A hellbender moves along the bottom of a large aquarium. (Alamy)

A hellbender moves along the bottom of a large aquarium. (Alamy)

This hellbender looks slimy green as it is plucked out of a river. Hellbenders are North America's largest salamander. (AP)

This hellbender looks slimy green as it is plucked out of a river. Hellbenders are North America's largest salamander. (AP)

Hellbenders live in swift-flowing, rocky rivers and streams in the areas shown in dark green. (RB)

Hellbenders live in swift-flowing, rocky rivers and streams in the areas shown in dark green. (RB)

One-year-old eastern hellbender salamanders are seen at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio. (AP)

One-year-old eastern hellbender salamanders are seen at the Toledo Zoo in Toledo, Ohio. (AP)

An adult hellbender measuring 21 inches in length rests in a measuring device along Indiana's Blue River. (AP)

An adult hellbender measuring 21 inches in length rests in a measuring device along Indiana's Blue River. (AP)

Hellbenders Honored

Posted: July 1, 2019

Do you know about snot otters and lasagna lizards? Have you heard of mud devils and ground puppies? These silly nicknames all belong to the same creature. It’s Pennsylvania’s new official amphibian—the Eastern hellbender.

The Wehrle’s salamander also contended for the Pennsylvania title. Members of the Pennsylvania House voted. The Eastern hellbender won “official amphibian”―by a landslide. The vote was 191 to six!

Are you familiar with the hellbender? It’s unsightly. It’s oddly-shaped. It lives under rocks in very clean streams. But we’re not surprised if you’ve never seen one. It takes a trained eye to spot a hellbender!

Eastern hellbenders are the largest North American amphibian. They live in the Appalachian Mountains from New York to Georgia. A hellbender can grow more than two feet long. But it will come out only at night. “Not many people have actually seen hellbenders,” says Pennsylvania Representative Garth Everett. Is that because they sleep during the day? Is it because they prefer to stay out of sight? Or is it because their numbers are dwindling?

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s student leadership council wants to help hellbenders. The animals thrive in cold, clear streams. Pollution and sedimentation harm the creatures. (Pollution happens when dangerous substances get into stream water. Sedimentation happens when dirt and rock settle in water.) Warming water temperatures and disease threaten hellbenders’ survival too. Hellbenders do not have federal protected status. Some states protect them, but Pennsylvania does not. The student leadership council partnered with the Clean Water Institute at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The groups worked to save the slimy amphibians. Their effort paid off when hellbenders were voted in as the state amphibian!

Eastern hellbenders join the Pennsylvania mascot family:

State dog―Great Dane

State bird―Ruffed grouse

State insect―Firefly