Kimberly Terrell, Ph.D.
Wildlife Biologist, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
In Virginia, hellbenders are found in the main-stem and tributaries of the New River drainage and in the Clinch, Powell, and Holston River tributaries of the Upper Tennessee River. In Virginia, hellbenders have been observed in streams as small as 5 meters and rivers over 100 meters wide. Because of their preference for clean streams and rivers, hellbenders serve as indicators of stream health. The presence of young and adults is synonymous with good water quality.
The eastern hellbender is a Federal Species of Concern. In Virginia, it is listed as a species of special concern and as a Tier II species in the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan.
Hellbenders cannot be sold, killed, or kept for personal use.
Several efforts are underway in Virginia to conserve and manage hellbender populations. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has produced an educational poster and a website to better inform the public about the plight of this species. In selected rivers in southwest Virginia, the Department is contracting researchers from Virginia Tech to assess hellbender populations in a variety of landscapes such as forested and agricultural. Techniques are being refined to cultivate hellbenders in captivity at the Department's Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center near Marion, Virginia. Eggs that are abandoned or dislodged from nests are collected from nearby rivers and held in aquaria to determine their potential to hatch. To date, we have been able to hatch 60 hellbenders. Twenty juveniles have been released back to their natal streams. In the future, laboratory cultivation may be an effective tool to augment and re-establish the species back into their former range.
More information regarding Hellbenders in Virginia can be found at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries site.
For more information about Hellbenders visit the Salamander Science site.