Some of the world’s largest salamanders, once a rare sight in New York state, are squirming anew into upstate streams with the help of the Bronx Zoo.
Also known as "snot otters," "devil dogs" and "Allegheny alligators," eastern hellbenders can be found underneath rocks in swift-flowing streams. They have flat reddish-brown heads and bodies and slimy, wrinkly skin.
The zoo released 38 eastern hellbender salamanders into the wild this month, along with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Buffalo Zoo.
The salamanders can grow up to 2 feet long and live their entire lives underwater in parts of western New York, but their populations are shrinking, due to disease, pollution and habitat destruction.
"The hellbender is an important part of our state’s aquatic biodiversity and it’s clear we have to take dramatic steps to ensure its continued presence in New York," said Patricia Riexinger, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Each of the salamanders released was hatched at the Buffalo Zoo in 2009 and raised in the Bronx Zoo’s Amphibian Propagation Center, a facility not open to the general public. They are being released into the Allegheny River, the same place the amphibians were gathered as eggs.
Before being released into the river, which crosses into Pennsylvania near Salamanca, the animals were tagged with a microchip that identifies them for future research.
Eastern hellbenders are the third-largest species of salamander in the world surpassed only by the Japanese giant salamander and the Chinese hellbender, both of which can grow to be 6 feet long.