July 2007

The Pups Have New Homes

PHOENIX — About 150 endangered desert pupfish are in new homes, courtesy of biologists' hard work and a 70-mile truck ride in special holding tanks.

Game and Fish biologist Ross Timmons nets desert pupfish in preparation for relocation.Biologists from the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Tonto National Forest recently extracted the pupfish from a pond at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior and transported them for release near Mud Spring in the Tonto National Forest, about 40 miles northeast of Phoenix.

“Desert pupfish were once common and widespread,” says Ross Timmons, a biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “This was a coordinated effort between the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Tonto National Forest to create new populations of desert pupfish within their range.”

Desert pupfish, a federally listed endangered species, only live in parts of Arizona , California , and Mexico . Pollution, human changes to the environment and the introduction of competing exotic fish species in Arizona have caused the desert pupfish's habitat to shrink.

Several organizations have been involved in breeding more of the fish so that new areas can be populated. In this case, the transplanted fish were taken from a pond at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

About 150 desert pupfish were transplanted to a site in the Tonto National Forest.“Biologists netted 146 desert pupfish out of the Boyce Thompson pond yesterday morning,” says Bob Calamusso, fisheries biologist for the Tonto National Forest . “The fish were put in special holding tanks and transported by truck to the Mud Spring area, where biologists spent several hours tempering the water in the tanks to that of the new site before releasing them.”

Historically, the desert pupfish lived throughout  the lower Gila River basin and the San Pedro, Santa Cruz, Salt and lower Colorado rivers in Arizona. It is a 1- to 2-inch long fish that lives in shallow waters.

It has a smooth, rounded body with dark bars down the sides. Breeding males have blue bodies, with yellow to orange tail fins. Females and their young have tan- or olive-colored backs and silver sides.

In addition to the desert pupfish transplant, biologists also augmented the existing  endangered Gila topminnow population at the site with about 100 additional topminnow, also from the Boyce Thompson pond.