The largest amphibian in the world looks like a work of fiction: reportedly growing as long as a man and virtually unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs.
The Chinese giant salamander or “Andrias davidianus” is struggling to survive in the wild scattered across few fast-flowing rivers in China. In the meantime the aquaculture industry is breeding these amphibians in large numbers in captivity for the food market.
The Chinese giant salamanders are fully aquatic animals that can grow to a maximum length of 1.9 meters (about 6 feet). More typically measuring about 1 m ( about 3.28 feet), it breathes through its mottled brown, rough, wrinkled skin, small eyes and has a broad, flat head. Because of their poor eyesight these large animals rely heavily on smell, touch, and the sensing of vibrations with special sensory in its skin.
What Do They Eat?
Larvae feed on wide variety of aquatic invertebrates as well as some small vertebrates (larval salamanders, fishes or tadpoles). Adults eat terrestrial invertebrates, small snakes, other salamanders, shrews and mice.
Where Do They Live?
Relatively little is known about them. Its range once extended across central and southern China but today is very fragmented.
Mating and Breeding
Female lays hundreds of eggs in underwater cavities or dens, which are then protected by male den masters until the eggs hatch a few months later. The eggs hatch after 50 to 60 days. Measuring just 3 cm (1.18 inches) long when they emerge from the egg, the salamanders grow really slow to their adult state reaching sexual maturity when they are about 14 years old.
These ancient animals or “living fossils” are now on verge of extinction in the wild because of deadly combination of habitat loss, disease and over-exploitation. Long generation times make recovery very hard, and a catastrophic population decline of more than 85% in just a few decades resulting in these salamanders to be classified as “Critically Endangered”.
Their population has been in decline for decades and the recent expansion of the farming industry and the knock-on impacts this creates, means that we have now reached a critical point in terms of the persistence of these salamanders in nature. The perilous status of the species in the wild stands in as a sharp contrast to the thousands of captive Chinese giant salamanders that are farmed as industrial food and considered for a highly valued dietary delicacy.
Salamanders on a Plate
Chinese giant salamander population numbers have fallen drastically because of commercial over-exploitation for human consumption. The vast majority of these salamanders are believed to originate from the wild. Chinese giant salamanders are protected by Chinese law, but eating of those bred in captivity is allowed, and their price is to even $300 per kg.
So, there is a very big risk that promoting increased consumption of giant salamanders will lead to increased demand that cannot be met from farmed sources, so it will have devastating consequences for the last surviving wild populations in nature.