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Wildlife of the Week Revisited: The Hellbender

Penn Press Log’s Wildlife of the Week returns.  We know you’re as excited about the paperback release of Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual as we are so here’s a sneak preview of one of the astonishing animals from the book.

The Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, though in some states it is called water dog, mud devil, mountain alligator, or walking catfish) is a greenish or brown salamander living along the rocky bottoms of fast-flowing streams in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.  No one knows where the name “hellbender” comes from, but don’t worry, they’re completely harmless unless you’re a crayfish or some other small aquatic creature.  Known for its bluntly rounded head and length (it can grow to be over two feet long!), the aquatic hellbender is remarkably strong and makes a habit of foraging under rocks and stones on stream bottoms.  Pollution puts this species of salamander at risk so preservation of clean streams and rivers with plenty of oxygen is a high priority.  Its fossil record goes back over 150 million years so researchers are hard at work to keep the species alive.

The paperback edition of Wildlife of the Mid-Atlantic: A Complete Reference Manual was released in early February and is on sale now. John H. Rappole is a Research Scientist at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park's Conservation and Research Center. He is the author of twelve books, including Birds of the Mid-Atlantic Region and The Ecology of Migrant Birds.