Skip to Main Content

2022 Hellbender Release

On Tuesday, August 2nd, Nick Burgmeier, Research Biologist and Extension Wildlife Specialist of Purdue University, along with community members from Purdue Extension Harrison County, Harrison County 4-H, Crawford County Soil and Water Conservation District, O’Bannon Woods State Park, Harrison Crawford State Forest, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Gardens, and Indianapolis Zoo gathered at a location in the Blue River in Harrison County, Indiana to engage in the soft release of a very important endangered species of Southern Indiana: The Eastern Hellbender Salamander. This team of experts and community members will release a total of one hundred and eighty, four-year-old animals in five different locations along the river in the year 2022.
Experts and adults weren’t the only ones who got to participate in this incredible experience of releasing Hellbenders. 4-H youth members who exhibited a 4-H Wildlife Project at the Harrison County 4-H Fair were invited to the release, and got to see the animals up close, and ask questions with the biologist. Each of the children were able to release a live Hellbender.
The Eastern Hellbender is one of the largest salamanders in North America. They are fully aquatic and require cool, well-oxygenated rivers and streams, with high quality water and habitat. This means that the presence of these “Snot Otters”, as they have been affectionately nicknamed, is a good indicator of a healthy stream ecosystem. In Indiana, they are only found in the Blue River watershed, but used to have a wider range. Their population had drastically dropped due to pollution and modification of their habitat. Purdue University along with the partners listed above, have worked on projects to ensure protection of the Blue River from erosion, pollution, and more. The Hellbenders that were released this year were raised in captivity, in a high flow system that mimics the natural habitat of the Blue River.
Each Hellbender is released in a large temporary mesh cage that is placed over a permanent rock-filled structure called a cobble bed. The Hellbenders can burrow between the rocks, and for several days after their release, the salamanders remain in the soft release cage, to allow them time to acclimate to their new environment, the temporary cage is then removed, and they are free to move around the stream. These cages help ensure that they stay in the general area after they are released, where they will mate and populate that section of Blue River. The growing population of Easter Hellbenders indicates the improvement of the Blue River watershed, and the hope for the survival of this endangered species.
For more information about helping the Hellbender, visit This website gives you a virtual tour of how to help them, where to report a sighting, informational videos, links, articles, as well as a fun Hellbender Havoc Game. For more information about Harrison County 4-H, or Purdue Extension Harrison County, please visit or call the office at 812-738-4236.
4-H member releasing hellbender
4-H member releasing hellbender
4-H member at hellbender release
Hellbenders in bucket
To Top