A hellbender is a type of salamander. It is called an aquatic salamander because it lives primarily in the water.
What do they look like?
Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in North America and the third largest in the world. They can grow to up to 30 inches in length. They range in color from reddish-brown to brown with a light colored underbelly. They can sometimes appear gray or even black. They have wrinkly skin that runs down the sides of their bodies.
Hellbenders have big wide heads and slimy skin. Their head and body is flat and they have a big tail that helps them to swim through the water. They have short legs with four toes in the front and five toes in the back, which is typical for salamanders.
The main diet of hellbenders is small fish and crayfish. They will also eat worms, insects, and snails.
Where do they live?
Hellbenders can be found in the eastern part of the United States. They like a very specific type of habitat that includes streams and rivers with rapid flowing water. They also like to live under and around rocks during the heat of the day.
Mother hellbenders lay between 150 and 200 eggs. After they lay their eggs the father will guard the eggs until they hatch. When they hatch, baby hellbenders are about 1 inch long and are similar to tadpoles. They have external gills and no functioning limbs. At about 18 months old they will lose their external gills.
Are they endangered?
Hellbenders are not yet on the endangered list, but are classified as Near Threatened. This is because their population does seem to be in decline. This is likely due to habitat loss and the fact that they only like to live in a very specific type of habitat. Dams can slow the flow of a river or stream and ruin their habitat. Water pollution can kill hellbenders and destroy their habitat as well.
The Hellbender is the largest aquatic salamander in the United States. Source: USFWS
Fun Facts about the Hellbender
Only two species of salamanders are larger than the hellbender, the Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders.
Scientists rarely find two hellbenders together, leading scientists to believe that hellbenders are a very solitary species.
It is thought that adult hellbenders have few predators.
Because hellbenders prefer clean flowing water, the presence of hellbenders in a stream or river can be an indicator of good water.
They are not poisonous and rarely pose any threat to humans.
They live to be around 30 years old in the wild and up to 50 years old in captivity.