Captina Conservancy celebrates Marvin’s birthday

T-L Photos/CARRI GRAHAM Zelda McKivitz, 8, points to Marvin in her aquarium.

BARNESVILLE — A celebration was held Tuesday to honor the oldest known living hellbender salamander’s 42nd birthday.

Celebrators gathered at the Stillwater Science Center in Barnesville, on the campus of Olney Friends School, where they were able to visit with Marvin, watch her eat some treats of minnows and worms, and learn more about the life of the hellbender and preservation efforts being made for its habitat.

Though it was the first year celebrating the amphibian’s birthday, more than 20 people turned out to enjoy the festivities.

Captina Conservancy Executive Director Ellie Ewing opened the party with a presentation on the hellbender and background information on Marvin.

She said the hellbender is an endangered species in Ohio, making Marvin’s age all the more impressive.

“She’s the oldest known hellbender salamander on record anywhere. We have hellbender salamanders here in Captina Creek in Belmont County, so that means we have a good quality stream. The water is good here – the salamanders need good water to live in, and that’s why our organization hosts Marvin to teach people about hellbenders and how they live in our creek and how important they are,” she said.

Since the 1980s, the hellbender population has declined by 80 percent in the state.

Though researchers are unsure of the exact cause, it is thought that poor water quality and predators are leading factors in the decline, Ewing said.

Marvin came into custody of the conservancy this time last year after her previous owner, a man from Cleveland, Ohio, died after suffering a health issue.

“She (Marvin) was collected in 1985 by a biologist (Ralph Pfingsten) who was studying hellbenders in Cleveland. He kept her at his house in an aquarium there up until last year when he had a stroke and passed away, so that’s how she came to stay with us,” Ewing said.

Marvin, who is now around 2 feet long from the tip of her nose to the end of her tail, was originally found in Salt Creek near Chillicothe, Ohio, when she was 5 years old. She now calls the Stillwater Science Center home and she resides in a 200-gallon aquarium that was given to the conservancy by the Columbus Zoo. Olney Friends School students help feed Marvin each day.

Ewing said when hellbenders are “happy and healthy” they tend to stay under a large rock, which is their preferred habitat.

“So most of the time that’s where you can find her (Marvin), hanging out underneath her rock,” she said, adding that Captina Conservancy has a TikTok account for Marvin entitled, “Marvin Doing Nothing.”

“Because most of the time that’s what she’s doing,” Ewing said.

Attendees gathered around Marvin’s tank to get a glimpse of her; however, she was being a bit shy, hiding underneath her favorite rock. One could only see her gray head peeking out from behind the rocks in her tank. Ewing said they brought a single rock from Marvin’s previous tank, which is now her favorite and preferred hiding spot.

Zelda McKivitz, 8, quickly pointed Marvin out as she blended in with the rocks. McKivitz said her fascination with wildlife prompted her to want to come visit the giant salamander.

“I’m a big reptile fan, and I’m really interested in learning more about Marvin,” she said.

Ewing attempted to coax Marvin out by feeding her minnows and worms. Unfortunately, her tank mate, Larry, a large mouth bass, continued to eat the minnows as soon as Ewing would drop one in. Marvin did take a bite of an earthworm but still refused to come out.

Barnesville High School students Isabella Taylor, 17, Anna Cline, 16, and Cali Crick, 16, all came as a group after recently speaking with Ewing about hellbenders at the school’s Key Club meeting. Taylor said she loves Marvin and the fact that she has no eyelids. Cline commented that Marvin is very pretty, and the other girls agreed.

After singing Marvin “Happy Birthday,” party-goers enjoyed cake and ice cream.


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