Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hellbender Trip 2013

The Herp Club kicked off the year with our annual Hellbender Trip. Where, as in the past, we ventured to western New York to find hellbenders, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, (we kept our eyes out for other herpetofauna as well). The 14 individuals in our group were led by Mr. Kenneth Roblee, from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).
Hellbenders are incredible animals, and not just from their immense size (they can get up to 30 inches in length). They are also 1 of 3 species of giant salamanders (Family: Cryptobranchidae), the other 2 are the Japanese and Chinese Giant Salamanders. These animals spend their adult lives fully underwater. They also have a unique breeding system, where after fertilizing the eggs, the males will remove the females from the den and guard them by themselves (they guard them ferociously).
However, these animals have also been seeing declines in populations recently. Luckily there is a headstart program going on for the hellbenders, where various zoos (like the Buffalo Zoo) are collecting eggs from the wild and raising the hellbenders to an age where they can survive in the wild on their own and then they are released. Similar to last year, we were able to collaborate with the Buffalo Zoo and assist in releasing about 20 of their headstarted hellbenders. We were also able to find some adults while we were wading around, including two large adults measuring about 22 inches in length! The trip was very fun, and we would like to thank Mr. Roblee and the Buffalo Zoo for giving us such a great experience:

Group picture with Mr. Roblee
Photo Courtesy of Mrs. Richard Bothner

Most of the group gathered around Mr. Roblee to see the proper way to release a young hellbender.

A herp club member releasing a young hellbender into its new home.

Beautiful in their own way, right? Can you believe that these guys are also called 'snot otters' or 'devil dogs'?
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Gorman

An adult that was found early on, measured 17 inches!

Taking measurements for the newly found adult male. We helped to gather data which included length (snout-vent length and tail length), weight, GPS location, depth of its den, and size of the den. After which, a transmitter was placed in it so that the animal could be readily identified in the future.

Their skin has a wrinkly edge, the animals themselves are coated so well in a slime that they feel very smooth to the touch.

A look at the underside of their feet.

An adult with a wound on its leg, which is a regular occurrence. As was mentioned earlier, they will defend their dens ferociously, to death even.

Another adult being measured. We ensured that the animals remained moist, to prevent desiccation, and to reduce their stress.

At times, they would allow you to pose them, however, when they struggled it was highly difficult to maintain a hold on them (imagine gripping a wet, wriggling bar of soap).

We also saw some other cool animals:
A mountain dusky salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus)

Slimy salamander (Plethodon glutinosis)

Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

A little American toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

A lovely lamprey, being its parasitic self.
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Gorman
For more information on the work that Mr. Roblee and the Buffalo Zoo have been doing, see:

 Post and Undesignated Photos by:
Joey Chase