40 Interesting Gharial Facts That You May Not Know

Updated on August 16, 2018
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about animals and plants.

A female gharial in India
A female gharial in India | Source

An Interesting and Endangered Reptile

The gharial is a reptile in the crocodile order that has some strange features compared to its relatives. Its jaws are very long and very slender. In addition, the mature male has a large, bulbous, and hollow protuberance at the end of his snout. This structure is called a ghara or gharal.

The gharial is native to northern India and Nepal and lives in and around rivers. Unfortunately, it's critically endangered. This article describes forty facts about the animal that you may not know.

Gharials belong to the class Reptilia and the order Crocodilia. They are classified in the family Gavialidae within the order Crocodilia. The scientific name of the gharial is Gavialis gangeticus.

A male gharial at the San Diego Zoo
A male gharial at the San Diego Zoo | Source

External Features

1. The first features of the gharial that many people notice are the elongated and impressive jaws and the numerous teeth.

2. The animal is one of the largest crocodilians, or member of the order Crocodilia. Though its body is large, its head is comparatively small. The head bears bulging eyes.

3. The color of the animals varies considerably. Individuals may be grey, light tan, pale olive, dark olive, or black. An animal may have darker bands on its back and tail, especially when it's young. Its undersurface is generally lighter than its back and sides.

4. As in all reptiles, the surface of the body is covered by scales of various shapes and sizes. Reptile scales are made of keratin, a protein found in our skin and hair. Some also contain small blocks of bone, which often gives them a raised appearance. Gharial scales generally tend to be smoother than those of other crocodilians, however.

5. The mouth contain rows of small and very sharp teeth. Though the animal looks fierce, especially when its mouth is open, it's not dangerous to humans unless it's threatened. A gharial has a little over a hundred teeth.

6. The gharial has weak legs compared to other crocodilians. When it's on land, the adult is unable to lift its belly up and has to drag itself over the ground.

7. The feet are webbed and the tail is flattened laterally. These features help the animal to move through water.

In 2018, a group of U.S. researchers demonstrated that crocodilians—including the gharial—gradually lighten or darken in color as the light intensity in the environment changes. The researchers found that the process takes sixty to ninety minutes.

Male and Female Characteristics

8. The words gharial, ghara, and gharal arise from the northern Indian name for a round, earthenware pot with a long neck. The pot is known as a ghara.

9. Male gharials develop their ghara when they are around ten years old.

10. The difference in appearance between the male and the female of a species is known as sexual dimorphism. Gharials are the only member of the crocodile order in which the sexes differ in a feature other than size.

11. Mature females are about eleven to fifteen feet in length. Mature males are around sixteen to twenty feet long.

12. Like its color, the animal's weight varies considerably. Many individuals weigh between 350 and 400 pounds, but large males may reach as much as 1500 pounds. Reportedly, they are sometimes even heavier.

A male gharial in India
A male gharial in India | Source

Daily Life

13. Gharials live in rivers, on riverbanks, and on sandbars in the middle of the water. They come on land to bask in sunlight and to build their nests. They are occasionally seen resting on land at night and also rest in the water.

14. The animals often hold their mouths open while basking in the sun, a behavior known as gaping.

15. While gaping can be a sign of aggression, it's often used to keep the head area cool while the rest of the body warms up. Unlike us, reptiles must regulate their temperature by their behavior instead of by internal processes.

16. The main component of the adult's diet is fish. The narrow head reduces resistance in the water compared to the effect of a wider one. The shape enables the gharial to quickly move its head from side to side so that it can grab any fish in its surroundings. The animal is an agile swimmer.

17. The animals are often seen in and around fast-flowing rivers. They prefer to fish in deep areas where the current is weaker, though they are also seen waiting for prey near the water surface. Immature animals are found in rivers and streams that flow more gently.

18. The teeth interlock as the gharial closes its mouth, preventing its prey from escaping.

Both gharials and crocodiles can be seen in the video above. The crocodile species found in and around the Chambal River is the mugger crocodile, sometimes called simply the mugger. Its scientific name is Crocodylus palustris.

Courtship

19. Like the males, the females become reproductively mature when they are about ten years old.

20. The lifespan of wild gharials isn't known for certain but is thought to be between forty and sixty years.

21. A male collects a harem of females during the reproductive season (November to January) and defends them from other males.

22. The ghara partially covers the nostrils of the male and acts as a sound resonator. It enables the male to produce a buzzing call, which may help him to attract a female. It also enables him to blow bubbles in the water, perhaps as another form of attraction. In addition, it provides an obvious visual indication that the animal is a male.

23. Fertilization is internal. After mating, the eggs are retained in the female's body for several weeks before being laid.

Eggs and Youngsters

24. A female digs a nest on land during the dry season (March and April). She generally lays around forty eggs, though some females lay more. The eggs are often laid at night and are close to the nests of other gharials.

