The Snot Otter (the Hellbender)

Say hello to the largest salamander in North America- the Hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis).  According to Wikipedia, its unusual name is thought to be from early settlers to North America who perhaps thought that it was a creature from hell bent on returning.

This is a very impressive salamander.   The word "big" doesn't seem to do it justice.  It can grow up to 29" (from snout to tip of tail.)  Imagine that the next time that you are swimming in a stream in the eastern portion of the United States.  There may be a 2 foot salamander down on the creek bed looking up at you.    But, not to fear.  They are harmless to humans.  Humans are a much greater threat to them as they are listed as threatened in many parts of its range- including in North Alabama, where this specimen was found.

The Hellbender can be found in streams, lakes, and rivers from New York to Alabama- their habitat largely following the Appalachian mountain chain.    The endangered Ozark Hellbender can be located in Arkansas and  Missouri.

Hellbenders do not have external gills like another large salamander, the Mud Puppy.  Instead, their gills are hidden beneath folds of their skin- hence their latin name which means- "hidden gills".

The kids and I were fascinated by the Hellbender's feet- especially the cute little pink toes.    They looked like the creature, Gollum's hands from the Hobbit.  Hellbenders have four toes on their front feet and five toes on their back feet.  The five toes on the back feet it unique in North American salamanders to the Hellbender.

So what does the largest North American salamander eat?  Anything it wants to.  No, sorry.  Hellbenders primarily feed on crayfish and small fish.

Wikipedia lists several other common names for this salamander.  My favorite of the list is "Snot Otter".   I really wish that "Snot Otter" had became the preferred name of this creature- I believe that it is more fitting than "Hellbender."

So, there you have it.  Here we present to you- the Snot Otter.  Maybe the name will catch on.