KENTUCKY (WEHT) – Officials from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) say they have released some hellbenders after raising them in a lab.

Officials say in conjunction with researchers from Purdue University, KDFWR staff collected hellbender egg masses in Kentucky streams to raise them in a lab environment. The agency says this increased the survival of the hellbender young by 50 times what is observed in the wild.

Officials say after being raised for several years in the lab, the hellbenders were recently released into Kentucky streams. This is the first ever release of lab-raised hellbenders into Kentucky. This long term restoration effort is expected to increase the species’ population to prevent listing under the Endangered Species Act. Officials say it takes three to four years for eggs to develop into juveniles that are large enough to withstand the stress of reintroduction.

Zack Couch, the wildlife diversity program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said, “Kentucky Fish and Wildlife released 25 eastern hellbenders, the only species of hellbender found in Kentucky. The eastern hellbender is listed by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Kentucky. The Missouri population of eastern hellbenders are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Couch said non-point source pollution (specifically sedimentation) has likely caused the decline of the species. Sediment from upstream erosion negatively impacts habitat by clogging stream substrate used as shelter by larvae and juveniles.

Couch said, “Hellbender reintroduction in Kentucky is meant to prevent the need for listing the species on the federal Endangered Species Act by recovering the population before it becomes critically imperiled. This effort, in conjunction with sustainable land management practices, will ensure that Kentucky has a viable population of eastern hellbenders for generations to come. This work couldn’t have been conducted without the financial support of Kentucky Wild members.”