Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hellbender Trip 2012

The herp club started off the year with the hellbender trip, as always. This year was different that usual, however. In addition to finding and collecting data on hellbenders already in the stream, we also released twenty five young hellbenders that had been raised in captivity at the Buffalo Zoo.

Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) are giant aquatic salamanders from eastern North America. We're talking really giant here: up to a couple feet. They don't have anything on their Asian cousins though. If you want to see humongous salamanders, check out Andrias japonicus and A. davidianus. But we digress. For more information on hellbenders, check out

These incredible creatures are currently in decline over much of their range, and has been labelled a species of special concern in New York. As populations age, not all of them have continued to reproduce themselves. Enter the Buffalo Zoo headstarting program. Several hundred eggs collected in western New York found their way to the Buffalo Zoo, where most of them hatched. Keepers then raised the baby benders in captivity until they put on enough size to hopefully have a better chance at surviving in the wild. This year was the first batch to go back into their native watershed, and we were honored to be there for their release. Many thanks to Ken Roblee and the Buffalo Zoo for letting us take part.

Disinfecting boots before heading into the stream. Due to chytrid fungus, we must take extra care not to spread pathogens between bodies of water.

Carrying a cooler full of hellbenders to the first release site.

Young hellbenders.

We fished the hellbenders out of the cooler one at a time with a net, then gently took each to a suitable large, flat rock for its new home. This part of the stream previously had few appropriate rocks, but couple years ago the herp club spent a day helping with the efforts to place more of them in this location. It was exciting to place hellbenders under the now-ready rocks. You can read more on the initiative to create more hellbender habitat on the Department of Environmental Conservation website.

After releasing the young'ns, we headed to a different part of the stream that had some established hellbenders. The goal was to find and catch hellbenders, collect data on them, and tag them if they did not already have a tag so that they could be individually identified in the future.

The stream.

Two hellbenders under the first rock!

Taking a length.

And a weight.

Swabbing for chytrid.

Inserting a PIT tag.

All told, we found fourteen wild hellbenders, way more than usual. This year was strange compared to previous years in that most of the ones we saw were out walking on the bottom of the stream rather than hidden under rocks. We speculated that a possible reason for their being out was the impending breeding season. It was only August 26, normally early enough to not interfere with breeding, but who knows.

Next year we'll head back to see how the headstarted young ones are doing!

Photos: Jessica Tingle

1 comment:

  1. Looks as if you had lots of fun! Great field trip - but then, I may be a bit biased because I simply love all of the giants!
    We don't have them here in Austria but I'm always happy to read (good) news about them, that's how I stumbled across this page!
    Hope you'll have as much fun and success in finding them next year,