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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Specimen of the Week: Week Four

By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 November 2011

Scary MonkeyWelcome to the 100th UCL Museums and Collections blog post!!! What an honour! I shall definitely be sharing a wine with scary monkey (see left) later on and he says he gives you all permission to leave work early for the momentous occasion. When you first start writing a weekly blog you suddenly become very aware of time and more to the point, how quickly it whips by! Already it is week four of the new specimen of the week blog. Someone pointed out yesterday it was only seven weeks until the new year. Frightening!


Anywho, this week I have decided to choose one of my most favourite animals to tell you about. It is one of the largest species of the group to which it belongs and famous for its weird appearance. This week’s specimen of the week is…


**!!!The Gharial!!!**


Gharials are obscure, enigmatic and downright awesome looking. Here is a grabbingly great guide to gorgeous gharials:


Gharial skull

Gharial skull (Gavialis gangeticus) at the Grant Museum of Zoology. LDUCZ-X1206

1) Males have a bulbous nasal appendage on the tip of the snout, said to resemble a type of pot in India called a ‘ghara’, hence the name ‘gharial’. Although the function is not known for certain, theories of its use include sound resonator, ‘bubbling device’ for courtship rituals and visual sexual feature for romancing the ladies. Mmmm, sexy…


2) Gharials have such weak legs that they are unable to stand up on dry land. Instead they have to pull themselves along, dragging their bellies along the floor (which is probably why they choose to live on river banks rather than lava fields). They are however, well streamlined and extremely efficient predators underwater.


3) In December of 2006, the museum assistant at the Grant Museum (cough*me*cough) was given the chance to feed a 4 metre male gharial due to some research I was doing in Florida. With a fishy smelling porridge-esque jelly substance ingeniously stuck onto the end of a stick, I was told to lean toward the pool and ‘tap’ the jelly on the water next to the gharial’s snout whilst saying “gently”. I was assured the gharial would calmly grab the food in its jaws and swallow it whole whilst waiting patiently for the next bit. The final instruction as the keeper walked away to feed the females at the other side of the enclosure was “whatever you do, don’t let go of the stick’. Perhaps my  English accent confused the gharial because instead of taking the jelly in a calm and organised fashion, he launched himself forward, by-passed the jelly, grabbed the stick in his mouth, and yanked. Good at doing what I’m told, rather than let go of the stick I held on tight, as per the instructions. Subsequently, as my footing slipped, the gharial dragged me right up to the water’s edge in front of my horrified colleagues with law-suits flashing before their eyes, before the keeper came running over screaming “What are you doing?! Let go of the stick!! Let go of the stick!!” Well he should have specified there were exceptions.

Taken as the gharial grabbed the stick, a split second before he launched backwards, taking me with him

Taken as the gharial missed the ‘jelly’ and grabbed the stick, a split second before he launched backwards, taking me with him


4) In January of this year, 100 gharials were mysteriously found dead on the banks of a river in India. On the basis they are critically endangered, this was a serious blow to the conservation of the species.


5) Females lay up to 40 eggs which they incubate buried in a nest in the ground. When the eggs are ready to hatch they squeal which alerts the mother to impending hatching. She then digs them up, saving them the effort of doing it themselves, unlike many other reptilian hatchlings which have to claw their own way to the surface.

If you would like to adopt a gorgeous gharial, perhaps as a great gift, then please get in touch with us at zoology.museum@ucl.ac.uk.


Want to pet my alligator love?

Want to pet my alligator love?

Later on, after the incident with the gharial, the keeper said “Want to pat an alligator? It’s quite safe…”

One Response to “Specimen of the Week: Week Four”

  • 1
    Vikki wrote on 30 November 2011:

    Loved the gharial facts. I was lucky enough to see a family of gharial in the wild in India and I really enjoyed examining the gharial skulls at the How to get a Head event last night.
    How about the pangolin as specimen of the week?

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