Yuzumaru, we hardly knew ye.

It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Yuzumaru, billed as “Japan’s largest giant salamander” at its home of Roadside Station Innai in Usa, Oita Prefecture. The cause of death isn’t clear but it was said to be showing signs of advanced aging prior to its death.

The Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) was found in a waterway in the town of Innai in 2004. However, these creatures are classified as living national monuments and such a location was dangerous for it, so the Agency of Cultural Affairs transferred it to a local branch for one year before placing it in the care of Roadside Station Innai.

▼ Yuzumaru in March of 2020

There it was given the name of Yuzumaru by the manager Yoshitaka Ifuku and enjoyed many years of sitting under a rock and dining on plentiful supplies of its favorite food, loaches. It also became a star attraction of the rest stop and spawned its own line of merchandise such as key chains and stuffed animals.

Yuzumaru was clearly eating well, because in 2018 it weighed in at 25 kilograms (55 pounds) and measured 131.5 centimeters (4 feet 4 inches) in length, making it the largest known living salamander in Japan. This honor only added to its appeal, and travelers continued to flock to catch a glimpse of its rather sedate lifestyle.

▼ One of the last known videos of Yuzumaru, taken only nine days before its passing

Its popularity continued to soar, until the morning of 28 February when an employee of the rest stop noticed a strange white mold growing on Yuzumaru’s face and back. She contacted the Innai Board of Education who rushed to the scene and confirmed its death…was two days earlier.

Japanese giant salamanders are mainly nocturnal creatures with extremely low metabolisms so Yuzumaru didn’t really do much during the day, making it hard to tell if it was alive or dead much of the time.

“When we saw it last year, it was fine…I think? I mean, it didn’t move at all.”

Seventy-one-year-old Ifuku was distraught at the loss, telling Asahi Shimbun: “I’m still in shock. I feel like I lost a family member.” He added, “Some kids come to see it everyday. What am I going to tell them?”

Yuzumaru mostly kept to itself and left us with many mysteries such as whether it was a male or female. Its age was also unknown but believed to be about 70. Perhaps some of these questions will finally be answered when its body is dissected for research purposes in Hiroshima.

After that it is unclear what will become of Yuzumaru’s remains, but Ifuku wondered, “Perhaps it could return here as a taxidermy exhibit.”

Source: Oita Godo Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun
Top image: YouTube/TP Hacchannel
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