Falling in love with hellbenders was easy.  Memorializing this prehistoric looking creature in stone, not so easy. But once you see “Hellbenders Rock”, a first-ever hellbender sculpture for Dale, you may fall in love too.

Hellbenders Rock

Hellbenders Rock by Dale Weiler

Falling in love…with a hellbender!

Our love story began with a Facebook post… And then a blog: Hellbender Homewrecker? Not Me!

Hellbenders rock

An Eastern hellbender. Photo by David Herasimtschuk

But first, you might ask what on earth is a hellbender? We certainly had no idea. Well, it’s an aquatic salamander that ranges from as far south as Alabama all the way up to New York State. Living in very cold, freshwater streams, they require an extremely clean habitat to survive.  One physical characteristic that makes this giant salamander so special is how big it grows. It can be up to 30” long, which makes it the largest aquatic salamander in North America.

We were so intrigued by this creature, we started researching to learn more.  Come to find out, we have these critters living in our very own NC mountain streams.

hellbenders rock

Hellbenders live in fast running, clean streams. Photo by David Herasimtschuk

We also learned that hellbenders are under heavy pressure from environmental pollution, fishermen (and women) and stone stackers (if you read our blog above you now know why moving rocks in a stream can kill this mighty amphibian).  The IUCN rates them as Vulnerable, meaning they have a high possibility of extinction in the wild in the near term. Yikes. Who would have known?

How do you carve a hellbender in a 400 pound stone?

So coming back to the original question, how do you carve a hellbender in stone? Well, Dale had a 400-pound piece of alabaster he had been carting around for over 10 years and never knew what lived inside it. Dale said ” The rock had a brownish coloration and wonderful white, cream and tan veining. I could literally see a hellbender tucking its head out from inside one corner of the stone, once I became familiar with this magnificent salamander.”

hellbenders rock

Dale gets started on “Hellbender’s Rock”

After studying hellbender anatomy, Dale started chiseling away at stone and I took pictures of the progress for the next 4 months. And slowly, “Hellbenders Rock” became a reality. Down to its little white toes and wonderful flaps of skin on its arms and back.

hellbenders rock

Dale is finishing the toes on “Hellbenders Rock”.

“Hellbenders Rock” is born.

With the sculpture complete, we needed to find a home for it where it could help educate the public about hellbenders and the need to protect them. Since we already have a strong partnership with the NC Zoo, this seemed a natural fit. Plus they have live hellbenders.

“Hellbenders Rock” was installed on May 8th at the zoo in a completely new, redesigned exhibit with native fish and hellbenders swimming in the same aquarium. The exhibit also features the video “The Last Dragons” and an interactive touch screen on hellbenders. How cool is that!

hellbenders rock

Dale with “Hellbenders Rock” at the NC Zoo.


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