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A look at the hellbender, largest US salamander

Posted Thursday, Jul. 10, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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The hellbender is North America's largest salamander and the third-largest salamander species in the world, after the Chinese giant salamander and the Japanese giant salamander. Its numbers are declining in nearly all 16 Eastern states in which it is found, and scientists say its disappearance could reflect a decline in the quality of the rivers and streams it lives in.


Hellbenders are found in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.


The aquatic, nocturnal creatures spend their lives in rivers and streams. They breathe almost entirely through their skin, pulling oxygen from the water. They spend their days beneath large, flat stones and logs but leave those hiding spots at night to feed on crayfish, minnows, worms and snails.


The Ozark hellbender, found only in Missouri and Arkansas, was added to the federal endangered species list in 2011 after its numbers fell about 75 percent between the 1970s and 1990s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is assessing the eastern hellbender to determine if it should also be added to the list. The eastern hellbender is state-endangered in Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri and Ohio.


Hellbenders have wrinkly skin covered in a slimy, protective coating, which led to the nickname "snot otter." They're also known as devil dog, mud-devil, grampus, Allegheny alligator and old lasagna sides. They can live 30 or more years in the wild, grow up to about two feet long and weigh up to five pounds. The largest hellbender on record was 2 ½ feet long.

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