Update (2:46 GMT, December 17): Initial reports suggested this slimy cave-dweller could have been pushing 200 years old. While extremely large, it's more likely that the salamander is around 50.

An incredibly rare giant salamander was found recently near the mouth of a cave in Chongqing in southwestern China. The mammoth amphibian measured in at 4.7 feet (1.4m) and tipped the scales at 104 pounds (47kg). 

Chinese giant salamanders (Andrias davidianus) are not only the largest species of salamander in the world, but also the largest amphibian. On average, adults weigh between 55-66 pounds and are just over three feet long, making this find a particularly exciting one. 

Entirely aquatic, they spend their days in the clear waters of rocky streams and lakes, hunting frogs, fish, insects, shrimp and crabs. Due to poor eyesight, they must rely on special nodes along their backs to sense prey. The nodes can detect even the slightest vibrations, which helps the salamanders find their next meal and manoeuvre around the riverbeds.

The giant salamander is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, and is still illegally hunted. Add to that the threat of habitat loss, and these aquatic hunters are fighting an uphill battle for survival. They're currently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, and are protected from international trade under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

China has devoted over 335,000 hectares of land to the conservation of these rare animals, so we hope to see more finds like this one appearing in the future. As for the most recent find, he's been transferred to a protective research facility for a health assessment and further study.


Top header image: Joachim S. Müller/Flickr