The St. Louis Zoo announced Wednesday that it has successfully bred the Ozark hellbender, which has been listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Also known by the colloquial names of snot otter and old lasagna sides, the adult hellbender is one of the largest species of salamanders in North America.
The zoo has been working with the Missouri Department of Conservation for 10 years to try to breed the Ozark hellbender, one of two subspecies of the hellbender that is native to southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. After several failed attempts, the zoo discovered the right combination of conditions this year to breed hellbenders.
According to a news release, the first hellbender hatched on Nov. 15. Sixty-three babies have hatched and there are approximately 120 more eggs that should hatch within the next week. Both parents were brought in from the wild. The male has been at the Zoo for the past two years and the female arrived this September.
The zoo plans to release the animals into Missouri river after the amphibians reach maturity, about three to eight years from now.
Capillaries near the surface of the hellbender's skin absorb oxygen directly from the water - as well as hormones, heavy metals and pesticides, said Jeff Ettling, Saint Louis Zoo curator of herpetology and aquatics. If there is something in the water that is causing the hellbender population to decline, it can also be affecting the citizens who call the area home, added Ettling.
We have a 15- to 20-year window to reverse this decline, added Missouri Department of Conservation Herpetologist Jeff Briggler, who cites a number of reasons for that decline from loss of habitat to pollution to disease to illegal capture and overseas sale of the hellbender for pets. We don't want the animal disappearing on our watch.