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Royal Oak — The Detroit Zoo opened a newly-renovated habitat Friday for its Japanese giant salamanders, officials said. 

The salamanders have a new comfy home in the National Amphibian Conservation Center after months of renovations.

Officials said they renovated the former Rainforest Immersion Gallery, now nearly doubled in size to 1,850 square feet, to accommodate the large aquatic animals.

The Japanese giant salamander is the world’s second-largest, growing more than 4 feet long, weighing up to 88 pounds and living about 50 years.

"The goal was to make the salamanders’ home large enough to eventually accommodate all five individuals who live at the Detroit Zoo and, at the same time, create a peaceful retreat for visitors to observe the salamanders as they swim and explore their new space," Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society, said in a statement.

The new habitat features a waterfall, flowing stream, underwater caves and elements similar to the salamanders' native landscape in Japan.

For visitors, there are learning elements to help them understand the complex creatures, including video highlights of the five salamanders at the zoo: males Bob, Dieter and Sven, and females Hatsue and Helga. The males can be seen in the new habitat, while the females are in the former habitat for the time being.

"Guests are able to watch the males explore their new home from now until breeding season in the spring," Carter said. "We are waiting to introduce the females then, which is a natural time when they would encounter and interact with males."

Salamanders have a broad, elongated body, a long tail and two pairs of legs.Their heavily wrinkled brown and black skin helps them blend in with the mud, stones and plants of rivers and streams, and their flattened bodies are streamlined for swimming at the bottom of the fast-flowing water. Their eyes are small and positioned on top of their heads, causing them to rely on smell and touch for hunting.

Salamanders are listed as "near threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as wild populations are dwindling due to habitat degradation.

Once the five salamanders are all in their new home, the Detroit Zoo will cooperate in a breeding program with a zoo in Japan to bolster the population and eventually release zoo-born salamanders in their native habitat, officials said. 

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter:@SarahRahal_

 

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