Eastern Hellbender Recovery Initiative

Photo by Mike Pinder

The eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is a rare and unique aquatic salamander endemic to eastern North America. These long-lived, giant (60 cm) riverine amphibians breathe primarily through their skin and thus rely on clean, fast-moving waters rich in dissolved oxygen. River and stream bottoms where they occur are typically characterized by large, flat rocks which provide cover and nesting sites. The eastern hellbender is in decline throughout its range. In New York it is restricted to small portions of the Alleghany and Susquehanna River drainages and is listed by the state of New York as a Special Concern species. Agricultural runoff, industrial pollution, dam construction, stream erosion, and disease are probable causes of the species’ decline. Maintaining good water quality is critically important for the conservation of this species. The presence of eastern hellbenders is an excellent indicator of stream health.

TWT is active in eastern hellbender recovery in New York’s Susquehanna River basin along three fronts: land acquisition, habitat restoration, and headstarting/reintroduction.

  • TWT has protected 128 acres along two Susquehanna “hellbender” tributaries, and we intend to buy additional critical riparian buffer lands as properties become available.
  • Our habitat restoration efforts include installing stone slabs and concrete-fabricated ‘hellbender huts’ to enrich suitable denning and nesting habitat. To date, 25 huts and 150 stone slabs have been installed along known eastern hellbender reaches.
  • TWT is supporting cutting-edge research led by Master’s student, Michelle Herman, and Dr. James Gibbs at SUNY ESF to study headstarting eastern hellbenders and monitor their re-introduction. One of TWT’s properties in Chenango County hosts a state-of-the art experimental eastern hellbender nursery facility. ESF will be releasing robust, captive-reared juveniles in New York during summer 2018.  As these juveniles are monitored by Michelle et al., we hope to learn more to identify potential limiting environmental/ecological factors to further the reintroduction efforts.