Herpetologist Greg Lipps, standing knee-deep in the Kokosing River in Knox County, lifts the side of a large, flat rock and tilts it up on edge. As the swirling mud below slowly clears, he stares intently into the water.
No one seems to know for sure how or where the name “hellbender” came from. One theory claims that this docile, harmless salamander was named by early American settlers who thought it so ugly, “it was a creature from hell where it’s bent on returning.” Other common names for Cryptobranchus alleganiensis include devil dog, mud dog, water dog, and grampus. My personal favorite — for the disgusted reaction it triggers — is “snot otter,” describing the heavy coating of mucus that covers the creature’s wrinkled, mottled-brown skin.