Chinese Giant Salamander
The Chinese giant salamander can grow to almost 6 feet (1.8 meters) long, though most are only 3 feet. These salamanders are the largest of the three salamanders in the Cryptobranchidae family, who diverged from the rest of the amphibians around 170 mya. The others include the Japanese giant salamander, which is a little bit smaller than the CGS, and the North American Hellbender, which is ‘only’ about 28 inches (70 cm) long.
Chinese giant salamanders are grayish brown to camouflage in the rocky, mountain river bottoms. Because of their immense sizes and because, as salamanders, they don’t have gills and breathe through their skin, these salamanders mostly stay in quick-moving water with lots of oxygen. They also have an extra fold of skin to increase the area they can breathe through.
Chinese giant salamanders are top predators in their habitat, eating fish, frogs, worms, crayfish, smaller salamanders, crabs, and insects. They use suction to capture their prey. Because of their tiny eyes and the muddy water, Chinese giant salamanders use vibrations in the water to find prey. They mostly hunt at night, spending the days in underwater cavities.
Giant salamanders breed in July, August, and September, when the water is 68℉ (20℃). The salamanders head upstream, where females will lay 400-500 eggs in an underwater burrow. The eggs are fertilized and then guarded and cared for by a male. After the eggs hatch they are not cared for by either parent.
Image courtesy of San Diego Zoo
Chinese giant salamanders live in large territories between 30-40 square meters. They have been known to live in underground rivers. These salamanders also make many sounds that resemble barking, whining, hissing, and crying, and some sounds might be mistaken for a human child.
There are many reasons that the Chinese Giant Salamander is endangered. One big reason is commercial salamander farms that raise salamanders for food and for medicine. The market rose in the 1970s, with salamanders selling for 1,500 dollars. These salamanders often are poached from native habitats to stock the farms. Additionally, in an effort to raise wild population, many commercially-raised salamanders are being released into the wild. However, this actually helps spread infectious diseases, such as the ranavirus, also known as the Chinese Giant Salamander Iridovirus, into wild populations of salamanders. Trade of the salamanders within their habitat could also potentially lead to spread of disease.
image courtesy of San Diego Zoo
image courtesy of San Diego Zoo
Habitat fragmentation because of human changes to the land also threatens the Chinese Giant Salamander, causing their natural habitat to be split into twelve different areas which the salamanders can’t go between. Poaching is also a problem, with light penalties and easy hunting. Deforestation causes poor water quality while climate change raises water temperatures, which these salamanders are extremely sensitive to.
These factors have collectively contributed to the sharp decline of this salamander, with population numbers sinking by 80 percent in the past years. Because of this the salamander is considered Critically Endangered.
The Chinese Giant Salamander. Chinese giant salamander. (2017, August 24). https://chinesegiantsalamanders.org/.
Chinese Giant Salamander. San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Animals and Plants. (n.d.). https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/chinese-giant-salamander.
Chinese Giant Salamander. Endangered Wildlife. (n.d.). https://www.endangeredwildlife.org/wildlife/chinese-giant-salamander/.
Cover image courtesy of San Diego Zoo