A 200-year-old specimen of the rare Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) weighing more than 100 pounds was found last week in a cave in southwest China outside the city of Chongqing in southwestern China.
The Chinese giant salamander is the largest salamander, as well as the largest amphibian, in the world and is considered critically endangered. The species is sometimes called a “living fossil” because it belongs to an ancient lineage of amphibians dating back millions of years.
The specimen discovered in Chongqing measured about four feet, seven inches in length and weighed about 104 pounds. It was found in a dark cave by a local fisherman who reported feeling something “soft and slimy” under his feet after accidentally stepping on it, according to the China News Network.
The fisherman, Wang Yong, contacted Chinese experts who examined the salamander and determined it was ill. The experts then moved the creature to a special facility for care and research study.
But the animal’s ill health was not surprising. Experts estimated the age of the specimen at about 200 years, according to the People’s Daily Online. The species has an average lifespan of about 80 years in the wild and about 55 years in captivity. Thus, the individual was very old and unusually long-lived. The individual’s advanced age probably explains the poor state of its health.
The website Mother Nature Network notes, however, that it is not clear how scientists arrived at the estimated age of 200 years for the individual.
Besides being the oldest known Chinese giant salamander alive, the individual also ranks among the oldest living animals on Earth today.
Chinese giant Salamanders are the largest amphibians in the world. They are sluggish nocturnal animals with poor eyesight. They are usually found living in lakes and streams of rocky, mountainous terrain of central, southwestern, and southern China, according to Discovery. They are also found in Taiwan but are believed to have been introduced to the island by humans.
Chinese giant salamanders feed on insects, crabs, shrimps, fish, and other amphibians. Because of their poor eyesight, they use special sensory nodes spanning the length of their body to detect vibrations in a watery medium.
Chinese giant salamanders can grow up to six feet in length, thus, at about four feet and seven inches, this particular specimen is not exceptionally long. However, the average adult individual weighs about 55 to 66 pounds (25-30 kg) and grows to about 3.77 feet in length.
Females lay between 400 to 500 eggs in cavities dug underwater. The males guard the eggs until they hatch in 50 to 60 days.
Chinese locals have nicknamed Chinese giant salamanders “infant fish” because of the peculiar vocalization which sometimes resembles the crying of a young human child. But they are able to make other sounds, such as barking and hissing sounds. The mating season of the species falls usually between July and September.
The International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCCN) includes the species on its red list of critically endangered species, having been driven close to extinction in the wild through humans hunting it for food. Chinese giant salamanders are considered a delicacy in China. Parts of the animal are also used in the preparation of Chinese traditional medicine.
There is also ongoing encroaching destruction of the species’ natural habitat due to industrialization and construction of dams across China. Human activity has caused more than an 80 percent decline in the population of the species in the wild in the last four and a half decades, according to experts.
[Image via Patrick Fischer/Wikimedia Commons]