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Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition: Eastern Hellbender Close To Being Named PA’s State Amphibian

The Eastern Hellbender appears to be well on its way to being officially named the state amphibian of Pennsylvania.  Legislation designating the Eastern Hellbender as “State Amphibian” was approved on November 15 by the state Senate.
The Eastern Hellbender is native to certain areas where water quality is pristine, so it serves as what is called a “natural indicator” species due to its sensitivity to poor water quality and pollution.
If hellbenders are found in a particular waterway, it can be assumed that water is of high quality.
Three species of salamanders make up about 20 percent of herptile groups in the Slippery Rock Watershed. It is exciting to know this particular species of aquatic giant salamander is found in our area!
The unique and curiously likable creature is the largest North American salamander. Its nicknames include snot otter, devil dog, and mud devil. It can grow up to 29 inches and weigh up to five pounds.
Hellbenders are solitary, nocturnal, and elusive. Their relatively flat heads and bodies allow them to hide under rocks.
They prefer shallow, clear, and fast streams, and need cold, clean water to survive.
Researchers from Lycoming College in Williamsport say hellbenders have lived in rivers and streams throughout much of Pennsylvania, except for the Delaware River watershed. The species has lasted through ice ages but is now in decline.
Researchers say the population is shrinking because of pollution and warmer water. In Pennsylvania, mine drainage and sedimentation also contribute to the decline.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania Student Leadership Council, consisting of high school students, invested many hours studying the Eastern Hellbender and the problems the amphibian is facing within the state.
With assistance from Lycoming College, the students drafted Senate Bill 658 and met with elected officials to outline why they felt it should be the state amphibian.
Peter Petokas, Ph.D., Amphibian Conservation Biologist at Lycoming College and faculty member of the College’s Clean Water Institute, applauded Senate action.
“Passage of Senate Bill 658 takes the Eastern Hellbender one step closer to the status of official amphibian of the State of Pennsylvania, a designation that it uniquely deserves and which will help promote conservation programs that protect and sustain the unique amphibian resources of the Commonwealth.”
We applaud the initiative of the students and hope their efforts will be rewarded. Senate Bill 658 now moves to the House of Representatives.
If approved by the House and signed by the Governor, the Eastern Hellbender would join the ranks of the White-Tail Deer as the State Animal, Ruffed Grouse as the State Bird, the Great Dane as the State Dog and the Brook Trout as the State Fish.
Related Stories:
(Reprinted from the December edition of the Catalyst newsletter by the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition in Butler County.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)

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