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Help the Hellbender

Purdue University
195 Marsteller Street
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2033

Hellbender Contact

Nick Burgmeier
                                                                Dr. Rod Williams
                                                                Phone: 765-494-3568

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR) Contact

Nate Engbrecht
5596 E. State Rd. 46,
Bloomington, IN 47401
Help the Hellbender Day

​​Hellbenders are only found in the Blue River watershed region of Indiana. Historically they had a much larger range, but the population dropped drastically due to pollution and other factors. There are only a few hundred hellbenders left in the state, so conservation is very important. Several organizations, such as Purdue university and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, are working on research and conservation of hellbenders as well as outreach to the public. Purdue has a captive rearing program for hellbenders and also performs research on hellbenders and how to improve conservation efforts. Several zoos in the state are working with Purdue in order to establish more captive rearing programs for hellbenders. 

Purdue University also is heavily involved in hellbender extension and outreach, includng this website, educational videos, and other literature.also participates in these education and outreach programs. Events, such as "Help the Hellbender Day", in which the Columbian park zoo hosted games and private tours of their hellbender facilities, and Purdue university brought informational booth and activities. Purdue also attends local community programs like the Master Gardener Fair, in which Purdue set up an informational booth and provided flyers and brochures about hellbender conservation and water quality. and community nature progrms are held often in order to educate the public about hellbender conservation.  The Purdue Student Chapter of Environmental Education (SCEE) is also heavily involved in hellbender outreach. SCEE participates in community nature programs and school visits in order to encourage healthy water habits.

Upcoming Events:

Where: Hickory Hollow Nature Center of O'Bannon Woods State Park
When: Saturday April 8th, at 9 a.m.
Cost: Up to Age 9: $10
          Ages 10 - 17: $15
          Age 18+: $20
Registration: Use this form​ or register online at​m


Meet Herbie:


Herbie is the mascot of the hellbender conservation movement in Indiana, although he's much bigger and much softer than a typical hellbender. Herbie can be seen at Purdue events like Help the Hellbender Day greeting all of the visitors. He loves spreading the word about hellbenders, meeting new people, and eating lots of crayfish. If you see him out and about, be sure to say hi! You can also get a picture with Herbie and post it to instagram or facebook with the hashtag  #herbie or #helpthehellbender.






At Purdue University, Dr. Williams and his lab are dedicated to hellbender research, with several graduate students focusing on different projects and several publications over the last few years. Additional information can be found at the Williams lab website. A list of publications by the Williams lab can be found here.

Obed Hernandez-Gomez
Obed Hernandez-Gomez

Obed Hernadez-Gomez is a PhD student with research focusing on immunogenetics and microbiota communities on hellbender skin. The Ozark hellbender subspecies is currently listed as endangered, and has been documented to have an increased rate of infections that lead to necrosis of the limbs and other infected areas. This pattern has not been noted on the other subspecies of hellbenders, the eastern hellbender. However, both subspecies have suffered significant population number loss within the past 30 years. He plans to first identify the bacterial and fungal communities living on the skin of both subspecies through the use of next generation sequencing (NGS) techniques. After that, he plans to use NGS to characterize the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) class I and class II genes of hellbenders. MHC genes are involved in the immune system’s ability to recognize pathogens. Eventually, he hopes to be able to compare the microbiota diversity found between the subspecies to their MHC gene composition. The goal of his project is to find if there is an immunogenetic component to the reason why the Ozark hellbender experiences more infections. If so, this information can be used to direct current hellbender breeding programs into performing artificial selection for the increase in immunogenetic potential of future hellbender populations.

Emily McCallen
Emily McCallen
Emily McCallen is a PhD student interested in utilizing geospatial technologies to examine the relationship between species and their environment. Her master’s work at Eastern Illinois University focused on creating and testing a spatially explicit distribution model to estimate contaminant burdens in North American river otters (Lontra Canadensis) on the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. For her doctoral project she will be examining the relationship between eastern hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) and their habitat within the Blue River Watershed in Southern Indiana.
Erin Kenison
Erin Kenison
Erin Kenison is a PhD student whose research focuses on advancing eastern hellbender head-starting techniques to increase the effectiveness of reintroduction-based conservation efforts for remaining populations. Drastic declines in hellbender populations have been observed nationwide and no evidence of recruitment has been documented in populations in Indiana for two decades. Moreover, very little is known about larval habitat use, behavior, movement, or reasons for their absence within the state. The objective of my doctoral work is to increase post-release survival of juveniles through novel captive-rearing methods. Specifically, she will investigate larval responses to a variety of natural conditions and stimuli presented in the laboratory while increasing understanding of the ecology and natural history of the species. In addition, She completed my Master's research at Montana State University where she studied the nonconsumptive effects of introduced trout, stocked for recreational angling, on native long-toed salamanders. Both of these projects match my broader interests in larval amphibian growth and development, predator-prey interactions, anthropogenic influences on aquatic communities, and amphibian conservation.
Former Students:Bart Kraus
Bart Kraus

Bart Kraus is a masters student with research  focused on the spatial ecology and survivorship of translocated and resident eastern hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) in the Blue River, IN. Recent population declines throughout their range have prompted concern about the persistence of this species. Indiana’s eastern hellbender population has been restricted to the Blue River, located within one of the southernmost watersheds in the state. Previous telemetry research suggests individuals are scattered throughout the river and/or are spatially isolated from one another. He hopes to increase local hellbender population densities using translocations. He will then determine their home range, both temporally and spatially, and dispersal distances (of translocated individuals) in order to help determine the feasibility of hellbender translocations. Additionally, he would like to estimate the survivorship of both translocated and resident hellbender to determine translocation success and to inform state management agencies when deciding on the future conservation efforts for this species.


Nick Burgmeier

Nick Burgmeier
Nick Burgmeier is a former masters student whose research is focused on various life history attributes and the population status of the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) in the Blue River, IN. Recent range wide declines have prompted concern about the potential viability of the species. In Indiana they are known to exist only in the Blue River, though extensive surveys have not been conducted elsewhere. He hopes to determine the home range and habitat use, both seasonally and spatially, in order to better understand the needs of the species. Additionally, he would like to estimate the remaining population size to help management agencies determine the proper course of action within the state. With help from another graduate student, he would also like to attempt exhaustive surveys in other lotic systems in an effort to locate any remaining populations.
He's also interested in the parasite loads these individuals possess as well as the potential contribution of xenobiotics to the decline the of the Indiana populations.

Shem Unger+

Shem Unger
Shem Unger is a former PhD student whose research focuses on the ecology, genetic variation, and population status of the eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis) in the Blue River, IN. These long-lived salamanders inhabit clear, cool streams with a mosaic of larger shelter rocks and gravel substrate for nest construction and larval development. Hellbender populations are in severe decline throughout their range due to increased siltation, water pollution, over-collection, and mortality by anglers. Indiana populations once found throughout the Wabash and Ohio River watersheds, are now restricted to the Blue River. Because this decline is likely the result of multiple causative agents, he will utilize a combination of field sampling techniques, laboratory simulation, and molecular marker development to investigate hellbender ecology and genetics.