After a Head-Start, Hellbenders Slither Back Under Rocks

August 21, 2013

Their name makes them sound tough, but Eastern hellbenders are in need of protection in New York State. The salamanders are facing population decline due to habitat destruction, disease, and pollution.

Also known as the devil dog, Allegheny alligator, and snot otter, the Eastern hellbender is an amphibian of many names. It’s also one of the world’s largest species of salamander, and, as a species of Special Concern in New York State, in need of help. So WCS’s Bronx Zoo collaborated with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Buffalo Zoo to create a hellbender head-start program.

As a result of the program, the DEC collected hellbender eggs from the Allegheny River in western New York that were hatched at the Buffalo Zoo in October 2009. The salamanders grew under the watchful care of staff at the Bronx Zoo’s Amphibian Propagation Center, an off-exhibit, bio-secure facility. Then this summer, 38 juveniles were re-introduced back into their native waters.

Before being returned to the wild, each animal was tagged under the skin with a tiny chip that will help scientists identify individuals during future surveys and health assessments.

Don Boyer, Bronx Zoo Curator of Herpetology, and Sarah Parker, Bronx Zoo Wild Animal Keeper, transported the hellbenders and worked with DEC and Buffalo Zoo staff to release the animals. Each hellbender was individually placed in the water under submerged rocks – optimal conditions that will give them the best chance to thrive.

Hellbenders are fully aquatic and are usually found in rocky, swift-flowing streams. Despite being the third largest salamanders in the world, they can be hard to spot, with their tendency to hide under large rocks, and their brown, wrinkly skin.

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