SciSun: It came from the Riparian Zone!!   Leave a comment

The Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus) will not one day fiercely emerge from beneath the water’s surface to attack our cities using its atomic superpowers and radioactive breath. (But we wouldn’t suggest anyone actually getting so close they can smell a salamanders’ breath, for that matter). And while ‘Giant’ is a part of its name, Pacific Sal only grows to about 13 inches long. Which isn’t much by our standards, but in the world of salamanders and frogs and other amphibians, that’s just about as big as these animals get, at least in North America. (Although there’s a type of Giant Salamander in Japan that grows to about 5 feet long. And a rare and endangered Giant in China that’s been reported at 6 feet!).

As for rising up and attacking our cites, it’s not going to happen; Pacific Sal (also known as Coastal Giant Salamander) prefer to remain hidden near rocks at the bottom of cool, clear streams in forested coastal areas of Northern California and into British Columbia in Canada. They are excellent climbers (who would have thought?), and can be seen in small trees and shrubs where they’re looking for their preferred food, which is just about anything that’s smaller than the salamander: Small rodents, lizards, worms, and even small snakes. While they don’t chase and attack like other predators, they take a sit-and-wait approach and when food comes by, they quickly grab the prey and crush it in their jaws. Giant Salamanders are so strong, and have so many tiny needle-sharp teeth, they can bite down hard and cause a lot of pain to a human finger or toe. When they’re young all salamanders live only in the water, where they eat insects, crayfish, and small fish.

pacific giant salamander USFS

“Take me to your leader! Or at least to the nearest stream.”

One characteristic of any amphibian is their ability to live both in and out of the  water; although amphibians can’t spend all their time out of the water and must return to keep their skin and other organs moist and refreshed. While this is a very handy adaptation (and a lot more convenient than owning a swimming pool), it also places the Giant Pacific Salamander, and all salamanders, and virtually all amphibians, in very uncertain conditions and they are considered important indicator species of water and environment quality. Because they are adapted to living in different environments, but still must remain in humid areas and at times return to the water, amphibians are on the front line of any pollution or contaminants or other changes in water quality; they suffer if the deep forests are cut down, leading to less shade and allowing the environment to heat up and become unlivable; or during times of drought and water shortages when the small streams and creeks they rely on dry out due to natural causes or the water is diverted or used by humans.

Today the Pacific Giant Salamander is not considered an endangered species in the United States, but it is naturally uncommon and is officially listed as Endangered in Canada. So it shouldn’t take a monstrous, unknown creature from a late-night movie, climbing out of the sea to warn us of impending disaster; we should learn from the Giant living in our nearby forests and streams.


Michonne Says: This is exactly why it’s never a good idea to get too close to the water. You never know what’s living in there! But these Sally-meanders climb trees, too? Well it’s never a good idea to get too close to trees. Keep near the rocks, and underground where it’s safe. Everybody knows that.

Posted October 28, 2012 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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