Two species of giant salamanders live in Asia. A similar
huge amphibian, the Eastern hellbender, lives in the eastern
United States. National Zoo staff are exploring which of
two Asian species will do best on Asia Trail.
Japanese Giant Salamander
Genus and Species: Andrias japonicus
Size: Japanese giant salamanders are about 55 pounds and
5 feet long.
Distribution and Habitat: Japanese giant salamanders inhabit
the cold, fast-flowing mountain streams and rivers of northern
Kyushu Island and western Honshu in Japan.
Diet: Japanese giant salamanders 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.
Reproduction: 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 was first put under protection in 1951,
and was recognized as endangered
by the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service in 1976. It has no natural predators,
but has been hunted by local populations for food, and
is losing its habitat to deforestation.
Chinese Giant Salamander
Genus and Species: Andrias davidianus
Size: Chinese giant salamanders range from 5.5 to 6.6 feet
long and weigh 45 to 55 pounds
giant salamanders are found in fast mountain streams at 650
to 3,300 feet above sea level,
in the tributaries of the Pearl, Yellow, and Yangzi rivers,
across 17 regions of China. Nocturnal creatures, they live
in muddy, dark rock crevices along riverbanks.
Diet: They eat crabs, fish, snakes, aquatic insects, water
rats, turtles, frogs and crabs. Giant salamanders have a
very slow metabolism, and go weeks without eating, if necessary.
Reproduction: Little is known.
Conservation: Chinese giant salamanders are considered a
delicacy, and their body parts are used in traditional Chinese
medicines. They were recognized as endangered by the US Fish
and Wildlife Service in 1976, and are fully protected in
China. Despite having no natural predators, Chinese giant
salamanders are highly endangered due to habitat loss and
deforestation, as well as poaching.