Tuesday, February 26, 2013

You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright!

With all due respect to the Boss and the greatest rock song ever written, I must say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  This week’s endangered species, the Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) (photo from http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/jgs/default.cfm), is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN.  My family and I had the good luck to see these fascinating creatures during a behind-the-scenes tour at the Smithsonian National Zoo – in person, they’ve got a charm all their own! 

This huge salamander, which can reach sizes of 55 lbs and 5 feet, is found in the streambeds of fast-flowing streams in northern Kyushu Island and western Honshu in Japan.  The Japanese giant salamander will eat just about anything it can catch, but they don’t hunt using eyesight – they actually don’t see well.  They rely heavily on specialized sensory organs on their bodies and heads to find prey.  Since the adult salamander doesn’t have any natural predators, the main threats to their survival are currently hunting and habitat loss due to deforestation.  Here are a few more fun facts about the Japanese salamander:

  • their bodies are covered in mucus, which protects them from scratches and parasites
  • they absorb oxygen through their skin
  • when threatened or touched, they secrete a milky substance that smells like Japanese peppers
  • after mating in August, females lay 400 to 500 eggs often fertilized by several males
  • male salamanders guard the nests of eggs until they hatch in early spring

When thinking of appropriate songs for the Japanese giant salamander, I’m going to have to go with Cecil F. Alexander’s hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” rather than Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road (which I may have mentioned is the greatest rock song ever written..):

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.


Smithsonian National Zoological Park.  ND.  “Japanese Giant Salamander”  Accessed online 2/9/13  http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/AsiaTrail/GiantSalamanders/default.cfm

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