Hidden within the streambed architecture, a hellbender salamander peeks out from below its boulder home. For millions of years these ancient animals thrived, living amongst the cobble and bedrock of Eastern North America’s oldest mountain streams. Their wellbeing, very much tied to the health of their benthic homes. Unfortunately, hellbenders are now at great risk of disappearing due to the degradation of stream health and water quality. Increased sedimentation, resulting from silt, dirt and other pollutants running into streams, has smothered streambed environments, filling in all the holes and spaces hellbenders depend on throughout their life. This often unseen form of pollution, suffocates streambeds destroying the homes and habitat of these giant salamanders.
Often termed an aquatic “canary in a coal mine” these fully aquatic salamanders use their skin to absorb oxygen through the water, and because of this they are extremely sensitive to pollutants in the water, as well. With their habitat occurring in the headwaters of some of the largest rivers in the US, the presence or absence of hellbenders is a great indication of not only the overall health of a freshwater ecosystem, but also gives insight into the quality of water that we use in our everyday lives.
Going beneath the surface, @Freshwatersillustrated is currently working on a feature length documentary to share and celebrate the freshwater life of Southern Appalachia and the threats that face it. To learn more about this project and the life that inhabits these incredible rivers, keep an eye out for more posts from Freshwaters Illustrated as we continue our work on Hidden Rivers. Be sure to watch the trailer at by clicking on the link in our bio. A huge thanks to @nauticamhousings and @reefphotovideo for providing the equipment necessary to help us document these amazing creatures.
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