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, so 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 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *