Few amphibians are as awe inspiring as the Chinese Giant Salamander. It is the largest amphibian, as well as the largest salamander, in the world. It’s also the focus of our article today. Everyone needs to know about these extraordinary creatures and their current plight.
The Chinese Giant Salamander, or Andrias davidianus, really is a living fossil. Along with only two other species, they come from the Cryptobranchidae Family. This family dates back about 170 million years.
This species has been known to reach a length of almost 6 feet. But it is rare now to find an individual who reaches that length. Comparatively, the Japanese Giant Salamander only gets up to a length of 5 feet. As you can see from the picture, these guys have small eyes, a large head, and a very wide mouth. Because of their small eyes, they have very poor eyesight so they depend on special sensory nodes.
They can be found in colors of dark brown, lighter brown, black, dark reddish, and Albino (which looks white or orange). One interesting fact is that these salamanders are known to vocalize. They can make whining, hissing, barking, and crying sounds. Some say these sound very similar to the crying of a young child. Wouldn’t that be scary to hear while going on a hike through the woods?
Due to habitat destruction, the range of the Chinese Giant Salamander has become highly fragmented. Most notably, they are found in the basins of the Yellow, Pearl, and Yangtze rivers. They prefer to live in shallow rivers of little width and with a quick flow. You can find them in lakes as well.
Normally, any habitat you find them in will be very rocky. Small rocks, gravel, and some vegetation are typical. They try to find burrows in slower flow areas to lay their eggs. So the rocky terrain helps create areas like this. In addition, Chinese Giant Salamanders can be found in subterranean rivers. In fact, in certain parts of china this is where the only remaining Chinese Giant Salamanders are located.
Since the 1950s, the population of this Giant Salamander species has declined drastically. Studies estimate that it has declined by over 80%. There are various factors at play causing their decline.
As with many Amphibians and Salamanders, the Chinese Giant Salamander is extremely susceptible to environmental changes. At temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, this species will stop feeding. If it reaches 95 Fahrenheit, the salamander will die. Like with other amphibians, global warming has a huge effect on its livelihood.
Habitat Destruction – Industrialization
In addition to global warming, industrialization in China has led to extreme habitat destruction. Researchers estimated that by 2000 over 90% of their habitat had been destroyed. The building of dams causes their stream to either come to a standstill or dry up completely. Which of course makes the stream completely uninhabitable for any salamanders living there.
Habitat Destruction – Water Pollution
Water pollution due to industrialization has also been a huge factor in destroying their habitat. Runoff from mining activities or farming plays a large role in this issue. Pesticides and chemicals can be absorbed by the giant salamanders causing severe health issues or death. Also, algal blooms can occur due to the presence of macronutrients. These algal blooms force the temperature of the water they are in to rise. Remember, Chinese Giant Salamanders need very cold underwater temperatures. Additionally, algal blooms deplete the oxygen levels in the water. This kills off any underwater species living nearby.
Recently, this has been a development affecting these salamanders. The virus is named the Chinese Giant Salamander Iridovirus. This awful virus causes extremely severe hemorrhaging. It affects juveniles as well as adults and death occurs in as little as six days.
In China, people consider the giant salamander a delicacy. Due to this, Poachers sell them to restaurants for about $100 to $150 per kilogram. People use chinese giant salamanders for traditional medicinal purposes as well. Overhunting is the largest factor in the decline of this species. Chinese law states that the giant salamander is a protected species. However, Poachers face a fine of only six dollars. These poachers make a profit margin of at least $96 . Conservation efforts fail to stop this from happening. Nature reserves created for this species have done little to stop the decline. Every single one continues to see a reduction in their populations. Lack of funding and personnel along with poaching are some of the biggest reasons why they are failing.
As a pet?
Currently, no, at least not in the United States. That being said, People owning Chinese Giant Salamanders has happened. However, an individual trying to get one as a pet is going to have an extremely hard time. On top of that, their care requirements are so intense that most people wouldn’t want one.
I’m going to tell you a bit of what you would need minimally to keep a specimen of this species. First, you need a giant aquarium and when I say giant I really mean it. You’re looking at something that is at least 3 meters wide, 2 meters deep, and 1.5 meters high. Additionally, the aquarium will need filters to simulate the natural flow of the streams they live in. Next, you will have to fill the aquarium with enough rocks to also simulate the usual appearance of their habitat. Can you imagine having to clean that bad boy out? So not only do you need the right amount of funds to even consider owning one. You better also really have a passion for this species. Otherwise, you will absolutely hate owning one.
So what can I do to help?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much the average person can do to help. If you find you’re really serious about helping this species, find an organization. Programs dedicated to their conservation exist. Just look around and see what you can find. I suggest taking a look at webpage for the Chinese Giant Salamander Conservation Programme. Educating others is one way we can all help. Share what you know about these guys with others. It’s not much, but every little thing helps.
Have some other suggestions to help this species? Do you want to talk about them more in general? Please leave a comment below!