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Eastern hellbender. Photo by Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Eastern hellbender

Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis

  • Taxon: Amphibian
  • Range: Southern New York to Northern Georgia
  • Status: Not listed under the Endangered Species Act

Referred to by locals as “mud devil”, “devil dog”, “ground puppy”, “snot otter”, “lasagna lizard”, and “Allegheny alligator”, the hellbender has certainly been colored as “a creature from hell where it’s bent of returning.” This large amphibian can be found crawling around the bottoms of clear, silt-free mountain streams. They are generally nocturnal, spending most of the day under rocks on the stream floor, emerging at night to hunt crayfish.

Appearance

The hellbender salamander is the largest salamander in the United States. They are blotchy brown to red-brown in coloration with a paler underbelly. They have been known to grow up to 29 inches long, though most will average about 12-15 inches. They have flat bodies with flat heads, small dorsal eyes and folded,slimy skin. They have four toes on front limbs and five on back limbs, and their tails are keeled to provide propulsion.

Habitat

Their habitat consist on shallow, fast-flowing, rocky streams. They are generally found in areas with large, intermittent, irregularly shaped rocks within swift water. They tend to stay away from slow-moving water and muddy banks with slab rock bottoms.

Diet

Eastern hellbenders feed primarily on crayfish. Their diets are supplemented by small fish, other hellbenders, tadpoles, toads, and water snakes.

Historical range

Southern New York to northern Georgia, including parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and even parts of Oklahoma and Kansas.

Current range

Southern New York to northern Georgia, including parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and even parts of Oklahoma and Kansas.

Conservation challenges

As early as 1957 researchers noted the hellbender’s range was rapidly shrinking as a result of modification of stream habitats. Among the threats to stream habitats are the accumulation of silt, agricultural and industrial pollution, warming waters, as well as the channelization and impoundment of streams and rivers.

Hellbenders breathe primarily through their skin and rely on cool, well-oxygenated, flowing water. The construction of dams stops swift water flow, resulting in warmer temperatures and lower oxygen levels.

Although it is illegal in many states to sell hellbenders, the illegal pet trade may be contributing to the species decline.

Partnerships, research and projects

Georgia Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are conducting yearly population surveys in the North Georgia streams.

How you can help

  • Educate the public on the important role these animals play as indicators of healthy streams.
  • Dispel myth that eastern hellbenders are venomous, which can lead to anglers killing the species when caught on a line

Subject matter experts

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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