Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Department of Conservation Announce World’s First Captive Breeding of Ozark Hellbenders-Salamander Numbers Drastically Down in the Wild
Decade-Long Collaboration of Zoo and Federal, State Scientists Yields 63 Baby Hellbenders
ST. LOUIS, Nov. 30, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Saint Louis Zoo’s Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation and the Missouri Department of Conservation today announced that Ozark hellbenders have been bred in captivity–a first for either of the two subspecies of hellbender. This decade-long collaboration has yielded 63 baby hellbenders.
The first hellbender hatched on Nov. 15, and approximately 120 additional eggs should hatch within the next week. The eggs are maintained in climate- and water quality-controlled trays behind the scenes in the Zoo’s Herpetarium. For 45 to 60 days after emerging, the tiny larvae will retain their yolk sack for nutrients and move very little as they continue their development. As the larvae continue to grow, they will develop legs and eventually lose their external gills by the time they reach 1.5 to 2 years of age. At sexual maturity, at 5 to 8 years of age, adult lengths can approach two feet. Both parents are wild bred: the male has been at the Zoo for the past two years and the female arrived this past September.
Rivers in south-central Missouri and adjacent Arkansas once supported up to 8,000 Ozark hellbenders. Today, fewer than 600 exist in the world–so few that the amphibian was added in October 2011 to the federal endangered species list.
Due to these drastic declines, captive propagation became a priority in the long-term recovery of the species. Once the captive-bred larvae are 3 to 8 years old, they can then be released into their natural habitat–the Ozark aquatic ecosystem.
Requiring cool, clean running water, the Ozark hellbender is also an important barometer of the overall health of that ecosystem–an aquatic “canary in a coal mine.”
“Capillaries near the surface of the hellbender’s skin absorb oxygen directly from the water – as well as hormones, heavy metals and pesticides,” said Jeff Ettling, Saint Louis Zoo curator of herpetology and aquatics. “If there is something in the water that is causing the hellbender population to decline, it can also be affecting the citizens who call the area home.” For more, visit www.stlzoo.org.
SOURCE St. Louis Zoo