The Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is a species of giant aquatic salamander found in the eastern and central United States.
It’s the largest salamander in North America and belongs to the family Cryptobranchidae.
The Hellbender has a unique way of breathing through its skin and plays a special role in its ecosystem as both a predator and prey.
Unfortunately, this species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
What Are Some Interesting Facts About Hellbenders?
- Hellbenders can grow up to 29 inches (74 cm) in length, making them the fourth-largest aquatic salamander species in the world.
- They are also the largest amphibian in North America, weighing between 3.3 to 5.5 lbs (1.5 and 2.5 kg).
- Hellbenders can live for up to 30 years in captivity.
- They have small eyes and loose skin, which are some of their distinguishing features.
What Is the Origin of The Name ‘Hellbender’?
The exact origin of the name ‘Hellbender’ is unclear.
One theory suggests that it comes from the animal’s strange appearance, which led settlers to believe it was a creature from hell.
Another theory says that the undulating skin of a Hellbender reminded observers of the tortures of hell.
Some other common names for the Hellbender include Snot Otter, Lasagna Lizard, Devil Dog, and Mud-Devil.
What Is the Hellbender’s Habitat?
Hellbenders are found in shallow, fast-flowing, rocky streams with large, irregularly shaped rocks.
They generally avoid wider, slow-moving waters with muddy banks or slab rock bottoms.
They are present in several eastern US states, from southern New York to northern Georgia.
What Do Hellbenders Eat?
Hellbenders primarily feed on crayfish and small fish, but they also eat insects, worms, mollusks, tadpoles, and smaller salamanders.
They have a strong sense of smell, which helps them find food in the water.
How Do Hellbenders Reproduce?
The breeding season for Hellbenders begins in late August or early to mid-September and can continue until the end of November.
Males create a brood site under a rock or log, where they will guard the eggs laid by the female.
The eggs are fertilized externally, and the male will continue to guard the eggs until they hatch.
What Are Some Threats to Hellbenders?
Hellbender populations have experienced a dramatic decline due to several factors, including habitat loss from dams and other developments, pollution, disease, and overharvesting for commercial and scientific purposes.
As a result, the species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN.
What Is Being Done to Conserve Hellbenders?
Conservation efforts for Hellbenders include protecting their habitats and reintroducing them to areas where they were once found.
In addition, breeding programs and “head-starting” programs, where eggs are collected from the wild and raised in captivity before being released, have been initiated in states like New York and Ohio.
The Ozark hellbender, a subspecies found in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, has been listed as an endangered species by the US Fish and Wildlife Service since 2011.