To catch their prey in swift-moving water, Japanese giant salamanders have huge mouths relative to their body size. For being such a large animal, their eyes are quite tiny, so they rely heavily on their olfactory senses to seek out their meal. The types of foods we give to our salamanders also differs to the foods they receive in Japan. Asa Zoo almost exclusively feeds their animals loaches — a small, native fish.
Here at the Zoo, our salamanders receive frozen-thawed smelt, which is similar in size to the loaches, as well as live earthworms and frozen-thawed herring and shrimp. While it is nice to be able to offer them a variety, they definitely seem to prefer the smelt. Eventually, it would be neat to get loaches or another fish that is native to their habitat for them to try.
At the Reptile Discovery Center, our animal care team is hard at work making the final adjustments to our very own Japanese giant salamander exhibit, which is scheduled to open this winter. Keep an eye on the Zoo's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for details as we work toward their big debut. Meantime, we continue to host our daily keeper talks at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. near the Jewels of Appalachia exhibit. I hope to see you there!
This article appeared in the October 2019 issue of National Zoo News. This professional development opportunity was supported by grants from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Enrichment and Training Committee and the National Capital Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers.