SciSun: If you can’t stand the Heat….   Leave a comment

Then you must not be a Desert Pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius), who’s just a little guy who lives in a very harsh world. While most fish are chilling out in rivers, lakes and oceans (unless they’re being chased by predators. It’s all fun and games until someone eats someone else), this species of Pupfish can only be found in the the hottest desert near the Salton Sea in southwestern California, a place where any water is a luxury, and to find entire populations of aquatic life can be considered a miracle.

And, these fish are a miracle of evolution; because not only are they at home in valleys surrounding the Volcan Mountains of San Diego County, California (the historic title ‘Volcan’ doesn’t stand for ‘volcano’ – although we have to wonder why someone would choose that name)– where it’s not unusual for air temperature to reach triple digits; they survive when the water, itself is 100 degrees or more. In fact pupfish and a few species of desert lizards are the only vertebrates that can live in such heat. Of course there’s also Stinky Sam the desert hermit, but most people agree the heat got to him a long, long time ago.

But it’s not just high temperatures that pupfish laugh at; most any condition that would be fatal to other fish, P-Fish takes on as if it’s nothing: Water with very little oxygen is fine, as well as water that has more than four times the salt concentration as the ocean. Cold water, down to 32 degrees – freezing temperature – doesn’t intimidate these little guys; in fact within thousands of years of heat and cold, dry and wet, these fish have survived. From the Pleistocene period, about 10,000 years ago, when the local ecology was more of a watery-wetland; through today when the entire population of pupfish are confined to small streams, ponds and pools often surrounded by human development and pollution; about the only challenge these little guys can’t overcome is water pumping and diversion for human use; and destruction of their environment due to human activities. Because no matter how tough a fish you are, you can’t survive without any water at all. And fish have very little use for golf courses or lush green lawns.

“Oh the heat isn't that bad.  It's like a built-in hot-tub.  Wish there were more bubbles, though.”

“Oh the heat isn’t that bad. It’s like a built-in hot-tub. Wish there were more bubbles, though.”

When you’re only 3 inches long or less (Pupfish are related to the little ocean Minnow, who always gets a bad rap but is an important food source for many ocean species), any life is hard. But in this story the true miracle isn’t about the Pupfish who continues to survive and thrive in an environment where few others can live; the miracle will be when humans, who can live almost everywhere, understand only through smart choices and taking care of our environment can we all continue to live in our world. Because if you can’t stand the heat, sometimes there’s no where else to go.


Michonne Says: If the fishes are hot they should go to the shade. I’ve always thought fishes aren’t too smart. If they were smart, they wouldn’t always be in the wet water.

Posted June 1, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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