Celebrating the Chinese Giant Salamander

by Ann Sylph on

Update - October 2019

New species of giant salamander - A recently published paper (September 2019) identifies Andrias sligoi, the South China giant salamander, as a new species by using DNA analysis of museum specimens. Although E.G. Boulenger suggested this was a new species in his 1924 paper in the 'Proceedings of the Zoological Society', the idea was abandoned but the new study confirms his suggestion. The newly identified species is depicted in these drawings as 'M. sligoi’.


Rescued Chinese giant salamaders have found a new home at ZSL London Zoo. The world's largest amphibian, "Professor Lew" can now be found in the Reptile House. Professor Lew is thought to be 4 years old and is 30cm long but he will grow upto 1.8m! The Chinese giant salamander is ranked No.2 on ZSL's EDGE of Existence amphibians list.

This watercolour is a bit of a mystery. Inscribed on the front in pencil : 'M. maximus' and 'M. sligoi’,  the three figures of giant salamanders are shown in this drawing, two in side view and one seen from the ventral surface, it has not been signed or dated.

It may have been prepared to accompany a paper entitled 'On a new giant salamander, living in the Society's Gardens', which was read by E.G. Boulenger to a meeting of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), when the paper was published in 'Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London', 1924, pp. 173-174, it was not illustrated and no reference to this painting was made in the paper. This paper is now open access!

Watercolour of giant Chinese salamander possibly to accompany Boulenger's 1924 paper in PZS but illustration not published
Watercolour of giant Chinese salamander possibly to accompany Boulenger's 1924 paper in PZS but illustration not published

 In the paper, Boulenger describes how this giant salamander had been seen living in the Botanical Gardens in Hong Kong by the Marquess of Sligo, who persuaded the Governor of the island, Sir Reginald Stubbs, to present it to the ZSL. Boulenger considered this was a new species, different from the well-known species Megalobatrachus maximus of Japan, specimens of which he examined in the British Museum, and he named the animal in the Zoo Megalobatrachus sligo, after the Marquess of Sligo, who secured the animal for the ZSL.

These paintings of the two species, drawing attention to their differences, may have been prepared for Boulenger, or done by Boulenger himself. Boulenger was a Fellow of the Zoological Society and Director of the ZSL Aquarium The species illustrated were identified as the Chinese Giant Salamander, Andrias davidianus  (Blanchard, 1871) in 2006. Both Megalobatrachus maximus and M. sligoi are now regarded as synonyms of Andrias davidianus. The specific name of `davidianus’  is a tribute to Père Armand David who indicated the existence of these giant salamanders in his writings about his travels in China. You can see the Chinese giant salamander at ZSL London Zoo and Père David’s deer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

There is an additional ink drawing of the animals which was probably made at the same time.

Ink drawing of several views of Chinese giant salamander
Ink drawing of Chinese giant salamander, artist unknown

Find out about ZSL's current work to conserve Chinese giant salamanders


Further reading:

EDGE website http://www.edgeofexistence.org/species/chinese-giant-salamander/ 

On a new giant  salamander, living in the Society's Gardens by E. G. Boulenger in 'Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London', 1924, pp. 173-174 https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1096-3642.1924.tb01494 (This paper is open access)

Journal de mon troisième voyage d'exploration dans l'Empire chinois par Armand David, Paris : Hachette, 1875.

On a new gigantic salamander (Sieboldia Davidiana, Blanch.) from Western China  by E. Blanchard in `Annals of Natural History, 1871, 4th Series, Vol. 8, pp.212-214

Note sur une nouvelle salamandre gigantesque (Sieboldia Davidiana, Blanch.) de la Chine occidentale par M. Emile Blanchard, 1871, Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances  de l’Académie des Sciences, 1871, Vol. 73, pp. 79-80


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