I’ve wanted to see a live
and wild Hellbender Salamander for some time now. Not grasping the seriousness
of this animals decline in Missouri, I’ve
opted for searching rivers relatively close to home that historically held populations of these salamanders. Coming up empty handed again and again prompted me to look a little further away from home. I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment after searching seemingly perfect habitat, in localities
known for having large populations not so many years ago, and finding nothing.
Finally, I decided to put in
still a few more miles. This landed me and my partner Brian Scheidt in a river
known for having an existing (yet declining) population of Ozark Hellbenders. The
plan was to simply canoe a section of river that held known localities and stop and search the better sections of habitat
along the way.
The day started much like many
have this summer, trying to talk myself into dawning a mask and snorkel and entering the frigid water. It wasn’t long before my enthusiasm overcame my reluctance to penetrate the water and I was off turning
rocks yet again. Most of the morning was spent trying to identify crayfish and
then very carefully replacing the rocks just as we found them.
Upon lifting another rock just
like the countless before it, I noticed a mottled object and figured it was just another Rock Bass like the many I had already
uncovered that day. But as the sediment cleared the Rock Bass turned into the
unmistakable shape of a beautiful Hellbender Salamander. Elated we quickly took
a few photos, recorded the locality data, and let the salamander crawl back under its rock.
Ideally I would have liked to
have spent more time trying to get better photos but thought it best not to induce anymore stress on the salamander than necessary. The rest of the day was spent just soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the river;
after finding a perfect, healthy, adult we though it unnecessary to disturb anymore habitat searching for another.
While I couldn’t be happier
with finding this individual, all that I’ve learned coupled with all of my unsuccessful trips have painted a bleak picture
for me regarding the future of this exclusively Ozark animal.