Hey, you wanna learn about the largest amphibian in the western hemisphere? You do?
Then without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to
Found in the eastern half of the United States, the Hellbender is a giant freaking salamander. They are the largest amphibian in the western hemisphere by a wide margin, with adults clocking in at around two… feet??? long. (That definitely says feet. Daaaaang.) That’s large enough to use as a blunt instrument!
No one is really sure how these giant salamanders earned the name “Hellbender”, but it is thought that white settlers thought it was “a creature from hell who was bent on returning”, or that its wrinkly skin reminded white settlers of “the horrible tortures of the infernal regions.” (White settlers should not have been allowed to name things.)
…All right, yeah, it does sort of look like it crawled out of a Bosch painting.
These days, locals just tend to give them endearing vernacular names like: Snot Otter! Lasagna Lizard! Devil Dog! Grampus! Allegheny Alligator! Aaaand for some reason, Leverian Water Newt! These poor guys just can’t catch a break. You’re hurting his feelings, guys.
But anyway, the Hellbender is found in fast water streams and rivers from New York to Missouri. They breath completely through their skin (Weird, but mammals can be judgey about this so I’ll let it slide.) and hide under large rocks on the streambed, where they feast on crayfish and also regular fish. And maybe also feet. (No, not really.) They are active at night and remain in dark areas during the day. To stay hidden, they have evolved light-sensitive cells all over their bodies. That’s right, they literally turned themselves into a single giant weird eyeball. What the heck, evolution. This seems like a good survival strategy (sort of), but it also means that to catch one you just have to go flip a bunch of muddy rocks over.
Unfortunately, human activity has been decreasing their number for years, and they are now regarded as Threatened. That said, there are many programs now in place for their recovery, including extensive captive breeding and environmental repair. Hopefully in the future these amazing giant snot otters will make a recovery. We wish only good things for the lasagna lizard.