if hellbenders didn't have a menacing enough name, this large salamander also
goes by "devil dog," "Allegheny
alligator," and the lovely "snot otter." With monikers like those, it's little
wonder this New York native needs some help to restore its reputation—and its
numbers. The hellbenders are in trouble, and WCS is offering a group of young
ones a head start at its Bronx Zoo.
in some circles, the eastern hellbender is highly sought-after. Over-collection
for the pet trade is one of the primary causes of its decline, in addition to
disease, pollution, and habitat destruction.
group of 41 juvenile eastern hellbenders at the Bronx Zoo currently live in an
off-exhibit, biosecure room in the Amphibian Propagation Center. Head to
tail, they measure just 7 inches, though eventually they'll grow up to two feet
long. At two-and-a-half years old, WCS will release these little devil dogs
from whence they came—the wilds of western New York. Found near the Allegheny River, the salamanders' eggs hatched in
October 2009 at the Buffalo Zoo, a conservation partner in the project.
Various studies over the past decade have shown that the
wild population of eastern hellbenders is aging, producing fewer and fewer
"This 'head-starting' program will enable us to release
young hellbenders back to the wild at a life-stage that may enable them to
survive and thrive in New York," said Patricia Riexinger, director of
the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources at the New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation, another conservation partner in the
project. "The hellbender is an important part of our state's aquatic
biodiversity, and it's clear that we have to take dramatic steps to ensure
its continued presence in New York."
Eastern hellbenders are typically a brown or reddish-brown
color with a pale underbelly. Only two other larger salamander species exist: the Chinese
hellbender and the Japanese giant salamander. Both of these aquatic giants grow
up to six feet.
These species of "Special Concern" live in rocky,
swift-flowing streams. With flattened heads and bodies, small dorsal eyes, and slimy,
wrinkly skin, the amphibians can slide under large rocks in shallow rapids as
they await prey. When swimming, a narrow edge along the dorsal side of their
tails helps propel them through water.
"The Bronx Zoo has a proud tradition of being very hands-on
in our work to conserve and protect important species like the hellbender,"
said Jim Breheny, WCS senior vice president and Bronx Zoo director. "Our
extraordinary facility and staff give us the ability to take a leadership role
in wildlife conservation projects and immediately impact wildlife health both
locally and abroad."