Snot otters now on display at the Bronx Zoo

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The Bronx Zoo has opened an Eastern hellbender exhibit. (WCS/Julie Larsen Maher)

Say what? The Bronx Zoo has opened an exhibit showcasing eastern hellbenders, which are large salamanders with funny nicknames: snot otters, Allegheny alligators, devil dogs, and old lasagna sides. The exhibit is located in the Reptile House.

Hellbenders are the largest salamanders in North America by weight and grow to about 2 feet long, according to National Wildlife Federation. The eastern hellbender is native to rocky, freshwater rivers and streams in eastern North America, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the zoo. They like to hide under rocks in shallow rapids.

In New York, the eastern hellbender inhabits the Allegheny and Susquehanna River basins, according to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation. New York State lists the hellbender as a species of "Special Concern" because of declining populations.

Since 2009, the Bronx Zoo, the Buffalo Zoo, and the DEC have been working on a program to boost the hellbender population in the state. Program staffers collect eggs in the wild, hatch them at the Bronx Zoo's Amphibian Propagation Center, and raise the young salamanders until they are large enough to ward off most predators. Then the program releases the hellbenders back into the wild.

The Wildlife Conservation Society's mission is to save "wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature," according to its website. In addition to the Bronx Zoo, its flagship property, WCS runs the Prospect Park Zoo, the New York Aquarium, the Queens Zoo, and the Central Park Zoo.