State Special Concern
Federal Species of Concern
The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) is one of Virginia’s largest salamanders and can be found only in the western part of Virginia. They inhabit clear, fast flowing streams with many large, flat rocks that are used for cover. Hellbenders are nocturnal, foraging for food at night and using suction to consume their prey. The preferred food of hellbenders is crayfish, but they also consume snails, worms, and occasionally fish.
Mating occurs in the late summer. Male hellbenders are territorial and will fight over prime nest rocks, guarding rocks before the females arrive. When the females arrive, they lay up to 500 ping-pong ball sized eggs underneath rocks. After the male externally fertilizes the eggs, the female is then forced out of the nest. Males guard the nest until the eggs hatch two months later! Larval hellbenders are less than one inch long at hatching. Because they are so small, scientists do not know much about the larvae.
Hellbenders are listed as a Federal Species of Concern. There are many factors affecting hellbender populations, including stream siltation, damming of rivers, collecting, and pollution. These factors affect the quality of the water, which hellbenders are very sensitive to. Changes in temperature, oxygen, flow rate, and sediment build up can alter the habitat enough to make it unfavorable to support hellbender populations.
The Hellbender Homepage- North America’s Giant Salamanders
Eastern Hellbender information from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries