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The Gharial

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The Gharial

Leigha VanDyke

Grand Canyon University: BIO Lab 182

March 11, 2016


The gharial is a crocodilian located in Southern Asia that has been in critical endangerment since 1970. Since then, there have been many conservation attempts to keep the gharials from extinction. The gharial is recognized and known for its elongated nose and a growth that is located on the end of its snout. They are one of the largest known crocodiles on earth. Gharials primarily reside in deep, fast-moving rivers along sand banks and bends.

All animals have purpose on this earth and it is the human race’s job to help keep them alive. However, many humans are the root cause for the endangerment of different species. The gharial crocodile is a great example of a beautiful animal becoming closer to extinction because of human destruction. Gharials have had low population numbers since the 1970s and even though the number has gone up some, the gharials still struggle to survive and thrive. This research paper examines the gharial and all the details of its life. The topics that will be covered are their physical description, habitat, individual and social behavior, reproduction and young, reason for endangerment, and conservation attempts.  


The Gavialis gangeticus, or gharial, is one of the largest crocodiles at 20 feet. It comes in a close second behind the Australian saltwater crocodile at 23 feet; however, seeing a gharial at 23 feet is not unheard of. Though they are beautiful creatures, gharials are not what one might picture when thinking about a crocodile. They are known for their long, thin snouts that have little similarity with the crocodiles of the other species. The other crocodilian family species have larger and broader jaws because of the larger mammals they eat while gharial mouths are thinner because of their strict fish diet. Their jaws are lined with around 110 interlocking teeth made so that their prey, fish, are not able to wiggle their way out of the gharial’s mouth. Not only are their jaws different shapes but a gharial also has a bulb like growth on the end of its snout. This bulb, or “Ghara” after the Hindi word for “pot” (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, n.a.), grows larger as they mature in age and allows the gharials to communicate with others through buzzing or vibration type noises. It is also used for reproductive purposes as a visual attraction to females. Another difference between the average crocodile and the gharial is how they are able to move on land and in water. Because of the gharials short legs, they are not able to raise themselves off of the ground and therefore end up dragging themselves making the gharial not very efficient on land. In the water however, they are very agile and can swim with ease due to their perfectly equipped webbed back feet and long, slender tail which is very helpful for their type of environment.


Deep, clear, fast-moving rivers surrounded by sandy banks and bends are where the gharials make their home. Some juvenile gharials may find and occupy quieter backwaters and streams so that they may practice swimming and catching prey (Bouchard, 2009) but the mature adults prefer the faster currents. The main rivers in which they mainly reside are in the southern Asian countries of India, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. The Ganges River in northern India accommodates the majority of the gharials. The Girwa and Chambal rivers in India and the Narayani River in Nepal also house them, but there are not as many. Their aquatic lifestyles leave them mainly residing in the water unless they are basking or nesting (Bouchard, 2009). Having steep sandy banks are essential when laying eggs because the sand helps keep the eggs from getting too cold and also protects them from predators such as mongoose, rats, and jackals, and humans.

Individual Behavior

Not only is the sand good for nesting but is also necessary for the gharials basking rituals. When the weather is colder, the gharials like to bask, or to lay out, in the sunshine. They are cold blooded so it is important for them to keep warm. When it is too hot, gharials do what is called “gaping” which helps cool them down so they do not overheat. This act requires them to keep their mouth open slightly so that the hot air from inside their bodies will escape keeping them cool. Gaping is usually done in increments of 10-20 minutes each (Bouchard, 2009). After this time is up, they go back in the water. Gharials also like to lay in the water with just their eyes and nose out when it is warmer.

Social Behavior

Though gharials are usually seen in big groups when basking, they are primarily solitary animals (Gharial Conservation Alliance, n.a.). They are shy creatures and do not fight amongst each other unless it is during mating season or when female gharials are protecting their nests from those who try to hurt her young. Some older gharials will fight off mugger crocodiles to protect their basking spots. However, this only happens when their territories overlap (Gharial Conservation Alliance, n.a.) which is not very often. Gharials tend to shy away from anything other than its own kind or its prey. They have teeth and snouts that were made only for eating fish and so they will not attack humans. When humans go near them, gharials will usually swim away. The only time they might hurt a person is if a female is protecting her young while she is nesting. Attacks are never because of hunger for humans but as protection for themselves.


As stated before, the bulb (ghara) at the end of the gharial’s nose is used in attracting females when it comes time to finding a mate. By making buzzing sounds, they call the females to their area. The males start growing the gharas at the age of 13 when they reach maturity. The size of the bulb matters in attraction: the larger the bulb, the more mature the gharial which is more appealing to females. The courtship of two gharials occurs in December and mating occurs during January and February. Males protect their territory from other males and they usually will have many females alongside them. Both the males and females will follow each other around for a couple of weeks until they have chosen their mate. When a female has decided, she will raise her snout in the air and they will then begin their ritual. While mating, the couple will submerge themselves underwater for thirty minutes (Gharial Conservation Alliance, n.a.).



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