The Saint Louis Zoo and the Missouri Department of Conservation today announced that Ozark hellbenders have been successfully bred in captivity - a first for either of the two subspecies of hellbender. This decade-long collaboration has yielded 63 baby hellbenders so far. Both parents are wild bred: the male has been at the zoo for the past two years and the female arrived this past September.
The first hatched on November 15, and approximately 120 additional eggs are expected to hatch within the next week. Behind the scenes in the Zoo’s Herpetarium, the eggs are maintained in climate and water quality-controlled trays. For 45 to 60 days after emerging, the tiny larvae will retain their yolk sack for nutrients and move very little as they continue developing. They will begin to grow legs, and eventually lose their external gills by the time they reach 1.5 to 2 years of age.
Once the captive-bred larvae are 3 to 8-years-old, they can then be released into their natural habitat the Ozark aquatic ecosystem. They are kept in elaborate facilities that recreate the ideal environment in which they can thrive in during that time.