Rare, giant salamander could be decades old

One of the world’s oldest creatures, and biggest salamanders, has been found in southwest China.

One of the world’s oldest creatures, and biggest salamanders, has been found in southwest China.

The Chinese giant salamander, or Andrias davidianus, was discovered in a cave by a fisherman, who then contacted the authorities. They picked up the critter and have since transferred it to a research facility for observation and research.

Other Chinese giant salamanders that have been found in the past have also been moved to zoos for protection and care. In 2014, a four-foot-long giant salamander nicknamed Professor Wu was moved to the Zoological Society of the London Zoo in order to raise awareness about the Chinese giant salamander’s declining population and help spur conservation projects.

The number of Chinese giant salamander has declined precipitously in the last few decades. The world's largest amphibian is seriously threatened by habitat destruction and demand from wealthy Chinese for salamander meat, considered a delicacy. It is listed as a Class II Protected Species by the Chinese government, according to the state-run media outlet People’s Daily Online. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also lists the species as critically endangered.

The Chinese government does not regulate the hunting of giant salamanders, despite an 80% decline in population over the past 30 years. Salamander breeding farms have sprung up in order to cope with demand, but many salamanders that are caught are still captured from the wild.

News reports have suggested that this Chinese giant salamander may be close to 200 years old, but scientists say that that may be a generous estimate for the species.

“It is a big salamander, and they grow slowly,” Dr. Theodore Papenfuss, a herpetologist and researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, told National Geographic. “[T]he oldest I’ve heard of is 50 years, and that was in captivity. I think 200 years is a big stretch.”

Other creatures that have a very long lifespan include Harriet, the tortoise that Charles Darwin brought back with him from the Galápagos; she died in 2006 at the age of 176. Even older than Harriet was Ming, a 507-year-old giant clam that was accidentally killed by marine researchers in 2006 off the coast of Iceland.

Still more intriguing is the immortal jellyfish, which gets its name from the scientific process that allows it to more or less live forever: when the immortal jellyfish dies, it transforms itself into a blob that then becomes a polyp colony, or the first stage of the jellyfish life cycle. This polyp colony then, in turn, regenerates itself into many new, smaller copies of the original adult.

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