It’s official: Last month, the state Legislature approved a bill to make North America’s largest salamander, the eastern hellbender—known to some as the snot otter, devil dog, the Allegheny alligator or the lasagna lizard—Pennsylvania’s state amphibian.
The eastern hellbender is an incredible animal. It can grow to be more than two feet long, weigh more than 6 pounds, and live for more than 50 years. Yet it is a species of concern, as its populations have been decimated in Pennsylvania, and it faces threats from pollution, deforestation and encroaching development. Sadly, in March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to add the hellbender to the federal endangered species list.
Now that we’ve anointed the eastern hellbender, we have to take the next steps to protect it. While many states have put the hellbender on their endangered species lists, Pennsylvania has not. And it’s crucial for state environmental officials to work aggressively to reduce pollution and other threats facing the hellbender. It’s one thing to designate the eastern hellbender as Pennsylvania’s state amphibian, but it’s another thing to take the steps necessary to protect it.
Photo: An eastern hellbender salamander. Credit: Brian Gratwicke via Flickr (CC-by-2.0)