Virginia Aquarium Hatches Two Rare Crocodiles Whose Wild Populations Are Declining

by Craig Garrett
(Photo by CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP via Getty Images)

Two tiny crocodiles were born in a Virginia aquarium, and this event marks a milestone that hasn’t been seen for 50 years. On October 12th, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center announced the birth of two Tomistoma crocodiles. The reptiles are more commonly known as “false gharials” because of their lengthy and thin snouts. Tomistoma crocodiles are an endangered species, with an estimated fewer than 2,500 mature individuals alive, the Sacramento Bee reports.

According to the aquarium’s news release, one of the parent Tomistoma crocodiles at Virginia Beach, Ralf, and Sommer, are among five breeding couples in the United States. The pair also heralded the introduction of new viable genes into the pool. This is for the first time in 50 years, according to a press release.

According to the aquarium, Sommer laid 19 eggs in May, and two of those babies hatched in early September. “The remaining eggs have not shown to be viable. [The eggs] are not expected to result in any more babies,” zoo officials said.

According to the statement, both crocodiles are females because of the temperature at which their eggs were incubated. The aquarium is confident that they are both females. This is due to the warmth with which their eggs were incubated, according to the release. As the youngsters mature, they’ll be transferred to a shared facility. “We’re on the hunt for the perfect new home for them. But for now, we’re over the moon to continue caring for them!” the staff explained.

More about Tomistoma crocodiles

The Tomistoma crocodile, like the gharial, has a long narrow nose that is used to capture fish. As of today, one extant (living) species exists in the genus Tomistoma: the false gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii). However, as research has shown, these species may be paraphyletic.

The snout of the false gharial broadens considerably towards the base, like that of real crocodiles rather than the gharial, whose osteology suggested a unique relationship with all other existing crocodilians. However, according to recent DNA sequencing studies, the false gharial and other similar extinct forms previously considered to be part of the crocodylian subfamily Tomistominae actually belong to Gavialoidea and Gavialidae.

Fossils of extinct Tomistoma species have been discovered in deposits dating from the Paleogene, Neogene, and Quaternary Eras in Taiwan, Uganda, Italy, Portugal, Egypt, and India. However, because they are older than the false gharial by millions of years, most of them are likely to be distinct genera.

Although observed human care, males and females of this species don’t show aggression towards one another. They are generally solitary animals that can be active any time day or night. Their nests are rarely found in the wild so there is very little information on their reproductive habits. We don’t know much about how Tomistoma communicate. People who have worked closely with them think that they use a combination of sight, smell, and touch. Even their mating behavior is silent.