Hell-bent on Saving an Unique Salamander
by Jessica Luraas, Biological Technician
What are hellbenders?
While their name may sound scary and they might look strange, the Ozark hellbender is a unique and environmentally sensitive species found only in the clean, clear rivers of the Ozarks. Hellbenders are large, strictly aquatic salamanders that can reach lengths of one to nearly two feet. They have flattened bodies, which helps them slide under rocks for cover and remain stationary in fast moving water. Part of what makes them look so peculiar is the fleshy folds of skins along their sides. These skin folds actually provide surface area so they can breathe under water. Hellbenders like cold water with high oxygen levels, especially spring-fed rivers like the Current and Jacks Fork. They are primarily nocturnal animals, only coming out at night to feed primarily on crayfish. Hellbenders have a long life span compared to most salamanders, sometimes up to 30 years, and they don't even start reproducing until around age 7.