Devil's Hole Pupfish, the tiny, tenacious desert fish
December 9, 2015 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Go about 50 miles east of Death Valley and you'll find Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, a detached unit of Death Valley National Park. This complex of desert oases includes one significantly protected tiny body of water, both physically and legally. Known as Devil's Hole, a small portion of this underwater cave is home to the tiny Devil's Hole Pupfish, the smallest of the desert pupfish and one of the world's rarest fish with a wild population of 35 at it's low point in 2013.

That number is back up, but with 80 in the spring of 2015 (PDF, more on recovery efforts), it's still not a thriving population. Luckily, recent attempts at captive breeding appear to be succeeding where prior efforts failed after some period, as our understanding of the Devil's Hole pupfish continues to evolve.

Tangent: though the Devil's Hole Pupfish live in a very small area, foraging on a shallow ledge and traveling as deep as 66 feet (20 meters) in a section of the cave that is around 22.5 by 10 feet (7 by 3 meters), the extent of the cave network is unknown. Hillary Hauser wrote about diving underground and under water in the desert, while The Journal of Spelean History covered the history of Devil's Hole in it's 15th issue in 1971 (PDF), going into a bit more detail on the illegal dive that turned fatal in 1965, which is only briefly mentioned in this U.S.G.S. chronology of diving activities and underground surveys (PDF) from 1950-86, which includes some illustrations of the known sections of this cave network.
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been to the Devil's Hole and watched these little guys flit about. They are hearty, stocky little guys. With the torrential rains this fall, I hope they're doing OK.
posted by cyclotronboy at 1:18 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hang in there little fishies!
posted by JHarris at 1:19 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was just in Death Valley recently and was reading up on this fascinating place. There's amazing footage of the effect an earthquake has on the water in Devil's Hole, sending it sloshing around like a bathtub -- even though the epicenter was thousands of miles away. Nice post!
posted by chinston at 1:43 PM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for that link - there's a lot more to the history (and geology!) of this little (maybe?) body of water.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:26 PM on December 9, 2015


huh -- I've ben an NSS member since 1994 and did not know (or forgot) that The American Spelean History Association was a section. Those old journals look like good bedtime reading.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:29 PM on December 9, 2015


There's amazing footage of the effect an earthquake has on the water in Devil's Hole, sending it sloshing around like a bathtub -- even though the epicenter was thousands of miles away.

The 2004 earthquake & tsunami in the Indian ocean purportedly caused two-foot oscillations in the water table of the Edwards aquifer near San Antonio. I wish I had a cite for this, but I heard it from people who work for the Edwards Aquifer Authority down there. Crazy stuff.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:37 PM on December 9, 2015


From Wikipedia:
A number of artificial "refugia" (concrete tanks approximating conditions in Devils Hole) have been established to ensure species' survival should the natural population at Devils Hole die out: one at Hoover Dam established in 1972 (reported 2004 population, 79), and two near Devils Hole itself within the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge established in 1980 and 1991 that comprise the Amargosa Pupfish Station (with populations fluctuating between 90 and 120 depending on season).

So shines a good deed in a weary world.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:51 PM on December 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm usually kinda indifferent to the cuteness of lower vertebrates, but the pupfish are...really cute. Go little fishes!

Death Valley is truly one of the most alien places on the planet.
posted by notsnot at 7:21 PM on December 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Isn't Armagosa Pupfish Station the new one from China MiƩville?

It's a good thing to do, of course, but if you keep separate populations in various holes around the place, they'll start to diverge unless you constantly mingle individuals. I don't know how you start to work out whether this is a good thing to do or not: you want to preserve species, but evolution likes drift and divergence.
posted by Devonian at 3:27 AM on December 10, 2015


We are all Devil's Hole Pupfish on this tiny speck of dirt in the infinite void.
posted by scruss at 5:26 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Here's an illustration of the prime Devil's Hole Pupfish habitat, snapped hastily from this kid's book on endangered species, which kicked off this whole post. My son is a fan of these pupfish, mostly because of their name, so we've been looking into how they are doing since that book was published in 1983.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:00 AM on December 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


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