St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - Three populations of an endangered breed of Missouri salamanders have reproduced in captivity for the first time, the Saint Louis Zoo said Thursday.

Eight Ozark hellbenders laid over 2,800 fertile eggs in artificial nest boxes in the Saint Louis Zoo's simulated streams at the Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation.

The hellbender is one of the largest species of salamanders in North America noted for its black and brown splotches.

According to Christy Childs, a zoo spokeswoman, this is the second time Ozark hellbenders have bred in captivity, but the first time all three of the simulated river populations have reproduced.

South central Missouri and Arkansas rivers once supported up to 8,000 of these salamanders. In October 2011, they were added to the federal endangered species list with less than 600 in the wild.

Projects to repopulate the Ozark Hellbender began in earnest throughout Missouri and Arkansas in 2001.

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