Wildlife photographer captures incredible image of ‘hellbender'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A wildlife photographer in Oregon has gained a lot of attention for an incredible photo he took in the Tellico River. 

Photographer David Herasimtschuk won the Museum of Natural History's Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for this photo of a hellbender salamander wrestling with a northern water snake. The photo was taken in spring of 2017. 

Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in North America and are of great interest to park rangers in the Hiwassee River area. 

The somewhat prehistoric-looking creature lives in only three rivers in Tennessee. 

They are aquatic and live in mountain rivers, streams and caves with water and can grow to be about 20 inches long.  

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they’re considered a “species of concern” in part due to loss of habitat caused by humans. 

“For hellbenders, which are fully-aquatic, their wellbeing is very much tied to the health of their river homes,” Herasimtschuk said. “Unfortunately, hellbenders are now at great risk of disappearing due to the degradation of stream health and water quality.”

Herasimtschuk said increased sedimentation – resulting from silt, dirt and other pollutants running into streams – has smothered the rock environments on which hellbenders depend. 

“This often-unseen form of pollution suffocates streambeds, destroying the homes and habitat of these giant salamanders,” he added. 

Herasimtschuk, who works for Freshwaters Illustrated, is currently making a feature-length documentary highlighting freshwater life found in Tennessee and Southern Appalachia. 

Click here for more information on the project.    

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