Salamander
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Giant Salamander



Keystone Mine Attorney Frank Griffith was one of the first on record to see giant salamanders in the Trinity Alps. It was during the 1920's, while he was hunting deer near the head of the New River. At the bottom of a lake, he spotted five, some 5-9ft (1.5m-2.75m) long. He caught one on a hook, but he could not pull it out.

Hearing Griffith's story, biologist Thomas Rodgers made four unsuccessfull trips in 1948 to try to located the creatures. He thought they might be Pacific giant salamanders, Dicamptodon, even though these are never bigger than a foot long. Perhaps they were a relict population of Megalobatrachus, the Asiatic giant salamander of the family Cryptobrachidae, reputed to measure 5-6ft (1.5m-1.8m). These inhabit the swift-moving mountain streams in Japan and China, a habitat similar to that found in the Trinity Alps.

The Asiatic link felt right to herpetologist George Myers. Writing in a 1951 scientific journal, he recalled his 1939 encounter with a giant salamander captured in the Sacramento River. Myers was called by a commercial fisherman who had found the animal in one of his catfish nets. Myers observed the specimen carefully for more than 30 minutes.

"The animal was a fine Megalobatrachus (unquestionably identified generically by its closed gill openings), in perfect condition," he noted. "It was between 25 and 30 inches (63.5cm-76cm) in length." Nevertheless, it was a very different colour to those of the Japanese and Chinese species. It was dark brown, not slate grey as in the Asian types, and it had dull yellow spots, not ones that were darker grey as is found on the known giant salamanders. "The source of the specimen is of course, unknown," he continued. "Its strange coloration suggested the possibility of a nativer Californian Megalobatrachus, which would not be zoogeographically surprising, but no other captures have been reported."

A few years later, animal handler Vern Harden, of Pioneer, claimed that he had hooked one of a dozen giant salamanders he saw in a remote Trinity Alps lake. Harden had named the lake after Father Bernard Hubbard. Because of a closing snowstorm. Harden had taken a quick measurement of the salamander's length - 8ft 4in (2.5m) - and released it. With no evidence of his story, he still decided to tell Stanford University biologist Victory Twitty about it. Twitty's comment: "Spectacular, if true." Father Hubbard was a formidable character. A Jesuit scholar, explorer, naturalist, photographer and popular lecturer known throughout the world as the 'Glacier Priest' because he liked climbing the European Alps, he went on Alaskan trek in the 1930s. When Father Hubbard decided to take an interest in the Trinity Alps giant salamanders, people listened. He announced that, although the whole thing sounded fantastic, he was rather certain there were giant salamanders... "And next fall we expect to prove it," he said.


Giant Salamander, (Megalobatrachus davidianus)

During 1958 and 1959, both 72-year-old Father Bernard and his brother, Captain John D. Hubbard, were associated with a couple of expeditions in search of the giant salamanders. In 1960, Father Hubbard declared he had definetely established that the huge amphibians were in the Trinity region and would soon leave on another expedition. However, no record of the 1960 Hubbard expedition now exists. Maybe it never happened. Later that year millionare adventurer and cryptozoologist Tom Slick took time out from hunting Bigfoot to pick up an interest in the giant salamanders and told members of the Pacific Northwest Expedition to try to find one. They could not. Some of his hired Bigfooters became upset with Slick for what they called a "silly sidetrip".

In September that same year, 1960, three zoology professors - Robert Stebbins of the University of California-Berkeley, Thomas Rodgers of Chico State College and Nathan Cohen of Medesto Junior College - departed Willow Creek on their own giant salamander expedition.

In 1962, Thomas Rodgers (of the unsuccessful 1948 expeditions) recorded that they were accompanied by "laymen" and "boy scouts" who "mistook logs for salamanderrs" and that they collected only about a dozen Dicamptodon, the largest of which was 11 1/2in (30cm) long. Rodgers' final comment: "It is hoped that this evidence will kill rumors about any giant salamanders (much less Megalobatrachus) in the Trinity Mountains of California." This official 1962 debunking seems to have ended most zoological interest in the giant salamanderrs on the Trinities.

 

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