VIDEO: Snot Otters Get A Second Chance In Ohio North America's largest amphibian, the Hellbender salamander, is in trouble. They are endangered in several states. A team in Ohio is trying to save them before it's too late.
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VIDEO: Snot Otters Get A Second Chance In Ohio

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VIDEO: Snot Otters Get A Second Chance In Ohio

VIDEO: Snot Otters Get A Second Chance In Ohio

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/545796084/550892217" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we would like to introduce you to a slimy amphibian nicknamed the snot otter. Scientists in Ohio are trying to save it, and we sent NPR's Madeleine Sofia out to get a hold of one.

MADELINE SOFIA, BYLINE: Earlier this summer, I stood in a creek in Ohio, trying to find a new home for a salamander.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

SOFIA: And so I'm going to grab one. Oh (laughter).

A mucus-covered salamander.

Feels like I'm holding a very animated ball of snot.

So that explains the nickname snot otter. The official name? The eastern hellbender. These guys can grow up to 2 feet long.

GREG LIPPS: The hellbender is the largest aquatic salamander in Ohio, one of the largest salamanders or amphibians living in the world.

SOFIA: Meet Greg Lipps. He's in charge of an effort to bring back hellbenders in Ohio.

LIPPS: We started looking at hellbender populations in the 2000s. And what we found was that they were declining rapidly, about an 82 percent decline. We knew if we didn't do anything, hellbenders were going to be gone in this state.

SOFIA: Hellbenders aren't the only amphibians in trouble. It's estimated that a third of all amphibian species on earth are in decline, mainly because of habitat destruction and pollution from things like coal mining and farming. The creek I was standing in was so polluted that it turned yellow in the 1970s. The water is cleaner now, and Lipps thinks it's time to bring the hellbender back home. He says, two things need to happen in order to save the Ohio hellbender.

LIPPS: One is we have to protect the good habitat. The second part of it is we want to take these babies and release them back in the wild to bolster those populations. And the two things are kind of useless without each other.

SOFIA: These babies are actually about 3 years old. Lipps captured them as eggs in the wild, and they were raised in the Columbus and Toledo zoos. Today, scientists and local hellbender groupies are putting them back into the wild.

LIPPS: We're going to start on the downstream end. There will be a couple of folks snorkeling with wetsuits on. As they find rocks, we'll take a hellbender in a small net, carry him over there very carefully. They'll take it, and they'll slide the animal underneath the rock. And we'll work our way up.

SOFIA: Local kids run back and forth, delivering hellbenders to the scientists in waist-deep water.

LIPPS: We're ready for one whenever you are.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: OK.

SOFIA: After the last hellbender is released, everyone gathers around to eat cake. It's got a hellbender on it that says, welcome to our gene pool. Get it? Madeline Sofia, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF INNER SCIENCE'S "AMOTION")

MARTIN: And we've got this video of Maddie wrestling with those hellbenders. They are snotty, but they're pretty cute. You should check it out at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF INNER SCIENCE'S "AMOTION")

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