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Headstart Program for Endangered Hellbenders

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
Headstart Program for Endangered Hellbenders

TWRA working to rebuild the Hellbenders population in the Upper Cumberland and across the state.

Hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America growing to lengths of 30 inches. Hellbenders have been found in Upper Cumberland Streams.

TWRA Biodiversity Coordinator Mallory Tate said hellbender populations have been decreasing due to environmental impacts including silt and pollutants. She said the salamanders breathe through their skin, and as waters become more polluted the animals struggle to survive.

“And they’re pretty important because kind of like the canary in the coal mine these hellbenders are an indication of water quality,” Tate said. “So our hellbenders have historically been found in these water systems but as we lose them that’s a major indicator of water quality going down.”

In May TWRA, TSU and the Nashville Zoo released 24 adult hellbenders reared from eggs that were gathered from streams in 2015.

Tate said TWRA had a few hellbender projects going on right now. She said the big one was in cooperation with TSU and the Nashville Zoo.

She said the program started by gathering wild eggs and rearing them in captivity at the zoo. Tate said that wild hellbenders were not reaching sexual maturity in the wild due to water quality issues of urbanization and farm impacts.

“The goal was to get them to that point where they’re heartier and reaching sexual reproduction age and hopefully reach that really critical period where we’re losing animals,” Tate said.

Tate said the average age for reproductive salamanders is seven years. She said the helping the hellbender survive those critical years determines whether the population will survive.

“We’re also working with a few other agencies to work on stream bank restoration and water quality issues,” Tate said.

Tate said everyone can help with hellbender survival. She said leaving stones and stream banks intact protect the hellbender habitat.



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