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Assessment Results

© 2010 John White (1 of 49 )

AmphibiaWeb species account

IUCN Red List assessment

Conservation Needs Assessment

Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi,   Ozark Hellbender
Assessed for:  United States   on: 03 Apr 2018   by: Alicia Mathis  
Assessment Status: Completed  
Order:   Caudata     Family:   Cryptobranchidae

IUCN Global Red List:   Near Threatened (NT)   
IUCN National Red List:   (not assessed)   
Distribution:     United States  
Evolutionary Distinctiveness score:   92.4857998702622 
Recommended Conservation Actions:   In Situ Conservation  , In Situ Research  , Ex Situ Research  , Conservation Education   
Additional Comments:   Initial assessment data compiled by Stanley E. Trauth from “Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species”, edited by Michael Lannoo (©2005 by the Regents of the University of California), used with permission of the editor. The book is available from UC Press, http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9484.html, and species accounts can be found on AmphibiaWeb, www.amphibiaweb.org. Original species account transcribed by Kevin Johnson. 

Question #Short NameQuestion TextResponseComments
1 Extinction risk Current IUCN Red List category. [Data obtained from the IUCN Red List.] Near Threatened (NT) Ozark hellbenders, C. a. bishopi, are federally listed as endangered in the USA; the range of this subspecies is limited to parts of Arkansas and Missouri. The eastern subspecies, C. a. alleganiensis, is not yet federally listed as endangered. Hellbenders are classified as Endangered in Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio; Rare in Georgia; Of Special Concern or Species of Concern in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia; Watch List in Missouri; and Deemed in Need of Management in Tennessee. The actual degree of protection each of these designations afford varies by state, but generally, Endangered status requires that a permit be secured before a hellbender can be captured and provides penalties for possessing hellbenders without such a permit. The other categories listed above do not afford this level of protection, but do allow for some acknowledgment that the future of the species within their boundaries is not totally secure. Other states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia track hellbender distribution records in a database, but do not generally afford them protection from take. Pennsylvania apparently neither tracks hellbender records nor protects them from take.
2 Possibly extinct Is there a strong possibility that this species might be extinct in the wild? No / unlikely
3 Phylogenetic significance The taxon’s Evolutionary Distinctiveness (ED) score, as generated by the ZSL EDGE program. (These data are not editable by Assessors). ED value 50-100
4 Protected habitat Is a population of at least 50% of the individuals of the taxon included within a reliably protected area or areas? No / unlikely
5 Habitat for reintroduction Does enough suitable habitat exist, either within or outside of currently protected areas that is suitable for potential reintroduction or translocation? Yes / probably
6 Previous reintroductions Have reintroduction or translocation attempts been made in the past for this species? Yes, successfully Captive reared individuals have been released in Missouri and Arkansas (e.g., Bodinof et al. Herpetologica 68:160-173. 2012; Jeff Briggler, MO State Herpetologist, pers comm), with initial success. It is not known whether released individuals will be reproductively successful. (Eastern subspecies: Have been released by Buffalo Zoo and other US zoos with unknown outcome)
7 Threat mitigation Are the threats facing the taxon, including any new and emerging threats not considered in the IUCN Red List, potentially reversible? Threats are likely to be reversible in time frame to prevent further decline / extinction Threats are likely reversible, but the exact cause of the dramatic population decline is not known. Possibilities: habitat degradation (e.g., sedimentation), water pollution, chytrid fungus or other pathogens, introduced trout
8 Over-collection from the wild Is the taxon suffering from unsustainable collection within its natural range, either for food, for the pet trade or for any other reason, which threatens the species’ continued persistence in the wild? Yes / probably At least historically, yes (Nickerson and Briggler, Applied Herpetology, Volume 4(3), 207 – 216). Removal was for the purpose of the pet trade and research.
9 Population recovery Is the known population of this species in the wild large enough to recover naturally, without ex situ intervention if threats are mitigated? Unknown
10 Biological distinctiveness Does the taxon exhibit, for example, a distinctive reproductive mode, behaviour, aspect of morphology or physiology, within its Class (e.g. Amphibia, Reptilia etc.)? Aspect of biology shared with < 6 other species One of two genera in the family Cryptobranchidae and the only genus in North America. Taxonomy to species level is unresolved within the genus. Unique features include wrinkled skin for cutaneous respiration, large size (hellbenders are largest salamanders in North America) and age (30+ years). Paternal care represents a rare behavior in salamanders, although not unique to the family.
11 Cultural/socio-economic importance Does the taxon have a special human cultural value (e.g. as a national or regional symbol, in a historic context, featuring in traditional stories) or economic value (e.g. food, traditional medicine, tourism) within its natural range or in a wider global context? Yes Because of their unique appearance and limited distribution, Ozark hellbenders have been the subject of numerous news articles and are sometimes referred to as being iconic of the region. They are not of particularly economic importance.
12 Scientific importance Is the species vital to current or planned research other than species-specific ecology/biology/conservation? (e.g. human medicine, climate change, environmental pollutants and conservation science), within its Class (e.g. Amphibia, Reptilia etc.)? No research dependent on this species
13 Ex situ research Does conserving this species (or closely related species) in situ depend upon research that can be most easily carried out ex situ? Yes Captive rearing/breeding is likely necessary for ultimate conservation. Such efforts are in progress at the St. Louis Zoo in cooperation with the Missouri Dept of Conservation
14 Husbandry analog Do the biological and ecological attributes of this species make it suitable for developing husbandry regimes for more threatened related species? i.e. could this species be used in captivity to help to develop husbandry and breeding protocols which could be used for a similar, but more endangered species at a later stage? No (Tim Herman, pers. comm.).
15 Captive breeding Has this species been successfully maintained and bred in captivity? Yes, bred to F1 Maintained and bred at St. Louis Zoo (Tim Herman, pers. comm.; Herpetological Review, 2013, 44(4), 605–610) and Detroit Zoo (C. a. alleganiensis).
16 Educational potential Is the species especially diurnal/active/colourful and therefore suited to be an educational ambassador for conservation of this group of species? Yes The public is generally interested in this species because of its unique appearance. They are popular in exhibits in zoos and nature centers. Educational programs have been instituted by several organizations.
17 Mandate Is there an existing conservation mandate recommending the ex situ conservation of this taxon? Yes Captive breeding programs are underway at the St. Louis zoo in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Arkansas Game and Fish has participated in release of captive-reared individuals
18 Range State approval Would a proposed ex situ initiative for this species be supported (and approved) by the range State (either within the range State or out-of-country ex situ)? Yes / probably
19 Founder specimens Are sufficient animals of the taxon available or potentially available (from wild or captive sources) to initiate the specified ex situ program? Yes / probably
20 Taxonomic status Has a complete taxonomic analysis of the species in the wild been carried out, to fully understand the functional unit you wish to conserve (i.e. have species limits been determined)? No Research into species validity needs to be prioritised. C. a. bishopi may eventually be split into additional species. According to Crowhurst et al. (2011, Conservation Genetics 12(3), 637–64): "Our results confirmed previous reports that C. a. bishopi and C. a. alleganiensis are genetically distinct, but also revealed an equidistant relationship between two groups within C. a. bishopi and all populations of C. a. alleganiensis. Current subspecies delineations do not accurately incorporate genetic structure, and for conservation purposes, these three groups should be considered evolutionarily significant units."

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