OX YGEN | Slippery, slinky and the largest aquatic
salamander in the United States, hellbenders, which
sometimes stretch more than 25 inches, need clean
water and high levels of dissolved oxygen to survive.
Because hellbenders keep crayfish from overpopulating, our ecosystem needs them. But their habitats are
degrading, and they’re vulnerable to predators when
young, so numbers are dwindling.
A Purdue University team headed by Rod Williams,
associate professor of wildlife science, has come
to their rescue, transporting hellbender eggs from
Indiana’s Blue River, their only habitat in the state, to
the Aquaculture Research Lab. In the 4,000-square-
foot wet lab, hellbenders are hatched and nurtured.
After a year, they go to one of three Indiana zoos
to mature before releasing them. The zoos offer
programs to educate people on hellbenders’
importance and conservation practices that improve
“If we can find the eggs, we hope to rear and release
from 200 to 1,000 over the next three years,” says
Williams, whose interest is multifaceted.
“From the research side, there are an unlimited
number of questions to ask. From the conservation
side, they are the vertebrate group with the highest
number of threatened or endangered species. And
from the Extension side, they are the least
understood vertebrates, making
our education work
important.” | K.M.
Saving North America’s Largest Salamander