Gharial

From Academic Kids

Gharial
Conservation status: Endangered

Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Reptilia
Order:Crocodylia
Family:Gavialidae
Genus:Gavialis
Species:gangeticus
Binomial name
Gavialis gangeticus
(Gmelin, 1789)
Contents

Taxonomy

The Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is the only surviving member of the family Gavialidae, a long-established group of crocodile-like reptiles with long, narrow jaws. The Gharial (sometimes Indian Gharial, or Gavial) is the second-largest of all surviving crocodilians: a large individual can be 6-7 metres long.

The Gharial and its extinct relatives are grouped together by taxonomists in several different ways:

  • If the three surviving groups of crocodilians are regarded as separate families, then the Gharial becomes the only member of the Gavialidae, which is related to the families Crocodylidae (crocodiles) and Alligatoridae (alligators and caymans).
  • Alternatively, the three groups are all classed together as the family Crocodylidae, but belong to the subfamilies Gavialinae, Crocodylinae, and Alligatorinae.
  • Finally, palaentologists tend to speak of the broad lineage of gharial-like creatures over time using the term Gavialoidea.

Common Names: Indian gharial, Indian gavial, Fish-eating crocodile, Gavial del Ganges, Gavial du Gange, Long-nosed crocodile, Bahsoolia, Nakar, Chimpta, Lamthora, Mecho Kumhir, Naka, Nakar, Shormon, Thantia, Thondre, Garial

Prehistoric?

The fossil history of the Gavialoidea is quite well-known, with the earliest examples diverging from the other crocodilians in the late Cretaceous. The most distinctive feature of the group is the very long, narrow snout, which is an adaptation to a diet of small fish. Although gharials have sacrificed the great mechanical strength of the robust skull and jaw that most crocodiles and alligators have, and in consequence cannot prey on large creatures, the reduced weight and water resistance of their lighter skull and very narrow jaw gives gharials the ability to catch rapidly moving fish, using a side-to-side snapping motion.

The earliest Gavialoidea may or may not have been related to the modern types: some died out at the same time as the dinosaurs (at the end of the Cretaceous), others survived until the early Eocene (about 35 million years ago). The modern forms appeared at much the same time, evolving in the estuaries and coastal waters of Africa, but crossing the Atlantic to reach South America as well. At their peak, the Gavialoidea were numerous and diverse, they occupied much of Asia and America up until the Pliocene. One species, Ramphosuchus crassidens of India, grew to an enormous size: 15 metres or more.

Distribution

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Ghariyal_distibution_map.gif
Ghariyal Distribution

Northern Indian subcontinent: Bhutan (possibly gone), Bangladesh (close to being gone), India, Myanmar (possibly gone), Nepal, Pakistan (close to being gone). Usually found in the river systems of Indus (Pakistan) and the Brahmaputra (Bhutan & India), the Ganges (India & Nepal), and the Mahanadi (India), with small numbers in Kaladan and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar.

Habitat

Riverine - most adapted to the calmer areas in the deep fast moving rivers. The physical attributes of the Ghariyal do not make it very suited for moving about on land. In fact the only reasons the ghariyal leaves the water is either to bask in the sun or to nest on the sandbanks of the rivers.

Appearance

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Ghariyal_side_shot.jpg
Side Shot

Characteristic elongated, narrow snout, similar only to the false gharial, (Tomistoma schlegelii). The snout shape varies with the age of the saurian. The snout becomes progressively thinner the older the ghariyal gets. The bulbous growth on the tip of the male's snout is called a 'Ghara' (after the Indian word meaning 'pot'), present in mature individuals. the bulbous growth is used for various activities, it is used to generate a resonant hum during vocalization, it acts as a visual lure for attracting females and it is also used to make bubbles which have been associated with he mating rituals of the species.

