Endangered "Hellbender" Named PA's State Amphibian

Its comeback means the state's water quality is improving

You knew we needed one, and now Pennsylvania has an official amphibian! Governor Tom Wolf signed a measure into law today that make the endangered and reclusive Eastern hellbender the state amphibian.

The hellbender is a large, nocturnal salamander (some can grow to more than 2 feet long and weigh 40 pounds) that hangs out in cold, clear, swift-running rivers and streams, especially ones with crevices and large rocks they use to hide and nest. Their numbers have been decimated as the state's waterways have become warmer and more polluted with sediment because of runoff from deforesting.

"Today's ceremony is about more than a declaration of an official state amphibian. It's about reaffirming our commitment to protecting our waters in Pennsylvania," said Governor Wolf.

A group of students was recognized for lobbying to have the hellbender named state amphibian. For more than two years, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's student leaders worked not only to make people aware of the salamander, but also demonstrate the need to reduce pollution in Pennsylvania's rivers and streams.

And there's good news. The hellbender may be making a comeback in Western Pennsylvania. Fisherman Larry Dones from Apollo , north east of Pittsburgh, caught one last year in the Kiskiminetas River in Parks Township and posted this really cool video:

The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy plans to survey the Kiski, Allegheny and Youghiogheny rivers for hellbenders in July. "They'll use dive teams, since the salamanders do like to hide, especially under large, flat rocks. It's such an important animal to Pennsylvania, and it's finally getting that recognition," Eric Chapman of the Conservancy told the Valley News Dispatch .

The W. PA Conservancy will use divers to survey for hellbender activity this summer.

Conservationists say if you do happen to catch a hellbender when you're fishing, please throw it back like Larry did!

(Images: Western Pennsylvania Conservancy Facebook page )

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