The false gharial draws its name from its snout which is similar to that of the true gharial (Gavialis gangeticus). This long, thin snout is filled with between 76 and 84 sharp teeth.
They are a large species of crocodilian and have a streamlined body with a muscular tail which helps to propel them through the water.
Their eyes and nostrils sit on top of their head so they can see and breathe with most of their body hidden under water.
On the upperside of their body they are colored dark or chocolate brown with darker patches across the body, tail and jaw. The underside of their body is cream or white in color.
These reptiles can reach a length between 4 and 5m (13.1-16.4ft) long with an average weight between 93 and 210kg (209-462.5lbs). Males tend to be larger than females.
Food is captured and then drowned or beaten against the river bank.
Asia is the native home of false gharial. Here they can be found in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. It is unknown if they are found in Viet Nam.
This species has gone extinct in Thailand.
They make their home in forests and wetlands. In part of their range they have been seen nesting in disturbed habitat at the edge of farmland.
This species is semi-aquatic and they spend much of their day in slow-moving muddy water. They come out of the water to bask and nest.
Breeding takes place during the dry season.
They will build a mound of vegetation such as dry leaves and peat in to which they deposit their eggs. These mounds may grow to be as much as 60cm (2ft) tall.
In to this mound the female will lay between 20 and 60 eggs. Their eggs are the largest recorded from any crocodilian reaching up to 10cm (3.9in) long.
These will incubate for three months following which the newborns emerge from the nest. Females will stay with their nest and defend it but often they flee if approached.
Like many crocodilians the gender of the hatchlings will be determined by the temperature at which they incubate.
Young are independent from birth. Unlike many crocodiles they are not helped to the water by their mother. They emerge from their egg with the help of a sharp egg tooth which disappears after a few weeks.
Both sexes reach sexual maturity around 20 years old. This is tied to their length and occurs around 2.5-3m (8.2-9.8ft) long.
While underwater the false gharial is able to close its throat so they can breathe with their mouth closed. Typically they submerge for up to 15 minutes but they can remain submerged for up to 2 hours to avoid a threat.
Predators and Threats
Adult false gharials have no major predators which threaten them due to their large size. Eggs and hatchlings face predation from wild pigs and reptiles such as monitor lizards.
Humans present a number of threats to the survival of the false gharial. These include the loss and fragmentation of their habitat which can be for illegal logging, plantation development (ie. palm oil) or forest fires.
Currently palm oil is the largest driver of habitat loss in their range.
Other factors in their decline include drowning and capture in fishing gear, predation of eggs by introduced species such as the wild pig and capture of adults and their eggs for the illegal wildlife trade.
One small factor which assists them is that in parts of Indonesia and Malaysia they are released if caught accidentally as their is a local belief that harming them will bring bad luck or illness.
They are also known as the tomistoma which comes from their scientific name.
Sometimes this species is referred to as the false gavial which is believed to have come from a misspelling of gharial. Another name for this species is the Malaysian gharial.
The species name schlegelii honors German herpetologist Hermann Schlegel.
There is a continuing debate over the classification of the false gharial. Previously they were classed in the crocodile family but recent studies have indicated they may be more closely related to the gharial.
Top and Middle Two
By Junkyardsparkle – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31803490
By Fritz Geller-Grimm – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,
Bezuijen, M.R., Shwedick, B., Simpson, B.K., Staniewicz, A. & Stuebing, R. 2014. Tomistoma schlegelii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T21981A2780499. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2014-1.RLTS.T21981A2780499.en. Downloaded on 25 January 2021.
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Z, A., 2021. False Gharial | Paignton Zoo. [online] Paigntonzoo.org.uk. Available at: <https://www.paigntonzoo.org.uk/animals-plants/animals/details/tomistoma-false-gharial> [Accessed 25 January 2021].
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