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Hellbender Salamander Exhibit Opens At The Maryland Zoo

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Ron Matz is an Emmy award-winning reporter who joined the Eyewitness...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — They’re slimy and fascinating, and now you have a chance to see them in Baltimore.  They’re giant salamanders that hide under rocks.

Ron Matz has more on the newest residents of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

It’s not easy trying to get a grip on a slippery salamander, but the Eastern hellbender has arrived at the Maryland Zoo. It’s a new exhibit featuring the fascinating and endangered species.

“It’s something special.  It’s in the Maryland Wilderness Area of the zoo. We’re opening an exhibit for an extremely endangered species in Maryland, the Eastern hellbender.  It’s pretty exciting that we can both open a phenomenal new exhibit, but also for an endangered species in one of our primary areas,” said Kevin Murphy, Assistant Curator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. “The hellbender is an extremely cryptic animal, secretive, nocturnal. It’s the largest salamander in North America.  It gets to almost two feet.”

Zoo President Don Hutchinson led the opening day tour and cut the ribbon.

“Salamanders are important because they’re almost extinct in Maryland.  They’re extinct in Harford County where they were at one time. They’re now only found in two rivers in Western Maryland,” said Hutchinson. “This exhibit puts them in a habitat that would be very close to what they would be in Western Maryland.  We’re going to be participating in a species preservation program that zoos around the country are involved in.”

The salamanders are also known as snot otters and for good reason.  

“They have some really unique adaptations and one of them is to exude a slime when they’re grabbed by a predator.  It’s so slippery they almost always get away.  They sort of can spontaneously exude slime. That’s why they’re called snot otters.  It’s kind of like snot. It’s very sticky,” said Murphy.

They get the name hellbender for another reason.

“The only people who normally see them are people who look for them.  Fishermen occasionally catch them and I think that’s where they got their name because they’re so crazy looking that people think they’re something from hell,” said Murphy. “We’re starting out with two.  We’re going to add another five to the exhibit and ultimately we’re going to get involved with a national program to head start and release them in certain streams in North America.”

“We hope it brings people in. It’s the kind of thing that really appeals to kids.  Mom and dad might be a little squeamish because these guys are strange looking.  But the fact is the kids love them and they’re important animals to our habitat and it’s good educational exposure for any child that walks in the door,” said Hutchinson.

The new exhibit was made possible by a $300,000 bond issue approved by Baltimore City voters in the last election.

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