Despite their devilish name, hellbenders — a species of salamander that averages about 2 feet in length — are nothing to fear and can be found in Transylvania County’s freshwater streams and rivers.
The hellbender has long been a target of fishermen, as they wrongly believe the creature eats trout. In fact, they are bottom-dwelling animals that mainly eat crayfish. Educational efforts have helped to dispel the falsehoods about the amphibians, which make their homes in the spaces underneath rocks in the water.
Another way to protect the hellbender is for the public not to move rocks in the water.
Hellbenders are what biologists refer to as “indicator species,” meaning a healthy population of them indicates that water quality levels are high and they are happy. Typically, a female hellbender will come along and lays its eggs and then the male fertilizes them.
This time of the year, hellbenders are active after a long winter. They do not eat much all winter, lowering their metabolisms. In spring, they spend a lot of time foraging for crayfish and will scavenge for dead fish on riverbanks. If anyone sees a hellbender on dry land, it’s probably one that has been caught by a human and injured or intentionally harmed.
Hellbenders are a protected species in North Carolina. It is illegal and unethical to harm, harass, collect or kill hellbenders.
People can help by spreading the word among their friends and families to leave these animals alone.