Ozark Hellbender

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Hellbenders in action!

A video produced by Arkansas Game and Fish Commission about Ozark Hellbenders featuring AGFC and USFWS staff.

A short film about St. Louis Zoo WildCare Institute® Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation

A short film about the closely related Eastern Hellbender from Freshwaters Illustrated and U.S. Forest Service

For more information, check out the Ozark Hellbender Recovery Outline.

Ozark Hellbender Ozark Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi)
Status: Endangered
Listed: October 6, 2011

For questions regarding the Ozark Hellbender in Arkansas, please contact Alyssa Bangs at alyssa_bangs@fws.gov or 501-513-4472.

Species Facts:
The Ozark Hellbender is one of the largest salamanders in the world. Along with the closely related Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), it is the only salamander in the United States that spends its entire life in water. The Ozark Hellbender does not have gills as an adult; instead it uses its wrinkled and folded skin for oxygen absorption and respiration. Despite its name, it is not dangerous to people or animals in any way.

The Ozark Hellbender is active at night (nocturnal) and a secretive animal that hides under rocks.They are active throughout the year and eat crayfish, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. They are thought to live for 40+ years.  This long-lived, slow growing animal does not reach reproductive maturity until at least 7 years of age. Females may lay from 200-700 eggs in a rocky nest and the male will guard the eggs for 4-6 weeks until hatching.  There are fewer than 600 Ozark Hellbenders left; less than a tenth of the estimated historical population.

Habitat Summary:
The Ozark Hellbender is found in coarse (rocky) substrate of well–oxygenated, fast flowing streams in clear creeks and rivers, usually in places with large shelter rocks and temperatures below 68° F. They are only found in the Ozark Plateau of Arkansas and Missouri in portions of the Spring, White, and Eleven Point Rivers.

Why is it endangered?
The principal existing threat is degradation of habitat, including impoundments, ore and gravel mining, silt and nutrient runoff (e.g., from timber harvest, agriculture, faulty septic and sewage treatment systems), and den site disturbance due to recreational uses of rivers. This also includes the stocking of non-native fish, such as rainbow and brown trout, which possibly prey on Ozark Hellbender larvae.

Also, the increasingly common and infectious amphibian disease Chytrid (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd)) has been found in all currently occupied Ozark Hellbender habitats. It is well documented that this disease can infect and kill all life stages of many different amphibian species. It is known to infect the Ozark Hellbender and may be the reason for increasingly common physical abnormalities (lesions, missing limbs, blindness, etc.) in wild individuals. 

Unauthorized collection for both scientific and commercial purposes does seem to be a continued threat, even though Missouri and Arkansas State agencies have taken measures to reduce this.

Scientists take measurements of an Ozark Hellbender

Chris Davidson (USFWS) and Kelly Irwin (AGFC) take measurements on an Ozark Hellbender.
Photo credit: USFWS AFO

In November 2011, the Saint Louis Zoo in Missouri announced that Ozark Hellbenders were successfully bred in captivity. These larvae were raised and released in their native river habitat. Similarly, eggs collected from the wild have been hatched and are being raised for eventual release. A cooperative program between the AGFC and the USFWS to provide nest boxes for the Ozark Hellbender is also in place. To date, over 80 boxes have been placed in suitable habitat to encourage reproduction by providing available sites for egg laying by females and nest/egg guarding by male Ozark Hellbenders.

For more information on Ozark Hellbender recovery, check out the Ozark Hellbender Recovery Outline of 2011.

Range in Arkansas:

Arkansas Field Office
110 S. Amity Road
Suite 300
Conway, AR 72032

501/513 4470 (v)
501/513 4480 (f)

Last Updated: December 30, 2015

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