Giant Salamanders

Japanese Giant Salamander

Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki visits the Japanese Giant Salamander on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Asia Trial.

Recomposed on October 29, 2012

There are only two existing species of Giant Salamanders living today and both of them live in Asia: the Japanese Giant Salamander and the Chinese Giant Salamander. These creatures are massive compared to their smaller relatives and can almost eat anything. Their slow metabolism enables them to go for weeks without eating any food. Giant Salamanders are known to eat insects, mice, and even crabs. Since they lack good vision they rely on sensory organs to locate their food. Giant Salamanders lack lungs for breathing, but breathe through their skin in a process called valerian respiration. Their skin has folds in it that makes for a large surface area that produces a greater oxygen supply than if they had smooth skin. Furthermore, a layer of mucus on top of their skin protects them against parasites and other things. Most Giant Salamanders live in fast flowing mountain river beds. Their skin color has different brown colorations that blends in well with the muddy river beds they inhabit.2

Metoposaur (Giant Salamander) skull cast at the Akron Fossils & Science Center. Check out his teeth when you visit!

Metoposaur (Giant Salamander) skull cast at the Akron Fossils & Science Center. When you visit the museum be sure to check out his teeth, their quite large!

Some Giant Salamanders in the fossil record, called metoposaurs, grew as long as twelve feet. They are more complex than modern Giant Salamanders. Metoposaur skulls have a series of flat plates with pea-sized scoops and raised ridges covering them. These areas are cut through by a second series of canals which run around their skulls. There is a row of teeth beginning at the back of the skull, which continues up to the eyes, getting progressively larger. At the eyes, the teeth separate into two rows, one continues around the edge of the mouth, the other cuts across behind the nostrils. At the eyes, there are pods of large, sharp teeth, and close by is a row of tiny teeth that are hard to see in small salamander skulls. Metoposaur spine and legs are unremarkable, but their clavicles, which are attached to their shoulder blades, are huge. These wing-shaped bones, also sculpted by pits and ridges, are connected to another huge triangular-shaped bone, the inner clavicle, or breastbone. These three bones are equal in mass and size to the skull!3

Come see our spotted salamander this month at the museum at one of our Creature Feature Workshops. All of our amphibians will be on display as we discover the amazing design of these creatures. See the events calendar on our website for more information.

Written by Josiah Detwiler


  1. Photo credit: Smithsonian National Zoo on Flickr, July 22, 2010.
  2. Information reworded from Jake Tiffany’s and Chris Ashcraft’s article on salamanders on
  3. Restructured quotation from Joe Taylor’s (director and curator of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum in Crosbyton, Texas) book Fossils Facts & Fantasies. This book is available in the Akron Fossils & Science Center’s gift shop. Joe Taylor is the fossil excavator who made the replica (pictured above) and he will be speaking at the Science Center on Monday evening, April 23, 2012 with his colleague, Hugh Miller. The topic of discussion will be C-14 in Dinosaur Bones!
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About Akron Fossils & Science Center

Akron Fossils & Science Center features hands-on tours and science activities that put knowledge directly in your hands. Our exhibits display many fossils from Ohio and around the world. In addition to our guided tours, we offer a wide variety of enriching science programs, all hands-on and designed to make science and learning fun and meaningful. We also look forward to having you enjoy our 2 1/2 acre outdoor adventure park called Truassic Park. Our park features a 9-hole mini golf course, giant slide, and 200 FT ZIP- LINE! At Akron Fossils & Science Center, participants and visitors become more than observers; they become researchers, experimenters, and even educators. Our exhibits and programs let you experience science first-hand and encourage understanding and deep, critical thought. A trip to Akron Fossils & Science Center provides more than something to do for one day; it ignites a passion for learning and exploration that lasts a lifetime.

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