix; always be sure to use a power surge power strip and hang it higher than the area of placement.
As caimans and other crocodilians normally take a wide variety of prey items in the wild, they will eagerly eat almost anything that is put in front of them in captivity. This means that you have to ensure your animal is getting a balanced diet. Here are some guidelines for feeding your caiman.Getting a balanced diet is all about making sure the body gets all the protein, carbohydrate, fibre, vitamins, minerals and other goodies that the body needs to survive. As crocodilians tend to eat whole animals, they often get the complete package deal in one meal - protein from muscle, calcium from bones, etc. It's a good idea to follow this formula in captive animals. Many owners have a habit of feeding pieces of lean meat to their animals. Whilst lean meat is perfectly ok as part of a varied diet, it should be supplemented with additional calcium from other sources to avoid calcium deficiency. Calcium deficiency can take months to show itself as a problem.
A good diet, then, is one that provides your caiman with a reasonable degree of variety. Many caiman owners like to feed their animals fish, and there are any number of different species you could use such as herring and perch, although some fish are better than others in terms of their nutritional content. Several owners keep goldfish free-living in their caiman's water area just in case their animal gets hungry, although there are better fish that could be used. In this case, you'll need to use an air stone and water pump to oxygenate the water or the fish will die quickly. The fish themselves also need to be fed regularly. However, be warned! There are two big disadvantages with feeding fish. The first is that fresh and frozen fish often contain large amounts of the enzyme thiaminase. Freezing appears to increase concentrations of thiaminase in tissue, so frozen fish should be treated with some caution. Thiaminase destroys the vitamin B1 (thiamine) and thus if you're using fish ensure you use a vitamin B1 supplement, or you heat the fish (80 degrees C for a short period) to denature the enzyme. Not all fish contain thiaminase - eg. ocean perch are a better choice. The second problem with feeding fish, particularly oily fish, is the possibility of vitamin E deficiency (steatitis). This is a common disease in crocodilians fed a very high proportion of fish in the diet, so be aware of its implications. The high proportion of unsaturated and rancid fatty acid that is present in fish (particularly if it's not fresh) rapidly accumulates in the caiman's body if you feed little else. Oxidation of these fatty acids (which is prevented by the presence of vitamin E, an anti-oxidant) leads to the formation of ceroid pigment that results in necrosis of fat cells and serious inflammation. Fatty build-ups and nodular lesions develop throughout the body cavity and within the extensive subcutaneous and intramuscular fat pads. If this sounds nasty, you're right - it can be fatal to the animal. Increased variety in the diet is the easiest way of avoiding this problem.Caimans and most species of crocodilians will readily take a variety of insects when younger. You can either purchase such insects from most pet stores or catch them yourself using a light trap or fine net - but make sure you collect them from an area free of insecticides and other chemicals. Ensuring that the insects are healthy and well fed means that your caiman will be eating good quality food. Mice also make good food items, small pinkies being suitable for small caimans, and the adults for larger animals. Rats are also suitable, and like many of these foods are commonly available from pet stores or other outlets. Other food items which can be fed to add variety include pieces of meat (pork, chicken, beef - which can be fed on the bone in larger adults), earthworms (not the worms used commercially in composting - they're poisonous to small crocodilians), snails, freshwater crayfish, spiders, even frogs and small lizards. Of course, some caimans are fussy and will turn their noses up at certain food items. One owner points out that his caiman dislikes squid, and isn't very keen on butterflies - possibly because of the large, powdery wings. There are plenty of alternatives, however, so rejection shouldn't normally be a problem.Be careful feeding young hatchlings - unlike adults, their digestive systems are more fragile and cannot handle everything you throw at them. Over-feeding insects, particularly those with hard, chitinous exoskeletons (e.g. black crickets), can block the gut as the chitin isn't broken down easily. One of the authors recommends squeezing soil out of earthworms before feeding young hatchlings, otherwise the coarse grit may damage the intestine.
Although feeding whole prey may be natural, there are alternatives. For young hatchlings especially, many owners recommend finely chopping or mincing whole prey items and feeding them on a small dish. This way, the food will break down in the stomach far more quickly, and digestion will be much more efficient. Crocodile farms always feed ground food to hatchlings to maximise food conversion rates and overall health. You can switch to whole prey as the animal grows in size. The disadvantage of feeding ground food is the considerable mess that is possible if your caiman decides to walk all over its food and drag it into the water. Be prepared to clean the tank and water every day if you use minced food.Commercial feeds are available for both hatchlings and adults alike. These are typically a pelletised feed that the animal takes either on land or in the water. Not all species will take pellets, although recent research has discovered that appropriate ingredients to encourage feeding may be required for particular species. Pelletised feeds have many advantages, such as being easy to store, far less risky to offer to the animal, and they usually don't cause a mess in the enclosure. By all accounts, they appear to be nutritionally complete in the long-term.
While healthy crocodilians rarely suffer from disease, they are certainly not immune. Crocodilians are particularly susceptible to stress - it affects their appetite, their resistance to disease and their overall health. Keeping stress to a minimum should be high on your list of priorities. Fritz Huchzemeyer DVM defines the following general conditions which can lead to stress:
Thermal stress - where the animal is unable to thermoregulate correctly,
Capture stress - when the animal is caught and handled, a factor which is less severe in juveniles (which may be picked up by their mothers) and more severe in older, unsocialised juveniles (where being picked up is a prelude to being eaten) and adults (which are never picked up or handled),
Social stress - arising out of competition and the inability of adults to establish a territory (e.g. enclosure too small, densities too high).
Both males and females reach sexual maturity when they are about 6 feet (1.8 meters) long, a length attained at about 10 to 12 years. Breeding takes place during the night in shallow waters. Males (bulls) roar to attract females and to ward off other males. The male circles the female and mounts. Courtship starts in April, with mating usually occurring in early May.After mating has taken place, the female builds a nest of vegetation. The nest can measure seven to 10 feet (2.1 to 3 meters) in diameter and two to three feet (0.6 to 0.9 meters) high. Then, around late June and early July, the female lays 35 to 50 eggs. Some females can lay up to 90 eggs. The eggs are then covered with vegetation and hatch after a 65-day incubation period. The sex of the juveniles is determined by the temperature of the nest. Temperatures of 31? C (87.8? F) or below produce females. A temperature of 32? C (89.6? F) produces 75 percent males and 32.5? C (90.5? F) and above are mostly females. Alligator nests are sometimes used by other reptiles for their own egg deposition and incubation.Toward the end of August, the young alligators begin to make high-pitched noises from inside of the egg. This lets the mother know that it is time to remove the nesting material. When the baby alligator hatches it measures about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters). Newly hatched alligators live in small groups, called "pods." Some 80 percent of young alligators fall victim to predators such as birds, raccoons, bobcats, otters, snakes, large bass and larger alligators. Females aggressively defend their young during these first few years. Crocodilians are one of the only orders of reptiles that offer maternal care to their young. The juveniles grow about a foot a year.