Monday, October 28, 2013

Episode 185 (10-28-13): Hellbenders

Click to listen to episode (3:58)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of October 28, 2013.

This week, with Halloween approaching, we focus on an animal whose fearsome name and appearance, secretive habits, and preferred habitats make it mysterious, often misunderstood, and vulnerable.  Have a listen for about 30 seconds.


You’ve been listening to sounds from field work and a symposium presentation on North America’s largest salamander, the Eastern Hellbender, which can grow to as long as about 29 inches.  The field research and the symposium excerpt—giving various other names used for Hellbenders—are both the work of Cathy Jachowski, a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation.  The Hellbender is found in Virginia from the New River basin westward, in several other states in the Appalachian Mountains, and in the Ozark Mountains in Missouri.  For some more details about this unusual amphibian, have a listen for about 90 seconds to other sounds from the Virginia Tech research team’s field work on October 4, 2013.


With habitat changes, water pollution, and removal by humans all affecting Eastern Hellbender populations, t
he research at Virginia Tech hopes to answer questions about this remarkable aquatic animal’s biology, current distribution, and response to environmental changes.

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 10/28/13]

Virginia Tech research team measuring an Eastern Hellbender sampled from a southwestern Virginia stream on October 4, 2013.


Virginia Water Radio thanks Cathy Bodinof Jachowski for permission to record sounds of her research group on October 4, 2013.  Her research team on that day included Valentina Alaasam, John Hallagan, and Hank Vogel.  Also heard in this episode was Lindsay Key, a communications officer with the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech, who accompanied the research team on that day as an observing journalist covering Hellbender research. 

Sources and additional information:

1. Following are links to additional audio files related to this episode:
Longer sound sample from Virginia Tech Hellbender research team’s October 4, 2013, field work (6 minutes/28 seconds).

Presentation by Cathy Jachowski on Hellbenders research at the May 2013 New River Symposium in Radford, Virginia (16 minutes/47 seconds).

2.  A 3-minute, August 2012, video featuring Dr. Bill Hopkins, from the Tech Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, showing a Hellbender and discussing its biology and connection to water quality, is available online at

3.  Information on Hellbenders in Virginia is available from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), online at

3.  For a newspaper account on Hellbenders, please see Salamanders' disappearance raises pollution concerns, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 6/17/13.

4.  Detailed, scientific information on on Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is available from the AmphibiaWeb, a non-profit organization affiliated with the University of California, online at

5.  For more information on Virginia amphibians:
*Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia
, by B.S. Martof et. al., University of North Carolina Press/Chapel Hill (1980);
*Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Virginia
, J.C. Mitchell and K.K. Reay, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries/Richmond (1999); and
*Virginia Herpetological Society (VHS), online at

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