Snot Otter

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The snot otter, more officially known as the hellbender salamander or Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, is North America’s most super-sized salamander, growing up to 30 inches long. It inhabits streams and rivers from Arkansas to New York, and has evolved very little since the time of dinosaurs.

However, this incredible species is disappearing. For reasons that are unclear, many populations of hellbenders have stopped reproducing. To try to save the species from extinction, researchers from the Nashville Zoo and the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium, along with veterinarians from Michigan State University, are developing a way to freeze hellbender sperm.

Using a freezing technique known as cryopreservation, these scientists hope to create an international gene banking program that can distribute genetically viable hellbenders to re-stock streams and rivers, should we ever need to resurrect the species.

The cryopreservation technique is similar to that used for freezing human sperm. Freezing the semen stops all biological activity, including the biochemical reactions that would otherwise cause the sperm cells to die. Chemicals called cryoprotectants are added to prevent freezing damage.

Already producing promising results, this technique could become a global model for the genetic management of threatened amphibians.