Unless you live under a rock in a very clean stream, you’ve heard by now that Pennsylvania has an official amphibian.
The House voted 191-6 Tuesday to declare the Eastern hellbender king of the state’s river monsters. North America‘s largest amphibian, the hellbender — also known as the “snot otter,” “devil dog” “ground puppy” and “Allegheny alligator” can grow up to two feet long. Its numbers have been shrinking in pace with the state’s human population, leading legislators to spring to action.
“Not many people have actually seen hellbenders,” said Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, who pushed the legislation.“They live only in very clean streams, and they live under rocks.”
Winning the distinction was no slam-dunk. The hellbender lobby had to fight back a strong challenge from the Wehrle’s salamander, which grows to a maximum of six inches, according to possibly reliable sources on the internet.
While the legislation elevates the hellbender’s social status, it does not confer protected status. Navigating the risks and challenges of its native habitat is the hellbender’s problem. Like human Pennsylvanians who struggle to stay afloat as legislators sunbathe on the beach, the snot otter is on its own out there, caught between a rock and a hard place called Harrisburg.