Brian Gricke via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Brian Gricke via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Ohio Conservationists Unleash Hellbenders on Local Streams

Brian Gricke via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Brian Gricke via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

They may not be as popular as creatures like pandas or butterflies, but America’s hellbenders still need our attention. The latest effort is a mass release of more than 250 of the enormous, slimy salamanders into streams all over Ohio.

Letting hellbenders go is both easier and harder than you might think. The Eastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, also known as the snot otter, devil dog, or Old Lasagna Sides) is coated in slippery goo, making it harder to hold onto one than it is to set it free. But as America’s hellbender populations begin to vanish, conservationists are fighting hard and fast to get the salamanders to hang on. 

The third-largest salamander in the world, reaching up to 29 inches long, C. alleganiensis is as picky as it is peculiar. They like clear, fast-moving streams with good, flat rocks on the bottom. Male snot otters defend sprawling territories of around 1000 square feet, with their favorite stone in the middle.

Come mating season, each male digs an inviting tunnel under the rock and waits for an amorous female hellbender to approach. If she likes what she sees, she’ll drop between 150 and 450 eggs into the tunnel while the male sprays them with sperm. The male then shoos away his mate and spends the next few weeks keeping guard over his kids-to-be. In 60 to 80 days, the eggs will hatch.

Pete and Noe Woods via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It’s that moment that has conservationists concerned. Like adults, baby hellbenders need a safe nook and clear, fresh water. But runoff from farms and housing developments is filling the water with silt, which nudges larvae out of their niches before they’re ready.

Herpetologist Greg Lipps says he knows that “siltation” isn’t a word that would alarm the average person. “It’s a lot less sexy to hear it’s mud in the water,” he told the New York Times. Sexy or not, it’s doing intense damage; the state’s hellbender populations have dropped 82 percent since the 1980s.

Lipps and other concerned scientists are doing all they can to help the hellbenders. The Ohio Hellbender Partnership is a collective of representatives from local and federal government, universities, zoos, and environmental agencies, all working to keep hellbenders around.

The freeing of 255 captive-bred young adults this week—the third and largest release in the program’s history—is just the latest of many projects. Members have built artificial shelters called “Bender Huts,” collected eggs in the wild for safe rearing in zoos, and even started a hellbender nursery at the Marion State Correctional Institute.

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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed

Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner

The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.


Dog snuggling on a bed with its person.

If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.


Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.

While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.


Woman doing yoga with her dog.

Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.


Person running in field with a dog.

While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.


Woman cuddling her dog.

Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.


Large bulldog licking a laughing man.

Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.


Man high-fiving his dog.

Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.


Woman working on a computer while petting a dog.

The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.


Man running in surf with dog.

The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.


A young boy having fun with his dog.

Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.


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