So are you one of the quarter-million people who have seen the Japanese giant salamander on YouTube? If so, good for you. As you can see below, it showed up on twitter in Japan around noon on July 4, which must have been the 5th (Saturday) in the States, thanks to the International Date Line.
The mainstream media have been slow to pick up the story of this fantabulous beast. I found only three stories that have covered it so far, including one in the Bangkok Post, which described the creature: สัตว์ครึ่งบกครึ่งน้ำคล้ายกิ่งก่าชนิดหนึ่ง, จิ้งจกน้ำ. US media are just catching on. Here’s more about the “river monster” or (smelly) “giant pepper fish.” It uses gill slits to breathe as a juvenile, so scienntists know it as a “cryptobranchid.” Ōsanshōuo, as the Japanese call it, is one of the the largest living amphibians known today.
Like the huge ocean oarfish (up to 26 feet), who usually stay one to three thousand feet underwater, giant salamanders are rarely seen because they seldom stir from their aquatic habitats in cool, well-oxygenated mountain streams. They don’t see too well (can you spot the tiny eyes in the photos?), but special photosensitive cells in the skin give them pretty good perception. They’re also usually night creatures. This one decided to take a daytime stroll alongside the Kamogawa River in beautiful downtown Kyoto (imperial capital for more than 1000 years and often viewed as the nation’s most treasured and beautiful city).
Check out the video (below) of the big salamander’s walk in the park—much to the surprise of passersby and the police they summoned. We’d never know about this if one of these humans hadn’t been curious, brave, and equipped with a video cell phone.
VIDEO: Japanese salamander in Kyoto
Some folks say these animals inspired tales of the legendary kappa in Japan.
Every Japanese person knows about kappa, the tricky and sometimes dangerous, yet strangely polite, water demons from ancient folklore…. They are usually depicted as small and humanoid, with scaly reptilian skin and webbed hands and feet. Kappa lurk in ponds and rivers, and their behavior ranges from mischievous pranks to more sinister actions such as attacking women and pulling people into the water to drown them.
People say kappa stories were only fabricated to teach children the dangers of water. However, old villages still have signs on the waterfront warning of them. In the Japanese video, you’ll see local folks in Okayama having a parade to celebrate the river monsters. And if you enjoy sushi, you’ll probably be thrilled to know—and then never forget—that kappa maki (cucumber rolls) get their name from the amphibian species that also is said to adore them.
But back to the main story. Yes, that river monster is ginormous, and who’d a thought a newt could grow so big and have a 50-year lifespan? But the Japanese variety (Andrias japonicus), which measures up to 1.44 m (4.7 ft), is not the largest in the world. That honor belongs to the Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus), which can grow over a foot longer, reaching a length of 1.8 m (5.9 ft).
VIDEO: Chinese giant salamander
Video of the bigger Chinese cousin here. Both types are suction feeders who dine on worms, mollusks, crustaceans, lampreys, fish, frogs, reptiles, and small mammals.
The earliest fossil records of a basal salamander species were found in volcanic deposits in northern China and date back to the Middle Jurassic. That was (not surprisingly) the second epoch of the tripartite Jurassic Period. It lasted from 176 to 161 million years ago, back when Pangaea started to split apart and the Atlantic Ocean formed.
In the US, the largest salamander—also considered a “giant,” but puny next to its Asian cousins—is the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), which lives mostly in the eastern United States, with one very endangered relative (C. a. bishopi ) who inhabits the Ozark mountains of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. Small, often colorful, lizard-like creatures with short legs and a long tail, they normally grow only up to about a foot or so long (reports vary). In this video, Bill Hopkins, professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, introduces one, if you care to say hello.
VIDEO: US hellbender
Americans also refer to the hellbender as a “snot otter,” “devil dog,” “mud-devil,” “grampus,” “Allegheny alligator,” “mud dog,” and “leverian water newt,” wikipedia tells us.
You may wonder how PlanetSave got the original tip about the Japanese salamander. It happened like this. Japanese-American rock guitar/drums/bass/piano/synthesizer musician-singer-songwriter Joe Inoue (井上 ジョー), who records for Sony’s Ki/oon Records, posted the news on his facebook page, and Craig Wyant picked it up. Craig was fascinated and looked into it further. He’s a facebook friend of Zach Shahan, the editor of this newsletter and CleanTechnica. Zach forwarded Craig’s posts to me. Of course, right at the same time I was reading them on Zach’s page and deciding they deserved a story….
I can’t improve on the final comment from another Zach, Zachary Stieber of the Epoch Times, one of the three journalists who has already covered this incident, so I’ll quote:
“This whole experience also serves as a reminder that next time you get the urge to take a dip in a river or stream, watch out for these guys sitting on the bottom.”