The gharial is a unique and fascinating crocodilian species in the world. This species is often mistaken for its two cousins: the alligator and crocodile. So, what are the differences among them and what’s special about gharials? Here are some interesting facts about this reptile!
1. They have a long snout
The gharial /ˌɡʌriˈɑːl/, one of only two members in the Gavialidae family, is one of the biggest crocodilians in the world, with an average length of 19.69 feet (6 meters). Male gharials can reach lengths of 16.40 to 19.68 feet (5 to 6 meters), while females are smaller with a size of 11.5-13 feet (3.5-4 meters) in length. They typically weigh around 160kg (350lb).
The gharial is known for its long and slender snout, which changes shape over time. The older the species gets, the longer and narrower its snout is. The creature’s jaws are lined with 106-110 sharp, interlocking teeth.
Gharials have eyes, ears, and nostrils located on the top of their heads, enabling them to remain almost completely immersed in water. The animals have a light tan, dark brown, or olive body which is coated in smooth scales. The young have dark bands on their body and they will lose them when getting older.
The gharial is the only crocodilian species that displays sexual dimorphism. This means males and females have distinct physical characteristics. When maturing, the males form a bulbous growth at the end of their snout known as a “ghara,” which partially covers their nostrils. This part helps the males attract potential mates and increase the volume of their vocalizations.
These giant reptiles have weak legs, they primarily move in the water. Gharials move on land by pushing their bodies forward and dragging themselves along with their legs. They also have integumentary sense organs located all over their scaly body as tiny pits. These pits help them to hunt prey by recognizing vibrations and changes in water pressure.
2. Gharials are not crocodiles or alligators
Although they belong to the older Crocodilia, the gharial is a distinct species and is not an alligator or a crocodile. While they may share similarities in appearance and are related to each other, these three animals are from separate families and have their own unique characteristics.
|Differences between crocodile and alligator and gharial|
|Behavior||Spend less time on land and can barely walk|
|Shape of jaws||long and slender jaws||long and pointed V-shaped snout||round U-shaped snouts|
|Number of teeth||110||60||80|
|Teeth placement||largest teeth at the front of the jaw, the lower jaw is slightly thinner than the upper||lower and upper jaws are roughly the same width||boarder upper jaw that overlaps the lower|
|Lingual salt glands||on their tongue||on their tongue||do not have|
3. Native Habitat
Gharials are native to Asia. They used to live in the rivers of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. Sadly, they have gone extinct in Myanmar, Bhutan, and Pakistan. Now, you can only find them in the major river systems of Nepal’s Narayani river and India’s northern Son, Chambal, and Girwa rivers.
These species live in wetlands. While adults prefer slow-moving river backwaters, the young prefer fast-moving areas of shallow water, usually in tiny streams or peaceful backwaters.
As carnivorous animals, gharials eat mostly fish. Their narrower snout is specially built for catching these prey. To do this, they corral the fish to the shore and rapidly move their streamlined head from side to side under the water. Then, they use their thin and sharp teeth to catch the fish. Once caught, they swallow them whole.
They also consume small crustaceans, frogs, and even tiny mammals. In the juvenile stage, they may feed on tadpoles, insects, and crustaceans. These reptiles also ingest gastroliths which are small stones, sometimes including pieces of jewelry. This may be weird but they do this to grind up their food.
Mature gharials don’t have many predators in nature. They are mostly hunted by humans. However, their juveniles and their eggs face many risks. Wild pigs, rats, monitor lizards, golden jackals, and mongooses may steal their eggs. Their young are can be preyed upon by mongooses, jackals, lizards, and pigs. Their eggs
5. Gharials don’t kill humans
Gharials are not a threat to humans. Their small teeth and thin jaws aren’t designed to attack large prey. Compared to other crocodilians, they are considered to be one of the least dangerous and aggressive.
Their attacks on humans are extremely rare and typically only occur when a mother is protecting her nest. There have been no fatalities reported.
However, gharials have been observed consuming carcasses. They just do their best when taking advantage of the Hindu custom of sending corpses down the Ganges River for an easy meal.
6. They like basking and can have night vision
Gharials spend a lot of time sunbathing. They can do it alone or in groups on sandbars in the midst of rivers, as well as on rocks. In winter, they tend to bask even more frequently.
Gharials are capable of producing a variety of vocalizations, including groans, buzzes, bawls, hisses, and jaw slaps. Males make more sounds in the breeding season. On quiet days, their vocalizations can carry up to a distance of 1km. Additionally, gharials possess excellent hearing and are able to detect low-frequency sounds.
Thanks to the tapetum lucidum, a mirror-like structure located behind their eyes, these reptiles possess the ability to see in the dark. This characteristic not only increases their night vision but also reflects some light that is not absorbed. Hence, when you shine a light on them at night, their eyes glow.
Gharials are known to be polygamous like other crocodilians. A male typically shares a territory with 4 – 6 additional females. Although they are considered to be the least aggressive crocodilians, the male will defend his territory and fight with competing males when needed.
The Krookodile character in Pokemon is a gharial. You may read some of the other Pokemon in real life articles to know more:
The mating season of gharials lasts from November to February. As polygamous animals, male gharials defend a specific territory where they cohabit with multiple females.
To attract a mate, the males emit a buzzing noise from their “ghara.” They may also slap their jaws underwater, use buzzing vocalizations, and hiss. If a female is enticed by the male’s displays, he pursues her. To let the male know her willingness to mate, the female will raise her head to the sky.
They will then mate underwater for up to 30 minutes. After mating, the female seeks out steep sandbanks to build a nest that is about 10-16 feet (3-5 m) away from the water’s edge. She then deposits about 30 – 60 eggs between March and April.
The incubation period will last for about 60-80 days. The egg hatch right before the rainy season in July. The gender of the hatchlings is determined during incubation, which is a characteristic common to all crocodilians. The higher the incubation temperatures, there are more chances that the young are males.
The female guards the young until the monsoons pass. The father will not protect his babies but he will carry them on their back.
Males reach sexual maturity at the age of 15 – 18 years with their distinctive “ghara” not developing until they are 10 years old. Females mature later, about 8 – 10 years.
The lifespan of gharials is still uncertain. They are expected to live a long life due to their big body. A captive gharial had lived for roughly 29 years in the London Zoo.
8. Conservation status
The gharial is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, with only an estimated 250 individuals remaining in the wild.
This species has been negatively impacted by hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, and habitat degradation and fragmentation.
– They are poached for consumption and traditional medicines.
– The construction of dams and barrages in the waterways where they live has led to habitat fragmentation and degradation.
– The addition of fish into their water sources, such as tilapia, may decrease the availability of their primary food supply.
Additionally, overfishing, agricultural activities, and livestock herding near the riverbanks and sandbanks also contribute to the decline of these crocodilians.
In India and Nepal, these species are protected by laws. In an effort to save the gharials, many restoration initiatives, wildlife sanctuaries, and captive breeding operations have been launched in these 2 countries and other nations.
However, despite these conservation efforts, these species continue to fall victim to human insanity. Their population keeps decreasing.