Official Dispels Hellbender Myths

Park Baker / Transylvania Times

Public land managers would like to dispel the myth that there is a bounty on the head of the hellbender.

Staff at the Pisgah Ranger Station shared an Instagram video with The Transylvania Times this week of a man on the Davidson River trout fishing, telling another man that he had heard from a “game warden” that there is a $200 bounty on the giant salamander that they found near the river bank. This is simply not true, according to N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Lori Williams. Williams said that this is a rumor that she has heard circulating among local anglers.

“There absolutely is no ‘bounty’ on hellbenders,” she said. “Again, they are a protected, state-listed species. Other misconceptions that need to be corrected: hellbenders are not venomous, poisonous, toxic or harmful. They do not harm fish populations, they do not ruin a fishing rod if you catch one and they are not bad luck. To the contrary, one could argue these harmless, giant salamanders are very good luck because of their role in the ecosystem and as an indicator of good water quality for people, fish and wildlife alike.”

Hellbenders are what biologists refer to as “indicator species,” meaning a healthy population of them indicates that water quality levels are high and they are happy. This time of the year, hellbenders are active after a long winter. They do not eat much all winter, lowering their metabolisms. In spring, they spend a lot of time foraging for their preferred meal, crayfish. Hellbenders do scavenge for dead fish on riverbanks, according to Williams.

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