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Japanese giant salamander

japanese giant salamander, japanese giant salamander photos
Megalobatrachus japonicus Reviewed by Sato 19431

The Japanese giant salamander Andrias japonicus is endemic to Japan, where it is known as Ōsanshōuo オオサンショウウオ/大山椒魚, literally meaning "giant pepper fish" With a length of up to almost 15 m 5 ft,2 it is the second-largest salamander in the world, only being surpassed by the very similar and closely related Chinese giant salamander A davidianus There are only three known members of the Cryptobranchidae family: the Japanese and Chinese giant salamanders and the Eastern hellbender

Japanese giant salamanders are widespread across rivers in southwestern Japan The species frequently hybridizes with Chinese giant salamanders, which were introduced to the area


  • 1 Description
  • 2 Behavior
  • 3 History
  • 4 Status
  • 5 Lifecycle
  • 6 Cultural references
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links


Japanese Giant Salamanders can grow to be five feet long 160 cm and 55 pounds 25 kg The largest wild specimen on record weighed 263 kg and was 136 cm long 3 It is the second largest amphibian in the world, only next to its close relative, the Chinese Giant Salamander Their brown and black mottled skin provides camouflage against the bottoms of streams and rivers They have very small eyes with no eyelids and poor eye sight Their mouths run across the width of their heads, and can open to the width of their bodies4

They can be distinguished from Chinese Giant Salamanders by the arrangement of tubercles on the head and throat The tubercles are larger and more numerous compared to the mostly single and irregularly scattered tubercles of the Chinese Giant Salamander The snout is also more rounded and the tail is slightly shorter 5

There is no visual external sexual dimorphism 6


Japanese Giant Salamanders in Kyoto Aquarium Andrias japonicus Skull

The Japanese giant salamander, being restricted to streams with clear, cool water, is entirely aquatic and nocturnal Unlike other salamanders, which lose their gills early in their lifecycles, they only breach their heads above the surface to obtain air without venturing out of the water and onto land Also due to their large size and lack of gills, they are confined to flowing water where oxygen is abundant7 The salamander absorbs oxygen through its skin, which has many folds to increase surface area4

When threatened, these salamanders can excrete a strong-smelling, milky substance with an odor resembling Japanese pepper hence its common Japanese name, giant pepper fish It has very poor eyesight, and possesses special sensory cells covering its skin, running from head to toe, the lateral line system These sensory cells' hair-like shapes detect minute vibrations in the environment, and are quite similar to the hair cells of the human inner ear This feature is essential for its hunting because of its poor eyesight

It feeds mainly on insects, frogs and fish It has a very slow metabolism and can sometimes go for weeks without eating4 It lacks natural competitors It is a long-lived species, with the captive record being an individual that lived in the Natura Artis Magistra, the Netherlands, for 52 years2 In the wild, they may live for nearly 80 yearscitation needed


The Japanese giant salamander was first catalogued by Europeans when the resident physician of Dejima Island in Nagasaki, Philipp Franz von Siebold, captured an individual and shipped it back to Leiden in the Netherlands, in the 1820s The species was designated as a special natural monument in 1951, and is federally protected8


The Japanese giant salamander is threatened by pollution, habitat loss among other changes, by the silting up of the rivers where it lives, and overcollection River disturbance has led to fewer appropriate nesting sites and dams block migration paths It is considered vulnerable by IUCN, and is included on CITES Appendix I9 It can be found on the islands of Kyushu, Honshu, and Shikoku in Japan In the past, they were fished out of rivers and streams as a source of food, but hunting has ceased because of protection acts

The Japanese giant salamander has been federally protected as a special natural monument by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs since 1952 due to its cultural and educational significance10


Japanese giant salamanders remain in bodies of water their entire lives During mating season in late August, sexually mature adults go up stream into the mountains to spawn and lay eggs Large males guard a den and are known as denmasters They mate with several females throughout the season Smaller males who do not have a den may attempt to enter the den and fertilize some of the eggs The male releases milt over the eggs laid by the female The denmaster displays parental care and guards the eggs and fans water over them with his tail to increase oxygen flow11 Larvae emerge from the fertilized eggs, the lavae then develop gills and limbs, then lose their gills once they metamorphose into adults

The Asa Zoo of Japan was the first organization to successfully breed Japanese Giant Salamanders in captivity Several of their offspring were given to the Smithsonian Zoo of the United States to establish a breeding program12 The Hanzaki Institute of Japan has since successfully bred Japanese Giant Salamanders using the Asa zoo's methods of creating artificial dens

Cultural referencesedit

Ukiyo-e print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi depicting a giant salamander being stabbed by the samurai Hanagami Danjō no jō Arakage

The Japanese giant salamander has been the subject of legend and artwork in Japan, for example, in the ukiyo-e work by Utagawa Kuniyoshi The well-known Japanese mythological creature known as the kappa may be inspired by the Japanese giant salamander13

There is a Giant Salamander festival every year on August 8 in Yubara, Maniwa City, Okayama prefecture to honour the animal and celebrate its life The Giant Salamanders are called "Hanzaki" in Yubara, due to the belief that even if they are ripped in half han they continue to survive There are two giant salamander floats: a dark male and a red female 14

As of 2017, a picture book entitled "Zakihan" was also published in both Japanese and English wherein the main character is a "hanzaki" called "Zakihan"

See alsoedit

  • List of Special Places of Scenic Beauty, Special Historic Sites and Special Natural Monuments


  1. ^ "Amphibian Species of the World - Andrias japonicus Temminck, 1836" Researchamnhorg Archived from the original on 2009-03-26 Retrieved 2010-02-04 
  2. ^ a b Andrias japonicus - Amphibiaweb
  3. ^ Tochimoto, pers com>
  4. ^ a b c "Japanese Giant Salamander" Smithsonian National Zoological Park Retrieved 2016-06-13 
  5. ^ http://amphibiaweborg/species/3859
  6. ^ http://amphibiaweborg/species/3859
  7. ^ The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians Facts on File Inc 1986 ISBN 0-8160-1359-4 
  8. ^ オオサンショウウオ in Japanese The Agency for Cultural Affairs Retrieved 2011-09-24 
  9. ^ "Salamander News No 5" PDF ARKive 2014 Retrieved 2008-09-19 
  10. ^ Takahashi, Mizuki "Giant Salamander Research" Bucknell University Retrieved 2016-06-13 
  11. ^ Okada, Fukuda, Takahashi, Sumio, Yukihiro, Mizuki 12 November 2014 "Paternal care behaviors of Japanese giant salamander Andrias japonicus in natural populations" Journal of Ethology CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list link
  12. ^ "Japanese Giant Salamanders at the Zoo" Smithsonian National Zoological Park Retrieved 2016-06-13 
  13. ^ "River Monsters" programme 6 Series 3 directed by Duncan Chard, screened in UK on ITV1 14022012 at 1930
  14. ^ "AltJapan: Hanzaki Matsuri Dakara" altjapantypepadcom Retrieved 2017-04-25 

External linksedit

  • Media related to Andrias japonicus at Wikimedia Commons
  • Andrias japonicus at CalPhotos
  • Discovery Channel Video On The Giant Salamander
  • BBC report
  • Video I shot in Minoo, Osaka, Japan of Cryptobranchus japonicus, Giant Japanese Salamander

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