This crocodilian is the longest member of this feared family, but it is harmless to people. Its narrow snout is used to catch fish. The gharial is easily recognized by its long, slender snout, which is filled with interlocking razor-sharp teeth. The male has a bulbous growth on the tip of the nose, used for making vocalizations and producing air bubbles when underwater. It uses bubble displays to attract females.
The gharial is poorly adapted to life on land because its leg muscles are not suitable for walking, and therefore it spends most of its life in water. It prefers quiet river backwaters, where its flattened tail and webbed hind feet make swimming easy.
The bizarre-looking slender snout of the gharial helps it to grip its slippery fish prey. The reptile rarely comes on land except to nest.
Although appearing rather clumsy on land, the gharial is streamlined and very agile in water, with its narrow snout encountering minimal resistance as it pursues its prey. Fish are the most common food for the gharial. The narrow jaws are well designed for quick snapping motions underwater, and the victims are swallowed head-first. Juveniles will often also eat small crustaceans and frogs. Gharials almost became extinct during the 1970s, and today they are protected throughout much of their range. There are less than 2000 alive today. Harvesting and artificial hatching of this crocodilian's eggs, followed by the release of the young, have been attempted as a way of increasing its numbers. Pollution, however, possibly combined with a shortage of food, has meant that this scheme has not been as successful as hoped.
Distribution: Occurs in India, but is scarce through much of its former range in Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma) and Nepal. Numbers are increasing in India itself.
Habitat: Wide, calm rivers.
Weight: 680 - 1000 kg (1500 - 2205 lb); males are heavier.
Length: 5 - 6 m (16.4 - 19.7 ft).
Maturity: About 10 years, at 3 m (9.8 ft) long.
Number of Eggs: 30 - 50 per clutch.
Incubation Period: Around 90 days; females watch over their newly hatched young, but do not carry them to water.
Food: Feeds on fish when adult; youngsters also prey on amphibians and larger invertebrates.
Lifespan: 40 - 60 years.
Males have a swelling on the tip described, as a "ghara", which: derives from an Indian word for a pot of this shape.
Over 100 sharp teeth are present in the jaws, helping to grasp fish effectively.
Adults are a darker shade of olive than youngsters.
Long and flattened, the tail aids the gharial's swimming abilities.
Nesting occurs during the dry season when the sandy river banks are exposed.
Gharials can grab fish by moving their snouts from side to side, repositioning and then swallowing their prey head-first.