Friday, August 9, 2013

Thermal Pollution and Snot Otters

RiverGirl Outfitters new Hellbender on display in Todd, NC
If you’ve ever dipped into a stream in the High Country you know how cold the water is, no matter what time of year it is!  That cold water is really important for many of our native fish, salamanders, and other aquatic life.   The secretive hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) that lives in our cold headwater streams can be compared to the “canary in the coal mine”.  If hellbender populations decline that can mean that our water quality is also declining. 

You may not think that hot water would be considered a pollutant, but a few degrees can be the difference between life and death to temperature sensitive organisms like the hellbender.   Hellbenders are typcially found in pristine streams of the mountains and foothills of the eastern United States however, they do have cousins in China and Japan known as giant salamanders that can actually grow up to 5-6 feet long!

Our Appalachian Hellbender aka, "snot otter", "devil dog", "mud-devil", "grampus", "Allegheny alligator", or "river dog" by locals, can grow to over a whopping 2 feet long!  But their populations have decreased in many places because of sediment runoff and habitat changes.  Temperature and dissolved oxygen plays a really important role in the health of the hellbender, and as stream side trees and shrubs are cut down, sunlight warms the water temperature.  Stormwater runoff also contributes to temperature increases.  When it rains on a hot rooftop or parking lot, heat is transferred to the water which typically runs into a nearby stream.  Stormwater runoff has shown to increase water temperature significantly, decreasing the chances for hellbender and trout survival. 

Kelly McCoy of RiverGirl Fishing Company recently acquired the High Countries first bred in captivity hellbender!  She received a permit from the state to have a live hellbender on display in a chilled tank at RiverGirl Fishing Company.  RiverGirl’s new little buddy is an “Ambassador” for all the hellbenders out there.  Once you lay your eyes on it (I say it, because they won’t be able to tell the sex for another few years) you’ll fall in love!   Right now, they feed the little buddy crawfish, minnows, and nymphs, but as it grows, mice will become part of the menu. 

The chilled tank stays at a constant 57°F with a pH of 6.8-7.0.   Every week the hellbender is weighed and monitored for health.  This hellbender is from eggs collected from the Davidson River, which were transported to the Fort Worth Texas Zoo, where it was born and raised until coming back home to North Carolina this summer.  Kelly recently captured on video the hellbender molting its dull layer of skin, then eating the skin and turning into a brilliantly glossy "snot otter".  You can stop by RiverGirl Fishing Company in Todd daily from 10am-5pm to view our new little friend of High Country Rivers!

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