What is Your Favorite Animal?
What has been on Earth since the dinosaurs, can grow up to 2 feet long, lives in Eastern United States streams and rivers and is so ugly, it is hard not to love? Hellbenders, of course! What the heck is a hellbender you might ask?
Here are some hellbender facts: also called snot otters, they are North America’s largest aquatic salamander and live as far north as New York and as far south as Alabama. In all 16 states in which they are found, hellbenders are listed as threatened or endangered. But where you see one, you know the stream is healthy because they require extremely clean, fast-moving water to live.
Some other cool hellbender facts: they have 4 stubby legs with 4 toes on the front ones and 5 toes on the back. They breathe through their skin, not their lungs. The males protect the nest of eggs for over two months until they hatch. And sometimes they eat some of the eggs which is not so cool.
Our Experience with Hellbenders
We fell in love with hellbenders upon first seeing them in a video in early 2016. Dale is so inspired, he is currently working on a stone sculpture of a hellbender in its rock house. And we were thrilled to see one live at The WNC Nature Center in Asheville, NC. We are excited to be getting involved with several organizations currently trying to protect and breed them for release into the wild.
What We Can Do
Hellbender populations have declined dramatically over the last few decades. The biggest threat to hellbenders is the loss of habitat through siltation of the streams in which they live and water contamination. Silt smothers not only the hellbenders but their prey (crayfish, minnows, and insects), entombs their eggs, and fills up the holes in which they live.
Since they breathe through their skin, any toxins in the water from chemical/pesticide runoff or untreated sewage can be deadly. When you move stones in a stream, to stack rocks, for example, you may be destroying the hellbender’s house. Wreck their house and you may be killing the hellbender since they can live up to 30 years and often under the same rock for years. Releasing a hellbender if hooked while fishing will also help protect them.
Learn More about Hellbenders
N.Y. Times article https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/02/science/hellbenders-salamanders.html