A student and professor at Montreat College have received grants to study and help in the recovery of eastern hellbenders in Flat Creek, the main body of water flowing through Montreat and Black Mountain, North Carolina. Carson Yates, a sophomore at Montreat, received the Colonel B. Ledford Grant from the Appalachian College Association. And Joshua Holbrook, an instructor in the Environmental Science program, received the Balsam Mountain Trust Walk for Wildlife Grant. Both grants will be used for conservation of Flat Creek’s eastern hellbenders.

Eastern hellbenders, also known as snot otters, are the most massive salamander species in North America, growing to more than two feet long and weighing up to two pounds. Flat Creek is known to have a resident hellbender population, but the size and health of this population has never been properly assessed. The catastrophic floods in May 2018 killed hellbenders throughout the state, but it is unknown how much effect the flooding had on Flat Creek’s hellbenders.

Yates and Holbrook’s work will include surveys for hellbenders this summer and working with the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission to install nest huts at points along the creek, a pilot program that hopes to provide streamlined, sheltered habitats that will be safe from flooding events in the creek. The nest huts will provide a place for hellbenders to lay their eggs, something that is needed.

“Preliminary surveys over the past few years have not turned up any young hellbenders,” says Holbrook. “This is a disconcerting finding, and we hope that more robust surveys this summer will have better luck.” Yates and Holbrook will also be working with the Montreat Landcare committee to educate the public on the importance of hellbenders in Flat Creek.

The two researchers are seeking information on any sightings of hellbenders in Flat Creek in Montreat and Black Mountain, especially since the flooding in May 2018. Any information can be sent to joshua.holbrook@montreat.edu. Yates and Holbrook will also be presenting on the Flat Creek hellbender project—and on other salamanders that call Montreat home—at the Montreat Native Plant Sale on April 27.