Comanche Springs pupfish (Cyprinodon elegans)

GenusCyprinodon (1)
SizeMaximum length: 62mm (2)
Top facts

The Comanche Springs pupfish is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Comanche Springs pupfish (Cyprinodon elegans) gained its common name from the Comanche Spring in western Texas, where it was first discovered (3).

The male Comanche Springs pupfish is mostly silver, apart from the brown-black speckled pattern that runs along each side of its body (2). The female is similar in appearance to the male, although it has a dark spot on its dorsal fin (4).

The Comanche Springs pupfish is restricted to a small series of springs and irrigation canals in the Pecos River drainage in Fort Stockton, Toyahvale, and Balmorhea in western Texas in the United States. The extremely small area occupied by this fish is just 10 kilometres squared (5).

The Comanche Springs pupfish inhabits freshwater artesian springs and associated marshes and canals (6). This species is well-adapted to its harsh habitat and can tolerate a large range of salinities (3) and temperatures of up to 40.5 degrees Celsius (7). This species spawns in various sites, ranging from fast-flowing spring outflows to standing water (8).

The Comanche Springs pupfish can live for up to two years, although most only live for around one year (4). As a result of its short lifespan, this pupfish has no distinct breeding season and is capable of spawning year-round (9).

The male Comanche Springs pupfish establishes a territory which is usually in swift water and will contain an algal mat onto which a female can spawn (10). When competing for a mate, the male moves into an upstream position within its territory and defends the area until a female arrives (10). Large females produce more eggs than smaller females (11) and the eggs generally hatch after around five days (12). The male fiercely defends the eggs until they hatch (10).

Although some male Comanche Springs pupfishes maintain a territory and will reproduce when a female enters the area, others may use one of two alternative techniques to mate, known as 'satellite positioning' and 'sneak spawning'. Satellite positioning involves an average-sized male occupying the periphery of the territory of a larger male and attempting to mate with females when they enter the territory. Sneak spawning is used by small males who have a similar appearance to the females. The larger males may not notice that the smaller individual is actually a male, allowing the smaller male to reproduce with the female without being detected and contested by larger conspecifics (13).

The diet of the Comanche Springs pupfish consists of algae and small invertebrates (4).

The small range of the Comanche Springs pupfish means that small changes in the environment can lead to drastic reductions in the overall population size. The main threat to this species is thought to be habitat loss, which is occurring due to excessive groundwater pumping for agriculture (1). The Comanche Spring pupfish has become locally extinct in the spring where it was discovered due to groundwater extraction (1) and excessive water removal is still a problem in the area, as much more water being removed than being replaced by rainfall (3). Other threats to this species include competition and hybridisation with non-native species such as the sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus) (14). An especially large population of this invasive fish lives in Lake Balmorhea, and the upstream dispersal of this population is proving to be detrimental to the Comanche Springs pupfish (15).

Current conservation efforts for this species are focussed on moderating water level fluctuations and removing invasive species (1). A man-made refugium and cienega were constructed in Balmorhea State Park in 1996 in an attempt to provide the Comanche Springs pupfish with a habitat that is not at risk of being drained (15). This wetland area has been located within the boundaries of the natural cienega in an effort to make it resemble and function similarly to the original habitat of this species (16). This conservation measure has proved to be a success and the area is now home to the world’s largest Comanche Springs pupfish population. Additionally, it is hoped that the removal of the invasive sheepshead minnow will help the Comanche Springs pupfish population to recover by eliminating unnatural competition (17).

The Comanche Springs pupfish was federally listed as endangered in the United States in 1967 (4).

Find out more about the Comanche Springs pupfish:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2013)
  2. Page, L.M. and Burr, B.M. (1991) A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.
  3. Texas Parks and Wildlife - Comanche Springs pupfish (November, 2013)
  4. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Comanche Springs Pupfish Species Information (November, 2013)
  5. Echelle, A.A., Echelle, A.F., Contreras Balderas, S. and Lozano Vilano, Ma. De L. (2003) Pupfishes of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert: Status and Conservation. In: Garrett, G.P. and Allan N.L. (Eds.) Aquatic Fauna of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert. Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.
  6. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (1981) Recovery Plan for the Comanche Springs Pupfish. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  7. Gehlbach, F.R., Bryan, C.L. and Reno, H.A. (1978) Thermal ecological features of Cyprinodon elegans and Gambusia nobilis, endangered Texas fishes. Texas Journal of Science, 30(1): 99-101.
  8. Ono, R.D., Williams, J.D. and Wagner, A. (1983) Vanishing Fishes of North America. Stone Wall Press, Washington, District of Columbia.
  9. Echelle, A.A. (1991) Conservation Genetics and Genic Diversity in Freshwater Fishes of Western North America. Battle Against Extinction: Native Fish Management in the American West. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona.
  10. Itzkowitz, M. (1969) Observations on the breeding behavior of Cyprinodon elegans in swift water. Texas Journal of Science, 21: 229-231.
  11. Garrett, G.P. and Price, A.H. (1993) Comanche Springs Pupfish (Cyprinodon elegans) Status Survey. Final Report, Endangered Species Act, Section 6, Project No.E-1-4. Available at:
  12. Cokendolpher, J. C. (1978) Cyprinodon elegans (Cyprinodontidae). American Currents, 6: 6-11.
  13. Leiser J.K. and Itzkowitz M. (2003) The breeding system of an endangered pupfish (Cyprinodon elegans). Western North American Naturalist, 63: 118-121.
  14. Lee, D.S., Gilbert, C.R., Hocutt, C.H., Jenkins, R.E., McAllister, D.E. and Stauffer, J.R. Jr. (1980) Atlas of North American Freshwater Fishes. North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  15. Echelle, A.F. and Echelle, A.A. (1994) Assessment of genetic introgression between two pupfish species, Cyprinodon elegans and C. variegatus (Cyprinodontidae), after more than 20 years of secondary contact. Copeia, 3: 590-597.
  16. Garrett, G.P. (2003) Innovative Approaches to Recover Endangered Species. In: Garrett, G.P. and Allan, N.L. (Eds.) Aquatic Fauna of the Northern Chihuahuan Desert. Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.
  17. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2013b) Comanche Springs Pupfish 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation. Austin Ecological Services Field Office, Austin, Texas.