Chinese giant salamander
The spiny newt of China can produce poison instantly by forcing its ribs outwards with such force that it causes the skin to break and release poison from the poison glands under the skin. Some newts are referred to as dragons because of their strange-looking exterior gills.

An Asian Gold Toad survived a trip in a cargo container from China to Cape Town, South Africa after jumping into a porcelain candlestick made in China. The trip by ship lasted many weeks and covered thousands of kilometers across the Indian Ocean. The amphibian, became famous in South Africa, is believed to have survived the trip by hardening its skin to prevent it drying out and also slowing its breathing and heart rate, methods that help the species survive in times of drought. [Source: Christopher Torchia, Associated Press, December 22, 2012]

Wrinkled frogs (Rana rugulosa) are quite large. The sizes of female and male frogs are different. Their preferred habitats are rice fields and ponds. They hide in dens during the day and come out to seek food in the night. They eat other frogs, tadpoles of other frogs, spiders, insects and young fish. There are perpendicular skin protrusions of different lengths nn their back and body, whose distribution are quite even. On their back, there are also irregular deep color strips. The stripes on their four limbs are quite visible, which looks like tiger stripes — wrinkles to Chinese — hence their name. Wrinkled frogs can be found in tropical areas in southwest and south China. Their number have been greatly reduced by hunting. They are regarded as a threatened species. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

Yunnan Mustache Toads (Vibrissaphora ailaonica) live in primary forests at an elevation between 800 to 2600 meters, where vegetation is varied, the environment is humid and evergreen broad-leaved forests block sunshine at ground level. They eat snails, worms and frogs. Yunnan mustache toad have 10-16 thorn-like protrusions on the edge of their upper lip, which look sort of like a mustache, the source of their name. They are also called the "bearded frog". The eyes are a rainbow of color, with the upper part blue and the lower part black. Most of the time they live on land in groups. During the mating seasons, they enter water and lay their eggs in streams where the water is clear and calm. About 40 days later, small tadpoles emerge. There are high numbers of tadpoles; but their survival rate is low. They can be found only in Ailao Mountain and Wuliang Mountain areas of Yunnan. They are protected animals in Yunnan.

Chinese Giant Salamander

The Chinese giant salamander is the largest of all amphibians Part of a lineage stretching back 170 million years and found in rivers and streams, they are regarded as “living fossils”. They can weigh up to 63.5 kilograms (140 pounds). Locals call them "baby fish" because they make a noise that sounds like a crying baby during the mating season. Chinese giant salamanders can be found in in mountain streams of northeast and southeast Yunnan and 17 provinces of China. Particularly large ones have been found in the Qingshui and Wuyang rivers the in central Guizhou.

Chinese giant salamanders (Andrias davidianus) have total body and tail length of 1.8-2.0 meters and weigh 20-25 kilograms. They reside in mountain streams at an elevation between 200 to 1500 meters, where the waters are rapid and clear and where there are many cracks and holes among rocks to hide in. They don't seek and attack prey but rather open their mouth to wait for their prey to enter their mouth, and then slamming it shut. and like to eat fish, crabs, frogs, snakes and other aquatic animals. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences,]

Chinese giant salamanders have a big head, on which there are apparent grains. Chinese giant salamander have a large mouth, but their eyes and nostril are very small. Their tail is flat and their skin is soft and smooth. Normally, their skin color is brown and they have no scales at all. Their four limbs are short and fat. Their mating season is from June to August each year. Females lays their eggs on rocks which are then fertilized by the male’s sperm. Young salamanders hatch quickly from their eggs — within 21 days naturally — but grow very slowly.

What are the locals doing to preserve to these rare animals? Eating them of course. Giant salamanders are regarded as a delicacy and their flesh is considered delicious. Their habitats have been greatly reduced and they are regarded as a threatened species. However they are bred in large numbers under license for human consumption in China.

Giant Salamander Amphibiaweb ;

South China Giant Salamander — Largest Amphibian in the World?

Chinese Giant salamanders are not just one species but at least five, and perhaps as many as eight as well as another species in Japan. The recently described South China giant salamander may be the biggest of them all

A salamander that lived at London Zoo for 20 years in the 1920s has turned out to be a new species which could be the largest amphibian in the world. The Telegraph reported: “The animal, which was kept at the zoo and later preserved at the Natural History Museum, was thought to be a Chinese giant salamander, but tests from 17 specimens held at the museum showed it was completely a new species that was actually bigger than its cousin. The amphibian, which has been called the South China giant salamander is presumed to still live in the wild. [Source: The Telegraph, September 17, 2019]

“When it lived at London Zoo, scientists in the 1920s had abandoned proposals that it could be a new species. The same salamander has now been used to define the characteristics of the new species.The South China giant salamander can reach nearly two meters and is the largest of the 8,000 amphibian species alive today, scientists from ZSL and London’s Natural History Museum said. Analysing tissue samples from wild salamanders and the DNA specimens scientists revealed three genetic lineages. These were from different river systems and mountain ranges across China and could have diverged more than three million years ago.

