ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Hellbenders are the largest aquatic salamanders in North America and Missouri’s official endangered species. Now, the St. Louis Zoo says 800 more of them have been released this summer to their native homes in Ozark rivers.

The zoo says that they are meeting their goals to return more of them to the state’s waterways. They are currently preparing to collect eggs from the wild and to continue a captive breeding program for future releases.

Since 2008 there have been 9,476 St. Louis Zoo raised hellbenders released to the wild. In 2020 and 2021, more than 1,800 hellbenders were successfully reintroduced.

Missouri is the only state to have both subspecies of hellbenders, the Ozark and Eastern. They are both listed as federally endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hellbender populations have declined more than 70 percent over the past 40 years. There is a 96 percent chance of extinction over the next 75-years without help from programs like the one at the St. Louis Zoo.

Learn more about the hellbender’s journey home here.

Fun facts:

  • Other names for the hellbender include “snot otter” and “old lasagna sides.”
  • Their closest relatives are in China and Japan.
  • They can live over 25 years.
  • Their diet includes crayfish, fish, worms and snails.