Got Nature? Blog

Purdue University has teamed up with four zoos to protect hellbenders. This effort is a worldwide collaboration as zoos, government agencies, and other conservation groups, implement much-needed conservation initiatives. This recently published publication titled How Our Zoos Help Hellbenders shares the current zoos in Indiana that are collaborating with Purdue in this conservation effort. Zoos are conservation and research organizations that play critical roles both in protecting wildlife and their habitats and in educating the public. Thus, with hellbenders experiencing declines over the past several decades, teaming up with zoos in order to preserve and protect the hellbender species is ideal. The zoos that are currently partners with Purdue University in this effort are: Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, Indiana; Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette, Indiana; Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Nashville Zoo in Nashville, Tennessee.

Three videos have been released showing how the zoos are working with Purdue University to help protect hellbenders. You can check them out below!

Conservation Efforts, Mesker Park Zoo
Hellbender Research Participation Spotlight, Columbian Park Zoo
Conservation, Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Hellbender Conservation, Nashville Zoo
Purdue Partners with Indiana Zoos for Hellbender Conservation – Purdue Newsroom
Help the Hellbender, Purdue Extension-FNR
Nature of Teaching, Purdue Extension-FNR
I found this in my barn. Is it a Hellbender? – Purdue FNR Extension, Got Nature

Nick Burgmeier, Research Biologist and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Students in Forestry and Natural Resources (FNR) continue to volunteer for Hands of the Future, Inc., a non-profit program whose mission is to help educate children about the outdoors and natural resources. As this program continues to grow, one of their dreams has been to find woods to create a children’s forest. To have a natural site that has been embellished upon with children’s needs in mind and to encourage outdoor play and adventures.

The students plan on transforming 18.8 acres of idle woods into Zonda’s Children’s Forest. The children’s forest will be composed of six main areas:

  1. A children’s garden, equipped with a greenhouse and kitchen, thChildren climbing on tree, Hands of the Futureat’ll allow children to learn how to properly grow and cook food.
  2. An enclosed area dedicated to allowing children having fun and safe adventures.
  3. A viewing area for butterflies, birds and other organisms of the wild, allowing children to easily enjoy the life of the forest.
  4. A maze designed by sunflowers, where children can have fun and do problem-solving, while close to nature.
  5. A walk dedicated to viewing the owls and other organisms composing the forest.
  6. Another enclosed area of the woods for adventures; However, it’ll also contain tree houses, bridges and other fun additions for the children.

Donations to help make Zonda’s Children’s Forest a reality can be made here. They have six months to raise $235,000 in order to purchase the woods.

Volunteers & Interns:
Older students and adults can apply to be a volunteer. Volunteers are always appreciated, no past experience necessary. If you love nature and kids you will enjoy this program. Internships are available for college students, contact Zonda Bryant.

Hands of the Future, Inc.
Junior Nature Club

Zonda Bryant, Director


Spotted salamander.

The Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) is a common species of mole salamander. Photo credit: T. Travis Brown.

I have been asked some variation of this question multiple times over the past several years. Sometimes the “hellbender” is found in a barn, on a basement floor, crawling across a driveway, or occasionally in a pond. The common denominator is always that someone has found a salamander, and they are concerned it is an Eastern Hellbender that needs help.

I appreciate this concern. I am glad to see that people have become more aware of the existence of the Eastern Hellbender and that it is something worth helping. The Eastern Hellbender is an endangered species in Indiana, and we always welcome reports from concerned citizens. However, the Eastern Hellbender is a very rare species in Indiana and is uncommon throughout most of its range in the eastern United States. The species has been declining in Indiana over the past several decades and is now known only from the Blue River in Washington, Harrison, and Crawford Counties. For this reason alone, it is unlikely that anyone would find a Hellbender on their property.

