Giant Salamanders Are Big

Posted by: Loren Coleman on March 9th, 2008

big salamander

Recently, the Chinese media published an intriguing photograph of a giant salamander, which truly gives a good idea of how big they are.

Some reports of the giant salamanders of Japan and China have been recorded in the 5 to 6 feet range. The Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus), for example, reaches up to 4 ft 9 in (1.44 m), feeds on fish, and crustaceans – and has been known to live for more than 50 years in captivity. The Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) can reach a length of 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m), perhaps even bigger.

The American hellbenders and Asian giant salamanders all belong to the family Cryptobranchidae.

big salamander3

Tom Slick searched for cryptid Giant Salamanders in the Trinity Alps of California, or should I say, cryptid Cryptobranchidae?

My biography of Slick documents his quests for the Abominable Snowmen, Loch Ness Monsters, Sumatran rhinos, Bigfoot, and Orang Pendek, and – yes – the darker, maybe black Trinity Alps’ Giant Salamanders. See Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology (Fresno: Linden Press, 2002). One of Slick’s favorite quests was for those Giant Salamanders because he was able to bring along his sons. Hey, that was the ultimate fishing trip with their Dad, if you ask me.

big salamander2

Asian folktales talk of giant salamanders so big they attacked boats and the humans in them.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

24 Responses to “Giant Salamanders Are Big”

  1. springheeledjack responds:

    Holy moley! I am not sure I would want one as a pet…and if they get much bigger than that, I could see how they might decide a people was a tasty snack 🙂

  2. mystery_man responds:

    Ah the giant salamanders, one of my favorites! The one pictured here is a fairly unusual color. I’ve heard that this pink color variation was discovered on a farm in the Hupingshan Reserve in Hunan province, where it was bred by a local farmer. Giant salamanders are typically grey, brown, greenish brown, or yellowish brown, sometimes orange-red or rarely white. The most common color is a mottled grey, black, and green, or dark brown as this facilitates its ability to camouflage itself on the river bottom.

    Fish and crustaceans aren’t the only thing they eat either. They are generalists when it comes to their diet and will eat pretty much anything they are able to swallow, insects, fish, crustaceans, worms, they have even been known to eat mice. They feed by basically sucking the prey in whole, but there’s no need to worry, they are completely harmless to humans.

    Interestingly, the Chinese giant salamander is officially a protected species, yet it is mass produced under license for the purposes of human consumption (yes, they are considered by some to be very good eating). In fact, the Chinese giant salamander was once imported to Japan as food for the restaurant industry before a ban was imposed on their international trade. Nowadays, there is evidence that the introduced Chinese variety has established itself within the same habitats as the Japanese giant salamander and this could cause potential problems for the endemic Japanese species.

    Some other little historical tidbits of information since I love sharing this sort of stuff. The genus name Andrias that is used for giant salamanders means “image of man”. This is because in 1726, a Swiss physician by the name of Scheuchzer examined a fossil of a giant salamander and believed it to be the fossils of a human who had survived the great flood. He named the fossil Andrias scheuchzeri, but was also known to call it Homo diluvi testis, which means “witness of the great flood”. In 1812, the fossils were recognized as those of a giant salamander by Georges Cuvier, but the name Andrias (“image of man”) stuck. these fossils are on exhibition to this day at the Teylers Museum in the Netherlands. Some other historical stuff, the first live specimen of a Japanese giant salamander was brought to the west in 1829 by a German by the name of Von Seibold, who is credited with “discovering it” even though it was known by the Japanese since long before that.

