On Friday I gave you this somewhat odd object to identify:
My first thought when seeing it was Bowser from the Mario games:
This probably isn’t the worst place to start the identification, since the animal with this feature was clearly big, scaly and toothy. This was obviously in the minds of Barbara Powell and Wouter van Gestel, who reached the correct conclusion that this is the structure from the tip of the snout of an adult male Gharial Gavialis gangeticus (Gmelin, 1789).
This structure is the only form of discrete sexual dimorphism in a crocodilian and it gives the Gharials their name, as the structure is called a ‘ghara’ due its structural similarity to the Punjabi earthen pitcher of that name that is used as a musical instrument. The ghara is a hollow protuberance that probably acts as a visual and acoustic characteristic in sexual competition among Gharials.
Now Gharials may look intimidating, with all those pointy teeth, but their long, narrow jaws are adapted for mainly catching fish. They now live in just a few rivers in India and Nepal, although they were once widespread across the subcontinent. Historic hunting, human encroachment on habitat and changes in the fishing methods of local people have dramatically reduced the number and range of these bizarre-looking animals, to the point where they are now critically endangered. A major threat is the loss of suitable nesting sites, leading to the high levels of competition seen in this video footage: