The Chinese giant salamander is currently recognized as the largest species of amphibian on Earth today. An adult may reach lengths of up to 1.8m (6ft) and weights up to 50kg (110lbs). Unconfirmed reports exist of specimens which are longer than this.
Their long body has short stubby limbs on either side. Along their length they are colored mottled gray, greenish or brown. Across the body the skin is smooth and slimy. They have some small folds which increase oxygen absorption. They have small eyes with no eye lid.
The coloration of a Chinese giant salamander helps it to blend in one the floor of the rivers they call home.
On the front foot they have 4 digits with 5 on the back foot. These have a small amount of webbing between them.
At the end of the body is a long tail which may make up over half the body length.
Chinese giant salamanders are carnivores. They feed on insects, crustaceans, frogs, fish and small mammals such as water shrews.
They will sit and wait for prey to come to them. When their food is close they will open the jaw quickly creating suction that pulls the food in to their mouth.
As their name suggests China is the native home of the Chinese giant salamander. They are mostly found in the centre and south of the country. There are records from Taiwan but it is unclear if this is a natural occurrence or the result of introductions.
Chinese giant salamanders are found in the water. There home is mainly mountain streams and lakes. They require cool fast flowing water which provides enough oxygen for them to survive.
These salamanders seek shelter under rocks and in crevices or hollows.
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Breeding takes place from August to September. At this time they will travel upstream.
The female will deposit her 400 to 500 eggs in a string in her underwater burrow. The eggs are golden yellow or white. The male known as the ‘den master’ then fertilizes these. He will remain with the eggs for their one to two month incubation period giving them protection. Multiple females may lay their eggs in the den of a single male.
Once they hatch he provides no further care to the larva. The larva have gills that they use to breath. These are lost when they become adults. This typically occurs around three years old.
From six months old they will shed their skin. The shed skin may be eaten by the larva.
Their growth rate is influenced by the temperature of the water they inhabit.
For the first month the young do not need to eat much as instead they will absorb nutrients from their yolk sac.
It will take between five and six years for the young to reach maturity.
The Chinese giant salamander has lungs and must breathe air at the surface. This can be obtained through the nose but also across the skin.
Chinese giant salamanders make a vocalization which has been likened to the cry of a baby. This has earned them the nickname ‘baby fish.’
For most of the year the Chinese giant salamander is nocturnal but during the breeding season they may be seen during the day.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the Chinese giant salamander include otters, red foxes, weasels and hog badgers.
To help avoid predation they will produce a white, sticky substance.
Humans hunt the Chinese giant salamander for their meat or to use their body parts in folk remedies.
In recent years farms have been established where they are produced to supply this trade. Despite this poaching continues.
Another threat is the destruction and degradation of their habitat.
Over recent decades their population has declined by as much as 80%.
The Chinese giant salamander is the longest lived of all amphibians.
They are one of three giant salamander species with the others being the Japanese giant salamander and the hellbender of the United States.
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Top & Both Middle
By Petr Hamerník – Zoo Praha, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69436126
By J. Patrick Fischer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17388117
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Liang Gang, Geng Baorong, Zhao Ermi. 2004. Andrias davidianus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T1272A3375181. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2004.RLTS.T1272A3375181.en. Downloaded on 16 November 2020.
Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. 2020. Los Angeles Zoo And Botanical Gardens | Salamander, Chinese Giant. [online] Available at: <https://www.lazoo.org/animals/amphibians/chinese-giant-salamander/#1477684365899-080f03d1-5104> [Accessed 16 November 2020].
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