    These giant salamanders are fascinating creatures, but they face a lot of threats and their numbers have declined fairly dramatically in recent days. Some of the threats they face include illegal hunting and unsustainable harvesting for their meat, habitat loss, pollution, and invasive species, as well as the decline of river water levels which these salamanders are sensitive to since they are aquatic. Hunting in particular is a big threat to the Chinese variety as they are considered a delicacy, fetch a good price, and are easy to catch, making them an attractive target for poor people trying to make some cash. Deforestation has also become a concern because it promotes erosion, which leads to soil run off and a silting of the water that reduces water quality and makes it harder for these aquatic salamanders to absorb oxygen through their skin. Some measures have proven effective in somewhat stabilizing the numbers of the Japanese species, but numbers continue to dwindle nevertheless.

  3. plant girl responds:

    WoW! That is an amazing picture.

  4. plant girl responds:

    Actually i think their kind of cute! However one of those the size of a small buick, not so much.

  5. Lee Murphy responds:

    Almost makes you wonder if Roy Mackal wasn’t on to something when he originally proposed that the Loch Ness Monster might be a giant form of amphibian.

  6. Maine Crypto responds:

    That is amazing, I had no idea that they could get that big. I wonder if these giant salamanders may be some of our lake monsters……
    I find it interesting how small their eyes are. That is something I am going to have to look up.

  7. SOCALcryptid responds:

    You can also read about the Giant Salamander in Lorens book Cryptozoology A to Z. I have been looking for this cryptid in the High Sierra Mountains when searching for sas. Yes I’m in the wrong area but when I come across a stream or lake I still look anyway. I’m glad Loren posted this because more people need to be aware of their existence. I know they exist here in California it’s just the matter of going deeper into the field. The Trinity area will be my next focal point. I truly believe Tom Slick was on to something here.
    Thanks for the post Loren. This is what keeps me searching.

  8. cryptidsrus responds:


    Agree with PLANTGIRL. Cute, but no thanks as a pet.

    Looks like SOMEONE went too near the nuclear power plant…


    Great post, Loren. As usual.

    Did not know about the Asian folktales. Fascinating painting, as well. Thanks for the info.

  9. dogu4 responds:

    Really fascinating subject. I wonder what are the constraints for growth for animals such as these salamanders. I can imagine that these days if an animal gets really large one constraint would be humans habit of capturing them for food or killing them as trophies of as potential threats.
    I read in the Britannica that snakes prior to sexual maturity can continuously grow if their environment will support it. Perhaps with salamanders, and with eels, an immature stage can be prolonged by a combination of factors including low light levels, very cold water and presence or absense of other stimuli such as dissolved mineral concentrations, such as cave adapted creatures sometime express even today.
    But in the past, as the the cold dark waters of glacial landscapes became familiar to human experience, perhaps we might have, on occasion, come across an example of a sexually immature and indeterminate sized specimen which could grow to sizes not seen today, adapted to the low energy environment found in caves that are so abundant beneath wet glaciers, where cold meltwater which is so effective at dissolving calcium carbonates create large solution caves, or in the nutrient rich muddy depositional fans of tidewater glaciers in a state of longterm equilibrium with their calving rates. It was such a different place, our northern continents, for so much of the last several million years. I think we have a difficult time really appreciating how different it was and in default thinking assume it was like it is today but colder or like the tidewater glaciers of Alaska but only on a larger scale. We know that cannot be the case from a scientific perspective but science must balance extrapolation with what we have in front of us and I think we err on the conservative side… and so we’re not sure just how it actually was.
    And no, I haven’t seen the movie 10,000 BC yet.

  10. SOCALcryptid responds:

    mystery_man, Thanks for your added information. Very interesting stuff that will be added to my notes on these giants. I learn more and more from this site. This is why I check in on a daily basis.

  11. mrbf2007 responds:

    VERY fascinating and interesting stuff, Loren. I think it could be plausible that these giants could explain at least some lake monster sightings, and I also wonder if there are ever albino Salamanders found as well. Loren, do you know of any cases? Not that I have seen any, mind you, but I was wondering if there has ever been a case of rare albino Salamanders. I am sure that there are cases of albino cryptids, just as there are in all animals. I mean, I saw an albino Sasquatch once, so it would not be too far-fetched to think there could be albinos in other cryptids species.

  12. aguilar5_9 responds:

    Now this (Giant Salamanders) is worth mentioning in Cryptomundo! Creatures of this magnitude are both legendary and realistic enough to put money and effort into an investigation I mean what are the odds that a real live dinosaur (lake monster) actually survives undetected to this day! I say we focus on creatures that actually might exist!
    ps: the pictures are awsome!

  13. SOCALcryptid responds:

    mrbf2007 yes there are Albino Salamanders. Here in our pet shops you can find them. As to the giant species, I don’t know but would think so. Probably very rare. They do vary in color as mentioned above.

  14. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Well, here in Mexico we have these weird amphibians called Axolotls (Ajolotes), which were a part of the Aztec diet. Now, what I consider interesting about these animals, is the fact that the never really leave the infant state, they are actually neotenic salamanders who retain the gills of tadpoles, but are nevertheless sexually mature.

    So, I have often wondered: what if some of the ajolotes COULD pass through the “normal” metamorphosis? what would their size be then, since ajolotes can reach lengths of 18 inches?

    Maybe some lake monsters are “adult-size” cousins of these mexican salamanders… makes you wonder, right? 🙂

  15. mantis responds:

    Hey Loren,
    Was there ever any investigation into the “hammerhead salamander” picture?

  16. Krisspy Boy responds:

    Oh man, I always thought we had big salamanders and newts here in Northwest Washington. If I find one that big here I’m moving out!

  17. olejason responds:

    The ‘hammerhead salamander’ was a model a student made

  18. mystery_man responds:

    Red_pill_junky- Those axolotles are fascinating as they retain most larval features while developing reproductive organs. They actually able to reach a mature, adult stage (non-larval) under the right circumstances, usually in a lab or in captivity, but they don’t reach very large sizes in this state. Nothing like what we see here with the giant salamanders. Neoteny (sometimes called paedomorphosis) is not even unique to them. Nine of the ten families of Caudata (the order that salamanders are in), exhibit some form of neoteny to differing degrees, and there are four families of salamanders that are comprised fully of species that retain larval characteristics into adulthood.

    Dogu 4- Like I said, there are quite a few species of salamanders that possess larval characteristics. I suppose there could be very large types dwelling undiscovered in this state where the conditions are right. As far as growth goes, since the giant salamanders basically grow throughout their entire lives, I see no reason to think there could not be larger specimens or even new species of salamander out there.

  19. dogu4 responds:

    Hey Mystery Man; Thank you, I always appreciate your open perspective on these cryptids. Just allowing for their existence opens up a world in which barely discernable homologies rather than simple speculation is applied. Animals sizes are related to the biosystem in which they live as a general rule (lots of exceptions) but take a moment and calculate how large the continuous habitat that for millions of years (in constrast to our interglacial warm spell) existed at the mid-latitude periphery of what was then an advanced arctic climate unlike any that exists in scale today: cold, windy, glacial fed but unlike the arctic of today, flooded with daylight for a longer period of the year. As it withdrew it would have left a lot of refugia; sustaining lingering long-lived (slow reproducing)examples that reflected the enoromous bioregion that has since retreated: Supersized sturgeo in central Eursian river systems, mini-mammoths on Wrangell island, and the huge hell-benders released from no longer persistent glacial fjords and outbreak lakes, and even solitary steppe hominids. I think some of our mythic creatures become more understandable in the context of the world that was widespread and characteristic for the vast majority of our natural history…it’s today’s modern and mild world that is the anamolous. I’d bet there was some happy hunting in the now-invisible landscape of the past. Maybe we’ll find more fossil evidence as the insatiable hunger for pleistocene gravel reaches into the far north as it’s developed industrially, just as with the North Sea gravels are being harvested today. Fingers crossed and eyes wide open.

  20. hammerhead responds:

    Well, the local fishermen in this area report catching large salamanders with “teeth” in one obscure location, at the mouth of a creek that feeds into the eel river in SW Indiana, they claim, and I have my own son as a first hand witness, these “salamanders” are up to two to three feet long, bad tempered, and bear teeth, they complain about them because apparentley the salamanders hit the bait furiousley swallowing it whole and biting at ppl so they have to cut the lines to let them go or risk getting the crap bitten out of them, under these curcumstances, if there was a remnent cache of these amphibians, someone should try to get this area protected and investigated before they are all killed off by these fishermen if it hasnt already happened, there is one place in indiana with a hellbender population which is in the blue river but thats no where near us, but i dont think these guys are describing hellbenders, im familure with those, these are something else. someone needs to look into this SOON.

  21. joe levit responds:

    Concerning Giant Salamanders – there is a terrific article about them in the July 2007 issue of FATE magazine (Loren Coleman gets a mention, too). The author is making the case for two different large unknown salamanders in the pacific northwest. One smaller group along the coast, showing up on land, and the more famous Trinity Alps group in the water, inland.

    This is the type of discovery that to me seems quite possible as a stepping stone to finding bigger and more exotic creatures. You find the salamanders, say “Look what cryptozoology can accomplish,” and move on to the next most likely creature, to build up to financial support for the search for creatures like bigfoot and lake and sea serpents.

  22. nick_beyondthetree responds:

    Concerning Axolotls, there is a similar species called the Olm (Proteus Anguinus), which inhabitsthe Dinaric Karst cave systems in South Eastern Europe, specifically NE Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Herzegovina. They grow to about 40cm (1’3″), sso not quite as impressive as the Giant Salamanders. Like Axolotls, they lack pigment and are entirely aquatic, retaining their gills throughout their lives. They are totally blind – while they do have eyes, they are under-developed as an adaptation to the total darkness of their habitat. They are not actually Salamanders, although they are amphibians. They have a long, flexible almost snakelike body.

    There is a subspsecies, the Black Proteus (Proteus Anguinus Parkelj) which, as the name suggests, is black. These guys have better developed eyes, but are confined to a distribution area of just 39 sq miles!

    Check out the wikipedia article for more info and some good photos.

  23. mystery_man responds:

    Dogu4- Very nicely said. I always appreciate your knowledge of the landscapes, changes, and biomes of different geological eras and what they meant for the fauna that inhabited them as well as our current ecology. Using that knowledge, you manage to come up with some very thought provoking hypotheses and ideas. Great insights as usual.

    Yes, I do try to remain mindful of what sorts of surprises the natural world can throw at us and base most of my ideas on actual valid scientific premises, being the science nut that I am. Your way of considering the real biological possibilities very often reflects my own way of thinking about these cryptids. With everything we have discovered in the natural world, I think it is hard NOT to keep an open mind. Of course, I can be quite skeptical at times, but that is only because I believe in science, in following the evidence where it leads rather than deciding something is real first, and waiting for someone to try and prove that it isn’t (basically the antithesis of science). Sometimes it is not “when” we find evidence, but “if”, and there is a difference. But yes, I have an open perspective because I really think the natural world can be much more wondrous than any of us can imagine it to be. Whether people want to call them cryptids or not, we are simply nowhere near finished with finding everything that is out there, or having catalogued all of the biodiversity this world of ours cradles.

    Many pages have been filled with our ever growing knowledge of the natural world, and I think there are many empty pages that lie ahead before this book is closed. The excitement I feel in anticipation of what might fill those pages keeps my perspective open and my desire to learn keen. I sense that same appreciation and awe for nature in your posts, so I always appreciate your taking the time to post and discuss these things.

  24. red_pill_junkie responds:

    nick_beyondthetree, thanks for the tip. Quite interesting buggers these olms eh?

    Another interesting feature of these animals is the way they swim, a serpentine vertical motion of the tail, which BTW, it’s always described in accounts of Marine Sea Serpents. Makes my imagination fly… 🙂

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