Lurking among the cobble and bedrock of Eastern North America’s oldest mountain streams, endures a rare and ancient giant that has inhabited these environments for over a hundred and sixty million years. Growing over two feet long and covered with wrinkly folds of skin that oscillate within the current, the hellbender salamander is one of the most bizarre animals found on this planet, however it is these unusual characteristics that make this living fossil one of the most beautiful and important river creatures you will ever see.
Once occupying the headwaters of nearly all Eastern North America’s largest rivers, hellbenders are now at great risk of disappearing due to the degradation of stream health and water quality. Often termed an aquatic “canary in a coal mine” these fully aquatic salamanders use their skin to absorb oxygen through the water, and because of this they are extremely sensitive to pollutants in the water. With their habitat occurring in the headwaters of some of the largest rivers in the US, the presence or absence of hellbenders is a great indication of not only the overall health of a freshwater ecosystem, but also gives insight into the quality of water that we use in our everyday lives.
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