SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WBOY) — The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) is asking for your help to improve the populations of West Virginia’s biggest (and arguably coolest) salamanders.

Hellbenders and mudpuppies, which range from eight to 29 inches in size, are the focus of a study being conducted by the WVDNR to learn more about and protect the unique amphibians.

Over the next two years, people in West Virginia who see a mudpuppy or hellbender, or accidentally catch one while fishing should report the sighting to the WVDNR. The short survey asks for the date and location of the sighting and an optional photo.

The release from the WVDNR said that hellbenders and mudpuppies are the only two fully aquatic salamanders native to West Virginia, are not poisonous or venomous, eat mainly crayfish, worms and insects, and do NOT negatively impact sportfish populations.

“While hellbenders and mudpuppies might look fearsome and strange, these salamanders are harmless to humans and sportfish populations and play a big part in keeping our waterways healthy,” said Kevin Oxenrider, project leader.

Keep in mind that it is illegal to possess or take a hellbender or mudpuppy as a pet or bait.

Kingwood-based conservation group Friends of the Cheat (FOC) has been working on conservation efforts for the hellbender salamander in the Cheat River watershed for several years. In its 2022 winter newsletter, the FOC completed its second year of monitoring for hellbenders.

In addition to filling out the WVDNR survey when you see hellbenders and mudpuppies, the FOC recommends following these steps to do your part in restoring and protecting the salamanders’ populations:

  • Don’t stack rocks for your Instagram Feed (or for any reason really).
  • Don’t build rock dams in the creek (yes fun, but also destructive for our sensitive critters that live under the rocks).