Gharials (Gavialis gangeticus
) are a critically endangered crocodilian
most recognizable for their long, slender snout. Gharials are among the largest of all crocodilians, smaller in size than only the saltwater crocodile. In addition to their distinct spindly nose, gharials have a unique tail that is laterally flattened and rimmed on both edges by a ridge of scales.
The hind feet of gharials are webbed, an adaptation that when paired with their uniquely shaped tail, enables gharials tremendous agility when maneuvering underwater. When on land, gharials are far less nimble. Their legs are too weak to lift their body off of the ground and they must resort to pushing themselves across the ground on their belly. Not surprisingly, gharials rarely leave the water and venture on land only to bask on the mud or nest.
Male gharials have a bulbous growth on the tip of their snout enabling them to produce sounds that charm the ladies during courtship. Females lack this bulbous growth and as a result gharials are considered to be sexually dimorphic.
Gharials are carnivores
that feed primarily on fish. Their narrow snouts are well-suited for quick movement underwater, since they meet with little resistance when the gharial snaps at its prey underwater. Gharials have a mouthful of spiny teeth superb for grasping onto fish that might otherwise slip free of the gharial's bite.
Size and Weight:
About 13-23 feet long and 1500-2000 pounds
Gharials formerly inhabited the Indus, Irrawady, Ganges and Bramaputra rivers in India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Today their populations are small and restricted to protected waterways within northern India and Nepal.
Gharials mate between November and January. During this time, males become fiercely territorial and protect a harem of females. Gharials later nest during the dry season which occurs from March through May. By nesting during the dry season when water levels are low and sandy river banks are plentiful, gharials ensure the availability of much needed nesting habitat. When ready to lay her eggs, a female gharial digs a hole in the exposed river bank where she lays as many as 50 large eggs. The female remains with the young for a short time after they hatch to ensure their safety while the learn to swim and forage for themselves.
The ancestors of the gharial diverged from the other crocodilian lineages during the late Cretaceous. Gharials are the only living species of the genus Gavialis, a group that once included a total of five species. The Gharial's closest living relative is the Malayan gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii).