Comprehensive Description

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Heavily built salamander. Head strongly depressed, snout obtusely truncate; nostrils small, rounded, close to the edge of the upper lip and at the corners of the truncated snout, the internasal space less than half of the interorbital space. Eyes small, rounded, dorso-lateral in position, and without eyelid. Top of head more or less flat, with a rounded temporal protuberance above and behind each eye. Vomerine teeth in an arched series starting between the choanae, parallel to the maxillary and premaxillary series. A thin lower labial fold starting about midway between nostril and eye to the angle of the mouth. Trunk less depressed than head, with about fifteen costal grooves, a strong vertebral groove, and strong lateral dermal folds. Legs short and flattened. Tail 59% of the body length, compressed. Dorsal tail fin extending to the trunk. Skin rough and porous, with wrinkles, folds and tubercles. Color of animals is dark brown, black or greenish. Irregularly blotched and marbled with dusky spots. Total length about 100 cm, Chang (1936) quotes a maximum of 180 cm, but most animals found nowadays are considerably smaller (Liu and Liu 1998). Specimens of 115 cm weigh approx. 25 pounds (Liu 1950). Closely related and very similar to A. japonicus. There are no records of geographic variation.

The two species of Andrias - A. davidianus occurring in China and A. japonicus in Japan - are the largest living salamanders, with adults reaching a total length of more than 100 cm. The two species are similar with several features in common. Vomerine teeth located on anterior margin of vomer, parallel with maxillary tooth row; teeth form a long arc. Nasals in contact with maxilla; frontal does not enter external naris. Pterygoid broad, almost in contact with base of maxilla. Hyoid arches cartilaginous. Two pairs of branchial arches. Body large, no spiracle on head; distance between nostrils less than half the distance between the eyes. Tongue large. Tubercles on highly vascular skin. Permanently aquatic.

The Chinese Giant Salamander is very similar to the Japanese Giant Salamander and differs from the latter by the arrangement of tubercles on the head and throat. The tubercles of A. davidianus are mostly in pairs, and much smaller and fewer than those of A. japonicus. The tubercles on the throat are characteristic for each species. In A. davidianus, the very small paired tubercles are arranged in rows parallel with the lower jaw. In A. japonicus they are mostly single and large and irregularly scattered. The snout is less rounded and the tail a little longer in the Chinese species. The colour is darker with large black patches (Chang 1936; Liu 1950; Thorn 1969).

There is a vast body of literature, much of it in Chinese (cf. Ye et al. 1993 and references therein). For this species the name Andrias scheuchzeri (Holl 1831) has been resurrected (Frost, 1999, Amphibian Species of the World, American Museum of Natural History).

See a video of feeding using the gape and suck mechanism (Heiss et al. 2013).


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