cryptobranchus

llimus  asked:

May I hear about some muddy baby?

CAN YOU EVER ok so for right this second we’re gonna diverge from reptiles to talk about a salamander.

This is a hellbender salamander, or Cryptobranchus alleganiensis when she’s in trouble- and boy is she in trouble a lot. The hellbender is the only member of Cryptobranchus and only has one other genus in its family- Andrias, which is the genus of the giant Japanese and Chinese salamanders. Hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America and have fill both a predator and prey niche. They live east of the Mississippi River and can be found in New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, and Arkansas. 

They have extremely demanding water requirements- they need fast-ish water because otherwise they won’t get enough oxygen. They have a unique respiratory ability- they take in dissolved oxygen in the water through their skin- and prey mostly on crayfish. Also, they are extremely flat. This allows them to move easily in the fast water. Other names for the hellbender include: snot otter, devil dog, mud dog, Allegheny alligator (that one’s my second-favorite), and grampus (that one’s my favorite).

The hellbender used to be common throughout the eastern United States, but you guessed it, people have once again ruined everything.  Damn those dams- damming the waterways these guys live in and diverting the course of rivers has really taken a toll on their population. They’re in decline literally everywhere, and captive breeding has been extremely difficult. There are two subspecies- C. a. alleganiensis and C. a. bishopi. The bishopi are the Ozark subspecies, and there’s only about 590 of them left in the White River and Spring River systems of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Ore mining, sedimentation in the rivers, loss of water quality, and collection for the pet trade have taken a huge toll, as well as the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. Chytridiomycosis is present in all Ozark populations and is devastating. It is also present in some captive populations; at one point, it wiped out 75% of the St. Louis Zoo’s captive collection, which was a huge problem because St. Louis Zoo is one of the facilities that has figured out how to breed them. 

Hellbenders are really important to their river systems. Like any amphibian, they’re an important indicator species- when something goes wrong with their populations, it’s a sign that something is wrong with the river. Captive breeding efforts and egg collecting and nurturing with release at a less vulnerable stage have been slow to get going (these critters mature slowly!), but for now at least alleganiensis seems to be ok. However, the Ozark subspecies won’t be without help. If you want to help the hellbender, you can report sightings of them here or have a look at Purdue Extension’s “Help the Hellbender project. If you live in the Ozark Hellbender’s range, you can report sightings of it here

(Picture sources: 1, 23, 4)