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Hellbender inches closer to official Pennsylvania amphibian

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — The state Senate is advancing legislation to make the Eastern hellbender the official amphibian of Pennsylvania, as researchers say its population is shrinking because of pollution.

The bill passed, 47-2, and heads to the House.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the hellbender is an aquatic salamander that can grow up to 2 feet long, making them the largest North American amphibian. They are nocturnal and prefer shallow, clear and fast streams with rocks to live under.

Researchers from Lycoming College in Williamsport say hellbenders live in rivers and streams throughout much of Pennsylvania, except for the Delaware River watershed. But they say the hellbender population is declining in Pennsylvania because of mine drainage and sedimentation.

Hellbenders don’t have federal protected status, although some states give them protected status. Pennsylvania does not.