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Gharial: Gavialidae - Physical Characteristics

false body usually species

The lone species of gharial (GAR-ee-ul), also sometimes known as a gavial, looks much like a crocodile or alligator except that a gharial has an extremely long and thin snout. The narrow jaws in both males and females are lined with more than 100 pinpoint-sharp teeth. The back of a gharial is covered with tough scales, but these scales are not lumpy as they are in many alligator and crocodile species. Gharial scales are very smooth. Adults are dark brown or greenish brown on top and yellowish white to white below. Young gharials have dark bands on the body and tail. Adults also have bands, but they fade and become less noticeable as the animal gets older. The name gharial comes from the round knob that forms on the tip of the adult male's snout above the nostrils. This knob is called a ghara, because it looks somewhat like an Indian pot of the same name.

Gharials are large reptiles. Males usually grow to 13 to 15 feet (4 to 4.5 meters) long and 350 to 400 pounds (181 kilograms), although some can reach nearly 20 feet (6.1 meters). Females are a bit smaller, usually reaching 11.5 to 13 feet (3.5 to 4 meters) in length. They have long and powerful tails. They are so strong that the gharial need only sway its tail side to side to glide through the water. While swimming, it usually holds its legs back and alongside the body and does not move them.

People sometimes confuse the gharial with the false gharial. Both are large animals with a similar shape. The false gharial, also known as the Malayan gharial, has a long and thin snout, but it is not quite as long and thin as that of the true gharial. The false gharial also has a heavier-set body. The false gharial is usually placed in the crocodile family, but a 2003 comparison of its DNA now suggests that it should be considered part of the gharial family. Every cell in the body contains DNA, which provides the instructions for making a specific species of animal. Scientists compare the DNA in different species, such as the false gharial and the gharial, to help them decide which animals are most closely related.

Gharial: Gavialidae - Habitat [next]

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