For a long time, scientists thought that the False Gharial had a similar diet to that of its other crocodile relatives, made up of mostly fish and small vertebrates. But it turns out that it may be snacking on a much diverse array of foods.
Where the hell has August gone?
The False Gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii) is a freshwater crocodilian that can be found in southeastern Asia, specifically in Borneo, Malaysia, Sumatra and Sarawak. They were once found in Thailand, but they have been extirpated in that country. An agricultural and industrial boom in this region in the 1950s reduced the False Gharial's original range by about 40%.
False Gharials are distinguished by their long, narrow snout, the length of which is generally 3 to 3.5 times its width at the base. Adult males average about 13 feet (3.9 meters) and can weigh up to 460 pounds (210 kg). Females are slightly smaller at 10.7 feet (3.3 meters) and 205 pounds (93 kg). Their teeth are sharp and narrow, and interlock when the False Gharial closes its mouth.
This crocodilian has not been widely studied, so little is known about its behavior in the wild. Until recently, False Gharials were thought to have diets similar to its close relative, the Indian Gharial, which sticks to fish and small vertebrates. But research has shown that it is more of a generalist, preying on anything it might be large enough to consume safely. This includes larger vertebrates like primates, deer, other reptiles, and birds. Only one confirmed fatal attack by the False Gharial on a human is currently on record. There is another suspected fatality but it has not been confirmed.
The mating habits and breeding season (if any) of False Gharials is currently unknown, though it is known that the gravid females construct nesting mounds on the shore close to the river. The clutches are relatively small - only 13 to 35 eggs, but those eggs are some of the largest of any extant crocodilian species. Unlike other crocodilians, once the female has constructed her nest and laid her clutch, her part is done. She does not guard the nest or oversee the hatching of her eggs, which means that the hatchlings are extra vulnerable to predation. The gestation period is 90 days.
False Gharials are considered to be endangered by the IUCN, as the current estimate of mature individuals is less than 2,500. They are mainly threatened by habitat destruction, but they were also hunted extensively during the same time period when agricultural and industrial development reduced its range almost by half. They also lose some of their food sources to fishing, and are poisoned or killed by fishermen. Research is currently underway to determine the best course of action to preserve this species, but as of now most of its range falls within protected areas.