First of all, let’s clarify what the Tomistoma is not. It is not:
- False gharial
- Malayan gharial
Tomistoma schlegelii is a large crocodilian now found in small populations scattered across Malaysia and Indonesia. In 2010, the CSG’s Tomistoma Task Force decided to clarify why the most logical common name for the species was in fact its genus name: Tomistoma.
Historically, common names including ‘false gharial’ and ‘Malayan gharial’ have been used for the species, along with ‘Sunda gharial’ – a European name that refers to the Sunda region of southeast Asia that covers Borneo, Sumatra and Java.
At the same time, the true gharial from India and Nepal was being referred to as the ‘Indian gharial’.
The name ‘gharial’ literally means ‘with ghara’ – referring to the unique ‘pot’ that develops on the tip of the snout of male Gavialis gangeticus. Since Tomistoma do not have this, it’s not at all accurate to include ‘gharial’ in the common name.
So, regardless of any taxonomic conclusions as to whether the Tomistoma should be placed with Crocodylidae or Gavialidae (see here), the common name should remain Tomistoma.
Please refer to the original notice in the Crocodile Specialist Group’s newsletter here.
We have only the fundamental understanding of the ecology of Tomistoma in the wild. Much of the information about reproduction comes from captive breeding in zoos around the world.
Tomistoma is one of the largest of the living crocodilian species, with males exceeding 4m and occasionally probably 5m. They lay the largest eggs of all crocs, around 10cm long! Their beautiful brown colouration with darker stripes and blotches remains with them for life.
In the wild, these are secretive crocs, living in cryptic habitat, making surveys difficult to carry out. Most surveys report very few Tomistoma directly observed, and most rely on interviews with local people to determine the presence and extent of the population in the area.