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Why hellbenders?


The Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is North America's largest aquatic salamander, reaching sizes of over 2 feet in length! Hellbenders, which may also be known locally as snot otters, waterdogs, or grampus, live in clean, fast-flowing rivers and streams throughout Appalachia. However, hellbenders are declining across their range, and in parts of Appalachia little is known about hellbenders since no formal surveys exist determining which rivers and streams harbor hellbender populations. Check out the video to the right to learn more about this incredible creature.


How can I help?

Students and faculty at UVa-Wise are working to better understand how human populations interact with hellbenders across Appalachia. One thing that we are particularly interested in is the use of various names for the hellbender, including grampus, waterdog, mudpuppy, snot otter, and others. We're specifically trying to find out where each of these names is in use the most across the U.S. And that's where you come in. We're building a crowdsourced map of hellbender names and would like you to contribute. To help out, follow the links in the header above to take our survey and go to the map to explore our most current data.


I caught something big in a local stream. Have I seen a Hellbender or something else?


Both Hellbenders and Mudpuppies (another large, aquatic salamander) can be found in many Appalachian streams. This can create confusion, since Hellbenders are also called Mudpuppies by some local residents. Several clues can aid in distingushing these species, though. First, Mudpuppies have reddish, feathery gills on both sides of the head, while hellbenders do not. Hellbenders tend to lack the striped or spotted appearance of many Mudpuppies and instead have an indiscriminate, mottled patterning. Hellbenders also have thick folds of skin on the sides that Mudpuppies lack. The pictures on the right provide a visual comparison of the two species.


Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus)

Hellbender (C. alleghaniensis)

Mudpuppy photo by Todd Pierson. Distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 License

Hellbender photo by Brian Gratwicke. Distributed under a CC BY 2.0 License

This website is a component of Evolving Appalachia, a project of the Southwest Virginia Citizen Science Initiative, a student-led group  at UVa-Wise