“Endangered Hellbender- the Halloween ‘Devil dog'”

The third largest salamander in the world the giant Hellbender can grow up to 29 inches long with a powerful jaws that can inflict a painful bite. Hellbenders have flat bodies and heads, with beady dorsal eyes and slimy skin. They spend most of their time under the same rock catching crayfish and little fish that happen by their underwater den.

The Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is a large salamander, native to North America, which inhabits large, swiftly flowing streams with rocky bottoms. Vernacular names include “snot otter”, “devil dog”, and “Allegheny alligator”. The reason for its name “hellbender” is not very clear. The Missouri Department of Conservation says:

“ The name “hellbender” probably comes from the animal’s odd look. Perhaps it was named by settlers who thought “it was a creature from hell where it’s bent on returning”. Another rendition says the undulating skin of a hellbender reminded observers of “horrible tortures of the infernal regions”. In reality, it’s a harmless aquatic salamander. ”

The animal is endangered because of reduced habitat due to stream diversions, pollution, and siltation.

They also eat mollusks, worms, and insects. Specimens have been found containing lamprey, tadpoles, aquatic reptiles, and even one containing a toad and another with a small mammal. Adults will eat their shed outer skin, their own eggs, the eggs of others, and even hatchlings of their own species, along with other adults smaller than them.

Young hellbenders are food for larger Helebenders, large fish, turtles, and water snakes. Native Americans used them as a food source in the past. Often they are inadvertently caught by fishermen with baited hooks.

The hellbender has gotten the nicknames “devil dog” and “Allegheny alligator” because the giant salamander is often encountered by surprised fishermen, under rocks or on the end of a baited line. Folklore claims that hellbenders smear fishing lines with slime, drive game fish away, and inflict a poisonous bite, but, in fact, apart from the (non-poisonous) bite and mild toxin (a very small amount, avoid touching your eyes after touching the animal) on its skin, hellbenders are harmless.

Hellbenders are a good indicator species for the health of a river or stream. They will only live in the best quality streams.

Resources

Excerpts courtesy of wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellbender

Video courtesy of .encyclopedia.com/topic/hellbender.aspx

Image courtesy of google.com

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