However, another equally important reason that it is unlikely a Hellbender involves the species biology. The Eastern Hellbender is fully aquatic and lives exclusively in rivers and streams. Unlike most amphibians, its primary means of respiration is by absorbing oxygen directly from the water through its skin. One adaptation Hellbenders have evolved to help with oxygen absorption is the development of wavy skin-folds along the sides of their bodies. These skin-folds provide greater surface area for oxygen absorption. Hellbenders have lungs, but they do not function well enough to allow them to survive extended periods of time on land. Hellbenders have been found on land immediately next to rivers and streams, but this is rare and is generally considered an anomaly.

Hellbender vs. mudpuppy

Top: Hellbender, Bottom: Common Mudpuppy.

While this rules out finding them on land away from rivers and streams, what about ponds and lakes? Hellbenders typically prefer clean, cool, swift flowing rivers and streams with a high oxygen content. These conditions are not typically found in ponds and lakes, and would make it unlikely that hellbenders would willingly reside in them. Moreover, these water bodies are usually landlocked with no close access from rivers and streams, and since hellbenders do not like to travel overland, they will likely never encounter a pond or lake.

There are two unlikely possibilities that might result in a Hellbender being found in a pond or lake. The first would be if someone captured a hellbender and moved it there. The second would be a pond or lake owner that lives in the floodplain of a river containing Hellbenders. Hellbenders do occasionally get dislodged by flooding and washed downstream. A large flood has the potential, however unlikely, to wash a Hellbender into a nearby pond. I am unaware of this ever happening, but it is a possibility.

So if you haven’t found a Hellbender, what have you found? If you found your salamander on land, it is very likely one of a group of salamanders known as mole salamanders. Mole salamanders are common throughout most of Indiana. They typically breed in ponds in the spring and then hide under logs or bury themselves underground. They are commonly found during spring breeding migrations and are frequently seen in large numbers. They often times find themselves wandering onto our properties and getting stuck in window wells or hiding themselves under rocks, firewood, or in our barns.

If you found your salamander in the water then it could be either the aforementioned mole salamander or a Common Mudpuppy. Mudpuppies are commonly confused with hellbenders and do live in ponds, wetlands, and creeks. Like the Hellbender, they are fully aquatic and don’t go on land except in very rare circumstances. Mudpuppies have large, fluffy gills behind their heads, which Hellbenders do not have. Mudpuppies also lack the skins folds along the sides of their bodies.

While most people will go their entire lives without ever seeing a Hellbender, if you live in the right areas it is a possibility. If you think you have seen a Hellbender, then please take a photo and let us know by visiting our Hellbender Reporting Webpage below. We are always happy to help.

Hellbender ID – video, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center, Purdue Extension
Help the Hellbender: North America’s Giant Salamander, The Education Store
Salamanders of Indiana, The Education Store
Appreciating Reptiles and Amphibians, The Education Store

Nick Burgmeier, Research Biologist and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

It’s Arbor Day again, and it’s time to celebrate the importance of trees. The fact that trees are essential to both humans and wildlife is well-established. However, most people think of trees in the context of oxygen production, wood products, and habitat for wildlife such as squirrels and birds. I’d like to focus on one of the less well-known services that trees provide, keeping water clean. This service not only benefits people but alsoStream with soft bank. aquatic wildlife like the Hellbender salamander.

The Hellbender salamander is North America’s largest salamander. It is fully aquatic, living its entire life in rivers and streams throughout the midwest and southeast. Hellbenders require cool, clean rivers and streams with rocky substrates to thrive and reproduce. Unfortunately, over the past few decades the species has declined or disappeared from many of these areas. There are several causes that scientists suspect, but the loss of trees due to increases in agriculture and urban/suburban areas is at the top of the list.

Trees do a number of things to keep our water clean. The forest canopy intercepts rainfall and slows the rate at which water enters the ground. This helps reduce flooding. Trees provide shade to rivers and streams thus keeping them cool and allowing for higher levels of dissolved oxygen. Trees also filter nutrients and chemicals from runoff, preventing them from entering streams. One of the most important functions that trees provide is stabilizing our riverbanks and hillsides and preventing sediment from entering the stream and changing our rocky river bottoms to mud bottoms. These functions are especially important in our modern landscape, where agriculture and hard surfaces dominate many areas.

All of these functions help to create a clean environment for Hellbenders and other aquatic wildlife to live. Without trees, it is likely that our rivers and streams would be too dirty for many species to survive. If you are looking for a way to help the Hellbender, then please consider planting a tree this Arbor Day. Several Arbor Day celebrations for 2017 will be held on Saturday, April 29th. Check out activities around your area: Purdue Extension County Offices, Indiana Department of Natural Resources or Tippecanoe Soil & Water Conservation District.

For more ways you can help, please visit Help the

Rainscaping, Purdue Extension
How Anglers and Paddlers Can Help the Hellbender, The Education Store-Purdue Extension resource center
Hellbender ID, The Education Store
Improving Water Quality by Protecting Sinkholes on Your Property, The Education Store
Improving Water Quality at Your Livestock Operation video, The Education Store
Healthy Water, Happy Home – Lesson Plan, The Education Store
Tree Planting Part 1: Choosing a Tree video, The Education Store
Tree Planting Part 2: Planting Your Tree video, The Education Store
Tree Installation: Process and Practices, The Education Store

Nick Burgmeier, Research Biologist and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Posted on March 13th, 2017 in Aquaculture/Fish, Aquatic/Aquaculture Resources | Comments Off on Raising Marine Shrimp in Indiana

Program Impacts identity


There continues to be significant interest in rearing marine shrimp in Indiana and the Midwest. Two issues of interest to existing and potential producers are supply of shrimp larvae and information on Best Management Practices for rearing shrimp here in Indiana.


What Has Been Done

The Indiana Soybean Alliance sponsored a demonstration project to see whether shrimp larvae could be raised using commercial feedstuffs (Live feeds are traditionally used). The theory being producers would not have to rely on shipments of larvae from tropical regions with significant risks. By using commercial feedstuffs, the footprint of operations could be reduced.
Shrimp, Purdue ExtensionA one day meeting for producers is planned for February 10, 2016, bringing together shrimp rearing experts from Texas A & M and Kentucky State Universities along with Purdue experts in marketing, economics and environmental controls. This program will encompass almost all phases of production through sales.


Although the larval demonstration project was unsuccessful, with shrimp mortalities within one day of arrival, future research may be undertaken using different protocols by bringing in brood shrimp (parental stocks) instead of shrimp eggs.

Marine Shrimp Biofloc Systems: Basic Management Practices publication, The Education Store, Purdue Extension

Once aquatic invasive species (AIS) are established in a new environment, typically, they are difficult or impossible to remove. Even if they are removed, their impacts are often irreversible. It is much more environmentally and economically sound to prevent the introduction of new AIS through thoughtful purchasing and proper care of organisms. Check out this article titled Aquatic Invasive Species – Organisms in Trade for a list of webinars bringing resources to teachers, water garden hobbyists, aquatic landscaping designers and to aquatic enthusiasts.  The video titled Beauty Contained: Preventing Invasive Species from Escaping Water Gardens is also available in the article which contains guidelines that were adopted from the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force along with addressing the care and selection of plants and animals for water gardens.

Aquatic Invaders in the Marketplace, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Great Lakes Sea Grant Network (GLERL), NOAA – Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory
Indiana Bans 28 Invasive Aquatic Plants, The Helm – Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
A Field Guide to Fish Invaders of the Great Lake Regions, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Purdue Researchers Get to the Bottom of Another Quagga Mussel Impact, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Lady Quagga Announces Latest Tour, llinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Protect Your Waters, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service & U.S. Coast Guard

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension

Quagga mussels, which arrived in Lake Michigan in the 1990s via ballast water discharged from ships, have colonized vast expanses of the Lake Michigan bottom, reaching densities as high as roughly 35,000 quagga mussels per square meter. The invasive species that can have major economic impacts filters up to 4 liters of water per day, and so far seems unaffected by any means of population control. It is also a constant threat to other systems, as it is readily transported between water bodies.

