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Smokies rangers: Moving rocks affects salamander habitats in park

Those artsy stacks of rocks, known as rock cairns, actually negatively affect the animals that live in the water.

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Your social media posts may be to blame for the destruction of the habitat of one of the most well-known creatures in the Smokies.

Rangers say people who move rocks to create art or change the landscape are affecting the Hellbender Salamander.

They grow up to nearly two feet long.

The Hellbender is one of 30 species of salamander in the park.

"They're kind of homebodies," said research coordinator and Park Ranger Paul Super. "They find a rock that provides just the right amount of shelter, and that's their home base for years."

The Hellbender Salamander lives among all the other aquatic life around rocks in rivers and streams.

When we touch the rocks, Super said, we're threatening their homes.

"People got really upset with Godzilla when he went around and stamping on the houses or knocking roofs off," said Super.

Super said the rocks that Hellbenders use can range from the size of a dinner plate or larger. 

He says oftentimes, people will take them from streams or rivers, and actually make art of them, which is not good.

They're called rock cairns, and you've probably seen them on your Instagram or Facebook feed.

"People like to create dams or create a channel for zooming down in your inner tube and all of that rock movement is not appropriate in our park streams because they can all harm our wildlife," said Super.

Super said the Smokies are a good place to see the salamanders and other wildlife, just not to move rocks.

"Other places that are not preserving a natural area, those might be really good places to have rock piles and cairns and that sort of thing," said Super.

He said you can check out some stunning wildlife by going snorkeling.

"A good thing to do is to go snorkeling and just look and see if you can see Hellbenders, if you're really lucky," said Super.

Super said when added all together, salamanders most likely outweigh bears in the Smokies, and they're a large part of the research conducted every day. 

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