Coming Face to Face with the
Largest Salamander in the Northeast U.S.
The eastern hellbender salamander(Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleghiensis) is unique from almost all other salamanders in that it spends its entire life underwater. It is the largest salamander in the northeastern United States, reaching lengths of more than 730 mm (29 inches). Note the wrinkled flap of skin along the sides used in part to absorb oxygen from the water. It lives in larger streams and rivers in parts of the Ohio and Susquehanna river basins; however, it has declined due to pollution and other environmental issues. It feeds primarily on crayfish but will also eat other prey items occasionally such as fish, insects, and even other salamanders.
This species is nocturnal, meaning it is active mostly at night, particularly during the breeding season.
Despite its location in the heart of the bituminous coal region, Little Mahoning Creek watershed, in northern Indiana County, largely dodged the devastating impacts of abandoned mine drainage. Because of this—and the area’s rural nature—the stream is home to the eastern hellbender salamander and an impressive list of freshwater mussels, fish, and aquatic insect species. Little Mahoning Creek is classified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as a High Quality Cold Water Fishery.