Photo Credit: Kirsten Hecht

  • Hellbenders live at least 30 years.

  • Male Hellbenders spend months taking care of eggs and larvae.

  • Hellbenders are cannibalistic.

  • Hellbender larvae have external gills but lose them around 2 years of age.

  • Adults develop wrinkly skin along the sides of their bodies which helps them breath through their skin. 


(Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

Larval Hellbender with gills

Fun Facts

Hellbenders are large nocturnal

salamanders that live in streams

throughout the Eastern United

States. They spend a lot of time

under rocks, and some even use the

same rock for years. Although they

are often referred to as the largest salamander in North America,

the Two-toed Amphiuma and Greater Siren are both longer. This salamander is no slouch, however. The largest Hellbender found measured in at 29 inches long (74cm)!  Amazingly the larvae hatch at just about an inch long (2.5-3cm) and spend the next 5-7 years growing into adulthood.

This crayfish connoisseur is the only North American representative of the 160 million year old giant salamander family Cryptobranchidae. The family name translates to "hidden gills" because these animals breathe mostly through their skin. The only other living members of this family are the Japanese (Andrias japonicus) and Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus) which are the largest amphibians in the world and reach sizes of 4-5 ft (120-150 cm). 

While populations of the other Southeastern US salamander species remain relatively common in most places, the future of the Hellbender is uncertain. The number of Hellbenders has declined drastically over the last 30 years. One subspecies of the Hellbender, the Ozark Hellbender, is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The other subspecies, the Eastern Hellbender, has been been petitioned for protection and is protected at the state level throughout most of the range. Threats to the Hellbender include habitat loss, pollution, introduced species, over collection, disease, and floods.

Photo Credit: Phil Colclough

Photo Credit: Phil Colclough