The elongated jaws are lined with many interlocking, razor-sharp teeth - an adaptation to the diet (predominantly fish in adults). One of the largest of all crocodilian species, approaching C. porosus in maximum size - males reach at least 5 metres in length, and often approach 6 metres. Reports of 7 metre animals exist, but are unconfirmed. The leg musculature of the ghariyal is not suited to enable the animal to raise the body off the ground (on land) in order to achieve the high-walk gait - being able only to push its body forward across the ground ('belly-sliding'), although it can do this with some speed when required. However when in water, the ghariyal is the most nimble and quick of all the crocodiles in the world. The tail seems overdeveloped and is laterally flattened, more so than other crocodiles, this enables it to achieve the excellent water locomotive abilities.

Diet

The young Ghariyals prey primarily on small invertebrates like insects and larvae and also small frogs. The mature adults feed almost solely on fish. Their physiognomy is ideally suited for this diet and the obtaining of it. their characteristic long thin snouts afford little resistance to the water in swiping motions to snap up fish in the water. Their numerous needle like teeth are perfect for holding on to struggling slippery fish. Most adults are primarily fish eaters although some larger specimens of the species have been known to be opportunistic; feeding on larger prey, such as mammals, that come to the river to drink.

Breeding

The mating season for the Ghariyal is during November, through December and well into January. The nesting and laying of eggs takes place in the dry season of March, April and May. This is because during the dry season the rivers shrink a bit and the sandy river banks are available for nesting. Between 30 and 50 eggs are deposited into the hole (which the female excavates in the sand) before it is covered over carefully. The Ghariyal lays the largest eggs in the Crocodile family, weighing on average 160 grams. After about 90 days, the juveniles emerge, although there is no record of the female assisting the juveniles into the water after they hatch (probably because their jaws are not suited for carrying the young due to the needle like teeth).However the mother does protect the young in the water for a few days till they learn to fend for themselves.

Females reach sexual maturity around 3 m in length (usually over 10 years old). Males guard a harem of several females.

Conservation

In the 1970s the Ghariyal came to the brink of extinction and even now remains on the severely endangered list. Fortunately, the conservation efforts of the environmentalists in cooperation with several governments has led to some reduction in the threat of extinction. Some hope lies with the conservation and management programs in place as of 2004. Full protection was granted in the 1970s in the hope of reducing poaching losses, although these measures were slow to be implemented at first. Now there are 9 protected areas for this species in India which are linked to both captive breeding and 'ranching' operations where eggs collected from the wild are raised in captivity (to reduce mortality due to natural predators) and then released back into the wild (the first being released in 1981). More than 3000 animals have been released through these programs, and the wild population in India is estimated at around 1500 animals - with perhaps between one and two hundred animals in the remainder of its range.

The factor which is the most critical threat to their survival and flourishing in the wild is the loss of their habitat due to human encroachment and the development of riverside property led by a real estate boom in recent years. This is also leading to a decline in the number of suitable release sites for the conservation programs. Their eggs are also traditionally collected for their purported medicinal value. The male is still being hunted in some parts for the belief in the aphrodisiac properties of the powdered dried snout of the Ghariyal.

Some die as they get ensnared in the gill nets used by fishermen and can't surface in order to breathe. The declining fish stocks has lead to the decline in the number of predatory fish (major part of the Ghariyal's diet). The management of their numbers and conservation efforts will continue but unless all countries along the path of a river join hands to save this magnificent beast, these efforts will at best deliver very limited results. This is specially true since there have been cases of Ghariyals released into the wild by India and then down stream the same ghariyal gets killed in another country.

Man-eaters

The ghariyal's structure is not conducive for it to be a maneater or to even launch an attach on a human on the river bank. In spite of this they have been called maneaters for some time. The reasons behind this myth are varied.

  • They appear threatening to the average swimmer or fisherman since they have a similar appearance to Crocodiles.
  • In many cases human jewelry has been found in the bellies of dead Ghariyals (this is most likely from scavenging human remains which are floated down river in the Ganges after being cremated). The Ghariyal also swallows jewelry, stones, sticks, and the like to act as gastroliths; hard objects that aid in digestion and buoyancy management.

External links

fr:Gavialidae it:Gavialis gangeticus nl:Gaviaal pt:Gavial sv:Gavial yi:גאַװיאַל

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