Eastern Hellbender




 

Eastern Hellbender  (Cryptobranchus a. alleganiensis)

Hellbenders are large aquatic salamanders that may reach 24 inches in length. They are generally brown with irregular, dark spots on the back.  Unique characteristics include a flat head with small eyes, wrinkled folds of skin between the front and hind limbs, and gill slits that persist throughout life.   

Hellbenders live in permanent streams where they stay under flat rocks in riverbeds during the day and emerge at night to forage for food.  While their major food item is crayfish, they will prey on a variety of items from insects to fish.  They are probably active in all months. 

Mating occurs in late summer and eggs are deposited from late August to early November. Males excavate nests under rocks or logs in streams where females lay 200 to 400 marble-sized eggs that are connected resembling a beaded necklace.  Hellbenders are the only salamanders in West Virginia that have external fertilization. Males remain with the eggs until they hatch in about 60 days.  Larvae transform in approximately 2 years. 

Unfortunately, hellbenders are wrongfully thought to be venomous and sometimes killed by anglers when caught.  They are harmless and should be released if accidentally caught.   

Eastern hellbenders are found at all elevations in streams west of the Allegheny Front.

 

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