It was truly amazing to find a species of animal that’s more elusive than a Jaguar Shark, but the individual I stumbled across last week didn’t really live up to its name. Having found common Northwestern Salamanders stretching 12cm in length, the 10cm long Pacific Giant Salamander wasn’t really that giant.
So, once again we headed out to Chilliwack determined to find a giant… and maybe some corn along the way. Not wanting to disturb the same area more than once, we rolled the dice and tried our luck in an area completely new and unknown to us. After ignoring a few signs about mandatory 4×4 and pulling over a few times to allow dirt bikes to pass, we finally found some running water close enough to the old forest service road.
As we hopped down the embankment along side of the road a few red-legged frogs did the same – right into the stream. As we continued searching we found a bunch of tiny Western Redback Salamanders (Plethodon vehiculum), loads of good-sized snail beetles, plenty of small wiggling grubs, countless huge banana slugs, and an insane number of the biggest mosquitoes ever – everything a Pacific Giant Salamander would love to munch on. Though after more than an hour of careful searching we’d yet to find any giants, not even a little giant.
As hope was fading and we started to consider heading back up the steep slope, our luck changed.
As I carefully lifted a decomposing birch tree and examined what lived beneath, a golden-brown tail quickly slipped away under the adjacent log. This was the one. The giant I had so badly wanted to find. The tail alone was all that was needed to know just how big this giant was. Ever so gingerly, I cleared away a few pieces of decomposing undergrowth surrounding the giant’s lair and wait for the schooling fluorescent snapper to clear. Not wanting to feel that giant’s wrath chomp down on my tasty finger, I very awkwardly lifted away the remaining piece of rotten birch to reveal the beast!
Well it wasn’t really a beast, but at about 22cm long, it is certainly the biggest salamander I’ve ever come across. The most impressive feature was its mouth, stretching from one side of its head to the other – it’s easy to see how these giants can prey upon mice, shrews, and other salamanders. Speaking of other salamanders, while doing an awesome job of holding lights, my girlfriend had a Western Redback Salamander crawl across her foot. This Western Redback, at just less than two inches in length, provided a great comparison for size between a ‘regular’ salamander and a giant.
Happy with the photos and footage captured, I caringly rebuilt the giant’s lair and returned him (we did check gender this time) to his cozy dwelling. Of course the Pacific Giant Salamander is known to grow to lengths of 35cm, so even this 22cm long individual can grow a bit more. For now I’m content with a 22cm Pacific Giant Salamander. Next of the list is the Coastal Tailed Frog… or maybe even the long-lived and silent Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog?