The Hellbender is one of the largest salamanders in the world, which are rivaled only by a few who are close to their size that live in China and Japan.

Once numbering literally millions, they are today not truly endangered but are limited to the healthy stream systems that are throughout the eastern United States.

Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) are extremely large, completely aquatic salamanders native to the eastern United States. The largest hellbender ever recorded was nearly 21/2 ft. long.

The Hellbender, one of the largest salamanders in the world
The Hellbender, one of the largest salamanders in the world

These salamanders need cool, clear streams and rivers with many large rocks in which to live as they feed nearly always on crayfish, although when necessary they will eat small fish and sometimes even other hellbenders.

They will also scavenge for anything that smells good carrion which is why they are quite often snagged or caught on fishing lines.

The clean streams are very important because the hellbender breathes completely and absolutely through their skin!

They have lungs, but instead of using them they completely rely on the thousands of capillaries found in the fleshy folds of skin along their body and legs to get oxygen from the water.

A family of Hellbenders, all caught in one day
A family of Hellbenders, all caught in one day

Hellbenders are the subject of many myths, however they are not poisonous when they bite, but they do emit a toxic secretion on their skin..

While not deadly touching your face, particularly near the eye area after handling one is a poor, and probably painful idea.

The Game Commission of Pennsylvania does dispel another myth about hellbenders.

They will bite, but only if they are really provoked. A common myth is that hellbenders will ‘ruin’ good fishing streams by eating all the fish. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! In fact, if you see hellbenders in a stream, this is an excellent indication that the water quality is still good — and this is good for both hellbenders and game fish.


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