Name Anne Puchalsky
Hometown Carlisle, Pa.
Claim to fame In high school, she was part of a group that helped get the eastern hellbender declared the Pennsylvania state amphibian.
Hobbies Hiking, paddling, canoeing—anything outdoors.
When she was in high school, Puchalsky volunteered for the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Student Leadership Program and became part of a team that was working to get the eastern hellbender proclaimed the state amphibian. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill making it official in April 2019.
FOR THE PEOPLE
Puchalsky’s main job was to help with public education and outreach, which mostly involved contacting members of the legislature to educate them on the hellbender and the importance of clean watersheds. Her team also spoke to members of the public who attended the program’s annual Canoe Classic along the Susquehanna River.
The hellbender, a brown salamander that can be found from New York to Georgia, is North America’s largest amphibian. It’s known as the “Allegheny alligator,” “lasagna lizard” (due to the skin folds it uses to breathe), and “snot otter,” because of the mucus it secretes as a defense mechanism when touched. She says they’re “not the most appealing or endearing creature,” but are important because “their health is an indicator of the ecosystem’s health that they live in.”
The state bill signed last year doesn’t provide any protections for the species. “It hopes to raise awareness that they need clean water to live, and so do we,” Puchalsky says.
The COVID-19 pandemic kept Puchalsky from being able to find an internship last summer, but she’s focused on a career as a wildlife biologist studying how humans impact wildlife populations. “Throughout high school I thought I had wanted to go into agricultural sciences, but junior year I got more involved in the environmental aspect,” she says.
Snot otters aren’t her only area of interest. “I guess I’ve always been fascinated with wildlife,” she says, “but recently birds have become more of a focus.” —BR