SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis
OTHER NAMES: Mudpuppy, Mud-dog, Waterdog, Devil Dog, Allegheny Alligator.
DESCRIPTION: Eastern Hellbender is a large, totally aquatic salamander (20-74 cm [12-29 in] long). Adult females tend to be larger than males. The head and body are flattened, dorso-ventrally. The tail is long and flattened from side to side, with a distinct keel. Hellbenders have four short, but well developed legs. Each foreleg has four toes while the hind legs have five toes each. The toes of a hellbender end in a rough pad that aids in traction as it moves along stream bottoms. Loose skin folds extend along each side between the front and hind leg. The folds of skin are used in respiration; capillaries in the folds diffuse oxygen into the blood. Larval Hellbenders have external gills. At approximately 18 months of age, larval hellbenders go through a complete metamorphosis, at which time they loose their gills. Adult Hellbenders usually retain a single pair of external gill openings on either side of the neck. Hellbenders have very small eyes located on the top of the head that can detect light but are not very good for forming images. Coloration typically varies from brown to grayish overlaid by irregularly shaped dark blotches. Some individuals have brownish to yellow-orange blotches. The belly area is typically lighter in color, with few markings.
DISTRIBUTION: Southern New York to northern
HABITAT: Hellbenders are normally found in medium to large, fast flowing streams and rivers with rocky bottoms and relatively clear water. Small creeks are occasionally inhabited, especially during the months of September through April. Riffle areas and upper pool reaches are most often preferred.
FEEDING HABITS: Hellbenders emerge at night to forage for food using the lateral line system to detect its prey. Crayfish comprise the bulk of their diet, with small fish, salamanders, and aquatic invertebrates (worms, insects, mollusks) comprising the remainder. Prey items are captured by means of suction feeding. Fishermen occasionally report catching Hellbenders on minnows or earthworms.
Folklore has it that Hellbenders smear fishing lines with slime, drive game fish away, and inflict poisonous bites. Despite its large size and rather repulsive appearance Hellbenders are not poisonous. They avoid game fish altogether, as they would risk being eaten otherwise. This unfounded folklore has lead to unwarranted persecution of this species by the uninformed.
Cline, J. R. 2004. Eastern Hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis. Pp. 20-21 in R. E. Mirarchi, M. A. Bailey, T. M. Haggerty, and T. L. Best, eds. Alabama Wildlife, Volume 3, Imperiled amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The
Herman, J. 2000. “Cryptobranchus alleganiensis” (On-Line), Animal Diversity Web. Accesses
Mount, R. H., 1975. The Reptiles and Amphibians of
Author: Ron Eakes, Wildlife Biologist, May 2005