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).
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.
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. They have between 106 and 110 teeth.
Gharials are carnivorous animals. Most of the adult’s diet consists of fish, frogs and small crustaceans. Young gharials will also eat insects and tadpoles. An opportunistic gharial may also attack a small mammal. 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 jewelry to use as a gastrolith and this began the rumors that they swallow humans.
Male 4-6m (13-15ft)
Gharials are found throughout India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Burma. In Burma and Bhutan it is possible they are already extinct.
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.
Gharials mate from December to January. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Downloaded on 26 April 2020.