Hellbenders Need You to Stop Messing With Their Bedrooms

Like many misunderstood and undervalued creatures in the country’s wilds, the hellbender faces innumerable threats from poisoned water to climate change. But this creature—one that has survived some of Earth’s most dramatic changes—also faces an additional threat. And that threat involves people messing with its bedroom. Seriously.

Hellbenders have a home range of about 70 yards. From larvae until death, they live in the same small stretch of cold, eastern river. Hellbenders live under rocks, those pretty river stones people collect for their gardens or stack as cairns. The rocks protect them from predators like otters and mink and give them a place to wait while hunting passing crayfish.

As young, small hellbenders, they live under smaller rocks with gravel allowing an increase in oxygen flow. When they grow and age, they find larger rocks with larger-sized gravel underneath to call their homes.

That means every time a stream is dredged for gravel, or a path is blown up with dynamite for people to use for tubing, or tourists make another cairn for a pretty Instagram picture, or a homeowner gathers a pile of rocks for their garden, a hellbender could be displaced or die.

Efforts by state agencies and many zoos are studying the creatures, raising them in captivity and releasing them back into streams. Citizens groups and nonprofits have made strides to raise awareness. Scientific research is also increasing to better understand the animals.

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