Giant Salamander Farms

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giant salamander
Most giant salamanders are now found on farms in China. Millions of them are bred for their meat in such farms scattered throughout China. Salamander meat was marketed as a luxury food item in the 1990s, and government-subsidized farms spread around the country. But it wasn’t always that way. Unlike pangolins and tigers, salamanders were never historically valued for their meat or as a medicine. “Traditional knowledge associated them with bad luck and dead babies,” Samuel Turvey, a giant salamander expert at the Zoological Society of London, said. “They were animals you didn’t want to go near.” [Source: Rachel Nuwer, New York Times, June 4, 2018]

Rachel Nuwer wrote in the New York Times: That changed in the mid-20th century when famine forced people to turn to alternative food sources. By the 1990s, giant salamander meat had been rebranded as a luxury food item in China, and government-subsidized salamander farms began popping up around the country. As prices for live animals skyrocketed, captive populations grew and wild ones plummeted. “The development of this industry led to huge amounts of increased pressure on salamanders, which were poached from the wild to stock these farms,” Dr. Turvey said.

Ben Tapley, head of the reptile team at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), told .The scale of the farming industry in China is staggering — a 2011 census purely looking at the licensed farms in Shaanxi Province showed that there were 2.6 million Chinese giant salamanders on farms, and the industry has expanded massively since then. Diseases such as ranavirus are a problem on some of the farms, and effluent from these facilities often flows directly into neighboring river systems.”

Chinese Officials Dine on Endangered Giant Salamander

In January 2015, AFP reported: “Chinese officials feasted on a critically endangered giant salamander and turned violent when journalists photographed the luxury banquet, according to media reports on the event which appeared to flout Beijing's austerity campaign. The 28 diners included senior police officials from the southern city of Shenzhen, the Global Times said. "In my territory, it is my treat," it quoted a man in the room as saying. [Source: AFP, January 28, 2015 ]

“The giant salamander is believed by some Chinese to have anti-ageing properties, but there is no orthodox evidence to back the claim. The species is classed as "critically endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of threatened species, which says the population has "declined catastrophically over the last 30 years". "Commercial over-exploitation for human consumption is the main threat to this species," the IUCN said.

The Global Times cited the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, which said its journalists were beaten up when their identities were discovered by the diners. One was kicked and slapped, another had his mobile phone forcibly taken, while the photographer was choked, beaten up and had his camera smashed, the reports said.

A total of 14 police have been suspended and an investigation launched into the incident, added the Global Times. One of the Shenzhen diners provided the salamander and said it had been captive-bred, according to the report. Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a much-publicised austerity drive for the ruling classes, including a campaign for simple meals with the catchphrase “four dishes and one soup”.

Restaurant Fined for Charging Outrageous Prices for Giant Salamander

In 2016 , a restaurant in Guangxi region has been fined 500,000 yuan ($77,000 dollars) for its outrageously-priced giant salamander. The China Daily reported: The restaurant also had its business and service licenses revoked, according to Guilin government. A tourist, identified as Wang, was left up in arms after she was charged a staggering 5,000 yuan for a giant salamander weighing 1.65 kg. "I was taken to the restaurant by a taxi driver," she said. "The waiter recommended the giant salamander, but they did not specify the price." "It was not until after the cook had killed the animal that they told me it would cost 3,200 yuan a kilo, and offered a discount if I didn't request an invoice," Wang said. "It's ridiculous! The highest price I have heard people paying for a giant salamander in Guilin was 1,400 yuan per kilo."[Source: China Daily, April 26, 2016]

Wang informed the police, who helped her barter the price down to 1,500 yuan. The restaurant, however, offered a very different story. "Every dish is clearly labeled with a specific price," said a waiter, who declined to be named. "The salamander was not killed until she accepted the weight and price." The restaurant manager told Xinhua that they bought the giant salamanders at a local vegetable market for around 700 yuan per kilo. He added that all prices were set within the restaurant's rights.

According to the Pricing Law, restaurants must not over-price their products. Another regulation also stipulates that the price of a certain commodity or service must not exceed the average price for the same area. It transpires that the restaurant has form in this regard. Customers last year complained about its prices, so it changed its name, according to investigators.

How Giant Salamander Farms Are Harming the Species

Farmed giant salamanders released into the wild are genetically distinct from those that evolved naturally and are considered a man-made “species.” Dr. Turvey said that reintroducing farmed animals is not a simple solution for saving the species in the wild and in fact may be harmful. “The farms are driving the extinction of most of the species by homogenizing them,” said Robert Murphy, a senior curator of herpetology at the Royal Ontario Museum. “We’re losing genetic diversity and adaptations that have been evolving for millions of years.”

