Image: Paul Williams (Iron Ammonite) via flickr
There are three species of Giant Salamander, all very similar to each other. The Hellbender from North America grows to about 75 cms long, the Japanese Giant Salamander, found in Japan of all places, grows to 1.5 metres long, while the Chinese Giant Salamander from Peru (wait... I've just checked my records and am reliably informed that it actually comes from a place known as "China". Let's continue, shall we?) and grows to a length of 1.8 metres. This makes them the biggest, second biggest and third biggest amphibians in the world, everyone's a winner! Yaaaay!
But oh dear are they a sight. Kinda flattened and low to the ground, short stubby legs, huge fat looking tails, small nostrils and even smaller eyes. Oh yeh, and a gigantic mouth that makes them look a tad like something from out of Sesame Street. Slimey, wrinkly skin with bits and bobs all over like something from out of Sesame Street that's been in the bath too long. Clearly the giant salamanders would find it difficult in the cut-throat world of fashion, the catwalk does not beckon and I hope they can eventually grow to accept this. But then no clotheshorse could live the life of any salamander, let alone the extra strain of a really big one. A case of horses for courses then.
Giant salamanders have small eyes and, as you might expect, poor eyesight. It might be thought that hunting in the dark isn't therefore a great idea, but were you to say this to one of these Goliaths it might just laugh in your face. I'm not sure you'd want a gigantic mouth like that gaping wildly in whole hearted mirth. Maybe you would, maybe you'd put it on youtube. On second thought, HANDS OFF MY IDEA!
Anyway, giant salamanders have a lateral line, much like fish. This means that they are sensitive to movement and can 'feel' or rather hear potential prey around them. Insects, fish, other amphibians, nothing is safe. With a flick of the tail, this picture of graceful idleness can quickly gobble down anything in its path with remarkable speed. That's something to keep note of when the breeding season comes around. A cavity is dug and the female lays some 500 eggs inside. Once they're fertilised, the male guards them for some 2 months before they hatch and the larvae go it alone. Not exactly a stay-at-home dad, but getting there!
When you consider that some giant salamanders can live for as long as 80 years and have no direct competitors, it's pretty clear that these beasts are master of their watery domain.