Toe Talk — The Eastern Hellbender salamander
Lori A. Williams / (email@example.com)
No matter what you call it, or what you’ve heard it called, this rather prehistoric, aquatic amphibian is an indicator of relatively clean rivers and streams. Just like some freshwater mussels, fish and stream insects, hellbenders are sensitive to chemically or silt-polluted waters and cannot survive for very long in degraded streams.
Hellbenders rely on clean, cool, well-oxygenated, fast-flowing rivers and streams with large shelter rocks that they can use for cover, foraging and nesting. These cryptic, jumbo salamanders have a flattened head and body for crawling under rocks, powerful jaws and sharp bony ridges in their mouth for crunching through crayfish (their preferred food item), a strong, paddle-like tail for swimming, and even toes on their feet for crawling across the stream bottom. These animals are long-lived (more than 30 years) but take a while to grow up to adulthood (age 6 to 8), which makes their populations particularly vulnerable.
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