Chinese Giant Salamander

Description and biology

The Chinese giant salamander is one of the largest salamanders on Earth (salamanders resemble lizards but have smooth, soft, moist skin). It has an average length of 3.3 feet (1 meter). Its head is broad and flat with a broad mouth.

It has four short limbs and a tail measuring more than half of its total length. The Chinese giant salamander has smooth, rounded bumps (called tubercles) on its snout, at the edge of its eyes, and on other parts of its head.

Thick skin folds with larger tubercles appear on the sides of its body. The upper part of the salamander’s body is dark brown or pale brown in color with irregular black patches. It is lighter in color underneath.

The Chinese giant salamander is a carnivore (meat–eater), feeding on crabs, fish, frogs, shrimp, mollusks, and aquatic insects. It is especially fond of crabs.

During the breeding season, which peaks in August and September, a female Chinese giant salamander lays about 100 eggs in water. Each egg is about 0.3 inch (0.8 centimeter) in diameter; its cream color changes to white after it is laid.

When the water temperature reaches 65° to 72°F (18° to 22°C), the eggs hatch within 45 days. The hatchlings, or newborn salamanders, are about 1.2 inches (3 centimeters) long.

Habitat and current distribution

The Chinese giant salamander ranges widely over Taiwan and north, central, south, and southwest China. There are no estimates of the total number of these salamanders in the wild.

The Chinese giant salamander inhabits mountain streams at elevations below 3,300 feet (1,006 meters). In these areas, plant cover is extensive and river water is shallow, cold, clear, and fast–moving. Deep pools and caves are abundant. The salamander seeks shelter in caves during the day and emerges to search for food at night.

History and conservation measures

The primary threat to the Chinese giant salamander is hunting. The meat of this salamander is said to be smooth, white, delicious, and high in nutrients. In addition, humans in the salamander’s range use other parts of its body to create medicines.

In 1989, the Chinese government listed the Chinese giant salamander as a second grade protected animal on its List of Major Protective Wildlife of the State. After this, many Chinese provincial governments also passed legislation to ban the killing of the salamander.

Since the passage of these acts, dishes containing the salamander’s meat are not served in large cities. In smaller cities and in the countryside, however, live Chinese giant salamanders or their meat are still sold.