KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Despite their alarming name, Tennessee is home to a delightfully large salamander: the Eastern Hellbender.
Affectionately referred to as “snot otters,” hellbenders have been disappearing from the Great Smoky Mountains. Home to many animals, the mountains are also known as the “Salamander Capital of the World.”
The hellbender is the largest salamander in North America. Living in clear, fast moving streams and rivers, these amphibians live under large flat rocks to hide from predators. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the hellbender can be found in the Eastern two-thirds of the state, but they are in need of management due to a shrinking population.
The cause for this decline? Stream impoundment and pollution. In the past, park rangers and experts have called for nature visitors to stop moving rocks and logs in streams and rivers. This harmless seeming task disrupts and destroys the habitat and nesting sites for many animals, including the hellbender.
The hellbender may seem a bit frightening, but it poses no risk to humans and plays an important role of keeping other populations in check in its habitat. The hellbender is carnivorous, feeding on crayfish, insects, small fish, and worms.
To help the hellbender, experts ask people to pay attention to water pollution and to leave rocks where they lie. Aside from preserving their habitat, hellbenders absorb oxygen through their skin. Obstructions that reduce water flow may also limit the oxygen available.
Any improvement to the quality of the water that these animals call home can increase the long-term longevity of the species.