25. The eggs hatch sixty to eighty days after being laid.

26. As in other crocodiles, gender of the offspring is controlled by temperature during incubation. Lower incubation temperatures cause the production of females and higher ones cause the production of males.

27. The mother stays close to the eggs as they incubate in order to protect them from predators.

28. When the eggs are ready to hatch, the youngsters call from within them. Their mother then digs the nest open so that the youngsters can escape. Unlike the case in other crocodiles, the mother doesn't carry the youngsters in her mouth.

29. Researchers have found that along the Chambal River in India, hatchlings from different broods gather in one area. Here multiple mothers take turns in protecting the youngsters. If danger appears, the father may enter and protect the group.

30. A single male is sometimes seen surrounded by numerous youngsters even when no danger is apparent. The degree of parental care in the species has surprised researchers.

31. Young gharials feed on invertebrates and frogs instead of fish. Their snout becomes proportionally longer as they grow and mature.

Historically, the gharial's range spanned rivers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. Today, only fragmented populations remain in Nepan and northern India.

— Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Population Status

32. The Red List of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) classifies gharials as critically endangered. It says that fewer than 250 mature individuals exist. The organization's population assessment was done in 2007 and badly needs to be updated, however.

33. A 2018 report based on other surveys says that 650 to 700 mature animals exist. This is certainly better than the IUCN's estimate but still indicates that the animals are in trouble.

34. The main threats to the gharial population are loss of habitat and drowning after being trapped in fishing nets.

35. Rivers in the animal's habitat are being dammed or diverted for human purposes, such as for irrigation. Unlike the case in most other crocodilians, it's difficult for gharials to move over land to find a new habitat when they lose their current one.

36. Local people in need of food are encroaching on the animal's habitat. Crops are being planted on the edge of rivers and livestock is bring herded over the area in order to reach the river for water to drink. In addition, sand and gravel are being mined for concrete production.

A captive animal
A captive animal | Source

Research and Conservation

37. In late 2007 and early 2008, there was a die-off of over a hundred gharials along the Chambal River. The cause of the deaths was never discovered but might have been the illegal dumping of a toxin.

38. Though the die-off was sad, it triggered an international team of biologists and veterinarians to study the animals. The study increased our knowledge of the animals' behavior.

39. New aspects of gharial behavior are still being discovered by researchers. Some animals have been radio tagged and are being tracked.

40. Gharials are being bred in captivity in India and Nepal and then released into the wild. The fate of the wild animals is being publicized and local people are being encouraged to help them or at least not to harm them.

Gharials and Humans

The competition between wildlife and humans is a common one in many parts of the world. Humans are destroying or modifying natural areas for their own purposes and wildlife is often the loser. Thought this situation is affecting gharials, there is hope for their population. An increasing number of researchers seem to be investigating the animals and their plight. In addition, in some areas authorities who have the power to influence the fate of the animals seem to be becoming more involved in the effort to save them. I hope to efforts the save the species are successful.

References

Gharial facts from the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute

Information about gharials from Wildscreen Arkive

Crocodilians alter skin color in response to environmental changes from the Nature journal

Status of Gavialis gangeticus from the IUCN Red List

The last of the gharials from Discover magazine

Information about gharial conservation from Reptiles magazine

Questions & Answers

  • Are gharials hunted for their hides like crocodiles and alligators?

    Hunting gharials for their hide isn’t considered to be a significant threat to the species today. Loss of habitat is having a far more serious effect on the animals. In the past, however—perhaps until around 2007 or 2008—the animals were hunted for both their skin and their meat. The male was also hunted for his ghara, which was thought to have medicinal benefits.

© 2018 Linda Crampton

Comments

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    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and comment, Devika.

    • profile image

      DDE 

      3 months ago

      An interesting comparison as usual humans don't think much of nature. Information always useful.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Natalie. Thanks for the visit. No, gharials aren’t as aggressive as crocodiles. As I’ve mentioned, they don’t attack people unless they are threatened. It’s interesting that the male is sometimes seen alone with multiple youngsters. I don’t know whether researchers have investigated whether the youngsters in his group were produced by the females in his harem. The fact that such a small number of adults exist despite the number of eggs that are laid and the degree of parental care that’s been observed in the species definitely needs to be investigated. I hope researchers discover more information soon.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 

      3 months ago from Chicago, IL

      I've never heard of this animal before. Thanks for the education. Are these animals as aggressive as crocodiles? I found the information about the way they parent interesting. It seems that while the males compete for the females and make sure no other male gets near their "harem," that they also take care of whatever offspring are nearby regardless of parentage. With 40 or more babies born each mating season from each female (or whatever the average number of females reproduce on on average each season), it is difficult to consider how many must be being killed each year.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      What a great dream, Larry! It would be wonderful to travel around the world to observe crocodiles. Thank you for the comment.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 months ago from Oklahoma

      I loooove crocodiles!!!!!!! From the prehistoric Giants that are gone now to the tiniest of the species, I'm just fascinated by them.

