Understanding behaviors associated with reproductive events is vital to management of captive breeding programs for threatened and endangered species. The Ozark hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) is a federally endangered aquatic salamander with only one successful captive breeding program (the Saint Louis Zoo's Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation). Although anecdotal observations have been reported for hellbender reproductive behavior from field observations, no quantitative assessments have been made. We quantified hellbender behavior from video-recordings of three successful breeding events at the Saint Louis Zoo that occurred in 2012, including aggressive, sexual, social, and locomotory behaviors. We used transition matrices to organize these data into kinematic diagrams that illustrated behavioral sequences for five time periods: pre-oviposition (2 nights), first oviposition night, inter-oviposition night, second oviposition night, and post-oviposition. General activity and agonistic behaviors increased moderately through the first oviposition night, peaked during inter-oviposition, and declined abruptly following the second oviposition night. Agonistic behavior included bites, charges, chases, and flight. Female-female aggression was common. Surfacing (presumably for accessory air breathing) followed intense activity. Presumed courtship behaviors (tail swishing and circling) occurred at low rates. During oviposition, females remained in the nest box for 1-2+ h. We encourage managers of captive breeding programs to use quantitative behavioral analyses to pin-point critical time periods and conditions for successful reproduction.



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© 2018 the authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.


Captive breeding, Endangered species, Hellbender, Kinematic analysis, Reproduction

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Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution