Cryptobranchus alleganiensis


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
Species Authority: (Daudin, 1803)
Common Name(s):
English Hellbender
Salamandra alleganiensis Daudin, 1803

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).
United States
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).
Population Trend: Decreasing

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.

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.

Dundee, H.A. 1971. Cryptobranchus, and C. alleganiensis. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles: 1-4.

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

Firschein, I.L. 1951. The range of Cryptobranchus bishopi and remarks on the distribution of the genus Cryptobranchus. American Midland Naturalist: 455-459.

Frost, D.R. 1985. Amphibian Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. Allen Press and the Association of Systematic Collections, Lawrence, Kansas.

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.

Green, N.B. and Pauley, T.K. 1987. Amphibians and Reptiles in West Virginia. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

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.

Harding, J.H. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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.

Hulse, A.C., McCoy, C.J. and Censky, E. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Comstock Publishing Associates and Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Humphries, W.J. and Pauley, T.K. 2000. Seasonal changes in nocturnal activity of the hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, in West Virginia. Journal of Herpetology: 604-607.

IUCN. 2004. 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 23 November 2004.

Johnson, T.R. 1977. The Amphibians of Missouri. Univ. Kansas Mus. Nat. Hist., Pub. Ed. Ser. 6, Kansas.

Johnson, T.R. 1987. The amphibians and reptiles of Missouri. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City.

Johnson, T.R. 2000. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. Second Edition. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City.

Martof, B.S., Palmer, W.M., Bailey, J.R. and Harrison III, J.R. 1980. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

McCoy, C.J. 1982. Amphibians and reptiles in Pennsylvania. Carnegie Museum of Natural History Special Publication.

Minton Jr, S.A. 1972. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science Monographs 3, Indianapolis, IN, USA.

Minton Jr, S.A. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana, revised second edition. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN, USA.

Mitchell, J.C. 1991. Amphibians and reptiles. In: Terwilliger, K. (ed.), Virginia's Endangered Species: Proceedings of a Symposium, pp. 411-476. McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia.

Mount, R.H. 1975. The Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama. Auburn University Agricultural Experiment Station, Auburn, Alabama.

Nickerson, M.A. and Mays, C.E. 1973. A study of the Ozark hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi. Ecology: 1164-1165.

Nickerson, M.A. and Mays, C.E. 1973. The Hellbenders: North American "Giant Salamanders". Milwaukee Public Museum, Publ. Inbiol. and Geol.: 106 p.

Noeske, T.A. and Nickerson, M.A. 1979. Diet activity rhythms in the hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis (Caudata: Cryptobranchidae). Copeia: 92-95.

Peterson, C.L. 1987. Movement and catchability of the hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. Journal of Herpetology: 197-204.

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

Peterson, C. L., D. E. Metter, and B. T. Miller. 1988. Demography of the hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis in the Ozarks. American Midland Naturalist: 291-303.

Peterson, C.L., Ingersol, C.A. and Wilkinson, R.F. 1989. Winter breeding of Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi in Arkansas. Copeia: 1031-1035.

Peterson, C.L., Reed, J.W. and Wilkinson, R.F. 1989. Seasonal food habits of Cryptobranchus alleganiensis (Caudata: Cryptobranchidae). Southwestern Naturalist: 438-441.

Peterson, C. L., Wilkinson, Jr., R.F., Topping, M.S. and Metter, D.E. 1983. Age and growth of the Ozark hellbender. Copeia: 225-231.

Pfingsten, R.A. 1990. The status and distribution of the hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis in Ohio. Herpetological Review: 48-50.

Pfingsten, R.A. and Downs, F.L. 1989. Salamanders of Ohio. Bulletin of Ohio Biological Survey: 1-315.

Phillips, C.A., Brandon, R.A. and Moll, E.O. 1999. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey Manual 8, Illinois.

Pough, F.H. and Wilson, R.E. 1976. Acid precipitation and reproductive success of Ambystoma salamanders. Proceedings: First National Symposium on Acid Precipitation and the Forest Ecosystem, pp. 531-544.

Redmond, W.H. and Scott, A.F. 1996. Atlas of Amphibians in Tennessee (Miscellaneous Publication Number 12). The Center for Field Biology, Austin Peay State University, Miscellaneous Publication Number 12, Clarksville, TN, USA.

Routman, E. 1993. Mitochondrial DNA variation in Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, a salamander with extremely low allozyme diversity. Copeia: 407-416.

Routman, E., Wu, R. and Templeton, A.R. 1994. Parsimony, molecular evolution, and biogeography: the case of the North American giant salamander. Evolution: 1799-1809.

Smith, P.W. 1961. The amphibians and reptiles of Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey: 1-298.

Swanson, P.L. 1948. Notes on the amphibians of Venago County, Pennsylvania. American Midland Naturalist: 362-371.

Tobey, F.J. 1985. Virginia's amphibians and reptiles: a distributional survey. Virginia Herpetological Survey, Virginia.

Topping, M.S. and Ingersol, C.A. 1981. Fecundity in the hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. Copeia: 873-876.

Trauth, S.E., Wilhide, J.D. and Daniel, P. 1992. Geographic distribution: Cryptobranchus bishopi. Herpetological Review: 121.

Wiggs, R.L. 1977. Movement and homing in the hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, in the Niangua River, Missouri. M.S. Thesis., Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield.

Williams, R.D., Gates, J.E., Hocutt, C.H. and Taylore, G.J. 1981. The hellbender: a nongame species in need of management. Wildlife Society Bulletin: 94-100.

Citation: Geoffrey Hammerson, Christopher Phillips 2004. Cryptobranchus alleganiensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 29 August 2015.
Disclaimer: To make use of this information, please check the <Terms of Use>.
Feedback: If you see any errors or have any questions or suggestions on what is shown on this page, please provide us with feedback so that we can correct or extend the information provided