The Eastern hellbender is a species of giant salamander that lives in shallow, fast flowing rocky streams in the eastern United States. Hellbenders can breathe through their skin – hence their scientific name, Cryptobranchus, which means “secret gill.”
Range & Habitat
● The hellbender prefers shallow, fast-flowing, rocky streams and can be found from Southern New York to northern Georgia, including parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, and even parts of Oklahoma and Kansas.
Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Their range has been rapidly shrinking due to human modification of their stream habitats, which are affected by the accumulation of silt, agricultural and industrial pollution, warming water and modifications to streams and rivers such as dams, which slow water flow and result in warmer water and lower oxygen levels.
In the Wild: Crayfish, small fish, other hellbenders, tadpoles, toads, and water snakes.
At the Zoo: Crickets, dubia roaches, earthworms, pinky mice and shrimp.
In Human Care: around 50 years
Fun Facts about the Eastern Hellbender
● Hellbenders have lungs but breath almost completely through their skin
● Hellbenders can live up to 50 years, a very long lifespan for an amphibian
● They are also called “mudcats,” “devil dogs” and “snot otters” for the mucus they secrete through their skin when threatened.
● Fossil records date the existence of hellbender salamanders to more than 160 million years ago.
· US Fish and Wildlife Service website, retrieved from
· Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, retrieved from