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Volunteers to spruce up pupfish ponds

March 10, 2011

Many people who park in Lot 59 on ASU’s Tempe campus walk by the pond on its edge every day without realizing that the water is home to some important creatures.

The pond is part of Desert Arboretum Park and it’s home to several hundred desert pupfish, an endangered species of fish.

Since it was created in 1998 as a research vehicle by the late W. L. Minckley, the pond and a connected pond and stream in Desert Arboretum Park have been invaded by numerous non-native plants such as salt cedar, palm trees and reeds. And, the lower pond, particularly, has been, at times, a dumping ground for unwanted tropical fish.

Now it’s cleanup time for the home of the small silver pupfish.

At 8:30 a.m., March 19, members of the ASU Alumni Association will pull cut and pull reeds from the ponds and remove non-native plants as part of ASU Cares, a national ASU alumni volunteer day.

And, at 8:30 a.m., March 26, Devils in Disguise, part of ASU’s Community Service Coalition, will take over the gardening tools. (On that day, Devils in Disguise also will be working at a dozen other Valley locations.)

It will be a huge job, so volunteers are welcome both days, said Deborah Thirkhill, program coordinator for The Arboretum at ASU. Volunteers should bring hip waders or aqua socks, or wear old tennis shoes, she said. Water and tools will be provided. All the vegetation that is removed will be composted for use on the campus grounds.

Paul Marsh, an emeritus faculty member from the School of Life Sciences who worked with Minckley, said the desert pupfish originated on the Colorado River Delta in Sonora, Mexico and is still an endangered fish species.

At their home in Desert Arboretum Park, “their numbers go up and down quite a bit- they have good and bad years,” said Marsh.

“Now, the primary purpose of the pond is to educate people. I don’t believe there are any active studies going on here.

“This critter is no longer found in the wild in Arizona,” Marsh added. “They are only found in captivity, and not in many places.”

ASU’s pupfish are under the care of the Department of Animal Care Technology. Department director James Badman visits them periodically to make sure that all is well.

To volunteer to help clean up the Desert Arboretum Park with the Alumni Association, contact Cindy Dick at (480) 965-0093 or

To volunteer with Devils in Disguise, contact James Randall at (480) 965-0550 or

For more information about Desert Arboretum Park, contact Thirkhill at (480) 268-4165 or