Japanese giant salamander

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Japanese giant salamander
Naturalis Biodiversity Center - Andrias japonicus - Japanese giant salamander - Siebold Collection.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Caudata
Family: Cryptobranchidae
Genus: Andrias
Species: A. japonicus
Binomial name
Andrias japonicus
(Temminck, 1837)

Megalobatrachus japonicus (Reviewed by Sato 1943)[1]

The Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) is endemic to Japan, where it is known as Ōsanshōuo (オオサンショウウオ/大山椒魚?), literally meaning "giant pepper fish". With a length of up to almost 1.5 m (5 ft),[2] it is the second-largest salamander in the world, only being surpassed by the very similar and closely related Chinese giant salamander (A. davidianus). There are only three known members of the Cryptobranchidae family: the Japanese and Chinese giant salamanders and the Eastern hellbender.

Japanese giant salamanders are widespread across rivers in southwestern Japan. The species frequently hybridizes with Chinese giant salamanders, which were introduced to the area.


Japanese Giant Salamanders can grow to be five feet long (160 cm) and 55 pounds (25 kg). It is the second largest amphibian in the world, only next to its close relative, the Chinese Giant Salamander. Their brown and black mottled skin provides camouflage against the bottoms of streams and rivers. They have very small eyes and poor vision. Their mouths run across the width of their heads, and can open to the width of their bodies.[3]


Japanese Giant Salamanders in Kyoto Aquarium
Andrias japonicus Skull

The Japanese giant salamander, being restricted to streams with clear, cool water, is entirely aquatic and nocturnal. Unlike other salamanders, which lose their gills early in their lifecycles, they only breach their heads above the surface to obtain air without venturing out of the water and onto land. Also due to their large size and lack of gills, they are confined to flowing water where oxygen is abundant.[4] The salamander absorbs oxygen through its skin, which has many folds to increase surface area.[3] When threatened, these salamanders can excrete a strong-smelling, milky substance with an odor resembling Japanese pepper (hence its common Japanese name, giant pepper fish). It has very poor eyesight, and possesses special sensory cells covering its skin, running from head to toe, the lateral line system. These sensory cells' hair-like shapes detect minute vibrations in the environment, and are quite similar to the hair cells of the human inner ear. This feature is essential for its hunting because of its poor eyesight. It feeds mainly on insects, frogs and fish. It has a very slow metabolism and can sometimes go for weeks without eating.[3] It lacks natural competitors. It is a long-lived species, with the captive record being an individual that lived in the Natura Artis Magistra, the Netherlands, for 52 years.[2] In the wild, they may live for nearly 80 years.[citation needed]


The Japanese giant salamander was first catalogued by Europeans when the resident physician of Dejima Island in Nagasaki, Philipp Franz von Siebold, captured an individual and shipped it back to Leiden in the Netherlands, in the 1820s. The species was designated as a special natural monument in 1951, and is federally protected.[5]


The Japanese giant salamander is threatened by pollution, habitat loss (among other changes, by the silting up of the rivers where it lives), and overcollection. River disturbance has led to fewer appropriate nesting sites and dams block migration paths. It is considered vulnerable by IUCN, and is included on CITES Appendix I.[6] It can be found on the islands of Kyushu, Honshu, and Shikoku in Japan. In the past, they were fished out of rivers and streams as a source of food, but hunting has ceased because of protection acts.

The Japanese giant salamander has been federally protected as a special natural monument by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs since 1952 due to its cultural and educational significance.[7]


Japanese giant salamanders remain in bodies of water their entire lives. During mating season in late August, sexually mature adults go up stream into the mountains to spawn and lay eggs. Large males guard a den and are known as denmasters. They mate with several females throughout the season. Smaller males who do not have a den may attempt to enter the den and fertilize some of the eggs. The male releases milt over the eggs laid by the female. The denmaster displays parental care and guards the eggs and fans water over them with his tail to increase oxygen flow.[8] Larvae emerge from the fertilized eggs, and lose their gills once they metamorphose into adults.

The Asa Zoo of Japan was the first organization to successfully breed Japanese Giant Salamanders in captivity. Several of their offspring were given to the Smithsonian Zoo of the United States to establish a breeding program.[9] The Hanzaki Institute of Japan has since successfully bred Japanese Giant Salamanders using the Asa zoo's methods of creating artificial dens.

Cultural references[edit]

Ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicting a giant salamander being stabbed by the samurai Hanagami Danjō no jō Arakage

The Japanese giant salamander has been the subject of legend and artwork in Japan, for example, in the ukiyo-e work by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The well-known Japanese mythological creature known as the kappa may be inspired by the Japanese giant salamander.[10]

There is a Giant Salamander festival every year on August 8 in the Okayama prefecture to honor the animal as a god. There are two salamander floats: a dark male and a red female. At the end of the day there is a Hanzaki song. [11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Amphibian Species of the World - Andrias japonicus (Temminck, 1836)". Research.amnh.org. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  2. ^ a b Andrias japonicus - Amphibiaweb
  3. ^ a b c "Japanese Giant Salamander". Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Retrieved 2016-06-13. 
  4. ^ The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Facts on File Inc. 1986. ISBN 0-8160-1359-4. 
  5. ^ オオサンショウウオ (in Japanese). The Agency for Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 2011-09-24. 
  6. ^ "Salamander News (No. 5)" (PDF). ARKive. 2014. Retrieved 2008-09-19. 
  7. ^ Takahashi, Mizuki. "Giant Salamander Research". Bucknell University. Retrieved 2016-06-13. 
  8. ^ Okada, Fukuda, Takahashi, Sumio, Yukihiro, Mizuki (12 November 2014). "Paternal care behaviors of Japanese giant salamander Andrias japonicus in natural populations". Journal of Ethology. 
  9. ^ "Japanese Giant Salamanders at the Zoo". Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Retrieved 2016-06-13. 
  10. ^ "River Monsters" programme 6 Series 3 directed by Duncan Chard, screened in UK on ITV1 14.02.2012 at 19.30
  11. ^ http://altjapan.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/08/the-realm-of-the-salamander.html

External links[edit]