Friends of the High Country State Parks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of N.C. State Parks and Natural Areas in the High Country, is assisting efforts to protect the eastern hellbender in the New River. It is often also known as the “snot otter” due to its slimy texture. The hellbender is a large salamander that lives in the rivers that drain the Southern Appalachian Mountains. It is listed as a species of “special concern” in Southern states, and it needs clean, clear, cold water to survive.
The hellbenders’ presence in a river is a reliable indicator of river health as the health of the river is in direct correlation with the health of the hellbender population. Problems affecting the health of these river dwellers include soil erosion, warming water temperatures and deaths caused by misinformed anglers.
Soil erosion that finds its way to the river smothers hellbender eggs and makes it difficult for young hellbenders to breathe. Warm waters, caused by fewer overhanging shade trees, support less dissolved oxygen. Some fishermen, unaware that snot otters are both harmless to humans and fish populations, kill the harmless animal. By monitoring these giant salamanders, biologists are able to gage the health of the river which also affects human.
How does one catch a slimy snot otter? By hand. Once the harmless hellbender is secured, a small PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag is inserted into the individual. It is much like some those used on pets for identification purposes. For more information, visit “Friends of High Country State Parks” on Facebook or http://www.hellbenders.org.