Catarina pupfish

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Catarina pupfish
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cyprinodontiformes
Family: Cyprinodontidae
Genus: Megupsilon
R. R. Miller & Walters, 1972
Species: M. aporus
Binomial name
Megupsilon aporus
R. R. Miller & Walters, 1972

The Catarina pupfish (Megupsilon aporus) is a diminutive species of fish in the Cyprinodontidae family, first described in 1972.[2] It was endemic to a spring in Nuevo León Mexico, but has been extinct in the wild since about 1994. As of December 2012, one small captive population still remains.[3] In addition to its small size, it is characterized by absence of pelvic girdle and pelvic fins, and by having different numbers of chromosomes in male and female fish.[2] In 2013, its behavior was described based on very limited field observations of the previous wild population and more detailed observations in aquaria.[3]


The Catarina pupfish is highly imperiled. It was found in the wild in only one spring in Nuevo León Mexico together with Potosi pupfish (Cyprinodon alvarezi). Contreras and Lozano (1996)[4] reported that both species had become “almost extinct” in 1994 when their spring habitat essentially dried out; however inspection of a side spring in November 1994 indicated that a few specimens remained. Subsequent publications [3][5] indicated that both species had become extinct in the wild that year. The IUCN Red List also uses that designation, but cites an unpublished manuscript written earlier.

Mexico’s 2010 official list of species at risk (NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010) indicates that Megupsilon aporus is category "E" defined as "Probably extinct in the wild". Species that are considered extinct by experts are given that designation. However, if a species were rediscovered alive it would be given legal protection status immediately.[5]

As of December 12, 2012, a single captive population of Catarina pupfish remains. It consists of approximately 20 individuals maintained at the Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park, Dallas, Texas.[3][6]

The fate of the Catarina pupfish is just one of many ongoing conservation issues in Mexico. As of 2008, approximately 40% of more than 500 described freshwater fishes in Mexico are considered to be at risk and there have been 29 extinctions mostly in the previous 50 years. The extinctions and threatened status of many freshwater fishes are associated with overexploitation, dewatering, habitat disruption, and competition with alien species of diverse sources.[7] The inland fish fauna of Mexico is particularly vulnerable because many species (such as the Catarina pupfish) are endemic to isolated springs or small drainage systems as extensively described by Robert Rush Miller.[8]

Evolutionary history[edit]

Megupsilon aporus is the only known member of its genus.[2] Based on a molecular clock analysis of mitochondrial DNA, it has been estimated that Megupsilon and Cyprinodon diverged from a common ancestor approximately 7 million years ago.[9]


According to FishBase, this species grows to a length of 4 centimeters (1.6 in) TL. It has been highlighted as one of the smallest fish in North America.[10] The nape and sides of nuptial males are iridescent blue with a dark blotch at the base of the caudal peduncle. Mature females are golden olivaceous with an indistinct lateral band.[3] There are no pelvic fins or pelvic girdle.[2]

Miniaturization and lack of pelvic fins are also characteristic of the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). An old world pupfish, Aphanius apodus, also lacks pelvic fins.[2]


Megupsilon differs from Cyprinodon in having fewer chromosomes in males than in females (47 vs. 48).[2] Males have a large Y chromosome which appears to result from the fusion of two chromosomes: an autosome and the ancestral Y chromosome.[11] The Megupsilon example was the first instance of autosome/Y chromosome fusion discovered in a fish. Subsequent research suggests that this type of chromosome fusion is relatively common; 35 examples have been found as of 2012.[11] Among Cyprinodontidae species, Garmanella pulchra (Yucantan flagfish or Progreso flagfish) males also have one less chromosome than females.[12]

Behavior and morphology[edit]

Liu and Echelle (2013) describe its behavior and unusual morphology as follows:[3]

“We provide the first description of behavior in the Catarina pupfish (Megupsilon aporus). Aggressive, courtship, and spawning behaviors resemble those of other North American cyprinodontids. However, M. aporus [Catarina pupfish] differs from others in the group in absence of breeding territoriality in males. Male M. aporus often perform opercular rotation during aggressive displays and jaw-nudging during courtship, behaviors that, among other North American cyprinodontids, are absent or known only in Floridichthys. Some unusual features of behavior (lack of territoriality) and morphology (dwarfism [=miniaturization]; absence of pelvic fins) in M. aporus might have been shaped by interaction with a cohabitant, the Potosi pupfish Cyprinodon alvarezi.”

