An award-nominated photo due to be part of a wildlife exhibition shows that crocodile parents participate in a very unusual style of childcare.
A male freshwater gharial has been snapped patiently waiting as more than 100 of his month-old kids climb onto his back before he safely transports them away.
The stunning photo was taken by India-based photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee after he patrolled for weeks in northern India’s National Chambal Sanctuary, which contains 500 of the endangered crocodiles.
“Other crocs carry their young about in their mouths,” Patrick Campbell, senior reptile curator at London’s Natural History Museum, told the BBC.
“But for the gharial, the unusual morphology of the snout means this is not possible. So the young have to cling to the head and back for that close connection and protection.”
Gharials can measure up to 15 feet (4.5m) long and weigh more than 2,000 lbs. (900kg).
Their name comes from the bulbous knobs on the end of the males’ snouts, known as a “ghara”. The crocodiles use their ghara to amplify their vocalisations and blow bubbles during mating season.
This particular croc was clearly very successful in this regard. Mukherjee says the proud dad would have had to mate with seven or eight different females to father more than 100 babies.
Hopefully all the baby crocs survive into adulthood and can breed, as gharials are critically endangered. There are estimated to be just 650 adults left in the wild freshwaters of India and Nepal.
Mukherjee’s photo is one of 100 “highly commended” images in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, hosted by the Natural History Museum of London.
Chosen from more than 50,000 entries, the crocodile photo will join 99 others on the museum’s walls and eventually in a traveling exhibition, after the overall winners are announced on October 13.
You can read more about the photography exhibition here.