The North Georgia mountains are home to a peculiar creature that lurks under rocks in fast-moving, cold water streams. Behold – the Eastern Hellbender.
Did you know?
- They’re often called mud dogs, devil dogs, Allegheny alligators, snot otters, or lasanga lizards, mud devils.
- Crayfish make up the majority of their diet but they will also eat insects and tadpoles.
- Hellbenders can live more than 50 years!
- Mudpuppies and hellbenders are actually different species.
- Largest salamander in North America
They can reach lengths between 12 and 29 inches long and are the third largest salamander in the world! Only the Chinese giant salamander and Japanese giant salamander are larger than Hellbenders.
- They breathe through their skin.
The wrinkled folds along their body allow them to pull more oxygen from the water and breathe through their skin. Although they have lungs, they can actually survive without them.
- Males make the nest and protect the eggs.
In late summer, male hellbenders build dens under flat rocks in the hopes of attracting a female. After the female lays her eggs, the male “den master” will stay at the den and guard the eggs and hatchlings from predators for the next four to six months until the hatchlings emerge from the nest rock.
- Camouflage connoisseurs
Hellbenders live their entire life underwater and blend in seamlessly with their rocky habitat. Their body is covered in blotches or “mottling” of yellows, browns, and reds allowing them to hide. Their heads look like smooth river stones and their tails double for dead Rhododendron leaves.
- Hellbenders are an angler’s friend, not foe.
Historically, people mistakenly thought hellbenders were venomous and would kill them on sight. While hellbenders are sometimes found gnawing on the end of an angler’s stringer, they do not reduce or harm the trout population. Instead, their presence is a sign of high water quality and good aquatic habitat.
- They are listed as threatened in Georgia.
The number of hellbenders across its range has been trending down for many years. Chemical pollution and siltation runoff into the streams they occupy are major threats to their habitat. However, recreationists unknowingly harm the hellbender by moving their cover rocks to build dams and rafting shoots in streams. Hellbenders are currently under review for listing under the US Endangered Species Act.