I have traipsed the Black and Current River basins for more than four decades and have seen hellbenders only a handful of times. That is because the completely aquatic salamanders spend their lives lurking under rocks at the bottom of clear-running streams.
In Missouri, hellbenders can grow to as much as two feet in length. Looking a bit like a prop in a bad horror movie, they can startle the stuffing out of you. Sadly, the population of these harmless creatures has declined by more than seventy percent.
The eastern hellbender is listed as rare in almost every state within its range. The Ozark hellbender lives only in Missouri and Arkansas and is a candidate for inclusion on the federal list of endangered species. Though no specific cause has been cited for their precipitous decline, the usual suspects of habitat destruction and polution are most likely.
hellbenders.org is an excellent source for more information. as is the Missouri Department of Conservation page.
Let's all work together to save the hellbender.