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Friday, May 24th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Friday, May 24th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Plan drafted in Missouri to save hellbender — North America’s largest salamander

Rarely been seen in Illinois, the Eastern hellbender is North America’s largest salamander. (Photo courtesy of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant)

Ullin, Ill. — Any fisherman who says he can’t remember if he or she has ever seen an Eastern hellbender is certainly telling a fish story, because it’s a specimen impossible to forget.

“Not pretty” is how the hellbender is typically described.

There are only a few records of the amphibian species ever being present in Illinois – the last verified hellbender was caught by a commercial angler on Wabash River in White County in 1989.

Still, wildlife agencies tend to list southern Illinois as the “farthest point west” for North America’s largest salamander, which has an average length of two feet. It has several nicknames: mud puppy, devil dog and snot otter, to name a few.

But the off-putting critter is currently in the news in neighboring Missouri, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has drafted a plan to save the Missouri Distinct Population Segment of the eastern hellbender, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The public is invited to comment on the draft plan through March 12.

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The Missouri hellbender consists of three populations in the northern Ozark Highlands. The Niangua River population consists of individuals in the Niangua River; the Gasconade River population consists of individuals from the Gasconade River and Big Piney River; and the Meramec River population consists of individuals from the Meramec River, Huzzah Creek, Courtois Creek, and Big River.

According to the Illinois Natural History Survey, records of hellbenders here include only six counties, all in the Wabash or Ohio drainages and all but one prior to 1960. Only two of these records come from inland waters – one from the lower Cache River near Ullin, and one from Skillet Fork Creek in Hamilton County.

Eastern hellbender populations in Missouri were listed as endangered in 2021 under the Endangered Species Act, which means they are in danger of extinction. Threats to eastern hellbenders include degraded water quality, habitat loss, disease, illegal collection, and predation. Population declines have necessitated the use of captive propagation efforts to ensure the long-term survival of the species until threats are better understood and abated.

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