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Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Ellington Agricultural Center
440 Hogan Road
Nashville, TN 37220
(615) 781-6500
The Eastern Hellbenders of Tennessee: A Species Indicative of Good Water Quality Provides a Focus for Conservation Statewide

Perhaps no other species in Tennessee is more emblematic of the widespread, interacting, and complex mix of threats posed by society to healthy aquatic systems than the Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis). Picturesquely dubbed "The Last Dragons" in a 2014 film produced by Freshwaters Illustrated and the U.S. Forest Service, this giant salamander subspecies was once distributed throughout most streams in the eastern two-thirds of Tennessee.

With a fascinating life history - including a relatively long life (25 years or more), a fierce attachment to home territory, annual battles by males vying for mates, and males that guard their eggs and young - this species has become a flagship for what is extraordinary about Tennessee and southern Appalachian streams. Hellbenders have experienced precipitous population declines across much of the state in the past several decades, and their plight clearly illustrates an issue for which conservation efforts beyond the boundaries of Conservation Opportunity Areas must and will continue.

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