Gigantic Appalachian salamanders-- and where you can spot 'em!

Elusive and mysterious, rare hellbenders only live in specific habitats— some of which are nearby! Here are some neat hellbender facts:

What’s in a name?

Grampus. Devil dog. Mud dog. No one really knows what inspired the eastern hellbender’s nicknames. But if you suspect its bizarre looks have something to do with it, you’re probably on the right track.

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone It’s not that difficult to identify a hellbender. For one thing, they’re America’s largest salamander. Many of them reach 24 inches long and weigh 3 to 5 pounds.

But their appearance is pretty astonishing, too. Hellbenders have flat, spoon-like heads, tiny eyes and crinkled, slimy skin. Most are dark brown with even darker splotches.

Ignore their prehistoric looks— hellbenders are harmless. Unfortunately, people assume they’re venomous and eat the stocked trout and bass. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, these secretive nocturnal creatures prey on crawfish and insects.

Neat freaks

Spring hiking is just around the corner.

Did you know that hellbenders can tell you whether or not the surrounding environment is clean? Since salamanders breathe through their wrinkled skin, they depend on streams with rich oxygen. If you find a hellbender, it’s because they approve of their clean surroundings.

Unfortunately, hellbender habitats are increasingly rare as more and more things like fertilizers and common weed killers bleed into the environment. They are almost endangered because of pollution and collectors. If you’re lucky enough to find one, treat it with respect and let it roam free.

Find ‘em

Where do hellbenders live in West Virginia? Park rangers have spotted them nearby in the New River Gorge National River, Bluestone National Scenic River, Gauley River, Greenbrier River and Cranberry River.

Have you ever seen a hellbender before?

Sam Babcock