POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
|THE HABITS OF THE GIANT SALAMANDER.|
By Dr. ALBERT M. REESE,
CRYPTOBRANCHUS (Menopoma of the earlier text-books) Alleghaniensis or hellbender, the American representative of the giant salamanders, although only too familiar to the fishermen of the Ohio valley is, to most people, rather a curiosity and its habits, therefor are worthy of some attention.
Its distribution, according to most authors, is limited to the tributaries of the Ohio River, but whether or not this is strictly true I am unable to state. I have investigated several cases of the supposed occurrence of Cryptobranchus in waters far distant from the Ohio, but in each instance the animal in question proved to be Necturus. By the natives of the regions it inhabits, the hellbender is called 'alligator' or, occasionally, 'waterdog': it is easy to imagine how the former name might have originated, but why it should be called a 'dog' is as hard to imagine as the reason for calling Necturusa 'mud-puppy.' The hellbender is said to reach a length of more than 60 cm., the largest specimen that I obtained, from a considerable number of individuals, was 55 cm. in length. It is a most unprepossessing animal, and, probably on that account, has the reputation, among fisherman, of being poisonous, although it is really a most inoffensive and harmless creature. I have handled many dozen individuals, some of which were just from their native stream and some of which I have had in captivity for more than eight months, but in no instance has any attempt been made to bite. Its jaws are very wide and strong, however, and being armed with numerous small, sharp teeth, are probably capable of inflicting a painful wound. Its repulsive appearance seems to be largely due to the curious flatness of the head, the tiny, almost invisible, lidless eyes and the lateral folds of skin which extend for the greater part of its length.
The tips of the toes, of which there are four on the anterior and five on the posterior feet, are nearly white and are thus in curious contrast to the dark color of the rest of the animal.
The adult hellbender breathes by means of well-developed lungs, but there is a gill opening in each side of the throat, from which bubbles of air occasionally escape. The nostrils are two very small openings situated at the extreme tip of the broad snout, so that when the animal comes to the surface to breathe, it need expose but the tip of its snout above water. The process of inspiration, if it may be so called, is