The Saint Louis Zoo's Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation and the Missouri Department of Conservation announced on Nov. 30, 2011, that Ozark hellbenders have been bred in captivitya first for either of the two subspecies of hellbender. This decade-long collaboration has yielded 63 baby hellbenders.
The first hellbender hatched on Nov. 15, and currently there are approximately 120 additional eggs that should hatch within the next week. The eggs are maintained in climate- and water quality-controlled trays behind the scenes in the Zoo's Herpetarium. For 45 to 60 days after emerging, the tiny larvae will retain their yolk sack for nutrients and move very little as they continue their development. As the larvae continue to grow, they will develop legs and eventually lose their external gills by the time they reach 1.5 to 2 years of age. At sexual maturity, at 5 to 8 years of age, adult lengths can approach two feet. Both parents are wild bred: the male has been at the Zoo for the past two years and the female arrived this past September.
Rivers in south-central Missouri and adjacent Arkansas once supported up to 8,000 Ozark hellbenders. Today, fewer than 600 exist in the worldso few that the amphibian was added in October 2011 to the federal endangered species list.
Due to these drastic declines, captive propagation became a priority in the long-term recovery of the species. Once the captive-bred larvae are 3 to 8 years old, they can then be released into their natural habitatthe Ozark aquatic ecosystem.
Also known by the colloquial names of "snot otter" and "old lasagna sides," the adult hellbender is one of the largest species of salamanders in North America, with its closest relatives being the giant salamanders of China and Japan, which can reach five feet in length.
With skin that is brown with black splotches, the Ozark hellbender has a slippery, flattened body that moves easily through wa
|Contact: Christy Childs|
Saint Louis Zoo