What is it?
The Ozark Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) is one of the world’s largest salamanders. It can reach lengths of nearly two feet long! Yet despite its size, the Hellbender is a sensitive salamander that can live only in clean, clear rivers of the Ozarks. One of the most distinct features of the Hellbender is the fleshy folds along its sides, which provide more surface area for it to breathe underwater. It absorbs oxygen through the frills under its side folds and needs high dissolved oxygen levels found in cold streams to survive.
Where does it live?
The Ozark Hellbender lives in a few counties in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, preferring the cold waters of the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. It requires areas with swift moving water and irregularly shaped rocks to hide and breed. These salamanders are habitat specialists, requiring very strict conditions for survival. They are predator and prey in their environment.
How many are there left?
One of the biggest threats the Hellbender faces is degradation of suitable habitat. Their habitat is affected by siltation, sedimentation, water pollution, dams and other obstacles that block their migratory routes and cause water quality to decrease. They are also affected by certain diseases and specimen collection. The Ozark Hellbender was listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on October 5, 2011 (www.fws.gov). It is estimated that there are fewer than 600 hellbenders left in the wild.
What can we do to help protect it?
There are many ways we can all help protect the Ozark Hellbender. Discourage anyone from taking specimens for collection. This has led to a decline in some cases. You can also report pollution violations in areas where the hellbenders are known to reside. Sediment buildup from roads is one of the largest causes of water pollution in the Ozarks. If you have roads on your property, make sure there is a buffer between the roads and creeks nearby so that sediment does not run off into the creeks during storms. You can also volunteer with local organizations to help clean up natural areas where you live to improve habitat. Also, do not let oil and other fluids from your vehicles leak on roadways because these eventually end up in streams and rivers. Lastly, you can use less toxic chemicals for garden and home care that are safe for wildlife and practice permaculture when possible. Together we can make a huge difference!!!