Husbandry, Captive Propagation, and Behavior of Hellbenders

Mark Wanner, Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation, Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis, MO

Hellbender Behavior and Husbandry

The Saint Louis Zoo is currently housing 95 Hellbenders. It is building two new outdoor streams for Ozark Hellbender populations; they are naturalistic in appearance and will allow for natural elements. USFWS and MDC (Missouri Department of Conservation) have helped fund a new isolated room being built to house additional hellbenders for expansion of the head start program. This room will also have space for taking on collected egg clutches and raising future breeders.

The zoo performed successful heat treatment for eradication of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis on three different test groups of hellbenders (Missouri Eastern Hellbender, North Carolina Eastern Hellbender, and Ozark Hellbender). B. dendrobatidis causes chytridiomycosis, a fungal infection that is devastating amphibian populations world-wide.

Current research is being conducted on Ozark Hellbender behavior with focus on behavior changes during breeding season. The zoo is also collecting data on growth rates for all hellbenders in collection.

Saint Louis Zoo Veterinary staff performed 36 hellbender surgeries to insert radio transmitters and additional 8 surgeries to address feet related issues in captive and wild caught hellbenders.

Captive Propagation

The Saint Louis Zoo is working on captive propagation of the Ozark Hellbender. Eggs have been laid 2 years in a row from a total of 3 females. Milt was successfully collected from 3 of 6 male Hellbenders. One milt sample was transported to the Zoo's reproductive staff and captured moving on film, which confirmed the presence of live sperm.

52 of the Ozark hellbenders at the Saint Louis Zoo today are larvae from 2007 breeding season. These eggs were hatched at Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery, MDC, and are now being prepared for future reintroductions. They have been housed at the Saint Louis Zoo since March of 2008.

The Saint Louis Zoo has also released 36 hellbenders back into the wild in conjunction with MDC and Cathy Bodinof. Cathy and crew were monitoring survivorship, habitat use and overall progress of the released animals through radio tracking. These particular animals were hatched at MSU, under Alicia Mathis, and had been in captivity at the Saint Louis Zoo since June of 2003.

Visit the Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation Website.