Got a healthy stream? You've probably got a hellbender.
I'm sorry, ma'am, did you say "hellbender"?
The Appalachian hellbenders sounds like a great name for a biker gang.
But that's not it. Appalachian hellbenders are giant salamanders.
They're called the last dragons.
You can find them hiding in rock dens, fighting on the silty floor, and floating through their underwater kingdom.
The Appalachian hellbender lives in the healthiest streams in the Eastern United States. Finding one is a sure sign that the ecosystem is flourishing. They're having a rough time, but you can help them by doing absolutely nothing.
When you look out at the river, it doesn't look like much. Some rocks, maybe a fish swimming by. But put on a mask and get down in there, and you'll find a magical world.
They blend in well. You might not see them at all. But just because you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there. The hellbender is a sign of a healthy stream. It's an indicator species — a sensitive animal that gives an early alert for environmental problems. Many ecosystems have indicator species. Lichen, for example, can alert us to air pollution. Mollusks can indicate whether water is becoming dangerously contaminated.
If you find a hellbender, your stream is doing well. If dead hellbenders start turning up, it's an early sign of a problem.
Some environmental problems are hard to solve, but you can help keep your streams healthy every time you visit.
People love to move rocks around to make dams or chutes. They're having a good time, but they don't realize that the hellbenders need those rocks right where they are.
The hellbender might live in the same little hollow under a rock for years. When you move it, they become homeless. And they die.
It's a tiny thing we can do this summer to help keep our streams healthy. Leave those rocks alone ... and maybe put on a snorkel to try spotting a hellbender.
Check out this video for amazing footage of the hellbender's underwater world. And even though there's some sad stuff in here, stick with it. There's real hope for the hellbender.