Kimberly Terrell, Ph.D.

Wrangling amphiumas is good practice for wrangling hellbenders.

My job: Salamander Wrangler

Real title: Research Associate, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; Adjunct Faculty, Tulane University

Education: University of New Orleans, Ph.D., 2011

How I help save sallies: I search the swamps and mountains for new populations of rare salamanders. Knowing where these critters roam is the first step to protecting them. I also conduct field and lab research to understand how climate change affects the health of amphibians, particularly giant salamanders. Finally, I’m the voice behind this website! I created to spread the word about salamander research and conservation.

Cirriculum vitae

My research: Appalachian salamanders face multiple threats. These include:

  • More frequent heatwaves and drought
  • Water pollution and siltation
  • Poaching
  • Indiscriminate killing
  • Invasive predators
  • Disease

How can we begin to address this laundry list of problems?  To start, we look for ‘model’ species to study.  Because hellbenders face all of the above threats and (unlike most salamanders) are large enough to take a blood sample from, they are a great model species. In the lab, I study how warm and variable temperatures influence hellbender health. In the wild, I measure stream quality and test hellbenders for disease. By conducting both lab and field-based studies, I try to shed light on how combinations of threats can impact wild salamanders.  We can then use this information to develop strategies to protect these fascinating species.

Recent publications

Bales, E.K., O.J. Hyman, A.H. Loudon, R.N. Harris, G. Lipps, E. Chapman, K. Roblee, J.D. Kleopfer, and K.A. Terrell. Pathogenic chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, but not B. salamandrivorans, detected on eastern hellbender salamanders. PLoS One. Feb 19;10(2):e0116405.

Terrell, K.A. Deadly fungus threatens U.S. salamanders. Society for Conservation Biology Newsletter. December 2014.

Souther, S., M.W. Tingley, D.T.S. Hayman, V.D. Popescu,M.E. Ryan, T.A. Graves, B. Hartl, and K.A. Terrell. Biotic impacts of shale development: research priorities and knowledge gaps. Front. Ecol. Env. 2014; 12: 330-338.

Aslan, C., M. Pinsky, M. Ryan, S. Souther and K.A. Terrell. Cultivating Creativity in Conservation Science. Conservation Biology 2014; 28: 345-353.

Terrell, K.A. The Snot Otter: A 160 million-year-old national treasure. Our Planet Global Conversations Blog. United States Department of State. 3 Jan 2014.

Terrell, K.A., R.P. Quintero, S. Murray, J. Murphy, B. Nissen, M. Evans, J.D. Kleopfer, and B. Gratwicke. Cryptic impacts of variable temperatures on amphibian immune function. J. Exp. Bio. 2013; 214: 4204-4211.

Best salamander story:  Last summer I was surveying streams in VA and caught a young adult hellbender that measured 10 inches long, excluding the tail. I was getting the scale and measuring tape ready, when I noticed a horrible smell. Turning back around, I saw a dead fish in the net with the hellbender. The fish was limp, but hadn’t been dead very long. It was 8 inches long. I scratched my head for a minute, and then suddenly realized what had happened. This hellbender had just swallowed (and regurgitated) a fish that was 80% of its body length! You can see a pic of the massive meal here.


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  2. […] to teach kids about all the critters that live on and around a farm – including salamanders! Kim and JD were at the annual Farm Field Day in Glade Spring, VA, where more than 300 local 6th graders […]

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