Footless Hellbenders

This hellbender was missing 3 of its feet. (Photo credit: Lisa Ware)

This hellbender was missing 3 of its feet. (Photo credit: Lisa Ware)

During our last trip to southwest Virginia, we found something very troubling – a hellbender that had lost 3 of its feet. Biologists have found footless hellbenders in other states (particularly Arkansas), and believe that it’s caused by a bacteria or a fungus. Fortunately for us, it’s something that doesn’t affect humans. In this case, the hellbender appeared to be healing well,┬áso the missing feet might have been the result of an injury rather than disease. Perhaps an unfortunate encounter with a snapping turtle? Today we’re leaving DC and heading back down to that stream in search of a footless hellbender. We’re hoping to find some clues to this mystery.

With me is Veronica Acosta, a veterinary technician better known as Nurse Hellbender. She’s equipped with medical supplies to take a small skin sample (also called a biopsy) from the site of a missing foot. We’re hoping that the sample can give us a clue about whether these hellbenders are experiencing disease or simply injuries. A biopsy is the same approach that a doctor would use to determine if a lump or mole was cancerous. This biopsy is just a little more… slimy.

So we’re off. We have 3 days to try and find a footless hellbender. Fingers crossed…

One comment

  1. […] with strong currents, snapping turtles, hungry mink, and baited fishing hooks. As we saw in our last post, sometimes life in the stream can get pretty […]

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