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What Is a Giant Salamander?

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  • Written By: Karize Uy
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2014
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The giant salamander is a type of salamander known as not only the biggest species of salamander, but the biggest amphibian as well. It belongs to the family of Crytobranchoida, a suborder that can be dated as far back as the Jurassic Age. The “hellbender” salamanders found in North America are counted among the biggest of the salamander genus, as well as the salamanders in Asia, particularly the Chinese and the Japanese giant salamanders. This amphibian is so big that it can appear to be a young crocodile.

Among the three giant salamanders, the biggest is the Chinese giant salamander, with the scientific name Andrias davidianus. Its length has been recorded to reach as long as 6 feet (about 180 cm), but, unfortunately, many existing salamanders do not reach this length anymore. The existing Chinese giant salamanders have an average length of 3.8 feet (about 115.8 cm) and weigh around 60 lbs (27.2 kg). Ironically, it is also the most endangered among the three species and has a conservation status of “critically endangered.” Perhaps one of the reasons is that these salamanders are used for delicacy dishes and traditional medicine in the Chinese culture.

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The Japanese giant salamander is the second largest of the giant salamanders, bearing the scientific name Andrias davidianus. This species is said to be an endemic species, meaning it can only be found in Japan and nowhere else. Its longest length is recorded to be 5 feet (about 152.4 cm). The Japanese giant salamander is not as endangered as the Chinese species, but is considered to be “near threatened.”

Another “near threatened” giant salamander is the “hellbender,” which can be found in the eastern US. It may belong in the same family as the Asian giant salamanders, but it is categorized in a different genus, as distinguished by its scientific name Crytobranchus alleganiensis. The hellbender has a maximum length of 2.4 feet (74 cm).

Evolutionists find the giant salamander — regardless of species — very interesting because the amphibian has survived throughout millions of years without going through much change or adaptation. The common feature of these three giant salamanders is their wrinkled skin, especially in the mid-section of their bodies. These wrinkles allow the salamanders to have a wider surface area that will absorb the oxygen efficiently, especially in stagnant waters.

A giant salamander also tends to have a wide head, but has small, beady eyes that cannot see clearly. This is why it mostly relies on sensory nerves on the head and the body to “sense” approaching preys, usually small fish, insects, and even frogs. The giant salamanders are one of the few amphibians that have a dual respiratory system, having gills and lungs at the same time.

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