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Species Spotlight

Chinese Giant Salamander

Names: Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus), aka freshwater panda or ‘baby fish’– apparently because when it’s caught, it sounds like a human baby crying.

Size: Prepare to be shook – these hefty critters are the biggest amphibians in the world! They can weigh over 140 pounds and grow as long as a human. 

Favourite hangout: Submerged in rocky dens or caves in the clean, fast-flowing mountainous rivers of central and southern China. Ideally these rocky hideouts are in, or near, forest. In the wild, these guys may hang out in pairs or small groups. From time to time, they emerge from the water to breathe. They’re said not to like others butting in on their ‘turf’.

Chinese Giant Salamander

Love language: Courtship involves head touching, belly pushing and wuwa-wuwa sounds! To increase their chances of becoming a dad, dominant males bag multiple females. Said females lay batches of 10 to 100 eggs – up to 500 eggs! – which the Alpha salamander fertilises. With a hatching success rate of 30%, that’s a whole heap of kids arriving each year!

If you see one: Trust us, you’ll never forget it. These super-sized salamanders team naturally pinkish brown / light and dark brown / and black marbled colours with a slippery body finish. Not our go-to IG filter look, but for them, it works.

Pet peeves: The millions of aquaculture farms which now exist in China where these guys are fattened up to be consumed as luxury food and for traditional Chinese medicine. Then there’s the diseases and the genetic mixing these farms expose them to … The few remaining wild giant salamanders must contend with all sorts of development, which breaks up, and pollutes, their lovely deep-water habitats.

Growth: When they emerge from eggs, gill-breathing hatchlings are an inch long. Dad protects them for about four months, until they can feed themselves. Estimates for when Chinese giant salamanders hit sexual maturity vary from five-to-six to eight years, but these colossal critters don’t seem to be in a hurry to get jiggy.

Chinese Giant Salamander resting on its legs

Eating habits: Chinese giant salamanders have super-sensitive skin that can detect tiny movements in water. They just open their broad jaws and suck small fishes, crabs, insects, frogs, and snakes in! Night-time is when they’re most likely to feel hunger pangs and go in search of a bite.

Facts: Ancient myths compare Chinese giant salamanders with otters, and it’s true that their paddle-like tails have a whiff of similarity. But these stonking amphibians aren’t strong swimmers – a sudden flood can wash them down river! They’ve been around longer than India’s purple frog, having emerged 150 to 170 million years ago. Known to be partial to gobbling their own shed skin, Chinese giant salamanders also indulge in ‘jaw stretching’. Scientists believe there are at least three species and up to eight, and that they have hardly changed since the time of the dinosaurs. 

Personality type? The Hidden One. Cry Baby? 

How at risk is it? Critically Endangered (CR).

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