OH Press: Local rivers house endangered amphibians

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wes

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<u>COSHOCTON TRIBUNE</u> (Ohio) 12 October 06 Local rivers house endangered amphibians (Jeff Wherley)
Nellie: Members of the Columbus Zoo have been spending time splashing through the waters of the Walhonding River near Nellie in search of hellbender homes.
The harmless amphibians are on the endangered species list, living only in Appalachian and Ozark waterways, including the Walhonding River.
Hellbenders lurk under rocks in preferably clear, faster-running streams. Their slime helps them slip through the water, where they spend their entire life, as well as escape a predator. Their prey - mostly crawdads, snails and fry.
Veterinarian Tiffany Wolf, a research associate for Columbus Zoo and The Wilds, has been collecting information about the animals' health doing physical exams, taking blood samples and collecting skin swabs.
Working with amphibians takes more training, Wolf said.
"I used to be in private practice and I saw all exotic pets. I did see a lot of reptiles, not many amphibians. There are a few other veterinarians who are working on hellbenders so we collaborate and decide exactly what we consider a healthy hellbender."
Herpetologists Greg Lipps and Ralph Pfingsten were also part of the group searching the waters Oct. 10.
Pfingsten, author of "Salamanders of Ohio," said their two trips to the Walhonding (a previous one was made in August) did not turn up any hellbenders, but that the weather may have been the biggest factor.
"It's been very frustrating this year, because when we did the original survey in 1987 and '88, they were back-to-back very droughty years, so the creeks were all very low and easy to work," he said. "They concentrated the animals in a small section of stream. We've had now three years of above-average precipitation and this year we've had regular rains this year and the streams have been at full bank. So we've had great difficulty finding them."
Lipps said the group did find quite a few mudpuppies in the Wakatomaka, the river that feeds into the Walhonding. He noted there are only two varieties of hellbenders in this part of the world.
"An eastern and an Ozark hellbender in North America (are the only species here)," Lipps said. "Their next closest are in Japan and China. Those are the Japanese Giant and the Chinese Giant Salamanders. (They get) gigantic, monstrous; several feet long, a couple of hundred of pounds."
Wolf said when people find out about these unique creatures, their response can vary.
"I've had mixed reactions ... to hellbenders," she said. "I've had people say, 'Ew, if I knew they lived there, I would never go in those streams.' And some people are amazed that we have animals like that in Ohio. They're a really cool species."
Pfingsten said hellbenders tend to be elusive, which prevents people from coming into contact with them in an average day.
"They stay under a big rock and eat crayfish," he said. "They rarely come out and if they do, it's at night. They're totally aquatic and they never leave the river."
To catch hellbenders, Pfingsten uses a logger's tool to overturn the rocks in the riverbed while others poise nets nearby to catch the slippery, fast-moving salamanders.
Wolf says changing environments and other factors are the reason the hellbender is disappearing from some rivers and streams.
"Ohio is not the only place where they are on the endangered list," she said. "A lot of the threats that hellbenders face is in habitat quality. Excess siltation in streams, because they like clear, fast-running streams, agricultural runoff is a problem, changes in streams such as dams can change their habitat. Even poaching is a threat."
Lipps said one way people can assist their work is to contact the crew should they come across a hellbender. If they're unsure of what they are looking for, he said he has resources to help people.
"They can call us, or I have a Web site, ohioamphibians.com, and they can find pictures of the hellbenders there," Lipps said. "The only one they could possibly confuse it with is the mudpuppy, and there are pictures of them there to show them that mudpuppies have external gills."
One common fallacy about the hellbender is that its bite is poisonous. Wolf says that is completely untrue.
Researchers want to see how hellbenders are faring.
"The best part of hellbenders is they are a really good indicator of stream and ecosystem health, and we're all a part of an ecosystem," Wolf said. "So if one species is declining because an ecosystem is unhealthy, that could mean there are problems that could affect us as well. So hellbenders are very important."
Pfingsten said local rivers still appear to be good homes for a hellbender.
"The streams all look good," he said. "The conditions haven't changed. The other indicator organisms are still there. We didn't realize back in '87 and '88 how lucky we were to have a drought and I guess that's when you really have to look for them."

http://www.coshoctontribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061012/NEWS01/610120306/1002
 
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alberto

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Hello Wes
Wow another good article! Wes I truly enjoy and look forward to reading them every time.
Thank you for taking the time to share them with every one in this forum.
Keep up the great work!
Best wishes to you.
 
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