Cryptobranchus alleganiensis 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Amphibia Caudata Cryptobranchidae

Scientific Name: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis (Daudin, 1803)
Common Name(s):
English Hellbender
Cryptobranchus guildayi Holman, 1977
Salamandra alleganiensis Daudin, 1803
Taxonomic Source(s): Frost, D.R. 2015. Amphibian Species of the World: an Online Reference. Version 6.0. New York, USA. Available at:

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2004
Date Assessed: 2004-04-30
Needs updating
Assessor(s): Geoffrey Hammerson, Christopher Phillips
Reviewer(s): Global Amphibian Assessment Coordinating Team (Simon Stuart, Janice Chanson, Neil Cox and Bruce Young)
Listed as Near Threatened because this species is probably in significant decline (but probably at a rate of less than 30% over three generations (assuming a generation length to be approximately ten years) because of widespread habitat loss through much of its range, thus making the species close to qualifying for Vulnerable.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species occurs in the USA from southern Illinois (with a recent record from Wabash River; Smith 1961; Brandon and Ballard 1994; Phillips, Brandon and Moll 1999), southern Indiana (Minton 1972), Ohio (Pfingsten and Downs 1989), Pennsylvania (McCoy 1982), and south-western and south-central New York (Bishop 1941), to central and south-central Missouri (Johnson 1987), northern Arkansas (the Black River system and north fork of White River, and Eleven Point River, Randolph County; Trauth, Wilhide and Daniel 1992), northern Mississippi, Alabama (Tennessee River drainage; Mount 1975), northern Georgia, the western Carolinas (Martof et al. 1980), western Virginia (Tobey 1985), West Virginia (throughout, west of the Allegheny Front; Green and Pauley 1987), and extreme western Maryland. In Kentucky, near the centre of the range, Barbour (1971) regarded the species "most common in the upper reaches of the Cumberland, Kentucky, and Licking river systems". In Tennessee, no records exist for locations west of the Tennessee River (Redmond and Scott 1996). Collections are known from south-eastern Kansas (Neosha River), but these are likely to have been from introduced individuals and not from a naturally occurring population (Collins 1982, 1993; W.H. Busby pers. comm.). There are early reports, of uncertain validity, of Hellbenders in Iowa (Nickerson and Mays 1973b). Old records from the Great Lakes (Lake Erie) drainage, New Jersey, and Louisiana are probably erroneous (Pfingsten and Downs 1989; Harding 1997).
Countries occurrence:
United States
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The total adult population size is unknown, but the population is in overall decline (although there are secure populations in many areas).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:It can be found in rocky, clear creeks and rivers, usually where there are large rocks for shelter. It usually avoids water warmer than 20°C. Males prepare nests and attend eggs beneath large flat rocks or submerged logs.
Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is collected for the pet trade and as specimens.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The principal threat to this species is degradation of habitat, since it is a habitat specialist with little tolerance of environmental change (Williams et al. 1981). It breathes primarily (approximately 90%) through the skin (Guimond 1970) and is therefore dependent on cool, well-oxygenated, flowing water. Construction of dams stops swift water flow and submerges riffles. Logging, mining, road construction and maintenance, and other activities, can cause extensive sedimentation that covers the loose rock and gravel important as nest sites, and for shelter and food production. In Illinois, "most former rocky habitat has been buried under silt" (Phillips, Brandon and Moll 1999). Chemical pollutants and acid mine drainage are probably destructive, especially to eggs and larvae. Thermal pollution of water with a consequent oxygen loss would also be detrimental. Several streams in Alabama "have been polluted, impounded, or otherwise modified to the extent that they are, from all indications, incapable of supporting hellbender populations" (Mount 1975). Injuries and deaths sometimes also result when the salamanders are hooked by anglers, and some fishermen still believe that Hellbenders are dangerously poisonous and also destroy game fish and their eggs (both beliefs are false), and therefore kill them at every opportunity. In the past, there were even attempts by organized sportsmen’s groups in West Virginia to eradicate them. There is some collecting of Hellbenders for sale as live animals or as preserved specimens. Over-collecting has been considered a serious threat in some parts; a decline was noted in the early 1990s, apparently due to collecting. Nickerson and Mays (1973b) noted additional factors they suspected might affect local populations, such as gigging (hunting of the species at night), heavy canoe traffic, dynamiting of large boulders to enhance commercial canoe traffic, and riverside cattle and pig pens. Hellbenders generally are intolerant of heavy recreational use of habitat.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Many of the presently known populations are in national or state forests, national parks, and other public lands, where there is good potential for protecting habitat. The St. Louis Zoo maintains a captive-breeding programme for this species.

Classifications [top]

5. Wetlands (inland) -> 5.1. Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks (includes waterfalls)
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
1. Land/water protection -> 1.2. Resource & habitat protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
2. Land/water management -> 2.3. Habitat & natural process restoration
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
5. Law & policy -> 5.1. Legislation -> 5.1.3. Sub-national level
5. Law & policy -> 5.4. Compliance and enforcement -> 5.4.3. Sub-national level

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:Yes
In-Place Education
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.3. Tourism & recreation areas
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

3. Energy production & mining -> 3.2. Mining & quarrying
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

4. Transportation & service corridors -> 4.1. Roads & railroads
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.1. Intentional use (species is the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.3. Persecution/control
♦ timing:Past, Unlikely to Return    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.3. Logging & wood harvesting -> 5.3.5. Motivation Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

6. Human intrusions & disturbance -> 6.1. Recreational activities
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

7. Natural system modifications -> 7.2. Dams & water management/use -> 7.2.11. Dams (size unknown)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.1. Domestic & urban waste water -> 9.1.3. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.2. Industrial & military effluents -> 9.2.2. Seepage from mining
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.4. Type Unknown/Unrecorded
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
2. Conservation Planning -> 2.1. Species Action/Recovery Plan
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

♦  Pets/display animals, horticulture
 National : ✓ 

♦  Sport hunting/specimen collecting
 National : ✓ 

Bibliography [top]

Barbour, R.W. 1971. Amphibians and Reptiles of Kentucky. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington.

Behler, J.L. and King, F.W. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. New York.

Bishop, S.C. 1941. The salamanders of New York. New York State Museum Bulletin: 1-365.

Blackburn, L., Nanjappa, P. and Lannoo, M.J. 2001. An Atlas of the Distribution of U.S. Amphibians. Ball State University, Muncie, IN, USA.

Blais, D.P. 1996. Movement, Home Range, and Other Aspects of the Biology of the Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus a. alleganiensis): A Radio Telemetric Study. Masters Thesis, S.U.N.Y., Binghamton.

Brandon, R.A. and Ballard, S.R. 1994. Geographic distribution: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. Herpetological Review: 31.

Bury, R.B., Dodd, Jr., C.K. and Fellers, G.M. 1980. Conservation of the Amphibia of the United States: a review. Resource Publication: 1-34.

Coatney, Jr, C.E. 1982. Home range and nocturnal activity of the Ozark hellbender. Unpublished Master's thesis. Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield, Missouri.

Collins, J.T. 1982. Amphibians and reptiles in Kansas. Second Edition. Univ. Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist., Pub. Ed. Ser. 8, Kansas.

Collins, J.T. 1991. Viewpoint: a new taxonomic arrangement for some North American amphibians and reptiles. SSAR Herpetological Review: 42-43.

Collins, J.T. 1993. Amphibians and reptiles in Kansas. Third edition, revised. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, Public Education Series No. 13.

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Figg, D.E. 1993. Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife diversity report, July 1992 - June 1993.

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Gates, J.E., Stouffer, Jr., R.H., Stauffer, Jr., J.R. and Hocutt, C.H. 1985. Dispersal patterns of translocated Cryptobranchus alleganiensis in a Maryland stream. Journal of Herpetology: 436-438.

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Guimond, R.W. 1970. Aerial and aquatic respiration in four species of paedomorphic salamander: Amphiuma means means, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, Necturus maculosus maculosis, and Siren lacertina. Dissertation, University of Rhode Island.

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Hillis, R.E. and Bellis, E.D. 1971. Some aspects of the ecology of the hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis, in a Pennsylvania stream. Journal of Herpetology: 121-126.

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Peterson, C.L. and Wilkinson, R.F. 1996. Home range size of the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) in Missouri. Herpetological Review: 126-127.

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Citation: Geoffrey Hammerson, Christopher Phillips. 2004. Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T59077A11879843. . Downloaded on 18 June 2018.
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