By Alexa, age 12

Webecoist-gharial-300x225Imagine you’re in a river, there’s a crocodile or alligator (you don’t know which) swimming towards you. As the creature approaches, you notice something unusual. This large reptile has a really long, narrow snout with a bulb at the end.

This creature isn’t a crocodile, but it isn’t an alligator either. So what is it? A gharial.

A gharial is a long-snouted reptile that is similar to alligators and crocodiles. All 3 are in the order Crocodilia, but that doesn’t mean that they are all crocodiles. In the order Crocodilia, gharials are part of the family Gavialidae.

If you are scared of being eaten by a crocodile or an alligator and I’ve just added another reptile to your list, don’t worry. Gharials aren’t suited to walk on land. They generally stay in rivers, and only come on land to bask in the sun and nest. Plus, they are only found in India and Nepal.

All Gavialidae are critically endangered, so the gharials are only one of the 2 types of Gavialidae left. National Geographic says “people have manipulated the flow of rivers, causing certain areas to dry out and making it more difficult for water-reliant gharials to survive.”

So now that you know what a gharial is, you’re probably wondering; what’s the difference between an alligator, a crocodile, and a gharial? You can usually tell by the shape of the snout. If the reptile has a U-shaped snout, it’s an alligator. If the reptile has a V-shaped snout, it’s a crocodile. If the reptile has a really long and narrow snout with a bulb at the end, it’s a gharial. However, if the reptile just has a long and narrow snout, it’s still a gharial, just a female gharial.

The bulb on the males is called a ghara (the Hindi word for pot). The ghara is used for blowing bubbles during mating season, which is why female gharials don’t have them.

Now if you’re ever in India, Nepal, or the zoo and see a large reptile with a super long snout, you’ll know it’s a gharial!