Opercular rotation observed during aggressive displays was described as outward flaring of opercules and branchiostegal rays. Jaw-nudging observed during courtship was described as repeated protraction and retraction of male premaxillaries during which the jaw occasionally touched the females head (significance of the touching undetermined).[3]

The hypothesis that Megupsilon behavior and morphology might have been shaped by interaction with the other pupfish stems from the observation by Miller and Walters (1972) in the original description of the genus and species.[2] In aggressive interactions between them, the larger Cyprinodon species dominated Megupsilon, which seemed to restrict its distribution to shallow, highly vegetated parts of the spring. Liu and Echelle (2013) theorized that the restricted habitat may have influenced its evolution. They also offered a contrary hypothesis that this species is a relict of a larger group of Megupsilon species[2] in which miniaturization and absence of pelvic fins were characteristic.[3]

Miniaturization and absence of pelvic fins in Catarina pupfish may be linked with each other. Studies indicate that miniaturization is often associated with morphological novelty.[13] Also numerous examples of adaptation of bone growth to miniaturization in fish, amphibians and reptiles have been noted; these include skeletal reductions such as reduced ossification or complete loss of the pelvic girdle.[14]

Some of the variability in behavior and morphology among pupfishes may be a response to harsh environmental conditions mediated by endocrine systems.[15] Studies of specific endocrine systems which foster phenotypic plasticity in fishes and the evolution of endocrine pathways are underway.[16]


  1. ^ Contreras-Balderas, S. & Almada-Villela, P. (1996). Megupsilon aporus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Miller, Robert Rush; Walters, Vladimir (1972). "A new genus of cyprinodontid fish from Nuevo Leon, Mexico" (PDF). Contributions in Science, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 233: 1–13. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Liu, R. K.; Echelle, A. A. (2013). "Behavior of the Catarina Pupfish (Cyprinodontidae:Megupsilon aporus), a Severely Imperiled Species". The Southwestern Naturalist. 58: 1. doi:10.1894/0038-4909-58.1.1. 
  4. ^ Contreras-Balderas, Salvador; Mar´ýa de Lourdes Lozano-Vilano (1996). "Survival status of the Sandia and Potosí Valleys endemic pupfishes and crayfishes from the Mexican plateau in Nuevo león, Mexico, with Comments on Associated Extinct Snails" (PDF). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. 7 (1): 33–40. 
  5. ^ a b Contreras-Balderas, S.; Almada-Villela, P.; De Lourdes Lozano-Vilano, M. A.; García-Ramírez, M. A. (2002). "Freshwater fish at risk or extinct in México" (PDF). Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries. 12 (2/3): 241. doi:10.1023/A:1025053001155. 
  6. ^ Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park Facts and Trivia.
  7. ^ Contreras-Balderas, S.; Ruiz-Campos, G.; Schmitter-Soto, J. J.; Díaz-Pardo, E.; Contreras-Mcbeath, T.; Medina-Soto, M.; Zambrano-González, L.; Varela-Romero, A.; Mendoza-Alfaro, R.; Ramírez-Martínez, C.; Leija-Tristán, M. A.; Almada-Villela, P.; Hendrickson, D. A.; Lyons, J. (2008). "Freshwater fishes and water status in México: A country-wide appraisal" (PDF). Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management. 11 (3): 246. doi:10.1080/14634980802319986. 
  8. ^ Miller, Robert Rush, with the collaboration of W.L. Minckley and Steven M. Norris, and maps by Martha H. Gach (2005) Freshwater fishes of México, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226526041
  9. ^ Echelle, A. A.; Carson, E. W.; Echelle, A. F.; Van Den Bussche, R. A.; Dowling, T. E.; Meyer, A. (2005). "Historical Biogeography of the New-World Pupfish Genus Cyprinodon (Teleostei: Cyprinodontidae)". Copeia. 2005 (2): 320. doi:10.1643/CG-03-093R3. 
  10. ^ Bennett, Micah G.; Conway, Kevin W. (2010). "An overview of North America's diminutive freshwater fish fauna" (PDF). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters. 21 (1): 63–72. 
  11. ^ a b Kitano, J.; Peichel, C. L. (2011). "Turnover of sex chromosomes and speciation in fishes". Environmental Biology of Fishes. 94 (3): 549. doi:10.1007/s10641-011-9853-8. 
  12. ^ Levin, Catherine B., and Neal R. Foster (1972), Cytotaxonomic studies in Cyprinodontidae: multiple sex chromosomes in Garmanella pulchra, Notulae Naturae, Acacemy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia 446:1–5. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  13. ^ Britz, R.; Conway, K. W.; Ruber, L. (2009). "Spectacular morphological novelty in a miniature cyprinid fish, Danionella dracula n. sp". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 276 (1665): 2179. PMC 2677611Freely accessible. PMID 19324738. doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.0141. 
  14. ^ Hanken, James (1992) "Adaptation of Bone Growth to Miniaturization of Body Size", pp. 79–104 in: Hall, Brian K. (ed.) Bone: A Treatise. Vol. 7. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-8827-9
  15. ^ Lema, Sean C. (2008). "The phenotypic plasticity of Death Valley's pupfish desert fish are revealing how the environment alters development to modify body shape and behavior". American Scientist. 96 (1): 28–36. JSTOR 27859085. 
  16. ^ Lema, Sean C.; Kitano, Jun (2013). "Hormones and phenotypic plasticity: Implications for the evolution of integrated adaptive phenotypes" (PDF). Current Zoology. 59 (4): 506–525. 

Further reading[edit]