Chordates •


(Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)



The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), also known as the hellbender salamander, is a species of aquatic giant salamander endemic to the eastern and central United States. It is the largest salamander in North America. A member of the family Cryptobranchidae, the hellbender is the only extant member of the genus Cryptobranchus. Other closely related salamanders in the same family are in the genus Andrias, which contains the Japanese and Chinese giant salamanders. The hellbender, which is much larger than all other salamanders in its geographic range, employs an unusual means of respiration (which involves cutaneous gas exchange through capillaries found in its dorsoventral skin folds), and fills a particular niche—both as a predator and prey—in its ecosystem, which either it or its ancestors have occupied for around 65 million years. The species is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. C. alleganiensis has a flat body and head, with beady dorsal eyes and slimy skin. Like most salamanders, it has short legs with four toes on the front legs and five on its back limbs, and its tail is keeled for propulsion. The hellbender has working lungs, but gill slits are often retained, although only immature specimens have true gills; the hellbender absorbs oxygen from the water through capillaries of its side frills. It is blotchy brown or red-brown in color, with a paler underbelly. Both males and females grow to an adult length of 24 to 40 cm (9.4 to 15.7 in) from snout to vent, with a total length of 30 to 74 cm (12 to 29 in), making them the fourth-largest aquatic salamander species in the world (after the South China giant salamander, the Chinese giant salamander and the Japanese giant salamander, respectively) and the largest amphibian in North America, although this length is rivaled by the reticulated siren of the southeastern United States (although the siren is much leaner in build). An adult weighs 1.5 to 2.5 kg (3.3 to 5.5 lb), making them the fifth heaviest living amphibian in the world after their South China, Chinese and Japanese cousins and the goliath frog, while the largest cane toads may also weigh as much as a hellbender. Hellbenders reach sexual maturity at about five years of age, and may live 30 years in captivity.

Taxonomic tree:

Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Amphibia
News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day