(WGHP) — Officials with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission are asking the public to be on the lookout for any hellbender or mudpuppy salamanders.
Both types of aquatic salamanders are found in western North Carolina and listed in North Carolina as species of special concern. Biologists in NC want to know more about their population and where they are found in the state.
Neither the mudpuppy nor the hellbender is poisonous, venomous, toxic or harmful to humans, although they may try to bite as a defensive reaction if someone tries to pick them up. If you see one, wildlife officials ask that you leave it alone and report it.
Lori Williams, a wildlife diversity biologist with the Wildlife Commission, asks anyone who sees one of these two salamanders to note where they saw it, take a photo and share any other details with her at Lori.Williams@ncwildlife.org.
People can also call the Wildlife Commission’s NC Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401 and provide details of the observation.
It is illegal to take, possess, transport or sell mudpuppies or hellbenders or attempt to do so. The violation is a class one misdemeanor, which can result in a fine and up to 120 days in jail.
These two giant salamanders often get confused with one another, but they have distinct differences.
Hellbenders are the largest aquatic salamanders in North America and are usually only found in fast-moving, clean mountain streams. They can grow to two feet long but average 16 to 17 inches long.
Hellbenders have flat, broad heads, flattened bodies with wrinkly skin on their sides, are brown and sometimes mottled with dark splotches.
They are sometimes also referred to as “water dogs,” “snot otters,” or “Alleghany alligators.”
Mudpuppies are smaller than hellbenders and can grow over a foot long but average around eight to 10 inches in length. Mudpuppies have light brown, smooth skin that is typically speckled with spots and red external feathery gills.
They primarily live in deep rivers, lakes, large ponds and reservoirs but also thrive in unpolluted streams like the hellbender.
“We know less about mudpuppies than we do about hellbenders, but we’d like to know much more about both,” Williams said. “Challenging logistics in lake systems have made it difficult for us to conduct mudpuppy population surveys, but those habitats may be hot spots. Mudpuppies are attracted to baited hooks in lakes and deep rivers, so anglers fishing from boats may catch one. We need anyone who fishes deep river sites and impounded waters to let us know if they find one.”
Hellbenders have been the focus of a long-term inventory and monitoring study wildlife officials have been conducting with partners since 2007.
Their populations have decreased mainly due to declining water quality and habitat degradation but also, to a lesser degree, ill-treatment from anglers who mistakenly think they decrease trout populations.
The don’t decrease trout populations, however, both hellbenders and mudpuppies may go after fish on a line or stringer when scavenging for an easy meal.
Their main source of prey is crayfish, but they will also eat minnows, snails, tadpoles, worms, discarded bait or other injured or dead animals.
You can learn more by visiting the NC Partners in Amphibians and Reptile Conservation’s mudpuppy webpage and the Wildlife Commission’s hellbender webpage.