A rare creature estimated to be at least 200 years old has been found in a Chinese cave, according to reports from the People's Daily online. The captured giant salamander is 4.5 feet long and weighs 114 pounds. That's not even particularly big for the species Andrias davidianus, which is the largest amphibian yet living. The species can grow to be about six feet long, although such great heights are rare these days.
It's worth noting that wild giant salamanders typically only have lifespans of about half a century when raised in captivity. It's hard to pinpoint how different that lifespan might be in the wild — especially if one is lucky enough to find a cave truly isolated from human interference — but we should take the age estimation with a grain of salt.
My initial, highly scientific thoughts on this giant salamander:
- Dude is chill as heck
- Wow those fingers are gnarly
- My goodness his tail is so fat it looks like a second head
It might seem rude that scientists took this decrepit old salamander out of its home and into captivity. But in this case, it really is for the salamander's own good. Its species is critically endangered, with a population decline of about 80 percent over the past three generations (about 50 years). In addition to the standard habitat destruction and degradation that come from living anywhere near human civilization, the salamanders have had to survive increasingly desperate poaching attempts.
The salamanders are considered a delicacy. In September, a three-day festival in the city of Zhangjiajie celebrated the propertied health benefits of the ancient species, which has lived largely unchanged since the Jurassic period. There's no scientific evidence to support the claims that eating the salamander or using skin products or medicines made from its body have any positive effects on human health, but desire for the traditional treat persists.
Now that the salamanders are less common, the BBC reported in March, poachers have turned to drastic hunting measures like explosives, electrofishing, and insecticides that harm the local ecosystem. Even the more sustainable practice of raising the amphibians on a farm could be harmful: Studies have indicated that the diseases common on these farms are being spread to the wild population.
These ancient creatures could very well be on their way out. But at least this old-timer is safe.