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Gavialis gangeticus (aka Gavial) The word gharial is derived from the Hindi word, "ghara," which means, "mud pot." It was misread by Europeans, who changed the word to gavial.
The gharial is distinguished from other crocodilians by its very long and very narrow snout, which gets longer and thinner as the animal gets older. Males have a bulbous growth, known as a ghara, on the end of their snout.
The mouth is lined with up to 110 very sharp teeth (54-58 on the upper jaw, 50-52 on the lower jaw) that interlock when the jaws are closed. Like all other crocodilians, the gharial's jaw muscles give it the ability to snap its jaws shut rapidly.
The gharial's legs are so relatively weak that a fully-grown adult can't raise its body above the ground. It is very agile in water, however, thanks to a well-developed and laterally flattened tail and extensive webbing on the rear feet.
One of the largest members of the crocodilians, the gharial can reach a length of almost 20 feet and a weight of about 1,000 pounds, with males being larger than females.
Distribution and Habitat
Gharials are found in fragmented populations in the Northern Indian Subcontinent, to Bangladesh, into India and Pakistan. They are most adaptable to calmer areas in very deep rivers with rapids in them, and only leave the river to sun or to nest in the sand after mating.
Adult gharials feed almost exclusively on fish, along with some water birds and carrion. Their unique snouts, combined with powerful jaw neck muscles, give them the ability to snap their jaws shut quickly and to move the head side to side quickly to catch fish. Young gharials eat insects, larvae, small fish and frogs, and some fish.
Males become very territorial during the breeding season, which runs from November to January, and assemble a harem of females.
Egg-laying occurs from March into May, with the female depositing 30-50 eggs (which weigh up to 6 ounces each) into an excavated hole on the riverbank. The female will stay close to the nest throughout the 90-day incubation period, making sure egg-loving predators do not destroy her brood. Unlike other crocodilians, she will not carry her young to the water after hatching (most likely because her mouth is too small to carry them safely), but she will stay in the area for several weeks or months to protect them from predators.
Female gharials reach sexual maturity at about 7 years, males at about 15 years. They can live up to 60 years in the wild.
Gharials are listed as critically endangered. The major threat to them at present is habitat loss due to human encroachment, and disruption of populations through fishing and hunting activities. In addition, eggs are collected for medicinal purposes, and males are still hunted for the aphrodisiac properties associated with the snout. They may also be snared in fishing nets and killed by fishermen.
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This page was last updated on July 14, 2017.