Hellbender Fact File
The hellbender is one of three giant salamanders found on Earth. They are the only one found in North America with the other two found in Asia.
Their skin is covered with brown or red brown skin which is paler on the belly. This often has darker spots of colour across it. Their skin is wrinkled helping to increase the amount of gases, such as oxygen which can pass across it.
The body is flat and elongated with the head flattened like a spade. Their eyes are small. The tail is long and shaped like a paddle. Each of their short legs ends with feet with claws, four on the front feet and five on the back.
Their body length is 30-74cm (12-29in). They weigh 1.8-2.3kg (4-5lbs).
The hellbender is a carnivore. The majority of their diet is crayfish though they also feed upon insects, tadpoles, fish, water snakes and smaller hellbenders.
Over 30 years
Hellbenders are native to North America. They are found throughout the central United States in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
A hellbenders life is spent entirely in the water. They make their home in cool waters of fast flowing streams that provide a supply of oxygen to them. These feature large rocks for them to hide under.
Males will create a nest site in autumn. Females will come to visit them here and lay anywhere from 100-500 eggs. Males fertilise the eggs which are laid and the female then leaves.
The father will stay and defend the nest site for the entire 72 day incubation period. They need protection as a range of predators such as fish, turtles, snakes and larger hellbenders will eat the eggs.
Once the eggs hatch they are a larva. These have gills and use these to breathe. At hatching the larva is 2.5cm (1in) long.
It will take 2 years for the hellbender larva to begin metamorphosing in to adults and at this point they will lose the gills and begin to breathe solely through the skin.
Sexual maturity is achieved for both sexes at 5 years old.
The hellbender is primarily nocturnal. They emerge at night to hunt. During the day they will hide under a rock.
They are a solitary animal. They spend their time alone outside of the breeding season.
It is rare for the hellbender to swim. Instead they walk along the bottom of the water course which they live in. This is assisted by toe pads that help to grip.
Predators and Threats
The adult hellbender faces predation from raccoons, minks and river otters.
Humans affect the hellbender population through a range of factors. When dams are built this can stop the river flowing as fast and as such the hellbender is unable to obtain enough oxygen from the water.
They are also affected by the warming of their habitat and environmental pollution.
Some people believe the hellbender to be venomous (it is not) and as such they are killed by some people.
While it is illegal to own a pet hellbender an illegal trade exists in these which further contributes to their decline.
The hellbender is the largest salamander in the United States of America and the third largest on Earth after the Japense and Chinese giant salamanders.
Hellbenders are split in to two separate species which are known as the Ozark hellbender and the eastern hellbender.
They are also known as the ‘snot otter’ or ‘devil dog.’
Public Domain, USFWS
Brian Gratwicke / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
Public Domain, USFWS
Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK
Fws.gov. 2020. Eastern Hellbender | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. [online] Available at: <https://www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/amphibians/eastern-hellbender/#> [Accessed 1 June 2020].
Genomics.senescence.info. 2020. Hellbender (Cryptobranchus Alleganiensis) Longevity, Ageing, And
Life History. [online] Available at: <http://genomics.senescence.info/species/entry.php?species=Cryptobranchus_alleganiensis>[Accessed 1 June 2020].
Defenders of Wildlife. 2020. Hellbender. [online] Available at:<https://defenders.org/wildlife/hellbender>
[Accessed 1 June 2020].
Geoffrey Hammerson, Christopher Phillips. 2004. Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T59077A11879843. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2004.RLTS.T59077A11879843.en. Downloaded on 01 June 2020.
Stlzoo.org. 2020. Hellbender | Saint Louis Zoo. [online] Available at: <https://www.stlzoo.org/animals/abouttheanimals/amphibians/salamandersandnewts/hellbender>
[Accessed 1 June 2020].
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