A Fish That Only Lives in Death Valley

April 18, 2023

The Devil’s Hole pupfish in Death Valley National Park.

There happens to be a fish that lives in one of the hottest, most inhospitable environments in the world. What is even more amazing is that this particular fish only lives in this one area. This fish is known as the Devil’s Hole pupfish, and its only home is in Death Valley National Park.

Devil’s Hole is a detached 40-acre unit of Death Valley National Park that sits in Nevada. The pool at Devil’s Hole is small but reaches a depth of 400 feet. While there are other species of pupfish around the world, this is the only place where the Devil’s Hole pupfish lives.

The fish has been on the endangered list since 1967, and its home is extreme. The water temperature of the pool runs about 93 degrees Fahrenheit, and sunlight only hits a shallow, rock shelf where the fish feeds on a limited amount of algae. It also uses this same shelf to spawn four months out of the year.

The Devil’s Hole Pupfish’s Small Home in Death Valley
The Devil’s Hole Pupfish’s Small Home Ken Lund/Wikimedia

The Devil’s Hole pupfish has had plenty of time to adapt to its environment in Death Valley since it’s been isolated for 10,000 to 20,000 years. Because of this isolation, the fish has had widely fluctuating population levels. Between the late 1970s to 1996, the population was steady at approximately 324 fish. From 1997 to 2004, the average population dropped to 171. In 2006, the lowest number was recorded at 38 pupfish.

The latest count from Spring 2019 put the number at 136. The count is made more difficult because the fish is small, only measuring about one inch in length, and they are sometimes found at a depth of 80 feet.

While efforts to protect the fish have been ongoing, it hasn’t stopped some people from bothering them. In April 2016, three men who were drunk jumped the fence at the highly secured area and began shooting shotguns at signs, locks, scientific equipment, and surveillance cameras.

One man decided to stomp around on the rock shelf where the pupfish feeds while another decided to take a swim. He was naked, of course. He even left his boxer shorts behind in the pool for the rangers to find, along with beer cans and vomit. It was all too much for one unfortunate pupfish to handle because it was found floating dead in the water. The three men were caught and faced federal felony charges for killing one of the rarest fish in the world.

Sources: FWS.gov, National Park Service, LA Times, PBS

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

Follow the Stew