built salamander. Head strongly depressed, snout obtusely truncate;
nostrils small, rounded, close to the edge of the upper lip and at the
corners of the truncated snout, the internasal space less than half of
the interorbital space. Eyes small, rounded, dorso-lateral in position,
and without eyelid. Top of head more or less flat, with a rounded
temporal protuberance above and behind each eye. Vomerine teeth in an
arched series starting between the choanae, parallel to the maxillary
and premaxillary series. A thin lower labial fold starting about midway
between nostril and eye to the angle of the mouth. Trunk less depressed
than head, with about fifteen costal grooves, a strong vertebral
groove, and strong lateral dermal folds. Legs short and flattened. Tail
59% of the body length, compressed. Dorsal tail fin extending to the
trunk. Skin rough and porous, with wrinkles, folds and tubercles. Color
of animals is dark brown, black or greenish. Irregularly blotched and
marbled with dusky spots. Total length about 100 cm, Chang (1936) quotes a maximum of 180 cm, but most animals found nowadays are considerably smaller (Liu and Liu 1998). Specimens of 115 cm weigh approx. 25 pounds (Liu 1950). Closely related and very similar to A. japonicus. There are no records of geographic variation.
The two species of Andrias - A. davidianus occurring in China and A. japonicus
in Japan - are the largest living salamanders, with adults reaching a
total length of more than 100 cm. The two species are similar with
several features in common. Vomerine teeth located on anterior margin
of vomer, parallel with maxillary tooth row; teeth form a long arc.
Nasals in contact with maxilla; frontal does not enter external naris.
Pterygoid broad, almost in contact with base of maxilla. Hyoid arches
cartilaginous. Two pairs of branchial arches. Body large, no spiracle
on head; distance between nostrils less than half the distance between
the eyes. Tongue large. Tubercles on highly vascular skin. Permanently
The Chinese Giant Salamander is very similar to the
Japanese Giant Salamander and differs from the latter by the
arrangement of tubercles on the head and throat. The tubercles of A. davidianus are mostly in pairs, and much smaller and fewer than those of A. japonicus. The tubercles on the throat are characteristic for each species. In A. davidianus, the very small paired tubercles are arranged in rows parallel with the lower jaw. In A. japonicus
they are mostly single and large and irregularly scattered. The snout
is less rounded and the tail a little longer in the Chinese species.
The colour is darker with large black patches (Chang 1936; Liu 1950; Thorn 1969).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: China. Introduced: Taiwan.
mountain streams of China, from Qinghai to Jiangsu and south to
Sichuan, Guanxi and Guangdong. Middle and lower tributaries of the
Yangtze river, Huang He (Yellow river) and Zhu Jiang (Pearl river) (Liu and Liu, 1998). Finds in Taiwan may be the result of introductions.
habitat consists of rocky mountain streams and lakes with clear,
running water, at moderate altitudes (below 1500 m, especially between
300 and 800 m), where the animals occupy hollows and cavities under
water. The salamanders spend their whole lives in water.
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
female lays approximately 500 eggs in a string in an underwater cavity,
occupied by a male. The eggs measure on average 22 mm by 19.2 mm; the
diameter of the embryo is 8-9 mm. Eggs are fertilized externally and
are guarded by the male, until they hatch after 50-60 days at a length
of 30 mm. Larvae start eating after 30 days; reduction of gills begins
when the larvae are 200-250 mm total length (Haker 1997). The larvae have longer gills than those of A. japonicus, fingers and toes are more pointed and the colour is darker. The larva resembles the adult in shape.
Mating behavior has been described for A. japonicus (Kawamichi and Ueda, 1998) and probably is similar for A. davidianus.
In the reproductive season, which appears to fall in August-September,
the male occupies a breeding cavity, which he aggressively guards
against intruders. Females enter the cavity and leave it directly after
spawning. The male fertilizes the eggs and guards them until they hatch
after about 50-60 days.
Trends and Threats
have populations become smaller and fragmented, the individuals
captured are smaller than they used to be, most probably as a result of
over-collecting (Liu and Liu 1998). There are no data on abundance in English.
Relation to Humans
Giant Salamander is considered to be a delicacy and collected for
culinary and commercial purposes. Captive breeding has proved to be
possible. Breeding farms were established in Hunan, Shaanxi, Jiangxi
and other provinces since the early 1970s (Liu and Liu 1998)
but there are insufficient data about the results. It is doubtful if
commercial farming will be able to alleviate the pressure on natural
populations. Breeding has been achieved in Europe (Haker 1997). The European experience and the Japanese results with Andrias japonicus could help Chinese farms to improve their results.
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Dams changing river flow and/or covering habitat
Local pesticides, fertilizers, and pollutants
Intentional mortality (over-harvesting, pet trade or collecting)
There is a vast body of literature, much of it in Chinese (cf. Ye et al. 1993 and references therein). For this species the name Andrias scheuchzeri (Holl 1831) has been resurrected (Frost, 1999, Amphibian Species of the World, American Museum of Natural History).
Chang, M. L. Y. (1936). Amphibiens urodèles de la Chine. Facsimile Reprint (1968). Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles
Fei, L. (1999). Atlas of Amphibians of China. Henan Publishing House of Science and Technology, Zhengzhou.
Haker, K. (1997). "Haltung und Zucht des Chinesischen Riesensalamanders Andrias davidianus." Salamandra, 33, 69-74.
Kawamichi, T., and H. Ueda (1998). "Spawning at nests of extra-large males in the giant salamander Andrias japonicus." Journal of Herpetology, 32, 133-136.
Liu, Ch. (1950). Amphibians of Western China. Fieldiana: Zool. Mem.
Liu, G., and Q. Liu (1998). "Andrias davidianus (Blanchard, 1871)." China Red Data Book of Endangered Animals. Amphibia & Reptilia. Zhao, E., eds., Science Press, Beijing, China., 30-33.
Thorn, R. (1969). Les Salamandres d'Europe, d'Asie, et d'Afrique du Nord. Lechevalier, Paris, France.
Ye, C., Fei, L., and Hu, S. (1993). Rare and Economic Amphibians of China. Sichuan House of Sci.and Technol, Chengdu.
Zhao, E. (1999). "Distribution patterns of amphibians in temperate East Asia." Patterns of Distribution of Amphibians. A Global Perspective. Duellman, W. E., eds., Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.., 421-443.
Zhao, E. (ed.) (1998). China Red Data Book of Endangered Animals. Amphibia & Reptilia. Science Press, Beijing, China.
Written by Max Sparreboom (m.c.sparreboom AT hetnet.nl), Foundation Praemium Erasmianum, Amsterdam. 2000-02-07
Edited by Meredith J. Mahoney
Citation: AmphibiaWeb: Information on
amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2006. Berkeley, California:
(Accessed: Apr 15, 2006).
AmphibiaWeb's policy on data use.