Animal of the Month
September 2017

Name: Chinese Giant Salamander (aka Chinese Salamander)

Class: Amphibia

Order: Urodela
Family: Cryptobranchidae
Genus: Andrias
Species: A. davidianus

Size: About five feet long (1.8 meters)
Weight: 100lbs

Characteristics: Long worm-like body and tail with small sprawled-out legs, large rounded head. Bares small eyes with no eyelids. Breathes through smooth skin.
Color(s): Brownish with black spots. Sometimes they are salmon colored.
Behavior: Nocturnal, aquatic
Preferred Habitat: Cold mountain streams and lakes, preferably at an elevation less than 5,000 feet.
Range: Tributaries of the Pearl, Yellow and Yangtze rivers
Diet: Fish, crayfish, worms, snails, and even other salamanders!
Lifespan: N/A in the wild, up to 52 years in captivity!


Salamanders have lived on Earth for hundreds of years. Over the eons some of these amphibians grew to titanic sizes, even as large as a small car! Unfortunately such beasts went extinct a long time ago, but their descendants survive today. The largest living species of salamander live in China, and they can grow as big as an adult human! Chinese giant salamanders, sometimes just called Chinese salamanders, can reach sizes of about five feet long and weight up to 110 pounds. They live in mountain streams and lakes in or near the Pearl, Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. They are close cousins of the Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japoni-cas), which can grow almost as large as their Chinese counterparts.

Chinese giant salamanders spend much of their time in the water. During the day they hide in dark places and come out at night to feed. Mostly nocturnal, they like to feed on anything smaller than themselves. They favor creatures that live in rivers and lakes including fish, crayfish, worms, snails, small mammals and even smaller salamanders. Though rare, they have even been known to eat their own shed skin and eggs! They catch their prey by sucking it into their mouths and finishing it off with their powerful jaws and sharp teeth.

Not much is known about the breeding habits of the Chinese giant salamander, though it is widely speculated that they are similar to the Japanese giant salamander. Females can lay a string of up to five hundred eggs! These eggs are placed in a breeding cavity, or underwater burrow. The male will fertilize the eggs and then guard them in the burrow until they hatch. The female will exit the burrow and possibly never return. 50-60 days later the eggs will hatch. The larvae are very small-only a bit longer than an inch. Like all amphibians they are born with water-breathing gills. As they grow their gills will shrink and their lungs will develop. Salamanders do not breathe in and out like we do-they take in air directly through their skin! It is not known exactly how long Chinese salamanders live in the wild, though they are known to live in captivity for as long as 52 years.

Chinese giant salamanders are critically endangered. They face many pres-sures including water pollution and habitat loss. They are considered a delicacy in Asia and are being overhunted as a result. To make matters worse, their genetic diversity is being diluted as farmed salamanders (which are raised with added growth hormones) escape and breed with the giant salamanders.

Fortunately, steps have been taken to protect this marvelous animal. In 1980, fourteen nature reserves were established in China to protect the Chinese giant salamander. In 1999, a large area of Mount Wuyi was declared a World Heritage Site for it's biodiversity, and this is one stronghold for the Chinese salamanders. The species is also listed in Appendix 1 of CITIES, which strictly regulates trade. Captive breeding programs have assisted in staving off extinction, though these operations unfortunately are geared more for providing harvest stock rather than preservation. The situation for Chinese salamanders is severe, but far from hopeless.

To learn more about these awesome amphibians and how to help them, check out these awesome websites!

Giant Chinese Salamander Conservation Program-A British-based organization, dedicated to protecting the Chinese salamander.

Zoological Society of London, Chinese giant salamander page-More than just a group of Zoos, the Zoological Society of London has active programs to preserve many endangered species, including the Chinese giant salamander.



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