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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Creature Feature: Hellbender.

Ohsnap. This blog has run out of weird creatures, so we now have to show you Satan. (Actually, I was about to repeat myself today. Good thing I caught that.) Break out your rosaries and holy water for the demonic beast called the hellbender:

AAAAAAAH- wait, what?
 

Or, if you prefer, the giant, salamander-ish turd called a hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis). Its native range is from New York to Arkansas and Kentucky. It lives only in swiftly-running water and chows down primarily on small fish and crayfish (which are considerably more hellish than this salamander). It is the biggest salamander in North America and third biggest in the entire world, growing up to two feet from head to tail.

The name 'hellbender' comes from being seen by religious nutjobs (which ALL colonists were, really). They didn't like how weird the thing looked in general. The folds on its side may also have reminded them of the tortures of the afterlife. Basically, it just looked too darn strange not to come from Hell. It has also been called "devil dog" and "mud-devil" because it looked THAT evil.

Hail derpy Satan!

The hellbender breathes through both gill slits and the rippling frill along the sides of its body. This frill is part of why the hellbender needs oxygenated, fast-running water to survive. This weird way of breathing limits its habitat options a lot. Hellbenders are very niche creatures.

The good news: Nobody has tried to steal that niche for over 65 million years. They have been living in running water since before we had a relative called Necrolemur (which should totally be a rock band). There were hellbenders in the Jurassic Period. A hellbender flipped the dinosaurs the bird after that giant meteor hit. A hellbender saw humans and went "Meh, as long as they don't touch my river." Since the hellbender has gone virtually unchanged for eons, it has been deemed a living fossil.

Put me down, whippersnapper!
 

Hellbenders are, unfortunately, disappearing. All amphibians are super-sensitive to environmental changes. Hellbenders take double the hit because they require a specific environment in which to live. Dams, pollution, and collection to see exactly WTF is going on with these guys all contribute to irreversible population loss. There's no need to make the hellbender's life Hell on Earth, too.

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