Chinese giant salamander

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Chinese giant salamander
2009 Andrias davidianus.JPG
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Caudata
Family: Cryptobranchidae
Genus: Andrias
Species: A. davidianus
Binomial name
Andrias davidianus
(Blanchard, 1871)
Synonyms

Megalobatrachus davidianus (Reviewed by Liu, 1950)[2]

The Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) is the largest salamander and largest amphibian in the world, reaching a length of 180 cm (5.9 ft), although it rarely—if ever—reaches that size today. It is endemic to rocky, mountain streams and lakes in China. It also occurs in Taiwan, probably as a result of introduction.[3] It is considered critically endangered due to habitat loss, pollution, and overcollection, as it is considered a delicacy and used in traditional Chinese medicine. It has been listed as one of the top 10 "focal species" in 2008 by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project.

Description and behavior[edit]

Portrait of a ~30-year-old animal

It has a large head, small eyes, and dark and wrinkly skin. It is one of only two extant species in the genus Andrias, the other being the slightly smaller, but otherwise very similar Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus). The Chinese giant salamander feeds on insects, frogs, crabs, shrimp, and fish. It has very poor eyesight, so depends on special sensory nodes that run in a line on the creature's body, from head to tail. They are capable of sensing the slightest vibrations around them with the help of these nodes.[4] The female lays 400–500 eggs in an underwater breeding cavity, which is guarded by the male until the eggs hatch after 50–60 days.[3] The average adult salamander weighs 25–30 kg (55–66 lb) and is 115 cm (3.77 ft) in length.[5]

The giant salamander is known to vocalize, making barking, whining, hissing, or crying sounds.[6] Some of these vocalizations bear a striking resemblance to the crying of a young human child, and as such it is known in the Chinese language as "infant fish" (娃娃鱼 / 鲵).[7]

The Chinese giant salamander is the largest known amphibian species, reaching lengths of up to 180 cm (5.9 ft), although it rarely—if ever—reaches that size today.[3] It can weigh up to 80 lb.[citation needed] Its natural range has suffered in the past few decades due to habitat loss and overharvesting. Consequently, many salamanders are now farmed in mesocosms across China. Furthermore, previously built concrete dams that destroyed the salamander’s habitat are now fitted with stairs so the giant Chinese salamander can easily navigate the dam and make it back to its niche.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Chinese giant salamander was widespread in central, south-western and southern China, but its range is now highly fragmented.[1] Its range spans the area from Qinghai east to Jiangsu and south to Sichuan, Guangxi and Guangdong; notably in the basins of the Yangtze, Yellow and Pearl Rivers.[3] Finds in Taiwan may be the result on introduction.[1]

The Chinese giant salamander is entirely aquatic (spends its whole life in water) and lives in rocky hill streams and lakes with clear water.[3] It is usually found in forested regions.[1] It is found at altitudes of 100 to 1,500 m (330 to 4,920 ft),[1] with most records between 300 and 800 m (980 and 2,620 ft).[3]

In captivity[edit]

As of early 2008, ISIS records only show five individuals held in US zoos (Zoo Atlanta, Cincinnati Zoo, and Saint Louis Zoological Park), and an additional four in European zoos (Zoo Dresden and Rotterdam Zoo).[8] A medium-sized specimen, approximately 3 ft (0.91 m) long, was kept for several years at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, California, and now is on display again in the "Water Planet" section of the new California Academy of Sciences building.[9] There are also two in residence at the Los Angeles Zoo. Additional individuals are likely kept in non-ISIS zoos and animals parks in its native China, such as Shanghai Zoo. Several of them are kept in the aquaria of Shanghai and Xian. It has been bred in captivity, but whether this can be achieved to an extent where the pressure on the wild populations is reduced is doubtful.[3]

Since May 2014 thirty-three Chinese giant salamanders including three adults are held in Prague Zoo. The main attraction is the largest specimen in Europe.[10]

Taxonomy[edit]

The correct scientific name of this species has been argued to be Andrias scheuchzeri (in which case Andrias davidianus would be a junior synonym) – a name otherwise restricted to an extinct species described from Swiss fossils.[11]

Decline in population[edit]

Chinese giant salamanders for sale in a restaurant in Hongqiao Town (虹桥镇) in Zhejiang, China: The price was 880 CNY/jin, or about 215 EUR/kg or $US280/kg. This places Chinese giant salamanders firmly in the luxury food segment and makes them an attractive target for poaching.

In the past, the Chinese giant salamander was fairly common and widespread in China.[1] Since the 1950s, the population has declined rapidly because of habitat destruction and overhunting. The Chinese giant salamander has been listed as Critically Endangered in the Chinese Red Book of Amphibians and Reptiles. Despite the Chinese Government listing the salamander as a Class II Protected Species, 100 salamanders are hunted illegally every year in the Hupingshan Natural Nature Reserve alone. Prior to the 1980s, Chinese giant salamanders were abundant and easily found. Today, when researchers search for salamanders, their attempts are fruitless. The Chinese giant salamander is on the verge of extinction, but many provinces still purchase thousands of salamanders for consumption. Also, despite the 14 nature reserves, populations are still declining, with salamanders becoming more difficult to find. The giant salamanders, which once used to be recorded at 6 feet in length, now rarely, if ever, reach this size due to overhunting and resulting natural selection favoring smaller salamanders.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Liang Gang, Geng Baorong, Zhao Ermi (2004). "Andrias davidianus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 6 April 2014. 
  2. ^ "Amphibian Species of the World – Andrias davidianus (Blanchard, 1871)". Research.amnh.org. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Andrias davidianus -Amphibiaweb
  4. ^ "World's Weirdest Creatures". Noeman.org. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  5. ^ Wood, The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Sterling Pub Co Inc (1983), ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9
  6. ^ Stebbins, Robert C.; Cohen, Nathan W. (1997), A Natural History of Amphibians, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-10251-1 
  7. ^ Largest Base for Endangered Giant Salamander Underway, Xinhua News Agency, 2006-08-18 
  8. ^ Andrias davidianus in zoos – ISIS
  9. ^ "Exhibits of the California Academy of Sciences". Calacademy.org. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  10. ^ Novinky.cz – Zoo Praha ukáže největšího velemloka v Evropě
  11. ^ Amphibian Species of the World 5.2. Genus Andrias. Retrieved 2008-12-28.