WNC Public Asked To Report Hellbender Sightings

With fall fishing in full swing, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is asking the public, in particular hikers and anglers, to report any sightings of hellbenders (water dogs) to the agency.

Reported sightings are an important part of a long-term inventory and monitoring project for hellbenders that agency staff, along with partners, began in 2007. Agency biologists want to learn more about where hellbenders – gigantic, aquatic salamanders averaging 16 to 17 inches in length-are located and how their populations are faring.

In North Carolina, hellbenders are found only in fast-moving, clean mountain streams in the Western part of the state. Hellbenders, also called “snot otters” and “Alleghany alligators,” were once common but have disappeared throughout much of their habitat, due mainly to declining water quality and habitat degradation, and to a lesser degree to persecution from anglers who mistakenly think that hellbenders decrease trout populations.

Contrary to popular belief, hellbenders are not poisonous, venomous, toxic or harmful to humans, although they may bite if someone tries to pick them up. Leaving them alone is not only good for hellbenders but also it is the law. Hellbenders are listed as a 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.

Anyone who finds a hellbender is asked to leave it alone but to note the location (physical location or GPS coordinates) and take a photo, if possible and email that information to Lori Williams at lori.williams@ncwildlife.org. People also can call the Commission’s Wildlife Interaction Helpline (866) 318-2401 and provide details of the observation.

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