Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gharial

Gavialis gangeticus
Meet the Gharial, one of the most interesting looking extant members of the Crocodile order. If you take a glance at the body, all seems normal. But the head? Gharials have incredibly narrow snouts, and the males have large bulbous appendages at the ends of theirs. The species actually gets its common name from that round appendage-- "Ghara" is an Indian word for a pot. It is believed that the males use the ends of their snouts for mating or for communication purposes.

Gharials have a range that extends across the Indian Subcontinent, and they are usually hanging about in the calmer areas or large rivers. Because their legs are so weak they seldom come on land-- only doing so to build nests or to bask.

It should come as no surprise then to hear that Gharials primarily eat fish. Their long snouts are excellent for fast, underwater lateral snatches, and their pointy teeth let them hold on with ease.

When it comes to breeding habits, the significantly smaller female Gharials live in harems that are watched over by an individual male. Mating takes place in December and January, and the eggs are laid in nests dug on shore a few months later. As will many Crocodiles, the female Gharials will help their new hatchlings crawl toward water, and will watch over them for several months.

Unfortunately, the odd looking Gharial is in a lot of trouble. They are listed as Critically Endangered, and are one of the most threatened Crocodilians out there. They nearly went extinct in the 1970s due to hunting and habitat degradation, but captive breeding and wild release programs have kept them going.. but barely.

IUCN Status : Critically Endangered
Location : South Asia
Size : Length up to 20ft (6m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Crocodilia
Family : Gavialidae -- Genus : Gavialis -- Species : G. gangeticus

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