It’s raining hellbenders

Barbara and Brian swab a hellbender’s skin to look for ‘good bacteria’ that can help fight disease.

We met up with Eric’s team early this morning excited to wrangle some hellbenders.  Barbara and Brian had never seen one in the wild, and we were going to a great site.  Eric expected to find 15-20 benders today!  But after the first hour of intense searching with no success, I was starting to wonder.  It would pretty much have to start raining hellbenders for us to meet Eric’s goal…

Well, be careful what you wish for.  Suddenly hellbenders started popping up all over the place (kind of like whack-a-mole without the whacking part).  Eric’s crew was catching so many that we could barely keep up!  I was working quickly to try and get a blood sample within 3 minutes of capture, and in most cases we met this goal.  That’s pretty good when you consider that we had to carry the hellbender back to our equipment, glove up, and roll its squirmy, slimy body into a wet towel (think hellbender burrito) before we could draw blood from the tail.  While I prepared the blood for freezing, Kurt Register (a researcher from Clarion University) took samples to test for rana virus and chytrid fungus – two very lethal diseases in amphibians.  Next Brian and Barbara rubbed the skin with a special Q-tip to look for ‘good’ bacteria that might help protect the hellbender from disease (part of a study led by Andy Loudon from James Madison University).  Lastly, Eric marked it with a microchip, the same kind the vet puts in your dog or cat.  The chip allows him to identify individual hellbenders and to estimate the size of the population based on how often they’re recaptured.  We’re definitely learning as much as possible about each hellbender we find!By the end of the day we were wiped.  We’d caught an astounding 16 hellbenders (a new record for me) and a mudpuppy (bonus!).  We definitely got a good bang for our buck this trip.  Seems like it would be hard to match this, but the site we’re going to next week is supposed to be even better…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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