A slimy salamander that's typically found under rocks has been thrust into the spotlight in Pennsylvania. As NPR reports, the Eastern hellbender salamander, also known as the snot otter for its mucus-covered body, has been named the state's official amphibian.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has campaigned to make the hellbender a state animal for two years, and following passage of the bill through the state's Senate in February, Pennsylvania's House of Representatives voted to recognized the creature on April 16.
In addition to swimming through rivers and streams in Pennsylvania, the giant salamander can be found in waters throughout the Appalachian region, from Georgia to New York. It can grow up to 2 feet long, and it breathes through skin flaps that are loose and wrinkly to maximize the surface area through which it can absorb oxygen. They hide amid rocks and they're mostly active at night, which makes them hard to spot in the wild.
The hellbenders' numbers have shrunk in recent decades. Since the late 1990s, populations have suffered greatly from deforestation around bodies of water, leading to a warmer environment for them with more pollution runoff. Dams, construction, fishing, and reduced dissolved oxygen levels in their native waters may also be hurting them. Today they're considered endangered in Maryland, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana.
By voting to make the hellbender the official state amphibian, Pennsylvania legislators hope to raise awareness around the animal's precarious position. It joins the ruffed grouse, the Great Dane, and the brook trout as an official animal of the state.