Chicago Sun-Times
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(REVISED) Hellbender (Make that mudpuppy): The answer

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Readers who called and one poster below have suggested, this is a mudpuppy and not a hellbender.


I tend to agree with them after looking at distribution maps and trying to compare photos of hellbenders, mudpuppies and what was caught at Navy Pier..

Here's a link to the National Geographic on mudpuppies.

Not sure best how to do this, but will leave the original post below, while noting here I think now it is a mudpuppy, originally called a hellbender.

The answer, I'm fairly certain, is hellbender. The question came from Mariano.

This isn't one [above] he caught at Navy Pier while perch fishing earlier this month, but one that I caught on Christmas morning at Navy Pier in 2006.

An image like that tends to stick with you, at least with me..

Here's the original question from Mariano earlier ths month:

On the morning of Dec. 4, while fishing with my friend off Navy Pier, I caught and released something that looked like an eel. We didn't have a camera but I can describe it. It was about 20 inches long, had a big belly, small eyes, was black with red spots, and had four small legs. What was it? Fish or a salamander? Are there salamanders in the lake?

It took me a couple days until I had free time to dig up the story and photo of my hellbender, a day I vividly remember.

It came shortly after young Joshua Arnold had nearly caught another one just down the pier from me. Some days later, Mike Conlin, the now retired former Illinois fisheries chief, identified it as a hellbender.

Originally, I thought it might be a small-mouth salamander, so I was glad when Conlin gave me a heads up what he thought it was.

Naturally, there is a page for hellbenders at

There are very fascinating salamanders, and one of the bigger ones. Apparently, they indicate decent to good water quality.

I love questions like Mariano's. That's why we have run a questions as a Sunday feature on the outdoors page of the Sun-Times for years. If memory serves right, the feature started about four or five Sunday editors back with Dan Cahill.

I like questions that take some digging.

So I was surprised when Mariano dropped this note back:

Thank you very much for the information about my catch. My wife, Monica, didn't think I would get a response from you because I didn't have a picture to send you. I had good luck catching perch that day but the highlight was catching and releasing the hellbender.

Well, Monica, I love finding the answers to good questions.

If you got one, send them along to

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I saw a critter very similar to this, crawling on top of the snow, while pheasant hunting at Silver Springs State Park Saturday (12/19). Regretfully, I didn't get a photo. After doing a little research on the internet yesterday, I assumed that it was a small mouthed salamander. Although, the one I saw seemed to be very close, if not larger than the 7 inch maximum the small mouths are said to reach. Until last weekend, I had never seen anything of its kind in the field. This leads me to wonder exactly how rare a sighting it was, especially at this time of the year.

This animal is a mudpuppy. It is unfortunate as folks are reading this and spreading word of hellbenders occurring in the Great Lakes. Really a shame.


My first and only time seeing a "mudpuppy" was about 430 years ago. I was perching at the end of Johnson pier in Waukegan with some friends when my friend reeled in what had to be an almost record mudpuppy (about 2 foot long and 3-4 pounds). NONE of us had any idea of what it was no one had ever seen one. And then with the Zion Nuclear plant having recently opened we all decided it had to be some sort of mutant. It wasn't until a few weeks later when we were describing this thing at our local bait shop that some old timer told us what he thought we had caught.
Ahhhh, good ol' fish stories, gotta love e them! (Especially the true ones)

I came to this page today to post the observation that the critter in question almost has to be a mudpuppy, not a hellbender, but I see the clarification has already been made. But no harm done: if the item caused more people to go to the site and learn more about these fascinating but threatened amphibians, all the better. Frankly, it's refreshing to know that mudpuppies still thrive in Lake Michigan in enough numbers to startle anglers.

That's what I told you Dale. It's a MUDPUPPY. You will learn things from Cub Fans. (LISTEN TO THEM)
Ken S.

"You will learn things from Cub Fans"- Ken S.

Possibly true, just not about baseball.

Actually, the description given states it looked like an eel with small legs. Doing a little research, it looks like it may be a lesser siren salamander. Lesser sirens look very much like eels.


Mudpuppie just wash up on shore in Micnigan City ,do fron a strong storm. we just had on December,13, 2010 , the shore line is full of Mudpuppies and crab fish, and also cat fish, they perdick if was from the High winds at 40 miles per hour, they got toss up over the pier, from the high winds, in the last three days they are all over the shore, among them and driff wood

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on December 20, 2009 1:52 PM.

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