Scientific Name: Family Cyprinodontidae
Description: Pupfish are ray-finned fish with have striking coloration. The Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis), for example, is bright blue with purplish accents. The White Sands pupfish has yellow and orange fins.
Size: Most pupfish are very small, some less than an inch in length.
Diet: Pupfish feed on algae, plants, aquatic invertebrates, and insects.
Typical Lifespan: Between 6 and 12 months for Devils Hole pupfish. Others, like the Comanche Springs Pupfish (Cyprinodon elegans) live for 1 to 2 years.
Habitat: When Ice Age lakes that covered a large part of the southwest began to dry up, pupfish were confined to small areas with poor water quality. In order to survive, the various species have become highly adapted to withstanding conditions that would kill most other fish. The desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius eremus), for example, can live in water temperatures up to 110oF! Other species tolerate huge swings in temperatures or salt content three times higher than in ocean water!
Range: Pupfish are found in isolated aquatic habitats in the United States southwest. Individual species are known from very small localities. The Devils Hole pupfish lives in only one area that is 3 by 5 feet across.
Life History and Reproduction: The Devils Hole pupfish lives in a relatively constant habitat, so it can breed year round. The mating system is polygynous, and males may prevent other males from breeding with a female. When larvae hatch, they are less than a centimeter long. The offspring reach full reproductive maturity at 8 to 10 weeks.
Fun Fact: The Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis mionectes) of Nevada can live in as little as one half inch of water.
Conservation Status: Many species occur in incredibly low numbers and are Federally listed as Endangered. It’s natural for pupfish to occur in low numbers, because their habitats can’t accommodate large populations. However, their small populations make them more vulnerable to extinction, and even slight threats to their habitats are major problems. Pollution and invasive species affect some species. Pupfish living in spring-fed environments are at risk from excessive groundwater withdrawal, which can dry up their habitats.
New Mexico State University College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Nevada Fish & Wildlife Office – Devils Hole Pupfish
Nevada Fish & Wildlife Office – Ash Meadows Amargosa Pupfish
Tohono Chul Park
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Species Reports
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department – Comanche Springs Pupfish
Pima County Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan