Japanese Giant Salamander
Two species of giant salamanders live in Asia, one in Japan and one in China. A similar
huge amphibian, the Eastern hellbender, lives in the eastern
Genus and Species: Andrias japonicus
Japanese giant salamanders are about 55 pounds and
five feet long. Brown and black skin helps them blend in with the mud, stones, and plants of the streambeds where they live. Their broad, flattened bodies are streamlined for swimming at the bottom of fast-moving water. Giant salamanders are covered in mucus, which protects their bodies from abrasions and parasites. When irritated or grasped, they produce a milky, sticky secretion that smells like Japanese peppers. The giant salamander absorbs oxygen through its skin. Loose folds of skin along its sides increase surface area to help absorb even more oxygen.
Distribution and Habitat:
Japanese giant salamanders inhabit
the cold, fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers of northern
Kyushu Island and western Honshu in Japan.
With their tiny eyes, giant salamanders have poor vision. Instead, they rely on their other senses—such as sensory organs along their bodies and on their heads—to detect other animals and find their way. They eat almost anything they
can, from insects to fish to mice to small invertebrates
like crabs. Giant salamanders have a very slow metabolism,
and go weeks without eating, if necessary.
Japanese giant salamanders begin reproduction
in late August, when herds congregate at nest sites. Males
compete, viciously, with many dying due to injuries from
fights. Females lay between 400 and 500 eggs in the fall,
which may be fertilized by several males. Males aggressively
guard the nests, which may contain eggs from several females,
until they hatch in the early spring.
giant salamander is protected from international trade by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species. It is listed as near threatened on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species. It has no natural predators,
but has been hunted by local populations for food, and
is losing its habitat to deforestation.