Cryptobranchus alleganiensis - (Daudin, 1803)
Other English Common Names: hellbender
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Cryptobranchus alleganiensis (Daudin, 1803) (TSN 173587)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.105670
Element Code: AAAAC01010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Amphibians - Salamanders
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Amphibia Caudata Cryptobranchidae Cryptobranchus
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Frost, D. R. 1985. Amphibian species of the world. A taxonomic and geographical reference. Allen Press, Inc., and The Association of Systematics Collections, Lawrence, Kansas. v + 732 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B85FRO01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
Taxonomic Comments: This species exhibits low range-wide allozyme diversity and high between-population mtDNA variation (Routman 1993). A mtDNA phylogeny by Routman et al. (1994) indicated that the two subspecies of hellbenders are paraphyletic with respect to one another. Some hellbender populations in the southern Ozarks ("C. c. bishopi") are most closely related to populations of C. a. alleganiensis inhabiting the Tennessee River drainage whereas others are so divergent that phylogenetic affinities are undetectable. Extremely low levels of divergence among mtDNA haplotypes found in populations from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and the northern Missouri Ozarks suggest a recent, probably post-Pleistocene, invasion of this region from a refugium in one of these areas." Recognition of the nominal subspecies, which are based mostly on noncategorical coloration differences, appears to be unwarranted.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 23Apr2007
Global Status Last Changed: 13Aug2001
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Wide range in the central interior portion of the eastern U.S.; many populations have declined or have been eliminated by dams, sedimentation, water pollution, and overcollecting; better information is needed on the conservation status of this species in much of its range.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3N4 (13Aug2001)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Alabama (S2), Arkansas (S2), Georgia (S2), Illinois (S1), Indiana (SNR), Kentucky (S3), Maryland (S1), Mississippi (S1), Missouri (SNR), New York (S2), North Carolina (S3), Ohio (S1), Pennsylvania (S3), South Carolina (SNR), Tennessee (S3), Virginia (S2S3), West Virginia (S2)

Other Statuses

Implied Status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): PS
Comments on USESA: Subspecies bishopi of Southern Missouri and adjacent northern Arkansas, is listed endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
IUCN Red List Category: NT - Near threatened

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: The range extends from southern Illinois (recent record from Wabash River; Smith 1961, Brandon and Ballard 1994, Phillips et al. 1999), southern Indiana (Minton 1972), Ohio (Pfingsten and Downs 1989), Pennsylvania (McCoy 1982), and southwestern and southcentral New York (Bishop 1941) to central and southcentral Missouri (Johnson 2000), northern Arkansas (Trauth et al. 1992, 2004), northern Mississippi, Alabama (Tennessee River drainage, Mount 1975), northern Georgia, the western Carolinas (Martof et al. 1980), western Virginia (Tobey 1985), West Virginia (throughout, west of the Allegheny Front, Green and Pauley 1987), and extreme western Maryland (Phillips and Humphries 2005). Populations in the White River system in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas often have been recognized as a distinct subspecies (C. a. bishopi; see taxonomy comments).

In Kentucky, near the center of the range, Barbour (1971) regarded the species "most common in the upper reaches of the Cumberland, Kentucky, and Licking river systems." In Tennessee, no records exist for locations west of the Tennessee River (Redmond and Scott 1996). Collections are known from southeastern Kansas (Neosha River), but these were likely introduced and not from a naturally occurring population (Collins 1982, 1993; Busby, pers. comm. 1994). There are early reports, of uncertain validity, of hellbenders in Iowa (Nickerson and Mays 1973). Old records from the Great Lakes (Lake Erie) drainage are probably erroneous (Pfingsten and Downs 1989, Harding 1997).

Area of Occupancy: 126-2,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Occupies probably at least 1000-5000 river km, but this is a guesstimate.

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: No estimates are available, but there are many occurrences in at least several dozen rivers. The lack of new distributional records published in Herpetological Review during the period 1995-2000 suggests that relatively few occurrences remain undiscovered.

Most maps in state amphibian and reptile books do not distinguish between extant and historical occurrences. Redmond and Scott (1996) mapped more than 50 locations in Tennessee. Green and Pauley (1987) mapped locations in 22 counties in West Virginia. Tobey (1985) mapped 19 observation/collection sites in Virginia. Mount (1975) mapped 8 locations in Alabama. Pfingsten and Down (1989) mapped a couple dozen post-1950 locations in about 15 different rivers in Ohio; most rivers with pre-1950 locations also had post-1950 locations. Phillips et al. (1999) mapped post-1980 locations in two counties in Illinois, with four additional pre-1980 county records. Minton (1972, 2001) stated that in Indiana hellbenders persist in fairly good numbers or as a reproducing population only in Blue River. Johnson (1987, 2000) mapped locations in 18 counties in Missouri. Trauth et al. (2004) mapped 11 localities in 4 general areas in Arkansas.

Population Size: 10,000 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but likely at least 10,000. In Missouri, a single riffle (4,600 square meters) had an estimated population size 230-270 hellbenders during two studies (Nickerson and Mays 1973, Peterson et al. 1983). Nickerson and Mays (1973) recorded an estimated 1,142 hellbenders in a 2.67-kilometer stretch of river in Missouri.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Unknown

Overall Threat Impact: High
Overall Threat Impact Comments: The principal threat is degradation of habitat, including impoundments, channelization, ore and gravel mining, silt and nutrient runoff (e.g., from timber harvest, agriculture, faulty septic and sewage treatment systems), other water pollution, and den site disturbance due to recreational uses of rivers (Nickerson and Mays 1973, Mount 1975:109, Bury et al. 1980, Williams et al. 1981, LaClaire 1993, Phillips et al. 1999, Wheeler et al. 1999, Minton 2001, Trauth et al. 2004). The species depends on cool, flowing, well-oxygenated water, and it needs a coarse (rocky) substrate. In agricultural regions, most of the former rocky habitat has been buried under silt (Phillips et al. 1999). Hellbenders appear to be intolerant of heavy recreational use of the habitat.

Overexploitation (collection and illegal or unintentional harvest) may be a threat to declining populations, whose viability may be reduced by removal of relatively few adults.

Many populations have become reduced to the point at which the usual problems associated with small populations size come into effect. Fragmentation of populations as a result of habitat loss/degradation is making it increasingly unlikely that extirpated populations can be reestablished through natural dispersal.

Some recent studies found open sores, tumors, and missing limbs and eyes in hellbenders in the Spring and Eleven Point rivers in the Ozark region (see Wheeler et al. 2002, Trauth et al. 2004). The cause of the abnormalities is unknown.

An exceptionally large flood event may have contributed to the decline in the Spring River, Arkansas (Trauth et al. 1999).

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable
Short-term Trend Comments: Populations are apparently still declining in some areas, but little is known about current or recent population trend in most of the range (Phillips and Humphries 2005).

Long-term Trend: Decline of 30-70%
Long-term Trend Comments: Compared to historical conditions, the species has significantly declined in population size, extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, and number and condition of occurrences (subpopulations) to a moderate extent (actual degree of decline is unknown but is closer to 25% than to 75%) (Nickerson and Mays 1973, Williams et al. 1981, Minton 2001, Wheeler et al. 2003, Trauth et al. 2004, Phillips and Humphries 2005). Some populations in Illinois (Phillips et al. 1999, Phillips and Humphries 2005), Indiana (Kern 1986, Minton 2001), and Ohio (Pfingsten 1990) have been extirpated. In Indiana, most reductions occurred between 1935 and 1965 (Minton 2001). However, populations are still present in most of the historical range. For example, the species is still common in many high-elevation streams in West Virginia (Humphries 1999). Populations still remain in the Allegheny and Susquehanna drainages in New York (Bothner and Gottlieb 1991) and in those systems in Pennsylvania and Maryland (Gates 1983). The species still occurs throughout the historical range in Missouri and Arkansas (Phillips and Humphries 2005), although a population in the Spring River in Arkansas is nearing extirpation (Trauth et al. 2004). Aside from the Spring River population, good documentation of population declines is scarce (Phillips and Humphries 2005).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable
Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Slow to mature. Low vagility and recruitment rate make this species vulnerable to local extirpation.

Environmental Specificity: Very narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements scarce.
Environmental Specificity Comments: This is a habitat specialist with little tolerance of environmental change (Williams et al. 1981).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Assessment of status throughout the range is needed.

Protection Needs: Streams need to be protected from siltation and thermal and chemical pollution. This should include maintenance of buffer zones around the streams.

Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) The range extends from southern Illinois (recent record from Wabash River; Smith 1961, Brandon and Ballard 1994, Phillips et al. 1999), southern Indiana (Minton 1972), Ohio (Pfingsten and Downs 1989), Pennsylvania (McCoy 1982), and southwestern and southcentral New York (Bishop 1941) to central and southcentral Missouri (Johnson 2000), northern Arkansas (Trauth et al. 1992, 2004), northern Mississippi, Alabama (Tennessee River drainage, Mount 1975), northern Georgia, the western Carolinas (Martof et al. 1980), western Virginia (Tobey 1985), West Virginia (throughout, west of the Allegheny Front, Green and Pauley 1987), and extreme western Maryland (Phillips and Humphries 2005). Populations in the White River system in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas often have been recognized as a distinct subspecies (C. a. bishopi; see taxonomy comments).

In Kentucky, near the center of the range, Barbour (1971) regarded the species "most common in the upper reaches of the Cumberland, Kentucky, and Licking river systems." In Tennessee, no records exist for locations west of the Tennessee River (Redmond and Scott 1996). Collections are known from southeastern Kansas (Neosha River), but these were likely introduced and not from a naturally occurring population (Collins 1982, 1993; Busby, pers. comm. 1994). There are early reports, of uncertain validity, of hellbenders in Iowa (Nickerson and Mays 1973). Old records from the Great Lakes (Lake Erie) drainage are probably erroneous (Pfingsten and Downs 1989, Harding 1997).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: endemic to a single nation

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, GA, IL, IN, KY, MD, MO, MS, NC, NY, OH, PA, SC, TN, VA, WV

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: IUCN, Conservation International, NatureServe, and collaborators, 2004

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
AL Colbert (01033), Franklin (01059)*, Lauderdale (01077)*, Limestone (01083)*, Madison (01089)*, Marion (01093), Marshall (01095)*, Morgan (01103)*
AR Baxter (05005), Fulton (05049), Independence (05063), Izard (05065), Randolph (05121)
GA Catoosa (13047), Dade (13083)*, Fannin (13111), Gilmer (13123), Rabun (13241), Towns (13281), Union (13291)
IL Hardin (17069)*, Massac (17127)*, White (17193)*
IN Clark (18019)*, Crawford (18025), Dearborn (18029)*, Floyd (18043)*, Franklin (18047)*, Harrison (18061), Jasper (18073), Jefferson (18077), Knox (18083)*, Parke (18121)*, Posey (18129), Pulaski (18131), Starke (18149), Switzerland (18155)*, Vanderburgh (18163), Vermillion (18165)*, Vigo (18167)*, Washington (18175)
KY Adair (21001), Allen (21003), Anderson (21005), Bath (21011), Boone (21015), Breckinridge (21027)*, Butler (21031)*, Calloway (21035)*, Campbell (21037), Carroll (21041)*, Carter (21043)*, Casey (21045), Christian (21047), Edmonson (21061)*, Fleming (21069), Franklin (21073), Grayson (21085), Green (21087), Hardin (21093)*, Harrison (21097), Hart (21099), Henry (21103), Jessamine (21113)*, Kenton (21117), Larue (21123), Laurel (21125)*, Lee (21129), Letcher (21133), Lewis (21135), Madison (21151)*, Marshall (21157)*, Mason (21161)*, McCreary (21147), Meade (21163)*, Menifee (21165), Mercer (21167)*, Monroe (21171), Muhlenberg (21177), Nelson (21179), Nicholas (21181), Ohio (21183), Owen (21187), Owsley (21189), Pendleton (21191), Powell (21197), Pulaski (21199)*, Rockcastle (21203), Rowan (21205), Simpson (21213), Taylor (21217)*, Trigg (21221), Trimble (21223)*, Warren (21227), Whitley (21235)*, Wolfe (21237), Woodford (21239)
MD Cecil (24015)*, Garrett (24023), Harford (24025)*
MO Camden (29029), Carter (29035), Crawford (29055), Dallas (29059), Dent (29065), Douglas (29067), Franklin (29071), Gasconade (29073), Jefferson (29099), Laclede (29105), Maries (29125), Oregon (29149), Osage (29151), Ozark (29153), Phelps (29161), Pulaski (29169), Ripley (29181), Shannon (29203), St. Louis (29189), Texas (29215), Washington (29221)
MS Tishomingo (28141)
NC Alleghany (37005), Ashe (37009), Avery (37011), Buncombe (37021), Cherokee (37039), Clay (37043), Graham (37075), Haywood (37087), Henderson (37089), Jackson (37099), Macon (37113), Madison (37115), Mitchell (37121), Swain (37173), Transylvania (37175), Watauga (37189), Yancey (37199)
NY Allegany (36003), Broome (36007), Cattaraugus (36009), Chenango (36017), Delaware (36025), Otsego (36077)
OH Ashland (39005)*, Athens (39009)*, Belmont (39013), Columbiana (39029), Coshocton (39031), Jefferson (39081)*, Knox (39083), Licking (39089), Logan (39091), Muskingum (39119), Richland (39139), Ross (39141), Scioto (39145), Tuscarawas (39157), Vinton (39163)*, Washington (39167)
PA Butler (42019), Cameron (42023), Clinton (42035), Crawford (42039), Cumberland (42041), Dauphin (42043), Erie (42049), Forest (42053), Indiana (42063), Jefferson (42065), Lycoming (42081), Sullivan (42113), Venango (42121), Warren (42123), Washington (42125), Westmoreland (42129)
SC Oconee (45073)*
TN Anderson (47001), Bedford (47003)*, Blount (47009), Campbell (47013)*, Carter (47019), Cheatham (47021), Claiborne (47025), Cocke (47029), Coffee (47031), Cumberland (47035)*, Davidson (47037)*, Fentress (47049)*, Giles (47055), Grainger (47057), Greene (47059), Hancock (47067)*, Hardin (47071), Humphreys (47085), Johnson (47091), Knox (47093)*, Lawrence (47099), Lewis (47101), Lincoln (47103), Loudon (47105)*, Marion (47115), Marshall (47117)*, Maury (47119), McMinn (47107)*, Meigs (47121), Monroe (47123), Montgomery (47125)*, Morgan (47129), Polk (47139), Roane (47145), Sevier (47155), Stewart (47161)*, Sumner (47165)*, Unicoi (47171), Van Buren (47175), Warren (47177), Wayne (47181), White (47185), Wilson (47189)*
VA Carroll (51035)*, Floyd (51063)*, Giles (51071), Grayson (51077)*, Lee (51105)*, Montgomery (51121)*, Pulaski (51155)*, Radford (City) (51750)*, Russell (51167), Scott (51169), Smyth (51173), Tazewell (51185), Washington (51191)
WV Barbour (54001)*, Brooke (54009), Cabell (54011)*, Clay (54015)*, Gilmer (54021)*, Greenbrier (54025), Kanawha (54039)*, Marshall (54051), Monroe (54063)*, Nicholas (54067), Pleasants (54073)*, Pocahontas (54075), Preston (54077)*, Raleigh (54081), Randolph (54083), Ritchie (54085), Roane (54087)*, Summers (54089)*, Tucker (54093), Tyler (54095)*, Upshur (54097), Wayne (54099)*, Webster (54101), Wyoming (54109)*
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Upper Susquehanna (02050101)+, Chenango (02050102)+, Owego-Wappasening (02050103)+, Sinnemahoning (02050202)+, Middle West Branch Susquehanna (02050203)+, Pine (02050205)+, Lower West Branch Susquehanna (02050206)+, Lower Susquehanna-Swatara (02050305)+, Lower Susquehanna (02050306)+*, Upper Chesapeake Bay (02060001)+*, Chester-Sassafras (02060002)+*, Gunpowder-Patapsco (02060003)+*
03 Tugaloo (03060102)+*, Coosawattee (03150102)+
05 Upper Allegheny (05010001)+, Middle Allegheny-Tionesta (05010003)+, French (05010004)+, Middle Allegheny-Redbank (05010006)+, Conemaugh (05010007)+, Kiskiminetas (05010008)+, Tygart Valley (05020001)+*, Cheat (05020004)+, Youghiogheny (05020006)+, Upper Ohio (05030101)+, Connoquenessing (05030105)+, Upper Ohio-Wheeling (05030106)+, Little Muskingum-Middle Island (05030201)+, Little Kanawha (05030203)+, Hocking (05030204)+*, Tuscarawas (05040001)+, Mohican (05040002)+, Walhonding (05040003)+, Muskingum (05040004)+, Licking (05040006)+, Upper New (05050001)+, Middle New (05050002)+, Greenbrier (05050003)+, Lower New (05050004)+, Gauley (05050005)+, Upper Kanawha (05050006)+*, Elk (05050007)+, Lower Scioto (05060002)+, Paint (05060003)+*, Upper Guyandotte (05070101)+*, Lower Guyandotte (05070102)+*, Upper Great Miami (05080001)+, Whitewater (05080003)+*, Twelvepole (05090102)+*, Little Scioto-Tygarts (05090103)+, Little Sandy (05090104)+*, Ohio Brush-Whiteoak (05090201)+, Middle Ohio-Laughery (05090203)+, Licking (05100101)+, South Fork Licking (05100102)+, South Fork Kentucky (05100203)+, Upper Kentucky (05100204)+, Lower Kentucky (05100205)+, Upper Green (05110001)+, Barren (05110002)+, Middle Green (05110003)+, Rough (05110004)+*, Tippecanoe (05120106)+, Middle Wabash-Little Vermilion (05120108)+*, Middle Wabash-Busseron (05120111)+*, Lower Wabash (05120113)+, Upper Cumberland (05130101)+, Rockcastle (05130102)+, Upper Cumberland-Lake Cumberland (05130103)+, South Fork Cumberland (05130104)+*, Collins (05130107)+, Caney (05130108)+, Lower Cumberland-Old Hickory Lake (05130201)+*, Lower Cumberland-Sycamore (05130202)+, Lower Cumberland (05130205)+, Red (05130206)+, Silver-Little Kentucky (05140101)+, Rolling Fork (05140103)+, Blue-Sinking (05140104)+, Lower Ohio-Little Pigeon (05140201)+, Highland-Pigeon (05140202)+, Lower Ohio-Bay (05140203)+*, Lower Ohio (05140206)+*
06 North Fork Holston (06010101)+*, South Fork Holston (06010102)+, Watauga (06010103)+, Holston (06010104)+, Upper French Broad (06010105)+, Pigeon (06010106)+, Lower French Broad (06010107)+, Nolichucky (06010108)+, Watts Bar Lake (06010201)+, Upper Little Tennessee (06010202)+, Tuckasegee (06010203)+, Lower Little Tennessee (06010204)+, Upper Clinch (06010205)+, Powell (06010206)+*, Lower Clinch (06010207)+, Emory (06010208)+, Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga (06020001)+, Hiwassee (06020002)+, Ocoee (06020003)+, Sequatchie (06020004)+, Guntersville Lake (06030001)+*, Wheeler Lake (06030002)+*, Upper Elk (06030003)+, Lower Elk (06030004)+, Pickwick Lake (06030005)+, Bear (06030006)+, Lower Tennessee-Beech (06040001)+, Upper Duck (06040002)+, Lower Duck (06040003)+, Buffalo (06040004)+, Kentucky Lake (06040005)+
07 Kankakee (07120001)+, Meramec (07140102)+, Bourbeuse (07140103)+, Big (07140104)+
10 Niangua (10290110)+, Upper Gasconade (10290201)+, Big Piney (10290202)+, Lower Gasconade (10290203)+, Lower Missouri-Moreau (10300102)+, Lower Missouri (10300200)+
11 Middle White (11010004)+, North Fork White (11010006)+, Current (11010008)+, Spring (11010010)+, Eleven Point (11010011)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A large salamander.
General Description: A large (up to 74 cm) salamander with a broad flattened head, wrinkled, fleshy folds of skin along each side and a conspicuous gill slit (sometimes missing) just in front of each forelimb (Green and Pauly 1987).
Diagnostic Characteristics: Adults differ from other large salamanders by lacking external gills and by their strongly flattened head and body. Larvae have four limbs; external gills; flattened, fleshy toes; a broad, flattened snout; and loose skin along the sides of the noncylindrical body.
Reproduction Comments: Lays eggs in late summer or fall (August, September, early October; e.g., Jensen et al., 2004, Herpetol. Rev. 35:156); winter breeding has been observed in the Spring River, Arkansas (Peterson et al. 1989). Clutch size averages about 350-500; increases with female body length. Several females may oviposit in same site. Males guard developing eggs. Larvae hatch in 1.5-3 months, lose gills about 18 months after hatching. Sexually mature in 5-8 years (Minton 1972, Peterson et al. 1988). Longevity 25+ years.
Ecology Comments: In Missouri, 80% of recaptures were within 30 m of tagging site. Also in Missouri, average home range size was 28 sq m in females, 81 sq m in males; there was considerable overlap in the home ranges of both males and females; number of rocks used as shelter ranged from 1 to 13 (Peterson and Wilkinson 1996).

In Pennsylvania, home range averaged 346 sq m (Hillis and Bellis 1971).

Density in Missouri was about 400-500 per km of suitable river habitat (Nickerson and Mays 1973, Peterson et al. 1983); 1-6 per 100 sq m in Ozark streams (Peterson et al. 1988). Larvae often are rare or at least difficult to find.

Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Riverine Habitat(s): CREEK, Low gradient, MEDIUM RIVER, Moderate gradient, Pool, Riffle
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic
Habitat Comments: Rocky, clear creeks and rivers, usually where there are large shelter rocks. Usually avoids water warmer than 20 C. Males prepare nests and attend eggs beneath large flat rocks or submerged logs.
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Crayfish are the most important food item, though fishes (often scavenged) and other aquatic invertebrates are also eaten (Peterson et al. 1989).
Adult Phenology: Nocturnal
Immature Phenology: Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: Primarily nocturnal but sometimes active in daylight. In West Virginia, Humphries and Pauley (2000) documented a peak in nocturnal activity in May and June; individuals tended to be hidden in summer and early fall. In Missouri and Arkansas, evidently active throughout the year in streams heavily influenced by springs (Peterson et al. 1989).
Length: 51 centimeters
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Maintenance of unpolluted, free-flowing rivers with a rocky substrate is the primary management need.
Management Requirements: Buffer zones around streams should be maintained.

Translocated individuals may disperse up to 2,340 m (greatest movement during high stream discharge); reintroduction of a small number of individuals may be most effective during early spring period of low stream discharge (Gates et al. 1985).

Monitoring Requirements: Effective low-impact methods for hellbender population monitoring need to be developed and routinely performed. Snorkeling or diving probably will be required for adequate monitoring. See Soule and Lindberg (1994, Herpetol. Rev. 25:16) for information on the use of a peavy to facilitate searching for hellbenders under rocks. Electroshock surveys are relatively ineffective. In West Virginia, nocturnal surveys were very useful for documentation of presence/absence in May and June but could not be relied upon in later months (Humphries and Pauley 2000).

Water quality and the impacts of human presence on the hellbender should be closely monitored.

Biological Research Needs: Demographic, behavioral, and ecological studies are needed. Specific research is needed on the impact of spraying for the gypsy moth, siltation, acid mine drainage, and acid precipitation. The minimum population size necessary to maintain genetic viability should be investigated.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including larvae or eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Mapping Guidance: The full extent of an occurrence may also include smaller tributaries to a major hellbender stream, where larvae may be present (A. Breisch, pers. comm., 1998).
Separation Barriers: Dams and large impoundments; high waterfall; upland habitat.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: These salamanders are strictly riverine and require cool, flowing water; they cannot cross upland habitat. They are unlikely to successfully traverse an impoundment to reach suitable habitat downstream from a dam, unless the impoundment is very small. Because hellbenders do not climb and probably cannot use fishways, virtually all dams and high water falls constitute a barrier to upstream movements. Water warmer than 20 C or heavily silted or polluted streams may constitute a barrier or at least unsuitable habitat, depending on the severity of the conditions.

Hellbenders generally exhibit low vagility. The majority of individuals are recaptured within 10 meters of their initial capture site (Feller, pers. comm., 1998; Peterson, 1987; Hillis and Bellis, 1971). Nickerson and Mays (1973) also reported 70% of recaptures within 30 meters of the tagging site, and Blais (1996), using radio-telemetry, found the largest average linear home range size in any season to be 110.3 meters (maximum of 407.3). Hulse (pers. comm., 1998) suggested that we may be dealing with numerous local populations with very limited gene flow between populations. Thus, it is not likely that adult hellbenders move distances as great as 500 meters except under exceptional circumstances (e.g., large flooding events or anthropogenic stress). Even in rare cases of displacement it is likely that adults would attempt to find their way back to the home area. Displaced adults appear to have excellent homing capacity, being frequently recaptured within their home range (Blais 1996, Wiggs 1977, Hillis and Bellis 1971). Theoretically, if suitable habitat occurs between two occupied sites, then adults and/or their larvae would occur there as well, and probably do. Only a thorough search (or series of searches in multiple seasons) of the intervening area will result in a confident statement that this area is for some unseen reason, unsuitable.

Despite this generally sedentary nature of adult hellbenders, there are enough reports of large unidirectional movements of nondisplaced hellbenders--e.g. 500 meters (Hulse, pers. com., 1998), 990 meters (Nickerson and Mays 1973), and 1500 and 3500 meters (Wiggs 1977)--to suggest that long distance movements do occur and could allow interactions between populations several kilometers apart. And it is probable that larval dispersal occasionally extends several kilometers. The adopted separation distance is necessarily arbitrary but reflects the low probability that two locations separated by a gap of less than several kilometers of suitable habitat would represent independent occurrences over the long term.

Because of the large "gray area" between suitable and unsuitable habitat, we employ one separation distance for all situations.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .2 km
Date: 23Apr2001
Author: Blackburn, S. G., and G. Hammerson. Separation distance by G. Hammerson.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 23Apr2007
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., R. Jennings, and J. C. Whittaker
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 25Apr2005
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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