Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hellbenders endangered??

While searching around for info on a tip from Ron Davis about a really weird story from California (I'll let him tell you about it -- or Art Bell) -- OK, a little more weird than most stories from California -- I ran across this.

It caught my eye because the Eastern Hellbender, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, the second-largest salamander in the world, was my study animal about a million years ago when I was working on a Master's Thesis. In fact, I found the world's only known adult albino hellbender (I think) ... but the white son-of-a-bitch wasn't too hard to spot on the bottom of the river.

I collected mine out of the Niangua River, just below Bennett Springs. They were there in really incredible numbers for so large an animal. Most were about 18 inches in length and weighed up to two kilograms. And they are ugly, oh, Gawd, are they ever ugly. The locals think they are deadly poisonous. If looks could kill, we should ship some over to Assama.

They also have the disgusting habit of when annoyed or agitated, (and who knows what might agitate a salamander with a brain the size of grain of rice), of rolling over and over and exuding a slimy sticky mucous mess from its more than abundant skin. Take my word for it, you can scrub for an hour and it still is there.

The numbers are declining, and like many ambhibian species in the world show a number of deformities. The reason is unknown but since it's happening in a lot of places one suspects global influences, such as global warming, leading to parasites, or developmental mistakes.

One thing I disagree with in this article is the presence of "skin lesions on the head" part. Probably ninety percent of the ones I saw had missing skin on the head. I think the explanation is far more simple that some environmental disaster. The live under big rocks, where they wait with gaping mouths open, for a crawfish, or a sculpin, to wander in. They simply scrape their head against the rocks. Or -- since the natives think they are deadly poisonous, they are fond of gigging them at night when they are out on the river .... those are simply gig marks from misses.


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