There are 24 species of crocodiles around the world, but the gharial definitely looks different to the others. He also has more teeth than any other species of crocodile. He has approximately 50 on his upper jaw along both sides, and approximately 52 on his lower jaw, giving him a total of more than a hundred teeth!
- Modern-day dinosaur
The gharial looks more like an ancient aquatic dinosaur than a modern-day crocodile. He has a long, thin snout with a bulbous piece of skin on the tip of his nose. The average size of him can range from three to five metres, but sometimes, he can grow as large as six metres in length. This is the size of an average adult man. His thin snout isn’t equipped for capturing large prey, so his diet consists of mainly freshwater fish.
His scientific name is gavialis gangenticus and sometimes he is referred to as a ‘gavial’ – which was actually a misspelling of the Hindu word ‘gharial’. He is mainly found in the freshwater rivers of northern India. His massive size means that he is not suited to move on land, so he only leaves the water to nest or bask.
Gharials can’t walk well on land. This is because of their weak leg muscles. When they do move on land, they push their bodies across the sand by sliding their bellies. This is known as ‘belly-sliding’.
4. The Asian crocodile
The gharial is found in India and Nepal, making it an Asian crocodilian, like his neighbour – the mugger or marsh crocodile. He used to span across the whole northern Indian sub-continent before the 1900s, but the loss of habitat and hunting of the gharial, have resulted in the animal becoming extinct in most parts of India.
5. Spot the difference!
They are the only species of crocodiles where the differences between the males and females are obvious. The scientific word for this is called sexual dimorphism. You can tell the difference between a male and a female by looking at the tip of the snout. Males have a large and rounded piece of skin on the edge of their snouts. Males are also larger than females.
6. A Hindu pot
The growth on his nose is called a ‘ghara’. This means ‘mud pot’ in Hindi, and it was named this because of its swollen and rounded shape, which resembles mud pots. The ghara is used in mating rituals when males want to attract a mate. They use this piece of cartilage to blow bubbles and make loud hissing or buzzing sounds to try and attract female gharials. This noise can be accompanied by jaw-slapping, which is when the crocodile quickly snaps its jaws together in a show of power.
7. Critically endangered
Their numbers have sadly been decreasing and the population has dropped by almost 98% since the 1950s. Gharials are hunted and used in traditional medicine. The construction of dams has manipulated the current flow of certain rivers and has caused their habitats to dry up. Because they can’t walk well on land, gharials aren’t able to migrate to deeper waters and die out as a result. This has resulted in the gharial becoming critically endangered.
8. Sensitive nose
The gharial doesn’t lunge at his prey like other crocodiles. He has a sensory cell on the tip of his snout that allows him to pick up vibrations in the water. By moving his head from side to side, the gharial can detect the location of his prey. Once he’s zeroed in on his prey, he captures it in his jaws – a cage of more than a hundred teeth that no prey can easily escape.
9. Don’t sweat it
Crocodiles don’t sweat. This is because reptiles are cold-blooded and can’t maintain a constant internal body temperature. So, the gharial, like all reptiles, has to maintain his temperature externally. He does this by moving into the sun when he gets too cold, and moving into the shade or a patch of cool water, when he gets too hot. He prefers a body temperature of 30-33°C, which is only a few degrees cooler than our own internal temperature of 36°C.
10. Catching flies
Another way that the gharial regulates his temperature is by opening his mouth. This is called evaporative cooling and he does this to cool down his body, while basking in the sun.