Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To eliminate some confusion: The Coastal Giant Salamander isn't really giant.

Here is a terrestrial form of the Coastal Giant Salamander, Dicamptodon tenebrosus, an animal that can achieve a snout-vent length (nose-to-naughty bits) of 190 mm, which is about 7.5 inches. Giant? Hardly. But compared to the usual, dainty plethodontid species one finds beneath logs, it is relatively enormous.

Here is an Ensatina, Ensatina escholtzii, a local non-giant salamander. The hand, provided for scale, belongs to my friend and former colleague, Les, who was my partner in the Quest for the Giant Salamander, parts One and Two. (As you see, we found one.) Les is a normal-sized man, and there is nothing extraordinary about the size of his hands. This is his left hand, holding the dainty Ensatina, which has a snout-vent length of about 45 mm, less than two inches.

This is the Coastal Giant Salamander, in Les' other hand, and assuming Les is more-or-less bilaterally symmetrical, which I'm pretty sure he is, this hand is about the same size as the other. So, with hand size as a point of reference, you can see that although the CGS is a bulky creature compared to the Ensatina, it is hardly "giant." To be fair, this is a small individual, not even close to 7.5 inches SVL. I would estimate about half that; it's a pup. (But even twice this length would still be sub-bratwurst.)

Not to say that there aren't extant giant salamanders somewhere in the world. The Hellbender of the eastern US (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) and the giant salamanders of Japan (Andrias japonica) and China (Andrias davidianus), in the family Cryptobranchidae, are pretty darn big by any measure.

There is rumoured to be a similar, even larger species here in the Fraser River watershed. Now that would be a giant salamander.


Camera Trap Codger said...

Well okay, it isn't a giant of giants, but the 'beeg ones' are a lot bigger than the other sallies in the neighborhood. The adults used to be really hard to find (when I was a kid), but I found a few big ones walking the woodland trails during heavy downpours in Marin County, CA. That was back in the mid-50s. We used to catch some pretty good sized larvae (7") from the streams, too, and I remember some harsh remarks from someone's grannie on a city bus when she saw that I had a pile of Dicamptodon larvae in water filled plastic bag.

They ARE wonderful salamanders, and still my favorite.

Hugh said...

Giant salamanders walking in the woods...sounds like a charmed place.

That was the only wild one I've ever seen. Their range barely extends into Canada and CGSs are considered a species at risk in this province.