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Gharial

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Gharial

Conservation status

Critically endangered (IUCN)


Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Sauropsida
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Gavialidae
Genus: Gavialis
Species: G. gangeticus
Binomial name
Gavialis gangeticus
(Gmelin, 1789)

The gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), sometimes called the Indian gharial or gavial, is one
of two surviving members of the family Gavialidae, a long-established group of
crocodile-like reptiles with long, narrow jaws. The gharial is the second-longest of all
living crocodilians: a large male can approach 6 meters in length.[1]

Contents
[hide]
• 1 Ancestry
• 2 Distribution
• 3 Habitat
• 4 Appearance
• 5 Diet
o 5.1 Danger to humans
• 6 Breeding
• 7 Conservation
• 8 Taxonomy
o 8.1 Classification
• 9 Appearances in Popular Culture
• 10 References
• 11 See also

• 12 External links

[edit] Ancestry
The fossil history of the Gavialoidea is quite well known, with the earliest examples
diverging from the other crocodilians in the late Cretaceous. The most distinctive feature
of the group is the very long, narrow snout, which is an adaptation to a diet of small fish.
Although gharials have sacrificed the great mechanical strength of the robust skull and
jaw that most crocodiles and alligators have, and in consequence cannot prey on large
creatures, the reduced weight and water resistance of their lighter skull and very narrow
jaw gives gharials the ability to catch rapidly moving fish, using a side-to-side snapping
motion.

The earliest Gavialoidea may or may not have been related to the modern types: some
died out at the same time as the dinosaurs (at the end of the Cretaceous), others survived
until the early Eocene (about 35 million years ago). The modern forms appeared at much
the same time, evolving in the estuaries and coastal waters of Africa, but crossing the
Atlantic to reach South America as well. At their peak, the Gavialoidea were numerous
and diverse, they occupied much of Asia and America up until the Pliocene. One species,
Rhamphosuchus crassidens of India, are believed to have grown to an enormous 15
metres or more.

[edit] Distribution
Gharial Distribution

Northern Indian subcontinent: Bhutan (almost extinct), Bangladesh (close to extinction),


India (present in small numbers and increasing), Myanmar (possibly extinct), Nepal,
Pakistan (close to extinction). Usually found in the river systems of Indus (Pakistan) and
the Brahmaputra (Bangladesh, Bhutan & North eastern India), the Ganges (Bangladesh,
India & Nepal), and the Mahanadi (in the rainforest biome)(India), with small numbers in
Kaladan and the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar. It is sympatric, in respective areas, with
the Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) and the Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus
porosus).

[edit] Habitat
Riverine - most adapted to the calmer areas in the deep fast moving rivers. The physical
attributes of the gharial do not make it very suited for moving about on land. In fact the
only reasons the gharial leaves the water is either to bask in the sun or to nest on the
sandbanks of the rivers.

[edit] Appearance

Side Shot

Characteristic elongated, narrow snout, similar only to the closely related False gharial,
(Tomistoma schlegelii). The snout shape varies with the age of the saurian. The snout
becomes progressively thinner the older the gharial gets. The bulbous growth on the tip
of the male's snout is called a 'ghara' (after the Indian word meaning 'pot'), present in
mature individuals. the bulbous growth is used for various activities, it is used to generate
a resonant hum during vocalization, it acts as a visual lure for attracting females and it is
also used to make bubbles which have been associated with the mating rituals of the
species.
Male Gharial at the San Diego Zoo

Close-up of the male's ghara.

The elongated jaws are lined with many interlocking, razor-sharp teeth - an adaptation to
the diet (predominantly fish in adults). This species is one of the largest of all crocodilian
species, approaching the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) and the Nile crocodile
in maximum size - males reach at least 5 metres in length, and often approach 6 metres.
Reports of 7 metre animals exist, but are unconfirmed. The leg musculature of the gharial
is not suited to enable the animal to raise the body off the ground (on land) in order to
achieve the high-walk gait - being able only to push its body forward across the ground
('belly-sliding'), although it can do this with some speed when required. However, when
in water, the gharial is the most nimble and quick of all the crocodiles in the world. The
tail seems overdeveloped and is laterally flattened, more so than other crocodiles, this
enables it to achieve the excellent water locomotive abilities.