On farms, the five to eight species of giant salamander are being muddled into a single hybridized population adapted to no particular environment. Rachel Nuwer wrote in the New York Times: Not recognizing that salamanders from different parts of the country were distinct species, farmers had inadvertently created hybrids — a fact that the researchers confirmed through genetic analysis of over 1,000 captive amphibians. “When we looked at farmed animals, we found a large mixture of different genetic components, like a witch’s caldron,” said Jing Che, a herpetologist at the Kunming Institute of Zoology and co-author of both recent studies. [Source: Rachel Nuwer, New York Times, June 4, 2018]

No system was ever put in place to prevent hybrids from release into the wild, nor to ensure that reintroduced animals were matched with their geographic origins. “These hybrids may create a big mess by changing the genetic makeup of locally adapted wild animals,” Dr. Che said. In 2009, Dr. Murphy and his colleagues raised these concerns at a government meeting but were dismissed. “They just said it wasn’t an issue,” he said. At least 72,000 captive-bred salamanders have been released since then.

Giant Salamander Surveys and Conservation

Rachel Nuwer wrote in the New York Times: The Chinese giant salamander has quietly slipped toward extinction in nature. Following an exhaustive, yearslong search, researchers recently reported that they were unable to find any wild-born individuals.“When we started the survey, we were sure we’d at least find several salamanders,” said Turvey. “It’s only now that we’ve finished that we realize the actual severity of the situation.” As with so many other protected species in China, poaching is the main threat to giant salamanders. “Professor Samuel Turvey, of the ZSL and lead author of the study published today in Ecology and Evolution journal said: “The decline in wild Chinese giant salamander numbers has been catastrophic, mainly due to recent overexploitation for food. [Source: Rachel Nuwer, New York Times, June 4, 2018]

Realizing the amphibians were disappearing in nature, officials decided to restock wild populations by releasing captive-born salamanders. Until now, the cumulative effect of poaching, farming and release on wild populations was unknown. So in 2013, Dr. Turvey and his colleagues organized a nationwide giant salamander search — apparently the largest wildlife survey ever conducted in China. They spent three years scanning riverbeds and turning over rocks at 97 sites in 16 provinces. They found giant salamanders at just four sites. All of the animals had genetic profiles that did not match the places in which they were living, indicating they likely originated on farms.

The researchers also interviewed nearly 3,000 local people, about half of whom said they had seen giant salamanders in the wild. But the most recent sightings they could recall took place, on average, 18 years ago. “There could be remnant populations of genuine salamanders scattered here and there, but they are effectively impossible for any researchers to find now,” Dr. Turvey said. “If we wait too long, all those wild-caught individuals will be gone,” he said.

Releases of giant salamanders without knowing their genetic makeup should stop immediately, Dr. Che added. But that can’t happen without buy-in from Chinese authorities. “We hope to work with the government to improve the existing conservation plan,” Dr. Che said. “We have a responsibility to do conservation based on scientific knowledge.”

Japanese Giant Salamanders and Chinese Giant Salamanders

The Japanese giant salamander can reach lengths of over a meter and can live almost 100 years. It almost as big as the Chinese giant salamander, the world’s largest amphibian, which reach lengths of a meter and a half. Japanese giant salamanders live mainly in rivers in central and western parts of Honshu as well as Shikoku and Kyushu. They used be hunted for food and traditional Asian medicines but now are protected by law, having been designated a special natural monument in 1952.

Chinese giant salamanders and Japanese giant salamanders are very difficult to tell apart. Before an international ban on trade of these salamanders came into effect many Chinese giant salamanders — which are raised in farms in China for human consumption — were imported live to Japan for food. One dealer in Okayama obtained 800 of them for sale to restaurants. Some of those that were imported escaped or were released and have interbred with the Japanese species and competed with them for nesting sites and food.

Many of the Japanese giant salamanders seen in rivers in central and western Japan are actually Chinese giant salamanders, which biologists regard as threat to their Japanese cousins. DNA analysis of giant salamanders caught in the wild reveal that many are Chinese not Japanese, with some Chinese ones even showing up in the Tokyo area. One 140-centimeter Chinese giant salamander in the 1990s in Saitama Prefecture’s Arakawa River is still alive and is the largest salamander in captivity in Japan.

Image Sources: 1) Kostich; 2) Wild Alliance; 3) AAPA; 4) Tooter for Kids; 5, 6) China Alligator Fund; 7) Blogspot; 8, 9) China Science Academy; 10 Environmental News11) CNTO

Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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