Hellbenders are the largest salamanders found in North America. They are indigenous to swift-moving, oxygenated streams and important environmental indicators to water health. There are two hellbenders that reside in the E.C.O. Center at the Zoo.
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List status: Near Threatened because this species is probably in significant decline (but probably at a rate of less than 30% over three generations, assuming a generation length to be approximately ten years) because of widespread habitat loss through much of its range, thus making the species close to qualifying for Vulnerable.
The eastern hellbender’s range once extended from southwestern and south central New York, west to southern Illinois, and south to extreme northeastern Mississippi and the northern parts of Alabama and Georgia. Today, healthy populations of hellbenders are limited to a relatively few stream systems in areas that have remained isolated from development and urbanization, mainly in the rugged mountains of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.
Hellbenders feed primarily on crayfish, but they also may eat fish, frogs and a variety of invertebrates. They do eat smaller hellbenders.
Hellbenders are nocturnal, meaning they hunt at night, and spend their daylight hours hidden beneath rocks and logs at the bottoms of streams.
Hellbenders are New York State’s largest aquatic salamander.
Hellbenders have lived 29 years in captivity and analysis suggests they can live up to 30 years in the wild.