In the rivers of China and Japan dwells a salamander so huge that it positively dwarfs its American cousin, the massive 2.5-foot “snot otter” (which, as it happens, is what they called me in high school). This is the giant salamander, a remarkable human-sized amphibian that has remained almost unchanged for millions of years, hiding on river bottoms and hoovering up fish into its gaping maw. It smells like pepper, it’s astonishingly quick, and it makes noises that sound a bit like a child. A really funny-looking child.
The giant salamander smells like pepper, it’s astonishingly quick, and it makes noises that sound a bit like a child. A really funny-looking child.
There are actually two species of giant salamander, one in China, which can clock in at 6 feet, and a smaller version in Japan, which grows to 5 feet. But how can an amphibian that typically fits in the palm of your hand get so astoundingly large? By being a big baby.
“They’re what we call neotenic animals,” said evolutionary biologist David Wake of the University of California, Berkeley. These creatures often grow huge because they don’t become sexually mature until they get very large.
“So what happens is that as they grow bigger and bigger and bigger, they approach more and more what you would consider to be a perfect stage, a full adult stage. But they never really get there,” said Wake.