Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 8, 2021


Brian Segee, (805) 750-8852,

Missouri Population of Eastern Hellbenders Granted Endangered Species Protection

North America’s Largest Salamanders Remain Critically Threatened In Other States

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated the Missouri distinct population of the eastern hellbender salamander as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“While we’re happy to see the Missouri population of eastern hellbenders receive protection, the Service should have listed the species throughout its range,” said Brian Segee, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hellbenders desperately need the protections of the Endangered Species Act not only in Missouri, but everywhere they’re found."

The Center and other conservation groups filed a formal notice of intent on March 4 to sue the Service over its decision in April 2019 to deny Endangered Species Act protection to eastern hellbenders. The Service has denied protection to eastern hellbenders in the vast majority of their range.

North America’s largest salamanders, the river-dwelling hellbenders can grow longer than 2 feet and live in clear, fast-flowing mountain streams in 15 southeastern, midwestern and northeastern states. They have now been eliminated from much of their historic range and are imperiled by numerous threats including sedimentation, dam construction, disease and pathogens, habitat destruction and climate change.

The Missouri distinct population of the eastern hellbender lies completely within the east-central portion of the state. The salamanders are found in the Big River, Big Piney River, Courtois Creek, Gasconade River, Huzzah Creek, Meramec River, Niangua River and the Osage Fork of the Gasconade River, according to the Service.

Like most other hellbender populations, in the last 20 years populations of the Missouri segment of eastern hellbender have declined as much as 77% percent in the Big Piney River, Gasconade River and Niangua River. The Service expects the health of all Missouri’s hellbender populations to continue to decline. The agency stated today that in two of three models for the future, one of the state’s four populations of hellbenders will die out.

A separate subspecies of hellbender, the Ozark hellbender, is found only in the White River watershed of the Ozark Plateau, located in the southern portion of Missouri and northern Arkansas. The Ozark hellbender was listed as an endangered species in October 2011. Ozark hellbenders are distinguishable from eastern hellbenders by their smaller body size, dorsal blotches and increased skin mottling.

The Center petitioned in 2010 to protect the eastern hellbender nationwide under the Endangered Species Act. The October 2017 “not warranted” finding came after two legal agreements the Center entered into with the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 and 2013 to expedite protections.

Hellbender photo by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations