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Gharial Fact File

Gavialis gangeticus

Credit: Public Domain

Weight

160kg

(350lbs)

Length

3.5-6m

(11.5-15ft)

Lifespan

Wild 29 years

Captive 29 years

Diet

Carnivores

Fish, Crustaceans

Conservation Status

IUCN

Critically Endangered

Swimming Towards Extinction!

The gharial is one of the most endangered crocodilians with a population which has fallen as low as 1000. These animals have suffered declines through hunting, habitat degradation and fragmentation (primarily through dam building) and capture in fishing gear. Intense conservation efforts have begun to reverse this trend.

They are carnivores which will use their snout to capture a range of fish, amphibians and crustaceans.

One of their most notable features is the large bulge on the end of the snout which is only seen in males. This is used to amplify their call during the breeding season as a means of impressing the females.

Females remain close by their nest to defend it against predators.

Read on to learn more about these radical reptiles.

Appearance

What does the Gharial look like?

They are most noticeable as a result of their elongated snout which in males develops a spherical growth on the tip. This is known as the “Ghara” (after an Indian word for “pot”). It is used as a way that they can amplify their vocalizations. On a still day their sounds can be heard up to 1km away. They have between 106 and 110 teeth.

Most of the gharials body is a light tan or olive colour with darker stripes running along the back.

Their legs are short and weak meaning they cannot walk well on land as these cannot lift them up.

The gharial is one of the largest crocodile species. Males grow to between 4-6m (13 and 15ft) while females are slightly shorter at 3.5-4m (11.5-13ft). On average they weigh 160kg (350lb).

Adaptations

How does the Gharial survive in its habitat?


At the tip of their snout the gharial has a large bulb like appendage which is used to amplify the vocalizations of the male.

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Diet

What does the Gharial eat?

Gharials are carnivorous animals. Most of the adult’s diet consists of fish, frogs and small crustaceans. An opportunistic gharial may also attack a small mammal. Food is swallowed whole.

Young gharials will also eat insects and tadpoles.

When hunting they can catch fish by herding them against the shore and using an underwater jaw clap to stun them. Food is swallowed whole.

They will also swallow small stones which are referred to as gastroliths which help to grind up their food. It is also believed that they have at times swallowed jewellery to use as a gastrolith and this began the rumours that they swallow humans.

Learn more about the Gharial in this video from Madras Crocodile Bank Trust on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Gharial?

Asia is the native home of the gharial. Here this species is found in Bangladesh; India and Nepal.

In Bhutan; Myanmar and Pakistan this species is considered to be extinct.

Habitat

Where can the Gharial survive?

Gharials are found in wetland habitats.

Most of their time is spent in the slow moving backwaters of rivers. They will only emerge from the water to nest or bask on the sandbank with a preference for finding a sandbar in the middle of a river.

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the Gharial produce its young?

Gharials will court one another during February.

Males will attract a mate by producing a buzzing noise through their “ghara.” They can also hiss and perform underwater jaw slaps. When a female is attracted to the male he will follow her around and finally she points her head at the sky. Following this they will begin mating which takes place underwater and may last up to 30 minutes.

Following a successful mating a nest will be dug in a riverside sand or silt bank during March or April. Into this approximately 60cm (24in) deep hole they will deposit 20-95 eggs. At 150g (5oz) the eggs are the largest of any crocodilian.

Incubation lasts 71-93 days with eggs hatching just before the rainy season. While not confirmed it is believed that sex is determined by the incubation temperature.

Once the eggs are laid the mum sticks around to defend them from pigs, jackals, lizards and mongooses. The mother digs up the hatchlings when they begin to chirp. She will not help them to the water but does guard them.

Hatchlings will spend the first few months of life in a creche. This is defended by a female and on occasion a single male.

Maturity occurs at between 7-10 years for females and 15-18 years for males. The “ghara” does not start to develop till 10 years old.

Behavior

What does the Gharial do during its day?

A large amount of their time is spent basking. During the winter they will bask more and are also more likely to do this on rocks. They will often gape which is where they sit with their mouth open. When on land they must drag themselves along.

When travelling through the water they are propelled by their tail and their limbs are folded against their body.

Males will maintain a territory with several females in it. It is rare for them to be aggressive to each other outside of the breeding season.

They can make a range of vocalizations including a hiss, buzz, jaw slap, groans and bawling.

Gharials are preyed upon mostly by humans. Their eggs may be taken by rats, golden jackals, wild pigs, mongooses and monitor lizards.

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What stops the Gharial from surviving and thriving?

Adult Gharials are preyed upon by humans. Their eggs may be taken by rats, golden jackals, wild pigs, mongooses and monitor lizards.

Gharial populations are now increasing again following a decline which brought their population to less than 1,000 individuals.

A number of threats to the population contributed to these significant declines. These included the building of dams and barrages along the watercourses they inhabit. This has contributed to the fragmentation and destruction of their habitat.

They have been subject to entanglement in fishing gear.

The introduction of fish such as tilapia to their water courses may reduce availability of their preferred food source and it is still unclear if tilapia are a suitable food source for the gharial.

Small amounts of eggs are taken for use as food or in traditional medicines.

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Quick facts

Gharial are also referred to as a gavial (caused by a mis-reading when first encountered by Europeans), fish-eating and long-nosed crocodiles.

Fossils of the gharial have been found in South America, Europe and Africa just the one gharial population exists today.

References

Lang, J, Chowfin, S. & Ross, J.P. 2019. Gavialis gangeticus (errata version published in 2019). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T8966A149227430. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T8966A149227430.en. Accessed on 23 April 2022.

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