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What Is a Giant Salamander?

Karize Uy
Karize Uy

The giant salamander is a type of salamander known as not only the biggest species of salamander, but the biggest amphibian as well. It belongs to the family of Crytobranchoida, a suborder that can be dated as far back as the Jurassic Age. The “hellbender” salamanders found in North America are counted among the biggest of the salamander genus, as well as the salamanders in Asia, particularly the Chinese and the Japanese giant salamanders. This amphibian is so big that it can appear to be a young crocodile.

Among the three giant salamanders, the biggest is the Chinese giant salamander, with the scientific name Andrias davidianus. Its length has been recorded to reach as long as 6 feet (about 180 cm), but, unfortunately, many existing salamanders do not reach this length anymore. The existing Chinese giant salamanders have an average length of 3.8 feet (about 115.8 cm) and weigh around 60 lbs (27.2 kg). Ironically, it is also the most endangered among the three species and has a conservation status of “critically endangered.” Perhaps one of the reasons is that these salamanders are used for delicacy dishes and traditional medicine in the Chinese culture.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

The Japanese giant salamander is the second largest of the giant salamanders, bearing the scientific name Andrias davidianus. This species is said to be an endemic species, meaning it can only be found in Japan and nowhere else. Its longest length is recorded to be 5 feet (about 152.4 cm). The Japanese giant salamander is not as endangered as the Chinese species, but is considered to be “near threatened.”

Another “near threatened” giant salamander is the “hellbender,” which can be found in the eastern US. It may belong in the same family as the Asian giant salamanders, but it is categorized in a different genus, as distinguished by its scientific name Crytobranchus alleganiensis. The hellbender has a maximum length of 2.4 feet (74 cm).

Evolutionists find the giant salamander — regardless of species — very interesting because the amphibian has survived throughout millions of years without going through much change or adaptation. The common feature of these three giant salamanders is their wrinkled skin, especially in the mid-section of their bodies. These wrinkles allow the salamanders to have a wider surface area that will absorb the oxygen efficiently, especially in stagnant waters.

A giant salamander also tends to have a wide head, but has small, beady eyes that cannot see clearly. This is why it mostly relies on sensory nerves on the head and the body to “sense” approaching preys, usually small fish, insects, and even frogs. The giant salamanders are one of the few amphibians that have a dual respiratory system, having gills and lungs at the same time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a giant salamander?

A giant salamander is a large amphibian belonging to the Cryptobranchidae family. These creatures are the largest living amphibians on Earth, with some species, like the Chinese giant salamander, reaching lengths of up to 1.8 meters (nearly 6 feet). They are known for their wrinkled skin and flattened bodies, which aid in cutaneous respiration.

Where can giant salamanders be found in the wild?

Giant salamanders are native to freshwater habitats in East Asia and North America. The Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders inhabit rivers and streams in China and Japan, respectively, while the North American Hellbender is found in the eastern United States, particularly in the Appalachian region, thriving in clean, fast-flowing waters.

Are giant salamanders endangered?

Yes, giant salamanders are considered endangered. The Chinese giant salamander, for instance, is critically endangered due to habitat loss, pollution, and overharvesting for food and traditional medicine. Conservation efforts are underway to protect these species and their habitats, with breeding programs aiming to bolster wild populations.

What do giant salamanders eat?

Giant salamanders are carnivorous and consume a diet consisting of fish, insects, crustaceans, and small mammals. They are nocturnal hunters, relying on their sense of touch and chemical receptors to detect prey in the dark waters. Their large size allows them to take on sizable prey, which they swallow whole due to their lack of teeth.

How do giant salamanders reproduce?

Giant salamanders engage in external fertilization, where the female lays eggs in a den which the male then fertilizes. For example, the Japanese giant salamander can lay hundreds of eggs in a single clutch. The male often guards the nest until the larvae hatch, which can take several weeks depending on the species and water temperature.

What is the lifespan of a giant salamander?

Giant salamanders can have remarkably long lifespans, with some individuals living for over 50 years in the wild. In captivity, such as in zoos or research facilities, they may live even longer due to the absence of predators and consistent access to food and medical care, highlighting their potential for longevity.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy