Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis - (Daudin, 1803)
Eastern Hellbender
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis (Daudin, 1803) (TSN 208175)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.101863
Element Code: AAAAC01011
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
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Concept Reference: Collins, J. T. 1990. Standard common and current scientific names for North American amphibians and reptiles. 3rd ed. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Herpetological Circular No. 19. 41 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B90COL01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis
Taxonomic Comments: 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. Hellbenders found in the southern Ozarks (C. a. bishopi) are either most closely related to populations of C. a. alleghaniensis inhabiting the Tennessee River drainage or 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." Hence, recognition of the nominal subspecies appears to be unwarranted.
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3T2
Global Status Last Reviewed: 25Jan2018
Global Status Last Changed: 25Jan2018
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by calculator
Rounded Global Status: T2 - Imperiled
Reasons: This species has undergone significant declines in population size, extent of occurrence, and area of occupancy. It depends on cool, flowing, well-oxygenated water, and it needs a coarse (rocky) substrate. It therefore faces significant threats from dams, sedimentation, and water pollution.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3N4 (13Aug2001)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Georgia (S2S3), Indiana (S1), Kentucky (S2S3), Missouri (S1), North Carolina (S3), Pennsylvania (S2S3), Tennessee (S3)

Other Statuses

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: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The range extends from southern Illinois (Brandon and Ballard 1994, Phillips et al. 1999), southern Indiana (Minton 1972), Ohio (Pfingsten and Downs 1989), Pennsylvania (McCoy 1982), and southern New York (Bishop 1941), Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama (Mount 1975), northern Georgia (Mitchell and Gibbons 2010), western Carolinas (Martof et al. 1980), western Virginia (Tobey 1985), West Virginia (Green and Pauley 1987), and Maryland (Phillips and Humphries 2005).

Area of Occupancy: 126-500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments:  

Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: No estimates are available, but there are many occurrences in several dozen rivers, and genetic analyses suggest there is sub-drainage structuring to populations (Unger et al. 2013). The eastern hellbender is known from 183 8-digit hydrologic units.

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 m2) had an estimated 230-270 hellbenders (Nickerson and Mays 1973, Peterson et al. 1983). Population declines are well documented (Mayasich et al. 2003, Burgmeier et al. 2011) so it is likely historic abundance estimates do not adequately reflect current abundances. Historic density estimates from various occupied drainages ranged from 0.06 ? 6 individuals/100 m2) (Burgmeier et al. 2011), and mark-recapture efforts in Indiana suggest a universally lower density of 0.06 individuals/100 m2 (high of 0.32 individuals/100 m2).

Overall Threat Impact: Very 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, Bury et al. 1980, Williams et al. 1981, Minton 2001, Mayasich et al. 2003). The subspecies depends on cool, flowing, well-oxygenated water, and it needs 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 (Wheeler et al. 2003). In particular, temporary dam building or wading pool construction can cause direct mortality to adults and juveniles (Unger et al. 2011). Siltation, water chemistry, and water quality alterations impact the occurrence and prevalence of hellbenders (Keitzer et al. 2013, Bodinof Jachowski et al. 2016, Pitt et al. 2017).

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 population 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 (see Wheeler et al. 2002). Approximately 68% of hellbenders in an Indiana study found evidence of abnormalities (missing digits, scars, open wounds, and abnormal or missing eyes) (Burgmeier et al. 2011). A hellbender that tested positive for amphibian chytrid fungus showed severe anemia and undetectable protein levels (hypoproteinemia) (Burgmeier et al. 2011).

An exceptionally large flood event may have contributed to the decline in the Spring River, Arkansas population (Trauth et al. 1992).

Short-term Trend: Decline of 30-70%
Short-term Trend Comments: Populations are still declining in most areas (Wheeler et al. 2003, Foster et al. 2009, Burgmeier et al. 2011).

Long-term Trend: Decline of 30-70%
Long-term Trend Comments: Compared to historical conditions, this species has significantly declined in population size, extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, and number and condition of populations to a moderate extent (Nickerson and Mays 1973, Williams et al. 1981, Minton 2001, Wheeler et al. 2003, Phillips and Humphries 2005). Some populations in Illinois (Phillips et al. 1999, Phillips and Humphries 2005), Indiana (Minton 2001), and Ohio (Pfingsten 1990) have been extirpated. Because this subspecies can be long-lived, it can difficult to assess long-term abundance changes. However, long-term observations regarding reduced recruitment suggest long-term trends in abundance will be decreasing (Briggler et al. 2007, Foster et al. 2009, Burgmeier et al. 2011, Keitzler et al. 2013, Unger et al. 2013, Pitt et al. 2017). Simulations of population trajectories and viability suggest an Indiana population of hellbender will likely go extinct within 25 years ?unless aggressive management strategies are implemented? (Unger et al. 2013).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Rigorous assessments of population status throughout the range are needed.

Protection Needs: Areas that have the healthiest diversity of hellbender age structure and hellbender population growth are in protected areas (Hecht-Kardasz et al. 2012, Freake and DePerno 2017). Streams free of and buffered from siltation and thermal and chemical pollution should be prioritized.

Distribution
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Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The range extends from southern Illinois (Brandon and Ballard 1994, Phillips et al. 1999), southern Indiana (Minton 1972), Ohio (Pfingsten and Downs 1989), Pennsylvania (McCoy 1982), and southern New York (Bishop 1941), Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama (Mount 1975), northern Georgia (Mitchell and Gibbons 2010), western Carolinas (Martof et al. 1980), western Virginia (Tobey 1985), West Virginia (Green and Pauley 1987), and Maryland (Phillips and Humphries 2005).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.

Map unavailable!:
Distribution data for U.S. states and Canadian provinces is known to be incomplete or has not been reviewed for this taxon.
Endemism: endemic to a single nation

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States GA, IN, KY, MO, NC, PA, TN

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
GA Catoosa (13047), Dade (13083)*, Fannin (13111), Gilmer (13123), Rabun (13241), Towns (13281), Union (13291)
IN Clark (18019)*, Crawford (18025), Dearborn (18029)*, Floyd (18043)*, Franklin (18047)*, Harrison (18061), Jefferson (18077), Knox (18083)*, Parke (18121)*, Posey (18129), 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)
MO Camden (29029), Crawford (29055), Dallas (29059), Franklin (29071), Gasconade (29073), Jefferson (29099), Laclede (29105), Maries (29125), Osage (29151), Phelps (29161), Pulaski (29169), St. Louis (29189), Texas (29215), Washington (29221)
NC Avery (37011), Cherokee (37039), Clay (37043)
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)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Sinnemahoning (02050202)+, Middle West Branch Susquehanna (02050203)+, Pine (02050205)+, Lower West Branch Susquehanna (02050206)+, Lower Susquehanna-Swatara (02050305)+
03 Coosawattee (03150102)+
05 Upper Allegheny (05010001)+, Middle Allegheny-Tionesta (05010003)+, French (05010004)+, Middle Allegheny-Redbank (05010006)+, Conemaugh (05010007)+, Kiskiminetas (05010008)+, Connoquenessing (05030105)+, Upper Ohio-Wheeling (05030106)+, Whitewater (05080003)+*, 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)+*, Middle Wabash-Little Vermilion (05120108)+*, Middle Wabash-Busseron (05120111)+*, Lower Wabash (05120113)+, Upper Cumberland (05130101)+, Rockcastle (05130102)+, Upper Cumberland-Lake Cumberland (05130103)+, Lower Cumberland (05130205)+, Red (05130206)+, Silver-Little Kentucky (05140101)+, Rolling Fork (05140103)+, Blue-Sinking (05140104)+, Lower Ohio-Little Pigeon (05140201)+, Highland-Pigeon (05140202)+
06 Nolichucky (06010108)+, Upper Little Tennessee (06010202)+, Middle Tennessee-Chickamauga (06020001)+, Hiwassee (06020002)+, Ocoee (06020003)+, Kentucky Lake (06040005)+*
07 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)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: The eastern hellbender is a large, entirely aquatic salamander.
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Riverine Habitat(s): CREEK, Low gradient, MEDIUM RIVER, Moderate gradient, Pool, Riffle
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. The hellbender salamander, considered a "habitat specialist," has adapted to fill a specific niche within a very specific environment, and is labeled as such "because its success is dependent on a constancy of dissolved oxygen, temperature and flow found in swift water areas," which in turn limits it to a narrow spectrum of stream/river choices (Peterson et al. 1988). As a result of this specialization, hellbenders are generally found in areas with large, irregularly shaped, and intermittent rocks and swiftly moving water, while they tend to avoid wider, slow-moving waters with muddy banks and/or slab rock bottoms. This specialization likely contributed to the decline in their populations, as collectors could easily identify their specific habitats (Peterson et al. 1988).
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
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Management Summary
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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 on effects of increased siltation, mining discharge, and water chemistry changes should be conducted. Additionally, continued mark-recapture population monitoring to investigate recruitment and survival contributions to population change should be conducted (Foster et al. 2009, Burgmeier et al. 2011).
Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
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Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 25Jan2018
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Schorr, R.A. (2018)
Management Information Edition Date: 25Jan2018
Management Information Edition Author: Schorr, R.A

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

References
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  • Burgmeier, N. G., Unger, S. D., Sutton, T. M., & Williams, R. N. (2011). Population status of the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) in Indiana.Journal of Herpetology,45(2), 195-201.

  • Collins, J. T. 1990. Standard common and current scientific names for North American amphibians and reptiles. 3rd ed. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Herpetological Circular No. 19. 41 pp.

  • Crother, B. 2017. Society For The Study Of Amphibians And Reptiles (SSAR). Checklist of the Standard English & Scientific Names of Amphibians & Reptiles. Online. Available: https://ssarherps.org/cndb/ [older editions were published as PDFs, the last being the 7th edition (2012)]

  • Minton, S. A., Jr. 2001. Amphibians & reptiles of Indiana. Revised second edition. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis. xiv + 404 pp.

  • Natural Resources Commission. 2014. Roster of Indiana Animals, Insects, and Plants That Are Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened or Rare. Information Bulletin #2 (Sixth Amendment. 20pp.

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