Naturalist Journal: Hunting for Hellbenders

Our intrepid naturalist Dr. Chuck Welsh brings along his son Brady to talk about his summer adventures in the woods of Western Pennsylvania.

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Q. So I understand you two have been prospecting for adventures up North in French Creek near Meadville?

A.CHUCK Yes we spent some time with the Creek Connections folks this summer.

Q. What exactly is Creek Connections?

A. CHUCK Itís a program run by my colleague at Allegheny College, Jim Palmer. Itís aim is to bring school-teacherís out into the local creeks with their students to survey and study biodiversity. Itís even expanded across the country and has taken root in Costa Rica. Itís just a great program.

Q. So Brady what did you look for in French Creek.

A.BRADY We were trying to catch a huge salamander called a Hell-Bender. They can be as big as 2 feet long.

Q. Where exactly do you find them?

A. BRADY Under big rocks in cool moving water. This is where oxygen levels are high.

Q. Why does that matter?

A.CHUCK Because they actually breathe through their skin. And it helps to be in an oxygen rich environment.

Q. Did you have any luck?

A. BRADY No we never found one. But we did catch a huge snapping turtle. I picked it up by its tail.

Q. You must be brave because they have powerful jaws?

A.BRADY My dad showed me the safe way to do it. Grab the tail and hold it far from your body.

Q. Where else have you been this summer?

A. BRADY We went camping at Bear Run Campground in Butler County. We wanted to fish but the pond was mostly dried up.

Q. What did you did then?

A.BRADY Well we just made the best of it and caught bullfrogs and snails and red-spotted newts. We also heard lots of mourning doves.

Q. So do you have any recordings?

A.BRADY...Yes. We recorded the mourning doves.