Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Creature Feature: Chinese Giant Salamander.

All too often, endangered animals are glamorized. I've ranted about how the less-impressive endangered species get so little press before. Sometimes, however, this favoritism is wholly unjustified.

Hello, Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus)! Hello, amphibian that's on the critical list! Hello, highly endangered animal that never seems to get any press outside of Year of the Frog!

There's a lot that you probably gathered from this thing's name already. It's a salamander, it's giant, and it's from the rocky streams and lakes in China. Its only living relatives are the Japanese giant salamander and the hellbender. It's so big that frogs and fish are on the menu as well as insects.

How big is big? A little over a meter. A yard and eight inches. You get the idea: this salamander is about the same length and weight as a medium-sized dog, if not a little longer. There are even reports of them once achieving lengths of 6 feet - roughly 2 meters. That's a lot of salamander. Hell, that's a record for amphibians.

Size is not the only thing unique about this river monster. Chinese giant salamanders are also among the few salamanders that make noise. They can whine, hiss, and bark; they may even sound like human babies to some Chinese people. They also have special sensory nodes that run from head to tail in compensation for awful eyesight. Neat.

The Chinese giant salamander is among the most underrated endangered species in the world. This particular point relates to something called the EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered)  list. To get on this list, a species has to be more or less unique in every way - particularly from an evolutionary viewpoint, meaning that there are very few extant relatives to the species in question. It also has to be critically endangered to make it into the top ten.  This salamander is literally right beneath the Yangtze river dolphin (which recently went extinct as we know it) in that regard, holding the #2 position on the entire "world's most evolutionarily distinct and endangered animals" list. Read: Not the panda or any other cute mammal, but a giant salamander is among the most threatened, unique animals in the entire world. The panda is way farther down the list.

Aside from being an amphibian and therefore more susceptible to environmental changes by default, the Chinese giant salamander has a few other things making it go from just plain "endangered" to "critically endangered." China isn't just polluted - it's the most polluted nation in the world and, as evidenced by the extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin, has the most toxic waters as well. Oh, and this salamander's from China, meaning that it's also on the menu.  (When cobras and tigers aren't prominent threats, nothing is spared.) The Chinese giant salamander is one of those awesomely unique animals that has so many strikes against it that we're amazed it isn't extinct already.

Honestly? I'm sure someone, somewhere, could find a way to market the giant salamander. Salamanders tend to have natural, dopey "derp" looks on their faces that could be shilled for cute points. Last time we tried using a mammal to  encourage conservation of these waterways - a dolphin, no less - it failed. Time to milk the amphibian - so long as doing so doesn't cause more damage, of course.

1 comment:

  1. That's so sad!

    Where did you get all your information? My advertising class is doing a project on awareness for an endangered species, and I'm planning to do my project on the Chinese Giant Salamander.

    I found your blog in looking up information about it, so if you know some good resources, I'd love to hear about them!