Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Julie Grant, The Allegheny Front

In Ohio, the hellbender population is declining. Are pipelines affecting this ancient salamander?

18-year-old Theresa Paff cares for eastern hellbender salamanders at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio.

Julie Grant

18-year-old Theresa Paff cares for eastern hellbender salamanders at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio.

High school students in Nicole Costello’s small reptiles class at the Penta Career Center in Toledo, Ohio are learning firsthand how to foster an aquatic species that experts say is in decline: the eastern hellbender salamander.

In a bio-secured room on campus, 18-year-old Theresa Paff is among the students cleaning the glass tanks and cutting up worms to feed to the young Hellbenders they’re raising. “They always like to move, and they’re so slimy and slippery,” she says as she picks up a 3-year-old salamander in her care. It’s really hard to hold.”

These are not the colorful little salamanders you might be imagining. They’re flat, brown and mottled with wrinkly sides and beady eyes. Their good looks have earned them nicknames like snot otters, Allegheny alligators and old lasagna sides. Some people would say they’re so ugly they’re cute,” says Greg Lipps, an expert on hellbenders at Ohio State University who works with the high school program. “Everything about them is made to live underneath a big rock in tight spots and darkness,” Lipps says.

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