Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Undergraduate Research: The Hellbender Lab

Me and the snapping turtle. 

Hello All,

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Roni and I am a senior here at Purdue (where has the time gone!?) I am majoring in Natural Resources and Environmental Science and minoring in Wildlife. 

I currently conducting undergraduate researcher in Dr. Williams Hellbender lab. The hellbender is a giant salamander that grows to be 2.5 ft long and is endangered in the state of Indiana. Currently, the hellbender is only found in 1 river in Indiana, which is the Blue River located in southcentral Indiana near Corydon, IN. 

Wynadotte Cave Opening with Herbie. 

This summer I lived on the field site in O’Bannon State Park. I worked building cages, surveying for hellbenders in the Blue River, collecting macroinvertebrate and crayfish samples for my research project, and doing extension and outreach events for local fairs. I am currently still working on my project and will be traveling back to Corydon throughout the semester and to Georgia in October to collect more samples. Specifically, my project is looking at hellbender food sources and suitable release locations for juvenile hellbenders from our captive rearing and head-starting program (I can explain this all later if anyone wants more details). 

Taking of a wetsuit can be a challenge!
Crayfish are the main prey of adult hellbenders and larval hellbenders eat macroinvertebrates. I am measuring the abundance of macroinvertebrates and crayfish in the Blue River, IN (declining hellbender population); Indiana Creek, IN (no hellbender population) ; and Toccoa River, GA (healthy  hellbender population)  to see if Indiana Creek could be a potential release site in the future to help stabilize the declining, endangered Indiana population.   I am also doing extra extension and outreach event for the Williams lab on wetlands and amphibian health as well as helping out with a workshop put on for farmers to learn about different conservation practices to prevent soil erosion. The main reason for hellbender decline is siltation from farm fields. Hellbenders live in steams with fast flowing, clear water under large rocks. Hellbenders are important because they are an indicator species of water quality. Silt suspended in the water column settles out under the rocks where hellbenders lives, which displaces them from their habitat. The main job of our outreach efforts is to make the public aware of the hellbender, their decline, and what they can do to help conserve this species. 

If you want to learn more about hellbenders, go to!



Veronica Yager

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