We had a great time working with Bold Life magazine to highlight the hellbender. Not only did they feature the hellbender as an underdog of a species, they detail measures being taken by the NC Zoo to protect their habitat. Thank you, Lauren Stepp and Karin Strickland for a great article.
Helping the Underdog
By Lauren Stepp
Some might think dragons exist only in medieval folklore, but ask any Western North Carolina native and they’ll tell you different. The Hellbender, a giant salamander found in fast-flowing Appalachian streams, has inhabited this earth for 65 million years. Though undeniably antediluvian, Hellbenders — also called mud dogs, devil dogs, Allegheny alligators, snot otters (for their slimy texture), and the “last dragons” — neither breathe fire nor command 16th-century castles. Rather, the amphibians, which can grow to two feet long, prey on crickets, minnows, and crayfish, holing up under the same rock for their natural lifespan of 30 years. Harmless to humans, they are the largest aquatic salamander in the United States.
Once abundant, Hellbenders are now threatened by habitat destruction and water pollution. As a Species of Special Concern, they cannot be hunted, removed from the water, or intentionally bothered. Found locally in streams of Transylvania County’s Davidson River and Henderson County’s Mills River, their very presence is an indication of good water quality.