The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the Ozark hellbender as a federally endangered species that cannot be harmed, killed, or bought and sold as a pet.
The Ozark hellbender is found only in the streams of the White River system in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
Ozark hellbender populations have dropped by 75 percent since the 1980s, with fewer than 600 remaining in the wild.
The main threats facing hellbenders are water pollution, habitat loss from mining, dams, and erosion, and collection for the pet trade.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also listed both the Ozark and eastern hellbenders as protected under CITES, an international agreement to prevent rare and endangered species from being commercially bought and sold.
At up to two feet in length, the hellbender is one of the largest salamanders in the world.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the new legal protections should significantly improve the chances of survival for this unusual amphibian.