The gharial has 27 to 29 upper and 25 or 26 lower teeth on each side, the teeth to the
front are the largest, laterals subequal, not received into interdental pits; the first, second,
and third mandibular teeth fit into notches in the upper jaw. Snout extremely narrow and
elongate, dilated at the end; nasal bones comparatively short, widely separated from the
pre-maxillaries; nasal opening smaller than the supra-temporal fossae; lower anterior
margin of orbit (jugal) raised. Mandibular symphysis extremely long, extending to the
23rd or 24th tooth, comprising the splenial bones. A dorsal shield formed of four
longitudinal series of juxtaposed, keeled, bony scutes.[2]

The length of the snout is 3.5 (in adults) to 5.5 times (in young) as it the breadth at the
base. Nuchal and dorsal scutes forming a single continuous shield, composed of 21 or 22
transverse series; an outer row of soft, smooth or feebly-keeled scutes in addition to the
bony dorsal scutes; two small post-occipital scutes. Median fingers one-third, outer toes
two-thirds webbed. A strong crest on the outer edge of the forearm, leg, and foot. Adult
dark olive above; young pale olive, with dark brown spots or cross-bands.[2]
[edit] Diet
Young gharials eat insects, larvae, and small frogs. Mature adults feed almost solely on
fish, although some individuals have been known to scavenge dead animals. Their snout
morphology is ideally suited for piscivory; their long, narrow snouts afford very little
resistance to water in swiping motions to snap up fish in the water. Their numerous
needle-like teeth are perfect for holding on to struggling, slippery fish.

[edit] Danger to humans

The Gharial is not a man-eater. Despite its immense size, its thin, fragile jaws make it
physically incapable of devouring any large animal, including a human being. The myth
that gharials eat humans may come partly from their similar appearance to Crocodiles
and because jewelry has been found in their stomachs. However, the gharial may have
swallowed this jewelry while scavenging corpses or as gastroliths used to aid digestion or
buoyancy management.

[edit] Breeding
The mating season is during November through December and well into January. The
nesting and laying of eggs takes place in the dry season of March, April, and May. This is
because during the dry season the rivers shrink a bit and the sandy river banks are
available for nesting. Between 30 and 50 eggs are deposited into the hole that the female
digs up before it is covered over carefully. After about 90 days, the juveniles emerge,
although there is no record of the female assisting the juveniles into the water after they
hatch (probably because their jaws are not suited for carrying the young due to the needle
like teeth).However the mother does protect the young in the water for a few days till
they learn to fend for themselves.

[edit] Conservation
In the 1970s the gharial came to the brink of extinction and even now remains on the
critically endangered list. The conservation efforts of the environmentalists in
cooperation with several governments has led to some reduction in the threat of
extinction. Some hope lies with the conservation and management programs in place as
of 2004. Full protection was granted in the 1970s in the hope of reducing poaching
losses, although these measures were slow to be implemented at first. Now there are 9
protected areas for this species in India which are linked to both captive breeding and
'ranching' operations where eggs collected from the wild are raised in captivity (to reduce
mortality due to natural predators) and then released back into the wild (the first being
released in 1981). More than 3000 animals have been released through these programs,
and the wild population in India is estimated at around 1500 animals - with perhaps
between one and two hundred animals in the remainder of its range.
Recently this species has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered on the 2007
Red List of endangered species of animals and plants issued by the World Conservation
Union, and qualifies for protection under the CITES (Convention on International Trade
of Endangered Species) Appendix II.[3][4]

[edit] Taxonomy