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Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)

Taxonomy and Nomenclature


  • Gavialidae:
    • G. gangeticus probably the only living species in the Family.
    • Fossil and morphological data on Tomistoma schlegelii (false gharial) show closest resemblance to Crocodylidae. But recent molecular data show closer resemblance to G. gangeticus, causing some authors to place it in the Gavialidae (Brochu, 2003).


  • "Gharial" originates from the Hindi word "ghara" which is a clay pot with a long neck, much like the snout shape of an adult male gharial.
  • Sometimes referred to as "gavial" which is probably a misspelling of gharial. The Family and Genus names have not been changed to reflect this error.
  • "gangeticus" means "of the Ganges (River)."
  • Other common names: long-nosed crocodile, gaviel du Ganges (Fr.), Schnabelkrokodil (Gr.), Sansar (Pakistan), Chimpta (Nepal).


  • Originally described as Lacerta gangetica

Evolutionary History

  • The Order Crocodylia, which includes all living crocodilians, originated around 100 million years ago (mid-Cretaceous). (St. John et al. 2012)
  • Crocodylians and birds are the only living representative of the ancient group Archosauria, which included dinosaurs and pterosaurs (St. John et al. 2012)
  • A very small number of crocodylians exist today — 23 species.
    • There are 9,000 species of birds, their closest relatives.
  • A very early gharial-like fossil is known from Morocco's 60 million years-old rocks (Hua & Jouve 2004).
  • Although 12 fossil species have been found in India, South America, Africa, and Europe, only one species survives today.


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia (Laurenti, 1768) - reptiles

Order: Crocolidia - crocodilians

Family: Gavialidae (Adams, 1854) - gharials, gavials

Genus: Gavialis (Oppel, 1811) - gharial, gavials

Species: Gavialis gangeticus (Gemlin, 1789) -  gharial, gavial

Source: Integrated Taxnomic Information System (2017)

River Inspiration

Gharial floating in water

The gharial's species name, gangeticus, refers to the Ganges River, which flows through India and Bangladesh.

Gharials share river habitat with Ganges River Dolphin, a dozen species of turtles, and smooth-coated otters.

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

Page Citations

Brochu (2003)
Gatesy & Amato (1992)
Grenard (1991)
Hua & Jouve (2004)
King & Burke (1989)
St. John et al. (2012)

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