Jamestown, N.Y. – Audubon Community Nature Center (ACNC) has added new and unusual creatures to its menagerie of education animals that you can visit.
A pair of Eastern Hellbenders, a species of giant aquatic salamander, have joined the fish, turtles, frogs, snakes, and Bald Eagle that live at Audubon.
Also known as snot otter, devil dog, lasagna lizard, and Allegheny alligator, the hellbender is North America’s largest salamander, reaching lengths of up to 29 inches. Living 25 to 30 years in the wild, these solitary animals walk underwater and spend most of their time under rocks. They live locally in larger rivers and were recently named Pennsylvania’s state amphibian.
ACNC’s special salamanders were a part of the hellbender head-start program initiated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, an effort to restore hellbender populations to their historic ranges. Through this program, hellbender eggs are periodically harvested from the wild, hatched, and then reared at the Buffalo and Bronx Zoos as well as the Seneca Nation of Indians Fish and Wildlife Department Hellbender Rearing Facility.
Born in 2009, Oneka and Tweeg were raised at the Buffalo Zoo. “Oneka” is the Seneca word for water, and “Tweeg” is the Seneca word for hellbender. They became Audubon Animal Ambassadors to increase awareness of these mysterious creatures.
Audubon Executive Director Leigh Rovegno observed, “I was so intrigued by hellbenders when I first moved back to Western New York. I had no idea they were found locally, nor that they were so big! I was lucky enough to be able to see them in the wild on an Audubon Exclusive excursion in 2019. I also love that they have been identified as the Pennsylvania state amphibian! We are so fortunate to have them here at the Nature Center for visitors to enjoy.”
Hellbenders hand-crafted by Ellen Paquette are among the treasures for sale in Audubon’s Blue Heron Gift Shop.
You can meet Audubon’s newest residents during regular Nature Center hours, Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and Sundays, 1 – 4:30 p.m. Admission to the nature center building is “by donation” until August 1, after which regular admission fees for non-members will resume.
Audubon Community Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, N.Y., and Warren, Pa. You can enjoy the six miles of trails on the 600-acre nature preserve from dawn to dusk daily free of charge.
Face coverings are not required outdoors, but unvaccinated individuals are asked to wear face coverings when inside the Nature Center building. To learn more about Audubon and its many programs, call (716) 569-2345, visit AudubonCNC.org, or find Audubon Community Nature Center on Facebook.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature by providing positive outdoor experiences, opportunities to learn about and understand the natural world, and knowledge to act in environmentally responsible ways.