Ben here with today's edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

Ben here with today's edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

Ben here with today's edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

Welcome to the third week of Herp Month! This week, we're counting down the top five rarest salamanders in Virginia! Our number five pick is one of my absolute favorite critters: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis, the Eastern hellbender.

The Eastern hellbender is the largest salamander in North America, averaging between 12 and 20 inches in length! If you think that's impressive, you should see its cousins. The hellbender belongs to the family Cryptobranchidae, which also includes the Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) and the Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus), both of which can grow to more than five feet long! This officially makes them the largest living amphibians in the world!

While our native hellbender doesn't have anything on its Asian cousins when it comes to size, a 20-inch-long salamander is still a pretty dang big salamander! Also known by such uncharitable nicknames as "snot otter" and "devil dog," the hellbender occupies a very unique niche in its ecosystem. They live in rivers and streams with plenty of rocks to provide cover and swiftly-moving water containing a large quantity of dissolved oxygen. They absorb oxygen from the water through the capillaries in the wrinkly frills that run the length of their bodies.

Unfortunately, because they require unique habitats, hellbender populations have declined over the years due to habitat loss caused by humans. Due to the secretive nature of these critters, it's not entirely clear how large their range is, but it largely seems to follow the Appalachian Mountains and parts of the central U.S.

According to the website of the Virginia Herpetological Society, eastern hellbenders have been recorded in 13 counties in southwestern Virginia; Floyd County is the locality closest to VMNH. If you decide to go on a hellbender hunt, just remember to look but not touch!

Thank you to the Virginia Herpetological Society ( for the use of this photo, which was taken by Mike Pinder.

ABOUT #BenInNature
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends. This series of posts is made possible thanks to the support of VMNH Corporate Partner Carter Bank & Trust (

If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!

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