Eastern Hellbender

(Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis)

Distribution of the Hellbender (from the AR MI Atlas)

An Eastern Hellbender (click for larger image).

Description: A large (13-24 inches), wrinkly skinned, completely aquatic salamander. Body is flattened dorso-ventrally, with fleshy folds of skin on sides. Ground color is usually brown, but sometimes green, red, or yellow. Eyes small. Gill slits present, but no external gills in adults.

How to distinguish a Hellbender from a Muduppy (click here).
Distribution in Ohio: Appropriate habitat in the Ohio River drainage, although it is presumed extirpated from western Ohio.

Status in Ohio: The Ohio Division of Wildlife lists the Hellbender as ENDANGERED.

Habitat: Hellbenders live in medium to large, rocky streams that are not excessively silty and have an abundance of crayfish (a major food item). Individuals spend most of their time under very large rocks.

Life history: Breeding occurs in September. Males guide females into nests they have excavated under rocks or logs. Several females may lay eggs in a single male's nest, where they are externally fertilized. Hatching occurs two months later. Aquatic gilled larvae go through a partial metamorphosis 1.5-2 years later, loosing their gills. Sexual maturity is reached at 5-8 years, and longevity is suspected to be 25-60 years.

Conservation: Threats to Hellbenders include pollution and degradation of stream habitat, removal of rocks, stream channelization and damming, and intentional killing and collection. In Ohio, and throughout their range, the greatest threat is excessive siltation, resulting from the conversion of forests to agriculture and human development. Recent surveys in Ohio by Lipps and Pfingsten have found an 80% decline in Hellbender populations compared to the mid-1980s. Nearly all remaining popultions are made up of very large (old) individuals, raising concerns about recruitment of new individuals into aging populations.

You can read more about conservation activities focused on the recovery of the Eastern Hellbender in Ohio here.

The Eastern Hellbender is listed as an endangered species in Ohio and I would greatly appreciate any observations of Hellbenders in Ohio. Please contact me.

Last modified:
Sunday, February 26, 2012

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