Mud Devil River Delight
The Hellbender Salamander
You have probably heard the saying, “a face only a mother could love.” Well, in the case of the hellbender salamander, the largest salamander in North America, you have to wonder even about the mother. Let’s be honest. To find a creature as ugly as a hellbender salamander you probably have to look under a microscope at a bedbug or one of those scabies mites. But for those of us who love the French Broad River and its tributaries, the hellbender salamander, otherwise known as a “devil dog,” “mud devil,” or, my personal favorite, “snot otter” is one of the most beautiful creatures around these parts.
The hellbender is one of those “canary in a coal mine” creatures. Due to a most unusual mechanism of respiration through folds in their skin and their low reproductive rate they are extremely sensitive to environmental toxins and siltation in the water. They must have cool, clear and fast moving water, as well as a rocky riverbed to thrive. The fact that hellbender salamanders continue to inhabit the French Broad River watershed tells us something very important about the health of our river ecosystem.
So if you see a “snot otter” in the rivers or streams in Transylvania County, please remember that this ugly creature is a sign that the beauty of our mountains is more than skin deep.
Other Fun Critters
Check out this Red Salamander! This picture was taken on the trail to Cedar Rock Falls near the Pisgah Wildlife Center.
And what about this crazy moth! It was huge! This picture was taken during the White Squirrel Festival in front of the Continental Divide.
And check out this little guy with our friend, Waterfall Willie.