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Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Weight 159-181 kg (350 - 400 lb), on average
Largest individuals may approach weight of saltwater crocs at 680 kg (1,500 lb) (Juengst & Ahern, 2002)
Body Length Males: 4 - 4.5 m (13 - 15 ft ), up to 6 m (19.7 ft).
Females: 3.5 - 4 m (11.5 - 13 ft)
Tail Length Length is 3 to 5 times as long as it is broad at the base.

General Appearance

  • One of the largest crocodilians, approaching the overall length of the saltwater crocodile.
  • Thick skin covered with smooth epidermal scales that do not overlap. Osteoderms (bony plates) on the dorsal side serve as armor. (None on belly).
  • Light tan or olive color with darker bands along back and tail.
  • Long, very narrow snout. Longest of all crocodilians.
  • Sharp, slender teeth (all alike in form) along length of snout; upper teeth interlock with lower.
  • Thecodont teeth (Crocodylia and Mammalia) = rooted and set in sockets. Unlike other reptiles, which are rootless and attached to the jaw, and not set in sockets.
  • Most aquatic crocodilian.Tail laterally compressed; back feet webbed; legs weak, can't lift body up off the ground.

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Males larger than females
  • Cartilaginous knob or ghara begins to develop at the tip of the male’s snout around age 10. Forms a lid over the nostrils in males larger than 3 m (9.8 ft)
  • "This strange form, called the ghara, turns the hissing noise commonly made by crocodilians into a buzzing noise, as air is forced through the nasal passage. It may also act as a sound amplifier, carrying the produced buzzing sound for great distances across water. The ghara may also help females identify mature males." (Gharial Conservation Alliance)

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

Integumentary Sense Organs, or ISO's:

  • Tiny pits found on scales of entire body, including head and jaws.
  • Thought to detect vibrations or changes in pressure or salinity.
  • Probably assist in finding prey.
  • Found in all crocodilians.


  • Tapetum lucidum (reflective layer behind the retina) enables night vision.
  • Nictitating membrane:  transparent membrane that slides across the eye to protect it under water.


  • Muscles close the ear canal to prevent water from entering when submerged.
  • Hear mostly in low frequency or subsonic range.

A Large River Predator

Gharial resting on land

Gharials are among the largest crocodilians.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Grenard (1991)
Juensgst & Ahern (2002)
Ross (1989)
Whitaker & Whitaker (2003)

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