The Ozark Hellbender is being considered for protection as an endangered species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggested adding it to the list, because the species is so rare now. The Ozark Hellbender can grow to almost two feet long, and yet are rarely seen because they spend most of their time in freshwater streams under the surface.
Found only in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, their numbers have declined very much, mainly due to pollution of their habitats. Hellbenders are sensitive to water pollution because they breathe through their skin. An article from the Federal Register states there also could be some illegal capture and trade of the salamanders. Sometimes they are caught and killed by fisherman who believe they are poisonous, which they are not. If accidentally caught, authorities urge people to release the salamander.
In 2006 it was estimated there could be 200 hellbenders in an Ozark river which is considered to be a high density habitat, according to the Federal Register. Some former river habitats, however, were searched and none were found.
The Center for Biological Diversity said in their press release about the amphibian, “The Ozark hellbender faces many threats to its survival, including water quality fouled by mining, fertilizer runoff and animal operations. Protection under the Endangered Species Act would give this species a fighting chance.” The Ozark Hellbender is a subspecies of the Eastern Hellbender.
Hellbenders have an ominous sounding name, but in reality they are harmless creatures. Other names for them include leverian water newt, devil dog, water dog and mud devil. Names including the word “devil” might be reflections of a past cultural attitude, which feared nature. These salamanders do not have any poison, large teeth, or aggression. Eastern Hellbenders are endangered in Illinois, Maryland, Ohio and Indiana.
The large salamanders forage for food at night and eat crayfish, insects and small fish. They live between 30 and 50 years according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Image Credit: Itsnature.org