Saturday, May 26, 2007

Reel Big Salamander

In the footnote for the Sagala Caecilian1, I mentioned some big, ugly salamanders. Both are endangered, and closely related to the Hellbender2, in the family Cryptobranchidae, and the three species are together known as the Giant Salamanders. I’ll skip over the second largest salamander (the Japanese Giant Salamander, Andrias japonicus, you can look up information on your own), and start talking about the largest salamander in the world.

Image from Giant Salamander Protection International
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.


Anonymous said...

I'm having problems with the picture. Crinkleroot

Anonymous said...

(I can't get the video clips to play, but that's probably due to my PIB computer). The one picture showing the guy holding that giant's just...well....WOW! Did I mention how glad I am that I live in a state with no mega-sized scary freshwater aquatic amphibians? Now that would be one large salamander trap...

In other news, someone just emailed me a news bit about a newly discovered, threatened purple frog:"The two-tone frog -- whose skin is covered with irregular fluorescent lavender loops on a background of aubergine -- was discovered in 2006 as part of a survey of Suriname's Nassau plateau, the conservation group said."

Here is the link:

I had to look up what color aubergine was!:-)

Anonymous said...

sorry, my english may be bad (I'm french) but I would like to say that I'm very fond about salamanders and I don't agree with you when you say giant salamander is ugly, isnt't human ugly too afterall?
and actually I would be glad to live in a place with mega sized amphibians!
and I find that the golden-rumped sengi is very cute too!

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maninahat said...

The wawayu! That's what the chinese call it - literally "baby fish", because it apparently makes a whining sound. That makes it 10x more cute.