Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

The hellbender is a species of giant salamander endemic to eastern North America. Both males and females grow to an adult length of 24 to 40 cm from snout to vent, with a total length of 30 to 74 cm, making them the third-largest aquatic salamander species in the world, and the largest in North America. The hellbender salamander, considered a “habitat specialist”, has adapted to fill a specific niche within a very specific environment, and is labeled as such because its success is dependent on a constancy of dissolved oxygen, temperature and flow found in swift water areas, which in turn limits it to a narrow spectrum of stream/river choices. Once a hellbender finds a favorable location, it generally does not stray too far from it—except occasionally for breeding and hunting—and will protect it from other hellbenders both in and out of the breeding season. It feeds primarily on crayfish and small fish. It is rated as ‘Near Threatened’ by the IUCN.

photo credits: Brian Gratwicke, Ns4571a


Ozark Hellbender
Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishop

They live in the northern Arkansas and southern Missouri and nowhere else on earth.

Although it may not by cute and cuddly, the Ozark hellbender is a fascinating creature in which Arkansans should take pride.

What in the world is a Hellbender?
They are one of the world’s largest, aquatic salamanders (exceeded in size only by the Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders) with a wide, flat head with tiny eyes and a wide, rudder- like tail. Their body and legs are covered with prominent folds of skin. They are 16-22 inches long and are olive green with large black blotches on the back.

Where do they live?
Historically, they were found in the tributaries of the upper White River basin, such as the North Fork of the White, Spring and Eleven Point River. Unfortunately, their population has decreased by 75% since the 1980s due to habitat loss, lowered water quality, illegal collection and disease. They are now listed as a federal endangered species…

(read more: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission)


The Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

… AKA “snot otter”, is North America’s largest salamander, reaching a length of up to 74 cm (30 in). They’re found in clear swiftly flowing streams across several states in the eastern United States. Hellbenders are able to absorb by oxygen from water into the folds of skin along the sides of their bodies. They eat a wide variety of smaller aquatic animals, and are mainly crepuscular. Hellbenders are in the same family as the Asian Giant Salamanders (Cryptobranchidae).  [find out more]

photographs by Dick Bartlett