Enclosure status
IUCN status
Critically Endangered
Scientific name
Andrias davidianus
Streams and rivers in forested areas

Chinese giant salamander facts

  • Chinese giant salamanders are the world's biggest amphibian, at full size they are around the size of a fully grown man at 1.8m in length. 
  • Chinese giant salamanders descended from an ancient group of salamanders that lived over 170 million years ago, going all the way back to the Jurassic period.
  • They have poor eyesight, so the Chinese giant salamanders skin is covered by sensory nodes which detects vibrations and helps them find prey. 
  • Adult Chinese giant salamanders can absorb oxygen directly through their porous skin. Its wrinkled, baggy appearance increases the overall surface area for oxygen absorption. 
  • When threatened Chinese giant salamanders produce a white fluid through their skin that smells peppery to ward off potential predators. 
  • Some sources state that the Ying and Yang symbols are derived from two intertwined Chinese giant salamanders. 
Chinese giant salamander found during ZSL survey work
© Ben Tapley
Chinese giant salamander, black with small eyes, at London Zoo in an aquarium

Chinese giant salamander diet

Chinese giant salamanders eat worms, crustaceans, insect larvae and small  vertebrates, such as fish and frogs. They hunt using a gape and suck method, their throat expands, and then they open their mouth to cause suction to drag in water and prey. 

Chinese giant salamander threats

Chinese giant salamanders have been overexploited for the luxury food market, farming practices may be causing hybridisation of different species and they are being over harvesting from the wild. They are also decreasing as a result of habitat loss. 

Chinese giant salamander at London Zoo
Chinese giant salamander being examined for health checks at London Zoo

Chinese giant salamanders at the Zoo

Our Chinese giant salamander 'Professor Lew' arrived in 2016 via the UK’s Border Force, who having prevented an attempt to illegally import the youngster into the country, asked the Zoo to act as its guardians. We’re proud to be the only zoo in the UK to have a Chinese giant salamander in residence, even though the back story of how this creature came here in the first place is such a sad one. 

We worked for the best part of a year to build the perfect new home for the salamander - using vital information about the unique amphibian’s wild habitat, gathered by our scientists and conservationists during the biggest wildlife survey ever seen in China

All of which makes the salamander’s arrival on British soil (presumably heading for someone’s illegal private collection), at first glance, a remarkable journey. But Professor’s Lew’s tale is sadly not as unusual as it sounds.

Our captivating salamander, with its slimy smile and crinkly purple tail, is far from alone – being yet another victim of one of the biggest threats facing animals today: the illegal wildlife trade.

We’ve provided a home for 3,370 animals confiscated by the UK’s Border Force, including Egyptian tortoises, red rain frogs, green tree pythons and hundreds of corals (yes, corals are animals…!). We work with customs officers to help identify and rehome these seized animals, which are often smuggled into this country to illegally despite being endangered in the wild. 

Professor Lew is helping us raise awareness to the threats Chinese giant salamanders are facing and help us fight back against the illegal wildlife trade.

Chinese giant salamander conservation

Chinese giant salamander being held during a health check at London Zoo
Protecting species

Chinese giant salamander conservation at ZSL

At ZSL, we are developing possible routes to recovery, creating a new future for this ancient species.

More facts about our animals

  • Female Lake Oku frog
    Xenopus longipes

    Lake Oku clawed frog

    Lake Oku frogs are only found in one tiny lake in Cameroon, and we were the first to ever successfully breed this critically endangered species.

  • King cobra
    Ophiophagus hannah

    King cobra

    These massive snakes grow 18 feet long and primarily eat other snakes.

  • Komodo dragon at London Zoo
    Varanus komodoensis

    Komodo dragon

    The largest and heaviest reptile in the world, which can eat up to 80% of its body weight in just one feeding.

  • Anam leaf turtle at London Zoo
    Mauremys annamensis

    Annam leaf turtle

    The anam leaf turtle is one of the most endangered reptiles on earth, there are only around 50 remaining individuals in the wild. Little is known about them, and at our at our conservation Zoo we are working to better understand the species.

  • Our animals