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What is a Chinese Giant Salamander?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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The Chinese Giant Salamander is the largest salamander in the world, with specimens of up to six feet (two meters) in length being recorded. Unfortunately for this unusual animal, it is viewed as a delicacy in China, which has led to heavy hunting both in China and Taiwan, where the giant salamander was introduced at some point in history. This in combination with habitat depletion has landed the Chinese Giant Salamander on the critically endangered list, with biologists indicating that immediate action must be taken to save these gentle creatures if we want future generations to enjoy them. Several zoos have Chinese Giant Salamanders in captivity, but a successful breeding program has not yet been established.

This animal is also known as Andrias davidianus, placing it in the same genus as the Japanese Giant Salamander, a somewhat smaller relative. The Chinese Giant Salamander is entirely aquatic, living primarily in the streams and lakes of China's mountains, and preferring clear running water as a habitat. The mating season for this salamander is between June and August, with eggs being deposited on rocks.

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This creature is not much to look at, despite the impressive size. Its skin color is dark brown to black or greenish, and heavily mottled. Chinese Giant Salamanders are also covered in small nodules, and they have wrinkly skin which makes them seem very old to some observers. They also have tiny and virtually useless eyes, relying on sensory organs on their head to detect prey and potential threats.

These animals prefer to be cool, hiding under rocks and in water plants during the day and emerging at night to hunt. Technically, they don't actively hunt prey, but rather they use their large mouths as siphons to pull small insects and other water creatures into their mouths. Their size alone makes them quite distinctive, and many biologists fret that the disappearance of the Chinese Giant Salamander from the world would be a great blow.

These animals have traditionally been used in Chinese medicine, and they are a popular gourmet offering on the Chinese table. These two issues have led to widespread hunting of the Chinese Giant Salamander, putting it at grave risk. The issue has been compounded by widespread pollution in China, which has seriously restricted the range of these sensitive amphibians. Biologists hope to preserve the salamander in situ by encouraging hunting restrictions and perhaps establishing wild breeding colonies in reserves.

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