(AP Photo/Rick Callahan)
Eastern hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America. Adults can reach 29 inches in length, though most individuals are typically 11-24 inches long. Clean water is important for Hellbenders because they obtain most of their oxygen from the water by “breathing” through their skin. When breathing, their fleshy folds expand in surface area, enabling them to absorb more oxygen from the water.
Hellbender populations are declining across their range, from Missouri to New York. This decline, which affects the hellbender population in Indiana's Blue River, is likely caused by human influences such as habitat degradation and destruction. The stream-bottom habitat of hellbenders can be degraded by sediment from eroded banks and fields and destroyed when streams are dammed or dredged. Hellbenders are also captured inadvertently by anglers or purposefully for illegal sale in the pet trade. Finally, emerging diseases may be impacting some populations of hellbenders.
Many states are developing conservation programs to help the hellbender. For more information and to learn more on conservation efforts view Help the Hellbender.
Dr. Rod Williams and his hellbender research team have recently made national news: