Smoky Mountain Hellbenders

Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest salamander in Great Smoky Mountains.

Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest salamander in Great Smoky Mountains. Photo credit:  David Herasimtschuk and Freshwater Illustrated.

Smoky Mountain Hellbenders are the largest aquatic salamanders in the national park. You may recognize the Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) by one of its other colorful names; snot otter, water dog, Allegheny alligator or mud dog. The male and female Hellbenders average in length from ten to sixteen inches. It has a flat body and head with slimy skin which gives it the ability to easily slip under submerged stones searching for food. The Hellbender serves as both predator and prey in the ecosystem.

Hellbenders are found in fast-moving, clean mountain streams in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Like frogs, Hellbenders are excellent indicators of water quality in streams and rivers. Since they breathe through their skin, hellbenders are sensitive to poor water quality, and are considered “bioindicators.” These species can tell biologists about degrading environmental conditions when they first start changing. As Hellbender populations decline so do other species in the environment.

The old timers say the name Hellbender likely came from the strange look of the salamander. One origin story says “It is a creature from hell and it is bent on getting back there!” There is no doubt the unusual appearance can spark the imagination but science reminds us the species is the product of millions of years of evolution and not a spawn from hell.

The hellbenders are large, slimy and can be scary looking, particularly if you’ve never seen one before, they are nothing to fear. They are harmless and not poisonous, venomous or toxic. And while they may try to bite if picked up, they will leave you alone, if you leave them alone,” Wildlife Diversity Biologist Lori Williams.

Hellbenders are listed as species of special concern in North Carolina. Because of this listing, it is illegal to take, possess, transport or sell a hellbender or to attempt to do so. A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which can result in a fine and up to 120 days in jail.

N. C. Wildlife Resources Commission has asked the public, particularly anglers, to help track Hellbender populations. If you happen to find one note the location (GPS coordinates would be great) and take a photo. Email the information to lori.williams@ncwildlife.org. If you happen to catch one on hook and line, carefully remove the hook if it is safe to do so without harming the animal or cut the line as close as possible and return it back to the water.Sightings can also be reported to Commission Wildlife Interaction Helpline by (866) 318-2401.

More Hey Smokies Features:

Smoky Mountain Super Moon
Smoky Mountain Super Moon...
Smoky Mountain Super Moon will rise above the Southern Appalachian mountains Wednesday, March 20, 2019. This Smoky Mountain special event is the[Read More >>]
Knoxville's Urban Wilderness
Knoxville's Urban Wilderness...
Knoxville's Urban Wilderness Is Wild. The urban wilderness is gaining national recognition for it's expansive multi-use trail system and l[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Corvette Expo
Smoky Mountain Corvette Expo...
Smoky Mountain Corvette Expo at LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee will be a roaring good time. The expo is scheduled for March 15th and [Read More >>]
Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe
Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe...
Corned Beef and Cabbage Recipe, the perfect Saint Patrick's Day meal. Few dishes are more associated with the Emerald Isle than the iconic Co[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Saint Patrick's Day Events
Smoky Mountain Saint Patrick's Day Events...
Smoky Mountain Saint Patrick's Day Events. You don't need the luck of the Irish to find plenty of fun this Saint Patrick's Day. These ancient mo[Read More >>]
Ramsey Cascades
Ramsey Cascades...
Ramsey Cascades is a difficult hike with an amazing destination.There are many waterfalls in the Great Smoky Mountains and a personal favorite i[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Announces New Chief Ranger
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Announces New Chief Ranger...
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Announces New Chief Ranger. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials tapped Lisa Hendy as the Park’s fi[Read More >>]
Healthy Black Bear Returns Home.
Healthy Black Bear Returns Home....
Healthy black bear returns home. Willow Bear returned to National Park by Appalachian Bear Rescue. Willow Bear (named upon arrival at ABR) was r[Read More >>]
New Foothills Parkway Raises 2018 National Park Visitation
New Foothills Parkway Raises 2018 National Park Visitation...
New Foothills Parkway Raises 2018 National Park Visitation. Great Smoky Mountains National Park reported 11,421,203 visitors in 2018[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Paving Project Slows Traffic
Smoky Mountain Paving Project Slows Traffic...
Smoky Mountain Paving Project Slows Traffic. Great Smoky Mountains National Park will begin paving on Little River Road between the Townsend[Read More >>]
Great Backyard Bird Count Event
Great Backyard Bird Count Event...
Great Backyard Bird Count Event offers many opportunities in the Great Smoky Mountains. This count is for the birds. Bird lovers everywhere are [Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail Mushrooms...
Smoky Mountain Turkey Tail mushrooms are always in season! Trametes versicolor (common name Turkey Tail mushroom) is a decomposing polypore mush[Read More >>]
Biltmore Estate Vintage Vanderbilt Clothing Expo
Biltmore Estate Vintage Vanderbilt Clothing Expo...
Biltmore Estate Vintage Vanderbilt Clothing Expo. Dressing in style at Biltmore Estate February 8 – May 27,  2019 is a Smoky Mountain special ev[Read More >>]
Valentine's Cookie Baking Class
Valentine's Cookie Baking Class...
Valentine's Cookie Baking Class at Wildflour Bakehouse in Sevierville, TN. This Smoky Mountain special event will feature separate classes for k[Read More >>]
Blue Ridge Parkway Winter Closures
Blue Ridge Parkway Winter Closures...
Blue Ridge Parkway Winter Closures. The Blue Ridge Parkway is the unofficial sister national park to the Great Smoky Mountains. Beginning in the[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Camp Stew Recipe
Smoky Mountain Camp Stew Recipe...
Smoky Mountain Camp Stew Recipe. Camp stew is a Southern favorite any time of year but especially in the cold winter months. This dish is easy t[Read More >>]
The Tenth Annual Rose Glen Literary Festival
The Tenth Annual Rose Glen Literary Festival...
The Tenth Annual Rose Glen Literary Festival presents the “write” stuff scheduled Saturday, February 23, 2019 from 9 am – 4 pm. This Smoky Mount[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Valentine's Day Events
Smoky Mountain Valentine's Day Events...
Smoky Mountain Valentine's Day Events. Valentine's Day is always a special event in the Smokies and this year's romantic day falls on Thur[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Visitors Centers Open MLK Weekend
Smoky Mountain Visitors Centers Open MLK Weekend...
Smoky Mountain Visitors Centers Open MLK Weekend. Friends of the Smokies will temporarily fund the reopening of Sugarlands Visitor Center near G[Read More >>]
Ober Gatlinburg Winter Events Take The Chill Off
Ober Gatlinburg Winter Events Take The Chill Off...
Ober Gatlinburg Winter Events Take The Chill Off. Get geared up for four great winter events at everyone's favorite Gatlinburg ski destination. [Read More >>]