      It's one of my dreams to see all the remaining species of crocodile in their natural habitats. Still have yet to see one:-/ Maybe someday.

      Anyway, this was just awesome!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I hope you hear good news, Suhail. Let me know if you do.

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      3 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      Hi Linda,

      I will check out whether they have a plan to reintroduce it in Pakistan.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Bede. There are some unfortunate aspects of the animal's life. I hope things improve for the species.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Flourish. I find the parenting aspect of the animal's life especially interesting, too. Perhaps the gharial has some other unexpected features for us to discover!

    • Bede le Venerable profile image

      Bede 

      3 months ago from Minnesota

      Linda, you discover such interesting creatures. Let’s hope that the Indian government can find a suitable refuge for them. The female lays so many eggs; it’s unfortunate that so few survive into adulthood.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 months ago from USA

      I've never previously heard of this animal and thoroughly enjoyed this article, particularly the parenting portion. I sincerely hope that the popular numbers see an uptick and can find the environmental protection they deserve.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, Larry.

    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 

      3 months ago from North Carolina

      I had never heard of the Gharial until now. Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and the pin, Peggy. Gharials certainly have some interesting and unusual characteristics.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I was unfamiliar with this species. Gharials certainly do look scary with all of those teeth. I hope that their species is able to survive. That is interesting that the youngsters make noises inside of their eggs when they are ready to hatch and that the parent then digs them up from their nest. You always write such interesting and informative articles! Pinning this to my animals' board.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Heidi. Yes, the animal does have a prehistorical look. Your experience with the alligator was interesting. I hope your weekend is very enjoyable.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Bill. It is unfortunate that gharials are endangered. I hope the efforts to save them are successful.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      3 months ago from Chicago Area

      What a fascinating creature... and once that definitely looks like it stepped out of prehistory!

      I once held a small alligator and was surprised a how soft their undersides are. Crocs, alligators and the like look so tough, but they are vulnerable just like we are, and need our care. Glad to see there are conservation efforts are underway for this one.

      As always, love the education. Have a great weekend!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      3 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. What an interesting creature. I had seen photos before of the gharial but was not familiar with the name. It’s very unfortunate that they are endangered but hopefully the necessary steps are being taken to help the species recover.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Penny. I hope they make a comeback, too. It would be such a shame to lose them from the Earth.

    • Penny Sebring profile image

      Penny Sebring 

      3 months ago from Fort Collins

      Very interesting and unusual reptiles. I hope they make a comeback!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Dora. Yes, they can be huge. They are impressive creatures. Thanks for the visit.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 months ago from The Caribbean

      Never met this kind of crocodile before. Thanks for the facts. No wonder, they're so huge; they live as long as some of us do.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Liz. I think they're very interesting animals.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 months ago from UK

      This is a fascinating hub. I had never heard of gharials before I read up about them here.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Suhail. It's sad that the animals have disappeared from so much of their former range. I wish that not only had you found them but that people living in Pakistan today could see them. I hope their population doesn't continue to decrease,

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 

      3 months ago from Mississauga, ON

      When I was growing up in Northwest Pakistan in a city called Nowshera by Kabul river, I was so fascinated by Gharials that I used to hike along the river for long stretches trying to find them. I always dreamed to pedal a boat to a huge island in the middle of Kabul river where I thought I could find them.

      Little did I know that they were extirpated from Pakistan long time ago.

      Regards,

      Suhail

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the information, Manatita.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 months ago from london

      Yes. Nepal is full of fauna and vegetation, stupors and temples, waterfalls and caves ..

      Mountains and nation parks as well as white water rafting. Go outside Kathmandu as it is crowded and like most cities, somewhat polluted.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Nepal and India would be interesting places to visit.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 months ago from london

      Two great minds thinking alike. Lol.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Manatita. It's interesting that you've mentioned the national park in Nepal. I almost put a video of the gharial breeding facility in the park in this article but decided that I had included enough videos. Thanks for the visit.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      3 months ago from london

      A lot here. I think that I have see the Nepalese ones in Chitvan Natjonal Park. In the river and on the banks, just before entering. Interesting species.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, PageBeard. Thank you for the comment.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Bill. As always, I appreciate your visit and your comment very much.

    • PageBeard profile image

      PageBeard 

      3 months ago from Always Moving

      Nice article Linda, I enjoyed this one.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Forty plus one: I didn't know what a Gharial was. :) Always an education, Linda! Thank you!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit, Pamela. I'm glad to see that researchers are studying the animal, too. There's a lot that we still need to discover about the gharial.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      3 months ago from Sunny Florida

      The gharials are certainly scary looking, but I don't want any animal to become extinct. They are interesting, and all 40 facts were new to me as I never heard of these species before. I was glad to see researchers looking for answers.

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