A West Virginia University doctoral student had the opportunity to assist Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Director Emeritus “Jungle” Jack Hanna in introducing audiences of The Late Show with David Letterman to the largest salamander in North America, the eastern hellbender. The Late Show segment will air today (Feb. 28).

Joe Greathouse is pursuing a Ph.D. in animal and nutritional sciences from WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. He’s also the director of conservation science for The Wilds, a private, non-profit conservation center for endangered species in Cumberland, Ohio.

Recent surveys conducted by The Wilds and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on eastern hellbenders in Ohio and West Virginia have determined populations of this species to be in decline in the wild. In response, a partnership consisting of government agencies, zoos, soil and water conservation districts, a land trust, and education institutions was formed to aid in the recovery of hellbenders. The Wilds is involved in the continued monitoring and assessment of their health in the wild to better understand the threats to this endangered species.

“The hellbender is the largest salamander in North America,” Greathouse said. “It’s endangered or rare in each state that it inhabits.”

A nickname for the hellbender is the “snot otter” due to the slimy secretion that is produced in order to protect the skin and to serve as a lubricant for sliding underneath boulders in streams and rivers.

The Wilds and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium are collaborating with the Ohio and West Virginia Divisions of Wildlife to conserve this species.

Check out the episode of the Late Show with David Letterman featuring WVU doctoral student Joe Greathouse here.

“At WVU, we’re assessing the impact of environmental factors on the presence of hellbenders in West Virginia,” Greathouse explained.

Deforestation is detrimental to the species by enabling greater sedimentation of stream bottoms. This sedimentation covers stone shelter and interstitial spaces where the hellbender’s prey lives. Deforestation also increases stream temperatures due to a loss of shade.

“We are also studying factors associated with reintroduction success with zoo raised animals and studying the impact of increased water temperatures on the induction of fasting and loss of body condition in this species, as global climate change could impact this species,” Greathouse added.

Greathouse earned his undergraduate degree in biology from WVU’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and a master’s in wildlife and fisheries resources from WVU’s Davis College.



CONTACT: David Welsh, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design
304.293.2394, David.Welsh@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.