Kentucky Agencies and Institutions Unite to Save Threatened Hellbenders

Newport Aquarium’s Chief Conservation Officer forms statewide working group

NEWPORT, Ky. —   More than 40 people representing 25 different agencies and institutions met at Newport Aquarium for the first time on Monday, Dec. 14 to discuss the status and conservation efforts of North America’s largest salamander species, the Eastern Hellbender, in the state of Kentucky.

Also known as the snot otter, devil dog or lasagna lizard, the prehistoric looking  hellbender is capable of reaching 29 inches in length at 5-6 inches wide. It produces a slimy secretion on its skin that could be noxious to some predators, but is not dangerous to people.

The species population in Kentucky is in decline.  Hellbenders prefer to make their homes in clear, cold, fast-flowing streams that are free of pollution, which many of the state’s waterways no longer offer. Good stream health means safe and clean areas for Kentuckians to enjoy the outdoors.

Because a healthy hellbender population indicates a healthy surrounding ecosystem, Ric Urban, the Chief Conservation Officer for Newport Aquarium had no trouble finding agencies interested in supporting conservation efforts to save the species.

“It’s an important enough of an issue that every agency I’ve talked with wanted to be involved in saving this incredible species by helping to create and support habitats where it can thrive,” Urban said. “Without the support, effort and dedication of these agencies, there is little hope for the hellbender.”

Groups participating in the working group include:

Colleges and Universities

The first meeting of the Kentucky Hellbender Working Group included representatives from 25 agencies, colleges and universities, and businesses.

The first meeting of the Kentucky Hellbender Working Group included representatives from 25 agencies, colleges and universities, and businesses.

“At Newport Aquarium we have the ability to teach our guests about the amazing animals around the world and even in our own backyard,” said Urban.  “They have the ability to help in our efforts as ‘citizen scientists’ helping to protect our environment.  The health of the streams where hellbenders live depends on the residents of Kentucky to understand what each person puts down the drain or on their yard can end up in watery habitats threatening animals that live there.”

The group plans to meet next in the Spring to keep the future hopeful for hellbenders.

For more information on the hellbender, visit this link.

For more information on Newport Aquarium, or to purchase tickets, visit or call toll free 800-406-FISH (3474). Connect with Newport Aquarium on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to its blog, for the most up-to-date news on Newport Aquarium.


Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

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