Friday, May 4, 2012

See the little pupfish mate

[This is now chronologically inaccurate, because we went to Saltwater Creek before we were pushed off the mountain by the sandstorm.]

I do a lot of eavesdropping.  I can be pretty quiet with strangers, but I listen to what they say.  And two visits to the restroom at our campground exposed me to the idea of slightly amending the plans for the next day.  Two separate sets of people were discussing their visits to Salt Creek to watch the pupfish mate.  Now I'm not an ichthyologist and I didn't really know what this would entail, but somehow even with this limited information, I convinced my travel mates that this was worth investigating.

According to one of the many signs at the Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, pupfish may be the heartiest fish on the planet.  They live in extreme conditions -- particularly the extremely salty, hot, and shallow water found in Death Valley.  Pupfish in general get their name because the males look like puppies playing when they are mating.  The species found in Salt Creek are the Salt Creek Pupfish (Cyprinodon salinus salinus). Worldwide there are 120 nominal species and 9 subspecies of pupfish and they all live in harsh conditions.  The Salt Creek Pupfish and the neighboring Cottonball Marsh Pupfish are both listed as an endangered species by the IUCN.

I'm not convinced it was still mating season, because they weren't really jumping around all that much when we got there.  Still we all agreed, the trail was super informative and the surrounding area was really pretty.  A small, salty oasis in the middle of Death Valley -- who knew?


Those dots are the fish:




One additional note I'd like to make in this semi-public forum (only "semi" in that I have a total of 10 readers): I was really, really disappointed in how many human footprints I saw at Salt Creek. The Forest Service kindly built a boardwalk with extremely informative signs every 50 ft that clearly stated to stay on the boardwalk. This is a sensitive habitat and yes, just walking on the dirt can have an impact. So should any of my faithful 10 readers head to Salt Creek, I beseech you, please, stay on the boardwalk. Let's take nothing and not leave footprints on this sensitive habitat so that future generations can watch the pupfish mate!