Hellbender Removal

This project involves the removal of Eastern Hellbenders during the construction activities to replace an existing bridge in the Ozark region in southern Missouri.  This will protect the animals from impacts of construction activities.  Hellbenders will be housed at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery during bridge construction.  Upon completion of the bridge, and removal of the old bridge, habitat (large rocks) will be augmented into the river, and hellbenders will be release back into the river. A brief article, “D9 Helps Create a Habitat Where Hellbenders Can Feel at Home,” was presented in MoDOT’s statewide newsletter, Connections.

The Hellbender is a large salamander that needs fresh flowing uncontaminated water, a clean environment, and a little bit of understanding.  One of the largest salamanders in the world, it is peaceful, non-venomous, and eats crayfish and the occasional minnow.  In Missouri, there are two subspecies of Hellbenders:  the Eastern and Ozark.

Their population is declining because of habitat loss from silt caused by poorly managed land use and development.  Both subspecies of Hellbenders are endangered species in Missouri.

Additional information is provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation in their document “the Hellbender”.  The U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service also provides information at their website on the Ozark Hellbender and in the National Parks Conservation Association magazine article, “Fighting the Current:  Can North America’s biggest, oldest salamander survive changing times?

Project Stages

The protect duration was from the Fall of 2008 through the Spring of 2010 and consisted of five stages:

  1. Preparation of holding facility:  The Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery (Missouri Department of Conservation – MDC) in Branson housed and cared for the hellbenders for the duration of the project.  

  2. Conducting surveys and removal of hellbenders:  Capture and removal of hellbenders incorporated 7 sampling events for a minimum of 6 surveyors/trip.  

  3. Transportation of hellbenders to holding facility:  Upon removal of hellbenders after each survey in 2008, MDC staff transported the hellbenders using appropriate transportation protocols to the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery.

  4. Maintenance and care of hellbenders at holding facility:  All hellbenders removed during the survey trips were maintained at the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery and provided care by hatchery staff for the duration of this project.  The housing and care for these hellbenders was approximately 2 years.

  5. Restore suitable hellbender habitat:  Once major construction work was completed, MDC acquired and augmented large flat rocks back into the stream.  MoDOT provided a crane and operator to facilitate placement of some of the larger rocks.

  6. Return the hellbenders to the stream:  Once the construction project and the habitat augmentation was completed, the hellbenders were returned to the stream from the hatchery.