Giant salamander: Scientists believe this newly discovered animal is the world’s largest amphibian

Scientists have determined that a giant salamander previously housed at the London Zoo not only represents a newly discovered species — it's also likely the largest amphibian known to man

The finding is part of a new study published Monday in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution. In it, researchers detail the realization that Chinese giant salamanders — previously thought to be one species — are actually a group of three related species. 

The biggest of those species is the South China giant salamander. The newly named amphibians, usually found in China's Pearl River system, can grow as large as six feet in length. That's far bigger than other species of giant salamanders, which are usually less than four feet long

"For me, the big take-home message is how shocking it is that [we are] just beginning to realize that world's largest amphibians are actually multiple species," Samuel Turvey, the study's lead author, told the CBC.

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ROME, ITALY - MAY 15: A three-year-old Komodo Dragon from Los Angeles zoo sits in the new area dedicated to Komodo Dragons at the Bioparco zoo on May 15, 2014 in Rome, Italy. The Komodo Dragon is a venomous reptile which can reach as big as 90 kilos in weight and 3 meters in length. (Photo by Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images)
Komodo dragons ,Komodo Island, Indonesia
ZAMBIA - 2014/06/17: A monitor lizard is climbing a tree in South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 08: . As part of ZSL London Zoo?s extensive enrichment programme, Raja, a 15-year-old Komodo dragon, has been given brightly coloured boomer balls filled with his favourite foods, which the 55kg (nine stone) endangered monitor lizard has to push around with his nose to reach the treats inside.  at London Zoo on August 8, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images)
Two Komodo dragons are pictured in an enclosure at the Surabaya Zoo on June 2, 2014. A different Komodo dragon died on June 2 at the Indonesian zoo infamous for hundreds of animal deaths in recent years, an official said. It was the second of the creatures -- which are the world's largest living lizards and have a venomous bite -- to die this year at Surabaya Zoo, Indonesia's largest, on the main island of Java. AFP PHOTO / JUNI KRISWANTO (Photo credit should read JUNI KRISWANTO/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on December 3, 2010, a Komodo dragon looks for prey in the wilds in Rinca island, the natural habitat of the world's largest lizard. Indonesia has declared the islands a national park in 1980 to protect the the komodo dragons. The islands of Komodo and Rinca and surrounding smaller islands comprises Komodo National Park that is located in East Nusa Tenggara province. Park authorities estimate about 2,700 Komodo dragons live in the nature reserve that has been declared UNESCO 'World Heritage Site.' The carnivorous lizards, feeding on water buffalos, deers and wild boars, can grow three meters in length and weigh more than 150 kilograms, has known to have existed in this few islands for millions of years. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of a young Komodo dragon Ivan, one of two males Komodo dragons at the Bioparco zoo in Rome, on May 15, 2014. AFP PHOTO / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
KOMODO ISLAND, INDONESIA - UNDATED: EXCLUSIVE. A Komodo dragon rests on a warm rock on Komodo Island in the Republic of Indonesia. Keeping at arms length, these photographers were able to get up close and personal with these spectacular ten foot-long Komodo dragons. Using a clever 'KomodoCam', a digital camera on wheels fixed to a six foot-long monopod, brothers William and Matthew Burrard-Lucas could be sure that they were the only ones snapping away. The dragons are dominant predators on the Indonesian Komodo islands. Known to eat deer, pigs, water buffalo and occasionally humans, Komodo dragons are even cannibals - larger dragons will eat smaller ones they encounter. Until they were discovered by Europeans 100 years ago they were widely thought to be nothing more than the legends of native people. Scientists believe there are between 4,000 and 5,000 Komodo dragons alive in the wild - a fraction of the population 50 years ago. To combat this decline the Komodo National Park was established in 1980. Now Komodo dragons are protected on the islands of Komodo, Rinca and Padar. (Photo by Burrard - Lucas / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
In this photograph taken on December 2, 2010 a Komodo dragon prowls the shore of Komodo island, the natural habitat of the world's largest lizard. Indonesia has declared the islands a national park in 1980 to protect the the Komodo dragons. The islands of Komodo and Rinca and surrounding smaller islands comprises Komodo National Park that is located in East Nusa Tenggara province. Park authorities estimate about 2,700 Komodo dragons live in the nature reserve that has been declared UNESCO 'World Heritage Site.' The carnivorous lizards, feeding on water buffalos, deers and wild boars, can grow three meters in length and weigh more than 150 kilograms, has known to have existed in this few islands for millions of years. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
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The largest South China giant salamander, which researchers said is likely the largest amphibian ever recorded, lived during the first half of the 20th century and was housed at the London Zoo for two decades. 

Today, it may be difficult, or even impossible to find a similar animal. Chinese giant salamanders are heavily endangered, with Turvey telling the CBC that all three species "are on the very, very edge of extinction" and that some may already be extinct. 

The London Zoo is still home to four, smaller versions of the animal though, which were acquired in 2016 after someone tried to import them illegally. 

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