|Image from Giant Salamander Protection International|
The Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus) is visually quite a lot like the Hellbender: flattened body and head with tiny, beady eyes, and folds of skin hanging from its body through which it breathes. The major visual difference, which will cause no one to mistake the two, is that the Hellbender is about a foot long, while the Chinese Salamander gets up to about, oh, six feet or so. This picture is the only one I could find that uses a person for scale. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me writing about this animal here.
They live in the cold mountain streams of China. Since they’ve got no gills or lungs, these streams must be well oxygenated. They are nocturnal, and hunt with a quick sideways snap of their mouth. What they hunt seems only to be limited by what they can catch. The Giant Salamanders mate in late August, where, according to ARKive, “hundreds of individuals congregate at nest sites.” Take a look at the videos they’ve got3. Now imagine hundreds of those things in a single place, mating.
IUCN has a nice long list of why these stream-leviathans are endangered, such as wood plantations, mining, clear-cutting, hunting, and pollution. There’s a BBC article about the poaching problems. Conservation methods are coming into place, as they are a protected species. There’s even a Giant Salamander Protection International website, and protected areas in these mountains are starting to appear. While other people want to make sure there are tigers for their grandchildren to see, I want to make sure my grandchildren get the chance to see a six-foot long salamander. Heck, I want to see it.
1That was eight months ago! I’m impressed by how long I’ve kept this up, even if no one else is.
2I just got a job studying headwater streams in a nearby national park. My boss had a poster about Hellbender conservation in her office, and I asked if that meant they were local to the area. Alas, they are not. I was really hoping, too.
3I’m sure this is required viewing for CGI animators of Discovery Channel shows that involve prehistoric amphibians.