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The Eastern Hellbender Salamander

Cryptobranchus alleganiensis

Hellbenders (aka Snot-otters, mud-dogs, devil-dogs...a living fossil)

The eastern hellbender salamander is one of the largest salamanders in the world, reaching a maximum length of approximately 30 inches (2.5 feet). It is an ancient aquatic salamander, and one of our most valuable indicators of water quality...a canary in the coal mine if you will. Populations are dwindling throughout their geographic range primarily as a result of human activity. Biologists are scrambling to understand ways to reduce or eliminate these threats that are moving this ecologically significant species toward extinction. Part of our mission here at Oxbow River Snorkeling is to help the hellbender through out-reach obtained from our snorkeling excursions. It is our hope that our clients will become invested in these conservation efforts as more of you experience life below the surface of our rivers and streams. We have included a lot of hellbender information below. Hellbenders are a federal and state species of concern and are legally protected from harm, harassment, or collection including both temporary and permanent collection.

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North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Eastern Hellbender Information

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Late summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a special time. With the days getting shorter and cooler, one of our most ancient aquatic animals prepares to reproduce. This is a very exciting time for observing territorial behaviors of the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus allaganiensis). ​Males will fight vigorously over the best breeding (nest) rocks. Imagine one of these ancient male dinosaurs roaming the stream bed searching for and finding the perfect rock to tunnel under, removing sand and cobble, to build a chamber where several females will soon enter and lay eggs. Now imagine another adult male locating the same rock. It’s here that the two cross paths, neither wanting to give up this important opportunity to pass along their genes to the next generation. The fighting ensues. The two bite down on one another, or one to the other, twisting and pulling, trying desperately to claim this section of river as their own. The fighting continues, tearing apart flesh, until one gives up and swims away, declaring the other "Den Master". The den master enters into its temporary home where it will remain over winter, protecting the fertilized eggs and hatching larvae until the following spring.

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