Hellbender

Hellbender

If you think hellbender is a weird name, these salamanders have some even weirder nicknames... such as devil dog and snot otter.

Hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis

Hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis

Not a lizard

The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is the largest salamander in North America and one of the largest in the world, beaten only by the giant salamanders of China and Japan.

Hellbenders aren't lizards, as people sometimes think. They're amphibians – bigger, tougher relatives of newts and frogs.

Slimy swimmers

Their bodies and heads are flat, with small eyes and slimy skin. Like all salamanders they have short legs with four toes on the front legs and five on the back ones.

Their tails have a ridge underneath that helps them swim quickly. They can get oxygen from the water through their skin as well as using their lungs to breathe air, which means they can stay underwater for longer.

Hellbender habits
  • Hellbenders thrive in cool, clear streams and rivers with lots of large rocks.
  • They love crayfish, but will also eat adult mudpuppies (another type of salamander), water snakes and other river–dwelling creatures.
  • Males looking after eggs rock back and forth and waggle the folds of skin on their sides. This keeps the water moving so that the eggs get plenty of oxygen.
Getting a bad name

According to folklore, hellbenders smear fishing lines with slime, drive fish away, and inflict a poisonous bite. Although none of these things are true, they have been left with some nasty nicknames, such as snot otter and devil dog. However, they can give you a painful bite with their very strong jaws.