The eastern hellbender is a large, aquatic salamander that occurs in cool, permanent streams across 15 states. Cool and clear water is important because hellbenders breathe entirely through their skin, which contains numerous folds to increase oxygen absorption. Adult eastern hellbenders spend most of their life under large, flat rocks that shelter them; whereas larval and juvenile hellbenders hide beneath large rocks and under small stones in gravel beds. Eastern hellbenders are one of two subspecies of hellbenders, with the Ozark Hellbender being the other subspecies.
In 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed eastern hellbender populations in Missouri, referred to as a Distinct Population Segment, as endangered. Though the species’ current range is largely the same as its historical range, abundance, or the number of individuals, in each of these rivers had dropped more than 70% since the 1970s. However, a captive propagation and head-starting program is underway and will hopefully reverse the population declines.
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