Researchers have long known that these voracious filter feeders impact water quality in the lake, but their influence on water movement had remained largely a mystery.

“Although Lake Michigan is already infested with these mussels, an accurate filtration model would be imperative for determining the fate of substances like nutrients and plankton in the water,” Purdue University PhD candidate David Cannon said. “In other quagga mussel-threatened systems, like Lake Mead, this could be used to determine the potential impact of mussels on the lake, which could in turn be used to develop policy and push for funding to keep mussels out of the lakes.”

For full article and video view Purdue Researchers Get to the Bottom of Another Quagga Mussel Impact.

A Field Guide to Fish Invaders of the Great Lake Regions, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Lady Quagga Announces Latest Tour, llinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Protect Your Waters, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service & U.S. Coast Guard

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension

Great Lakes Early Detection NetworkThe Forest Pest Outreach and Survey Project at Purdue reminds us that early detection is the best way to slow the spread of invasive species. You can report invasive species by calling the Invasive Species hotline at 1-866-NO-EXOTIC (1-866-663-9684) or using the free Great Lakes Early Detection Network smartphone app, which can be downloaded on iTunes or GooglePlay. View video to see how easy it is to use the app, Great Lakes Early Detection Network App (GLEDN).

If you’re interested in learning more about invasive pests and how to report them, sign up for one of our free Early Detector Training workshops!

To register for workshops and to view full article see Forest Pest Outreach and Survey Project.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: February 27-March 3, 2017.

Invasive Species – Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR)
Ask an Expert – Purdue Extension-Forestry and Natural Resources
Indiana Invasive Species Council – Includes: IDNR, Purdue Department of Entomology and Professional Partners
Invasive Species Week a reminder to watch for destructive pests, Purdue entomologist says – Purdue Agriculture News

Sara Stack, MS student
Purdue Department of Entomology

You’ve heard about all the traditional careers. But what about being an outdoor scientist? Introducing the world to The Familiar Faces Project which shares careers in fisheries, acquatic sciences, forestry, wildlife and sustainable biomaterials. This video will show by example what it’s like to be an outdoor scientist, walking you through a typical work day of Megan Gunn. For more information about The Familiar Faces Project, contact

Aquatic Ecology Research Lab, Forestry and Natural Resources

Megan Gunn, Aquatic Ecology Research Scientist
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

QSalamander Photouestion from Josh L Lady: Which salamander is this?

The picture posted is one of our mole salamanders (family Amystomatidae). This common family name comes from their habit of staying underground and in burrows of other creatures, except when breeding. Species in this family can be difficult to tell apart at times. Adding to the confusion, there is a species called the Mole salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) which in Indiana is only found in the extreme southwestern part of the state.

The species below is likely a Small-mouthed Salamander (Ambystoma texanum). It can be found throughout Indiana except the extreme northwestern and southeastern portions of the state. The Small-mouthed Salamander is a moderate sized salamander characterized by its slender head and small mouth. Most individuals are dark gray to grayish brown with light gray speckles (often resembling lichen-like markings), particularly on the lower sides of the body. Adults usually reach 11-19 cm in length and have an average of 15 costal grooves (i.e., the “wrinkles” on the sides of the body; range 13-15).

I say it is likely a Small-mouthed Salamander because they are nearly identical to in appearance to the Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri). There are minor differences in the teeth and premaxillary bones between the two species; however, these structures are not readily observable in the field. Geographic location and habitat type are the best ways to distinguish these two species. Streamside Salamanders are restricted to extreme southeastern Indiana, occupy hilly areas, and breed in streams. Small-mouthed Salamanders exist nearly statewide, occur in wooded floodplains, and breed in ephemeral wetlands.

Salamanders of Indiana, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center.
Appreciating Reptiles and Amphibians, The Education Store
Forest Management for Reptiles and Amphibians: A Technical Guide for the Midwest, The Education Store
Ranavirus: Emerging Threat to Amphibians, The Education Store

Brian MacGowan, Wildlife Extension Specialist
Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources

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