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Eastern hellbender makes state’s official amphibian

Photo from the Virgina Department of Game & Inland Fisheries The eastern hellbender, designated as Pennsylvania’s state amphibian by Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday.

Say hello to the eastern hellbender.

Why?

It’s now officially the State Amphibian.

Governor Tom Wolf signed off on Senate Bill 9 on Tuesday making the designation.

“Today’s ceremony is about more than a declaration of an official state amphibian,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “It’s about reaffirming our commitment to protecting our waters in Pennsylvania.”

“Clean water is critical for the hellbender and we need to continue to do our part to improve water quality in the commonwealth so that the state first amphibian can thrive.”

According to the governor’s office, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s student leaders “spearheaded efforts to recognize the eastern hellbender and create greater awareness of the largest salamander in North America’s role in demonstrating the critical need to reduce population in Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams.

The designation of the eastern hellbender as the state amphibian is the first such designation since 1974 when the firefly was designated the state insect.

A 2017 dive team on the Allegheny in Warren County looking for invasive zebra mussels came across a hellbender, calling it “a big one.”

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the hellbender’s range extends from New York to Illinois in the west and to Mississippi to the south.

They note that the hellbender is found “solely in the Susquehanna and Allegheny River drainages” in New York and prefers “swift running, well oxygenated, unpolluted streams and rivers.”

Per the governor’s office, the hellbender is nocturnal and can grow to over two feet long and prefer “rocky stream beds for crevices, which they use for protection and nesting sites.”

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