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Hunting the Giant (Salamander)

JAPAN | Tuesday, 3 April 2012 | Views [3411]

I’ve been living in Japan for almost 9 months (sorry I haven’t posted anything until now). It’s a land of great contrasts and cultural complexity that many easily overlook and stereotype. In fact, if you’re not of the right disposition, this place might well seem like just a cold, cement metropolis on one side and a backward, rundown peasant-land on the other (as I've well witnessed in my Aussie neighbours who incessantly feel the need to share their critiques and broad generalizations regarding the nation and people!)… I find though, if you attempt to scratch the surface, this warm country will certainly reward you ten-fold with its treasures.

Ever since I first saw a pickled Japanese Giant Salamander (Andrias japonicus) in a museum display, I have had a strange fascination with it. These prehistoric beasts have branches in N. America, China and Japan, but for me, my first and lasting love is with the Japanese variety. If you’ve not heard of them, it’s worthwhile to stop reading now, google “Japanese giant salamander”, have a quick read, and come back.

With some research I discovered that they are found not just on the southern islands of Japan but as far north as Kyoto. I had already had a trip scheduled there to see the gorgeous Sakura blooms in the city and thought, ‘It’s now or never! I’m going to go see one in the wild!’ (a big tick on my bucket list!)

So after some very kind offers from some researchers at Kyoto University, I set off in search of these beasts.

I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the tale. (There's some extras in the photo gallery too)

When we first met the researchers they showed us some endangered regular-sized salamanders at a small breeding pond on campus.

My first sighting of a giant was this juvenile in the lab. It's unfortunately one of the numerous Chinese/Japanese cross-species that are threatening the survival of pure japonicus salamanders.

Next, out into the field. Surprisingly close to the city too.

Being nocturnal, at this stage of the day we only had hope of catching larvae hidden amongst debris on the river bed.

No luck... We retreated and returned after nightfall.

Finally, a head was spotted under a mat of twigs after visiting perhaps 3 or 4 different sites!

The awe!

Note that down: 1m, 8kg, approximately 20-30years old, most likely a Chinese hybrid.

An adventure that would make David Attenborough proud!

Tags: andrias japonicus, giant salamander, japan, kyoto, salamanders

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