Monday, 25 October 2010

Chinese giant salamander

Man holding a chinese giant salamander
Man holding a chinese giant salamander
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Caudata
Family: Cryptobranchidae
Genus: Andrias
Species: Andrias davidianus
Conservation status: Critically Endangered
Common Name(s): Chinese giant salamander, Giant salamander

The Chinese giant salamander is the largest living amphibian and consecutively the largest salamander of the world.

Where do they live?
These monstrous salamanders live in the mountainous streams and lakes of China, in altitudes of up to 1.500 meters high. They are considered to be a living fossil, as their skeleton is almost identical to fossils aging more than 30 million years old.

A few decades ago, individuals measuring 1.8 m (~ 6 ft) long or more were a common sight, now they rarely (if ever) reach this size, due to over-hunting and as a result of natural selection favoring smaller salamanders.

It is a heavily built salamander, with a strongly depressed head and obtusely truncate snout. The nostrils are small and rounded, placed closely to the edge of the upper lip.

Individuals have a maximum length of about 2 meters (about 75 inches) and can live to be 80 years old. The average Chinese giant salamander has a weight of 25 to 30 kilos and a length of 1.15 meters (45 inches).

Their large heads are accompanied by small eyes (with no eyelids) and they have very poor vision. The species makes up for it, using sensory nodes on the heads and skin which "feel" the water vibrations caused by the prey's movement. These nodes are very sensitive and are capable of sensing even the slightest movements.

The skin is smooth and thick, with black blotches. Its color varies from dark brown or plain black to green with lighter underparts. They have short limbs and a tail of up to 0.9 meters (~ 60 cm) long.

They do have lungs, though which they can breathe inefficiently. Adults primarily breathe through pores and wrinkles in their skin. Due to their large size, lack of gills and the inefficient lungs, the species is confined to water.

Image showing the skeleton of a giant salamander
Giant Salamander Skeleton

What do they eat?
They are primarily nocturnal animals that hunt during the night, catching their victims with a rapid sideways snap of the mouth.. They mainly feed on:
  • Crabs
  • Crayfish
  • Fish
  • Frogs
  • Insects
  • Shrimps
  • Snails
  • Worms

Image of two small giant salamanders for sale
Young giant salamanders (~0.5 kg each) for sale at a restaurant in Hongqiao

How do they reproduce?
Most data indicate that reproduction occurs during the period from August through September, with females laying a string containing up to 500 eggs inside an underwater breeding cavity which is occupied by a male. The eggs have an average size of 2.2 cm (~ 0.9 inches) by 1.9 cm (~ 0.7 inches) while the diameter of the embryo inside varies from 0.8 to 0.9 cm (~ 0.3-0.4 inches).

Egg fertilization occurs externally, making them the only known salamander species that has its eggs fertilized in an external fashion. Males guard the cavity and the eggs from any predators (e.g. fishes) until hatching occurs, 50 to 60 days later.

The newly born larvae have a length of 3 cm (1.2 inches) and look like miniatures of adults. They begin eating after about 30 days. When born, they have external gills which start to reduce (compared to their size) once they reach a length of 20-25 cm.

Where can I see one?
Thanks to their sheer size, Chinese giant salamanders are a very popular exhibit. A quick search reveals many zoos and aquariums featuring that feature strange animals. This includes the US (Zoo Atlanta, Cincinnati Zoo, and Saint Louis Zoological Park), Europe (Zoo Dresden, Rotterdam Zoo) and of course China which has numerous parks, zoos and aquariums with these animals on display.

Video showing a chinese giant salamander

Are they threatened?
Unfortunately, the Chinese giant salamander is critically endangered, with the main threats being pollution and habitat disturbance/alterance. They are illegally hunted for food, as they are considered a delicacy in Asia, and some are even caught for pet and medicine trade.

Fortunately, some measures have been taken for the species protection. As of today, there are 14 nature reserves established for the protection of the animal, covering an area of more than 355,000 hectares. Among these reserves, is the one created in Mount Wuyi covering an area of 99.975 hectares.

Image of a Chinese giant salamander in Shanghai Aquarium
Chinese giant salamander in Shanghai Aquarium

Captive breeding has proven to be viable, with many breeding farms established in:
  • Hunan
  • Shaanxi
  • Jiangxi
  • Other Chinese provinces
  • Europe
Hopefully, a day will come when this beautiful, strange and gigantic animal will thrive again.

Video showing a chinese giant salamander in a breeding farm, Shaanxi Province, China.

References & Further Reading
- Kawamichi T., Ueda, H. (1998). Spawning at nests of extra-large males in the Giant Salamander Andrias japonicus Journal of Herpetology DOI: 10.2307/1565495
- Guo W, Ao M, Li W, Wang J, & Yu L (2012). Major biological activities of the skin secretion of the Chinese giant salamander, Andrias davidianus. Zeitschrift fur Naturforschung. C, Journal of biosciences, 67 (1-2), 86-92 PMID: 22486045
- "Amphibian Species of the World - Andrias davidianus (Blanchard, 1871)".
- Haker, K. (1997). "Haltung und Zucht des Chinesischen Riesensalamanders Andrias davidianus." Salamandra, 33, 69-74.
- Liu, C.C. (1950). Amphibians of Western China. Chicago Natural History Museum, Chicago.  


  1. looks like a hullabaloo!

    1. Ok, whatever that is... To me, it looks like a hagfish with legs. Yuck! A hagfish may actually be a cool idea for the website (if it's still being worked on) because I really like the website.

  2. you need more info!! like wheres its climate,country/region, type of shelter!!! please this is my school assignment!! add more info please

    1. there's a lot of sites about about giant salamander life . regards, Jean

  3. i am a lizard w/ no hands lmfao ! :D i eat from a box :)

  4. i am the great cornholio ! TP FOR MY BUNGHOLE ?

  5. umm it's kinda scary

  6. That looks so awesome and I want to hold one so bad since i saw it.

  7. it's very nice

  8. woah! its pretty cool. it is realy fat and has lots of battatas. its a fat ass

  9. Can u put up something about the axlotol? It's some walking fish thingy a lot like a salamander. Maybe it is one. I can't really remember. It's hard to spell D:

  10. Nice report !!! where are situated the breeding farms in Europe ??? regards Jean