AmphibiaWeb - Cryptobranchidae


(Translations may not be accurate.)


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6 species in 2 genera

Commonly Called Giant Salamanders, Hellbender

Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
Photo by Twan Leenders
(Click for family gallery)

This family is named after one of their paedomorphic features, gill slits (from the Greek words kryptos=hidden, and branchion=gill). These are large to very large (up to 1520 mm) aquatic salamanders; Andrias davidianus, the largest salamander in the world can weigh up to 25 lbs and grow over 1.5 meters. Cryptobranchid coloration varies, ranging from brownish gray to yellow, green, and orange (C. alleganiensis at night during breeding season). These species are active at night and feed on a variety of organisms, including worms, mollusks, crustaceans, lampreys, fish, frogs, reptiles, and small mammals. Cryptobranchids are specialized suction feeders; having a flexible symphyseal cartilage at the front of the lower jaw (where both bones meet), they are able to suction feed with the left or right side of their mouth. Males are territorial and make small nests under rocks where eggs are deposited and externally fertilized.

Its closest sister group is Hynobiidae.

Written by AmphibiaWeb

Notable Family Characteristics

  • Inhabits clear streams and rivers with rocky substrates
  • Some morphological characters include: 1) ribs unicapitate; 2) operculum fused to the ear capsule (also present in Sirenidae); 3) lacrimals absent; 4) prootic and exoccipitals separate; 5) fleshy skin folds; 6) large size; 7) spiracle remains open in adults.
  • Nocturnal
  • Carnivorous suction feeders
  • External fertilization
  • Distribution of the species include select montane regions in China, Japan, and southeastern United States
Cryptobranchidae Richness map

Cartography Credit: Zoe Yoo, UC Berkeley
Range maps sources: AmphibiaWeb, UC Berkeley, and IUCN RedList

Relevant Reference

Browne, R. K., H. Li, Z. Wang, P. M. Hime, A. McMillan, M. Wu, R. E. Diaz, and H. Zhang . 2012. The giant salamanders (Cryptobranchidae): Part A. palaeontology, phylogeny, genetics, and morphology. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation 5: 17–29.

Genus Andrias (5 species)
Andrias cheni no account no photos no sound/video
Andrias davidianus account photos no sound/video
Andrias japonicus account photos sound/video
Andrias jiangxiensis account no photos no sound/video
Andrias sligoi account no photos no sound/video

Genus Cryptobranchus (1 species)
Cryptobranchus alleganiensis account photos sound/video

Citation: AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: (Accessed:

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