Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Missouri population of eastern hellbender listed as endangered

March 8, 2021


Georgia Parham,, 812-334-4261 x 203

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Missouri distinct population segment of the eastern hellbender as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Endangered species are those that are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.

While eastern hellbenders in other parts of the United States are not facing extinction, populations in Missouri are geographically and genetically distinct, meriting separate consideration under the ESA.

“We look forward to working with our state partners and the conservation community to map a path to recovery for eastern hellbenders in Missouri,” said Charlie Wooley, Great Lakes regional director for the Service.

The Service proposed listing the Missouri distinct population segment of the eastern hellbender in April 2019. Of the five historic populations in Missouri, none is considered healthy; four are declining and one has likely disappeared altogether. 

The Missouri populations of the eastern hellbender occur in Big River, Big Piney River, Courtois Creek, Gasconade River, Huzzah Creek, Meramec River, Niangua River and the Osage Fork of the Gasconade River.

The threats affecting these populations are habitat destruction and modification from sedimentation and water quality degradation, disease and pathogens, and habitat disturbance. The unauthorized collection of eastern hellbenders, especially for the pet trade, also remains a concern.

The Service is concerned that identifying specific areas where eastern hellbenders may be found in Missouri may further exacerbate the threat of illegal collection. Consequently, we will not designate critical habitat for the Missouri distinct population segment.

The ESA prohibits take of species listed as endangered. Take includes harming, harassing (including removing from the wild) or killing a listed species. The listing also requires federal agencies to work with the Service to ensure the conservation of the species.

Eastern hellbenders inhabit 15 states: northeastern Mississippi, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, Tennessee, western North Carolina, western Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, eastern Illinois, southern Indiana, east-central Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, western Maryland and southern New York. Outside of Missouri, it is believed that about 61 percent of the species’ historic populations remain, all of which are associated with large river drainages.

Hellbenders are the largest of North America’s salamanders, growing up to two feet long. They can live up to 30 years and spend their entire lives in water, living in perennial streams and rivers of the southeastern and central United States. Hellbenders hide under large, flat rocks on the streambed. Male hellbenders guard eggs and tend to their young after they hatch.

The eastern hellbender is one of two subspecies of hellbenders in the United States. The other subspecies, the Ozark hellbender, occurs in Missouri and Arkansas and was listed as endangered in 2011.

The final rule to list the Missouri distinct population segment of the eastern hellbender will publish in the Federal Register on March 9, 2021. The rule is effective beginning April 8, 2021. Learn more about the eastern hellbender.

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