Chinese giant salamander found in London museum is 'world's largest amphibian'

Matt Drake
The giant salamander could be a distinct species: PA

The world's largest amphibian is a newly-identified salamander found in a London museum, researchers believe.

The South China giant salamander reaches nearly two metres in length and is critically endangered in the wild, according to research published in Ecology and Evolution. A preserved specimen can be found in the Natural History Museum.

It was previously considered a single species, but analysis of both living and dead specimens suggest there are actually three species found in different parts of China.

The South China salamander is the largest of the three and researchers think it is the largest amphibian alive today.

The idea the salamander was a distinct species was first proposed in the 1920s (PA)

Harvesting for the Chinese luxury food trade has led to the collapse in numbers and scientists say a renewed conservation effort is needed to save it from extinction.

Prof Samuel Turvey, of Zoological Society of London, said the decline in numbers in the wild is "catastrophic".

Speaking to the BBC, he said: "We hope that this new understanding of their species diversity has arrived in time to support their successful conservation, but urgent measures are required to protect any viable giant salamander populations that might remain."

Co-researcher, Melissa Marr, of the Natural History Museum London, said: "These findings come at a time where urgent interventions are required to save Chinese giant salamanders in the wild."

The salamanders are endangered due to China's food market (PA)

She added that measures must be put in place to preserve the genetic integrity of each species.

Giant salamanders were once found across central, eastern and southern China.

But due to a domestic luxury food market, a large-scale farming industry developed which may threaten wild populations.

Giant salamanders are considered to be a "living fossil".