It's been a while since our last installment of Sunday Crocodilian, and I've missed writing these up. Such is the nature of traveling and being kept busy.
The Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is one of the longest living crocodilians and also has the narrowest snout among other extant species. They were once found all throughout India, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and Bhutan, but a severe population decline has isolated the wild members of the species to small groups in India and Nepal. For this reason it is also known as the Indian Gharial. They are probably the most aquatic of all crocodilians as well, and do not move well on land.
Gharials have extremely long, narrow snouts with small, sharp teeth. This is an adaptation that allows them to be excellent underwater hunters, able to swing their jaws quickly through the water to snatch fish. This adaptation also limits them to that diet, however, and they generally do not prey on non-aquatic life, sticking mostly to fish and crustaceans. Male Gharials are distinguished by the bulbous growth on the ends of their snouts, which resembles an Indian pot called a ghara, which is how the common name was derived. Gharas only appear on mature males of about 13 years of age.
Mature adult Gharials average about 15 feet (4.5 meters) in total body length, although the longest recorded specimen was measured at 20.5 feet (6.25 meters). They will weigh about 550 pounds (250 kg), with mature females growing up to around 12 feet (3.75 meters) in length. Their tails are long and flat, and their rear feet are webbed, which allows them to move agilely through the water. On land they lose much of the mobility they enjoy in the water, though, only able to pull themselves forward with their legs and sliding on their bellies. They are not capable of performing the high-step walks of other crocodilians.
Female Gharials do not attain sexual maturity until they are 10 years old, and they are grouped in harems that are guarded by large males. They signal their readiness to mate by holding their snouts into the air, and the mating season usually occurs in December and January. Gravid females will haul themselves onto land to dig nesting holes, into which they will lay their clutches of about 40 eggs. The incubation period is about 70 days, during which the female will guard her nest from predators. She'll hear her hatchlings cry under the sand and dig them out, though she doesn't carry them in her mouth like other crocodilians. The hatchlings will stay with her for the first weeks or months of their lives.
Gharials nearly became extinct during the 1970s. Within the space of three human generations, from the beginning of the 1900s on, Gharials experienced a 96% population decline, going from about 10,000 wild individuals to only about 235. They are still currently under threat from hunting and habitat degradation, which have both kept this recovering species on the brink of extinction. Initiatives are underway to further protect Gharial habitats, and educate the public about the need for conservation. Captive breeding programs will not be enough to save them.