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Ohio Hopes to Bring Back Hellbender Salamander, North America’s Largest Amphibian

Monday, December 2, 2013 at 11:48 AM

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The Ozark hellbender (Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Midwest Region on Flickr)

The state of Ohio is hell-bent on bringing back the population of North America’s largest amphibian, the hellbender. It’s a dark green giant salamander that lives in streams that have been hard hit by water pollution in the 1970s. John Navarro with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources tells Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler that this solitary, odd-looking amphibian performs an important service.

NAVARRO: “They’re really a really good indicator of good water quality. So if you have a stream that has hellbenders in it, and if they’re reproducing, it really means you have a high quality stream. So it’s kind of like the canary in the coal mine. Water quality and habitat has really gotten a lot better. So it’s just an opportunity now to get hellbenders and put them back where they used to be and get them reestablished.”

KASLER: “And how do you exactly do that? What’s the plan going forward?”

NAVARRO: “Well the plan is for the past four years, we’ve been going out and collecting hellbender eggs. They lay them under these large rocks in egg masses. So we’ll take those, take them into a facility. Right now we have the Columbus zoo and aquarium, the Toledo zoo, right now the Wilds out in Muskingum County is building a facility. And what we’re doing is bringing the eggs in, hatching them, getting the larvae and then growing them up to about three years of age. And that’s the size that we’re reintroducing back into the wild. We feel that at three years of age they’ll probably be able to survive a lot better than if you’re throwing the small larval hellbenders out there.”

KASLER: “And how will you know that you’ve achieved success?”

NAVARRO: “Success would be – I would be just delighted if in five to six years, we went out and we were finding young juvenile hellbenders, which would mean that they’re reproducing.”

And Navarro says since older hellbenders need more space, inmates at the Marion Correctional Institution offered to help care for them. When they reach two years old, they’re being moved to the prison.

NAVARRO: “They came to us and said that they’d be willing to raise hellbenders. They’re all in and the guys that are raising them at the facility are really excited.”

Navarro says the process to rebuild the population of hellbenders could take a decade.

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Arts and Culture, Natural Sciences, Environment

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