Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pupfish in Salt Creek

The approach to Salt Creek is dry, stark and silent, with regularly spaced creosote bushes the only form of life. You would have no idea that there is water flowing though a valley just 100 yards from here.

Area nearing Salt Creek, photo: Maria O'Meara

Entering Salt Creek, you are struck by the expanse of greenery, the calls of birds, the buzzing of insects, the sound of flowing water. 

Salt Creek, April 2012, Maria O'Meara
Visitors from around the world are fascinated with life in Death Valley Eileen O'Meara

Run off from the surrounding mountains has brought minerals and salt to this lake bed that is about 100 feet below sea level. 
Pickleweed in Salt Creek, Maria O'Meara
The valley floor is thick with pickleweed, a succulent adapted to living in salt water. As you can see below, it grows in capsule-like segments. When segments become too salty, the capsules drop off and new ones grow in. The capsules taste extremely salty, though I was the only one in my group who would try one.

Pickleweed close-up, Maria O'Meara

Salt grass exudes salt onto the blade's surface. The salt reflects the sun, protecting the plant. 

Water flows into Salt Creek in the spring, Maria O'Meara
Below you can see how incredibly salty this environment is. Layers of salt crystals have built up next to the stream. Chunks of salt gets all over your shoes, on your hands, and little particles coat your skin and the inside of your nose.

Salt deposits by the creek, Maria O'Meara
And amazingly, in this water with salinity higher than sea water, you see hundreds of pup fish wriggling around, mating, attacking each other, and swimming upstream to spawn. Look closely, there are really there.

Endangered pupfish, Maria O'Meara
Apparently they are cannibalistic though mostly they feed on algae.  The great majority die off in the summer as the tiny pools evaporate, and they become stranded. A few survive in the remaining, tiny pools of water. About 10,000 years ago, Lake Manly covered this entire area. The endangered Salt Creek pup fish adapted from life in cold, fresh water to life here in this harsh, salty environment. 
Hundreds of pupfish in springtime, Maria O'Meara

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