Inside Region 3
Midwest Region
Select this button stylePrint Friendly

Service biologist Trisha Crabill works in the field on hellbender health assessments. Photo courtesy of Jeff Briggler.

Service biologist Trisha Crabill works in the field on hellbender health assessments. Photo courtesy of Jeff Briggler.

Helping Hellbenders

The Midwest Region’s rivers and streams are home to many amazing species, among them the eastern and Ozark hellbenders. Growing up to 2 feet long, hellbenders are among the world’s largest salamanders. But like many amphibians around the globe, hellbenders need help, facing threats such as declining water quality, loss of habitat and disease. The Ozark hellbender, found only in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, was listed as endangered in 2011. The eastern hellbender, found in several Midwest states, is considered a species of concern, and Service is currently evaluating whether it also warrants listing.

In Missouri, the Columbia Ecological Services Field Office works closely with many partners in hellbender conservation. The Missouri Department of Conservation conducts monitoring surveys, disease assessments, as well as numerous other studies. In collaboration with the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Service has been conducting sperm health assessments since 2010. Surveys are conducted throughout the breeding season, which is generally September for eastern hellbenders and October for Ozark hellbenders. To date, 36 samples for eastern hellbenders and 37 for Ozark hellbenders have been collected. In addition, the sperm health of broodstock used in the propagation program at the Saint Louis Zoo has also been assessed. So far, sperm health appears healthy with high rates of motility (movement of cells) and viability (the amount of live cells).

Propagation efforts play an important role in recovery until causes of declines can be definitively identified and addressed. These efforts are conducted by the Saint Louis Zoo and Missouri Department of Conservation, with additional funding and support by the Service, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and U.S. Forest Service. In 2011, the St. Louis Zoo announced that Ozark hellbenders had been bred in captivity for the first time. See more at http://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/amphibians/salamandersandnewts/hellbender

In addition to propagation, other efforts are underway around the Midwest to help hellbenders. Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, the Columbia Field Office works with Federal project proponents to avoid and minimize impacts from any projects which could impact habitat or water quality in Ozark hellbender rivers and streams. The Service is also working with partners to determine potential causes of hellbender declines and to develop the Ozark Hellbender Recovery Plan, which will outline the path to recovery and identify necessary projects and recovery efforts.

In June 2015, the Service helped sponsor and participated in the 2015 Hellbender Symposium, a gathering of the nation’s leading hellbender researchers and population managers. The symposium is an opportunity to share the most recent information on research, propagation and conservation efforts. More than 100 participants attended, including Service biologists from the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast regions. Also participating were biologists from Japan, who study Japanese and Chinese giant salamanders, “cousins” of the eastern and Ozark hellbenders. The species exhibit much of the same behavior, and captive breeding efforts for hellbenders have, in part, been guided by those for the Japanese giant salamander.

You can find more information about the Service’s work with hellbenders at http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/amphibians/ozhe/index.html

 

Ozark hellbenders were first bred in captivity at the St. Louis Zoo in 2011. Photo by Jeromy Applegate/USFWS.

Ozark hellbenders were first bred in captivity at the St. Louis Zoo in 2011. Photo by Jeromy Applegate/USFWS.


Last updated: June 8, 2020