Re: NANFA-- Columbia trip gear (hellbenders plus!)

Bruce Stallsmith (
Wed, 07 Jan 2004 19:39:46 -0500

>I'll admit I haven't followed the literature on hellbenders, so if the
>is there then I stand corrected. But denial based on lack of evidence is
>the same thing as rationalization. My point was not intended to be "they
>do it,
>therefore so can I" but rather "I don't see any facts showing that removal
>hellbenders by fishermen is contributing to their extinction, therefore
>there is
>even less rationale behind the suggestion that aquarists are causing harm."

OK, fair enough. Following is much of the commentary from the site on the status of hellbenders. The major threat to
hellbenders is habitat degradation. But both fishing bycatch and collecting
have effects on local populations. Hellbenders are also not very fecund, so
their populations recover slowly if at all from any local disasters. At
least one NANFA member is cited below, B.K. Wagner from Arkansas who was at
last year's NANFA convention.
Global Trend Comments: Though abundant in certain areas, there have been
significant local population declines in many areas throughout the range
(Nickerson and Mays 1973, Williams et al. 1981). Minton (1972) stated that
the species "seems well on its way to extinction in Indiana." Apparently
secure in Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West
Virginia. In the Missouri Ozarks, recent surveys indicate that populations
appear to be stable and in high enough numbers to ensure their continued
presence (see Figg 1993). In Arkansas, a decline was noted in the early
1990s (1992, End. Sp. Tech. Bull. 17[9-11]:14). A formerly abundant
population in the Spring River, Arkansas, apparently declined in the 1990s
(B. K. Wagner, H. Kucuktas, and R. Shopen, unpublished abstract).

Threats: A habitat specialist with little tolerance of environmental change
(Williams et al. 1981). Degradation of habitat is the principal threat. This
animal breathes primarily (approximately 90%) through the skin (Guimond
1970) and is therefore dependent on cool, well-oxygenated, flowing water.
Construction of dams stops swift water flow and submerges riffles. Logging,
mining, road construction and maintenance, and other activities can cause
extensive sedimentation that covers the loose rock and gravel important to
nest sites, shelter, and food production. In Illinois, "most former rocky
habitat has been buried under silt" (Phillips et al. 1999). Chemical
pollutants and acid mine drainage are probably destructive, especially to
eggs and larvae. Thermal pollution of water with a consequent oxygen loss
would be detrimental. Several streams in Alabama "have been polluted,
impounded, or otherwise modified to the extent that they are, from all
indications, incapable of supporting hellbender populations" (Mount
1975:109). Injuries and deaths sometimes result when the salamanders are
hooked by anglers. Some fishermen still believe that hellbenders are
dangerously poisonous and also destroy game fish and their eggs (both
beliefs are false), and kill them at every opportunity. In the past, there
were even attempts by organized sportman's groups in West Virginia to
eradicate them. There is some collecting of hellbenders for sale as live
animals or as preserved specimens. Overcollecting has been considered a
serious threat in Arkansas (Osborne, pers. comm. 1992); a decline was noted
in the early 1990s, apparently due to collecting (1992, End. Sp. Tech. Bull.
17[9-11]:14). Nickerson and Mays (1973) noted additional factors they
suspected may affect local populations, such as gigging, heavy canoe
traffic, dynamiting of large boulders to enhance commercial canoe traffic,
and riverside cattle and hog pens. Hellbenders generally are intolerant of
heavy recreational use of habitat.

Fragility Comments: Low vagility and recruitment rate make this species
vulnerable to local extirpation.

submitted by:
Bruce Stallsmith
Huntsville, AL, US of A

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