Devil’s Hole Pupfish on the Rebound?


Photo courtesy USFWS

The inch-long iridescent blue Devil’s Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) rebounded this fall to 126 adult fish, 34 more than last fall’s count and the highest number recorded since 2004, the Associated Press reported last week.

“We’re feeling like we’re at least maintaining the population,” Bob Williams, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor for Nevada, told the AP.

Listed as endangered in 1967, the pupfish is believed to spawn exclusively on a shallow rock shelf just under the water’s surface in a bottomless geothermal pool in a cavern in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The water temperature is 93 degrees Fahrenheit.


The plight of the pupfish, one of the rarest animals in the world, was one of the factors that led to the creation of the Endangered Species Act. The fish has even fallen under the protection of the U.S. Supreme Court.


Photo courtesy USFWS


Divers count each and every pupfish every year. The population peaked at a little more than 550 in the early 1990s after the fish became protected, but then started to decline from about 1997. Scientists have not been able to establish whether the decline is part of a natural cycle or if there is something else going on.

pupfish3.jpgThe effort to save the pupfish from extinction has cost hundreds of thousand dollars.

When numbers fell to 38 fish by early 2006, the lowest on record, biologists tried a number of measures to help them, including supplementing their diet. Special refuges were provided to protect larvae from predators. Some individuals were relocated for breeding elsewhere.

Letting it go in the face of the extinction of so many other species may not seem such a big loss. But saving this enigmatic fish in its bizarre native habitat would be some good news, for a change.




Photo courtesy USFWS



Photo of Devil’s Hole cavern and map courtesy USFWS

Read more:

Devils Hole Pupfish, Saved by Court in ’76, Is at Brink in ’08  (New York Times)
Desert pupfish in hot water (San Francisco Chronicle)

Watch this video on the Devil’s Hole pupfish (PBS):

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn