Students push state recognition for ‘snot otters’ |
Valley News Dispatch

Students push state recognition for ‘snot otters’

The Hellbender, also known as the “snot otter,” is the nation’s largest salamander and a native of Pennsylvania. A group of students is petitioning the state Legislature to recognize the Hellbender as the state amphibian.

A group of students took notice of the nation’s largest salamander, a thick-bodied, flat-headed salamander nicknamed “snot otter,” and were moved by the hellbender’s odd appearance and, despite that appearance, its preference for clean water.

They are calling on the Pennsylvania Legislature to designate the homely-looking creature as the state amphibian.

Locally, scientists with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy have been conducting surveys documenting the hellbender, which spends its time under rocks at the bottom of waterways.

In fact, conservancy field researchers had planned to survey the Kiski River this year for the amphibian. An Apollo fisherman pulled one out of the river in Parks Township earlier this year and videotaped the mud puppy-like creature, which he returned to the river.

The hellbender’s appearance in the river caused a stir because the clean-water loving amphibian has been absent in the upper reaches of the once heavily polluted river.

The continuous summer rain and high water levels on the Kiski prevented a survey this year, but the conservancy plans to survey for them again in 2019, according to Eric Chapman, the director of aquatic science for the conservancy.

A consortium of students working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation wrote a proposed bill, which passed the State Senate in November, and has been sitting in the House ever since, according to David Hess of Harrisburg, the former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary who works as a lobbyist for environmental groups such as the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

The bill is now with the House State Government Committee.

Anna Pauletta, 19, of Mechanicsburg and a sophomore at Penn State, started working on the bill in 2016 when she was a high school student at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg. She now volunteers for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation working on the designation of the hellbender as the state amphibian.

“Hellbenders are magnificent creatures that have been able to maintain this secretive life under the rocks, and a lot of people don’t know they exist,” she said.

“They are not only cool in their own right, but set the standard for Pennsylvania water quality.”

The conservancy, supported by a grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for this summer’s hellbender survey, has been monitoring the large salamanders since 1998.

Historically, the conservancy has surveyed for the salamanders higher up in the Allegheny River tributaries near Tionesta and other waterways in the Allegheny National Forest, northern Indiana County and Westmoreland County.

Pennsylvania has some of the best populations of hellbenders in the world, according to the conservancy, because of water quality, rocky substrate in waterways and an ample crayfish population.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.