Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Chinese Giant Salamanders (Andrias spp.) Fact Sheet: Summary

Chinese Giant Salamanders (Andrias spp.) Fact Sheet

Chinese giant salamander in Prague Zoo

Chinese giant salamander (Andrias spp.)

Image credit: © Petr Hamernik / Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Amphibia — amphibians

Order: Caudata — salamanders

Family: Cryptobranchidae (Fitzinger, 1826) — giant salamanders, hellbender

Genus: Andrias (Tschudi, 1837) — giant salamanders

Species: Andrias spp.*— Chinese giant salamanders

*Yan et al. (2018), Liang et al. (2019), and Turvey et al. (2019) demonstrate that Andrias davidanus should be split into 3 or more species (names to be formalized/described). See Taxonomy.

Body Weight
60 kg (132 lb), maximum

Total Body Length
1.8 m (5.9 ft), maximum*

Variable: Pinkish brown to light/dark brown to almost black. Often have a lack or brown marbled pattern.

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Endemic to China. Prior to 1970s, widespread in central and southern mainland China. Today, range of all species is severely fragmented, due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Remnant populations in underground rivers, and in isolated sections of creeks and rivers with deep pools.

Most remaining Chinese giant salamanders are held on aquaculture farms. In the wild, found in mountain streams—typically with forest cover—where they live in rocky dens or in limestone caves in riverbanks. Require cool, flowing, unpolluted water. Elevation range: typically 300 to 900 m (1,000 to 3,000 ft) asl.

IUCN Status
Critically Endangered (2004 assessment)

CITES Appendix
Appendix I

Other Designations
Grade II protected species under China’s Wild Animal Protection Act of 1988

Populations in the Wild
No current estimates available. Rarely observed in the wild. Almost total loss of wild populations since the 1980s.

Aquatic; rest immersed in water or swim. Not a strong swimmer. Move upstream using paddle-like tail, and by gripping and pushing against rocks with feet. After heavy rain, reports of rapidly rising stream waters washing individuals downstream.

Activity Cycle
Rest in dens during the day. More active at night; though to feed in late afternoon and at night.

Social Groups
Social structure not well known. Has been observed singly, in pairs, or in small groups of several pairs together.

Adults in wild populations: Commonly feed on freshwater crabs and shrimps, insects, and fishes. Occasionally, small mammals, earthworms, lizards, frogs, snakes.
Adults in aquaculture: Typically fed fish. Also farmed frogs.
Larvae: Diet and feeding mechanisms not well known. One study reports ingestion of small insects and pieces of fish/shrimp in aquaculture.

Juveniles and adults: Not reported. Potentially, mountain carnivores, such as Eurasian otter and red fox.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity
Best available estimate is 5 to 6 years—but possibly up to 8 years or longer. Not known for most populations.

Mating System

Not well known; possibly polygynous (1 male, multiple females).

Incubation Period
About 45 days [managed care, ex situ]; duration influenced by water temperature.

Clutch Size
Female lays 10 to 100 eggs several times during breeding season.

Hatchling Size
2 to 3 cm (0.8 to 1 in) long

Age at Dispersal
Leave nest at 4 to 5 cm (about 2 in) long. Larvae remain in nest/den for up to 4 months.

Typical Life Expectancy
Wild populations: not known
Managed care: no AZA estimates

Feature Facts

  • Largest amphibians in the world
  • Endemic to China
  • Members of an early amphibian lineage; evolutionarily distinct
  • Economically important animals in China; valued for luxury food and use in Chinese Traditional Medicine
  • Millions of individuals housed in aquaculture farms in China; wild populations extremely depleted/functionally extinct
  • Farming promoted by Chinese government as an economic mechanism to alleviate rural poverty
  • On farms, susceptible to outbreaks of viruses and bacterial infections
  • Secrete milky-white mucus, if caught
  • Ambush predator; broad jaws generate strong suction that pulls prey into mouth
  • Special sensory cells allow detection of water movement, prey, approach of predators, and underwater objects
  • Courtship appears to involve excavation of nest by male and complex forms of tactile communication between male and female
  • Referenced in ancient Chinese writings, often as a fish or otter-like animal; depicted in The Classic of Mountains and Seas, a core source of Chinese mythology.

About This Fact Sheet

For detailed information, click the tabs at the top of this page.


© 2019 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance


How to cite: Chinese Giant Salamanders (Andrias spp.) Fact Sheet. c2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. chinesegiantsalamanders.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2019 Dec 31)


Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to


Many thanks to Benjamin Tapley for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.

Ben Tapley is a conservation biologist and Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). His primary interests include the conservation breeding and captive management of amphibians. In addition to curation of ZSL's herpetology collection, he conducts research to advance the conservation of amphibian and reptile species through zoo-based breeding and husbandry programs, as well as field research on wild populations.

Mr. Tapley is part of the research team at ZSL that is spearheading efforts to protect Chinese giant salamanders in the wild, and to develop best practices for husbandry and breeding of these salamanders in managed care.

From 2013 to 2015, Mr. Tapley was part of an international team of biologists that conducted scientific surveys for Chinese giant salamanders in China. The field survey manual that resulted from this project—the first of its kind—now serves as the foundation for systematic, long-term monitoring of wild populations of Chinese giant salamanders. Mr. Tapley has also authored/co-authored several notable journal articles related to the conservation and evolution of Chinese giant salamanders (see Bibliography).

Currently, Mr. Tapley and colleagues are focused on several conservation projects: big-headed turtles in Vietnam, Chinese giant salamanders in China, mountain chicken frogs from the Caribbean, and megophryid frogs in Vietnam.

He also serves on several scientific working groups, including the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group’s Captive Breeding Working Group and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria’s Amphibian Taxonomy Advisory Group.

Thank you to Dr. Samuel Turvey (Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London) for reviewing the Taxonomy and Population Status sections of this fact sheet.

Thank you to Rachelrose Schneider for sharing her knowledge of giant salamander husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.

Ms. Schneider is the primary keeper of Chinese giant salamanders at the San Diego Zoo. She has worked in animal husbandry with San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance for 5 years. Her passion for amphibians and reptiles was first sparked while interning for the Zoo’s Reptiles department in 2014.

In providing care to Chinese giant salamanders, she most enjoys observing their feeding behavior and other uncommon behaviors, such as jaw stretching.

SDZWA Library Links