Friday, July 6, 2012

Interesting Animals: Chinese Giant Salamander

A Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) in Germany
Growing up to one hundred eighty centimeters in length and weighing over eleven kilograms, the Chinese giant salamander is the world's largest living amphibian. Such massive size is unusual, however, with most individuals being somewhat smaller than that at about one meter maximum. Still, they are amazingly massive creatures compared to most of the salamanders you will find out there, which are often smaller than the palm of the average person's hand. They are purely aquatic and are native to mountainous, fast-flowing, cold waterways of China. They feed on a variety of animals, including other salamanders, snails, worms, crayfish, insects, and fish. Lacking external gills as adults, they mainly breath through their skin as the lungs they have are inefficient.

A giant salamander in Shanghai
Unfortunately, this species in Critically Endangered. Considered a delicacy in Asia, they are commonly caught for food. Though some farming has been tried, the majority of individuals being sold for food are believed to be wild-caught. Part of the reason why they have been a popular catch is due to the fact that they aren't hard to catch: hunters need only search in crevices in rocks and then pull the salamanders out. With sale prices up to one hundred dollars per kilogram, one salamander can be a very lucrative capture. Unfortunately, there isn't currently much regulation of such harvesting.

The waterways these creatures live in are being threatened thanks to runoff from farming and deforestation. This brings pollutants as well as silt, which have lead to both a decrease in population size, but also a decrease in the average body size of the species. The change in population over the past thirty years has been described as "catastrophic." Once common, these strange amphibians are now quite rare. Attempts are being made to save the species, but populations are currently decreasing. Estimated generation time if fifteen years, so any increases in population size, if any, will take some time to become noticeable.

Sources are the ARKive, IUCN Red List, and EDGE. Images are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Common licenses: one, two.

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