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Wildlife & Habitat

bird watching

The Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was established, and is managed, to protect threatened and endangered plants, animals and their habitats.It is the largest remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert.

  • Geology and Hydrology

    Horseshoe Marsh area

    Ash Meadows NWR consists of over 24,000 acres of spring-fed wetlands and alkaline desert uplands.  At an elevation of approximately 2200 feet above sea level the refuge is a major discharge point for a vast underground aquifer system stretching 100 miles to the northeast.  Water-bearing strata comes to the surface in more than 50 seeps and springs.  

    Over 10,000 gallons per minute flow year-round most of which comes from seven major springs.  The reason for this abundance of water, in an otherwise dry and desolate region, is the presence of a geological fault which acts as an "underground dam" by blocking the flow of water and forcing it to the surface.  The water is called 'fossil water' because it is believed to have entered the ground water system thousands of years ago.

    Wetlands and springs are scattered throughout the refuge.  Sandy dunes, rising up to 50 feet above the landscape, appear in the central portions of the refuge.  Mesquite and ash groves flourish near wetlands and stream channels.  Saltbush dominates large portions of the refuge in dry areas adjacent to wetlands.  

    The Carson Slough was historically one of the largest wetlands in southern Nevada before it was drained and mined for peat in the 1960's. A slough is a marshy type of area and the refuge is in the process of restoring this habitat.  

  • Desert Fish

    Ash Meadows Amargosa Pupfish

    Ash Meadows is the site of the longest running environmental battle in history and the birthplace of the movement to save native desert fish.  Within the refuge are 4 species of endemic and endangered desert fish.  The best place to view the Ash Meadows Amargosa pupfish is at Point of Rocks.  The males are a shimmery blue and the females are an olive green color.    

    Devils Hole is home to the rarest and smallest pupfish in the world; approximately 1 inch in length (3 cm).  They were officially listed as endangered in 1962 (one of the first species listed).  Viewing the Devils Hole pupfish is challenging because viewing only occurs from a platform approximately 35 feet above the water.    

    The Warm Springs pupfish live in just 1 square kilometer of habitat not open to the public.  The Ash Meadows speckled dace can be seen at Jackrabbit Spring.  

  • Endemics


    Endemic - found no place else on earth.  Ash Meadows has nearly 30 endemic species and has the largest concentration of endemic species in the United States; five of those species are listed as endangered and seven are considered threatened.

    Endangered means there is a very small population which is at great risk of becoming extinct.  Threatened means the species is at risk of becoming endangered.  Shown here is the Ash Meadows naucorid; a water bug about half the size of a fingernail.

    Endemic and species of concern 





  • Birds


    Nearly 300 species of birds have been recorded on the refuge.  Spring migration usually occurs during April and May, and fall migration from mid-August through September. These are the best times to see the greatest diversity and number of birds.  During the winter, marshes and reservoirs support the largest variety of water birds.  

    Mesquite and ash tree groves at Crystal Spring and Point of Rocks boardwalks provide habitat for migratory and resident birds including typical Southwestern species such as crissal thrasher, verdin, phainopepla, and Lucy's warbler.  Bird Checklist 

  • Plants

    Spring loving Centaury

    Ash Meadows, with its rare habitats, has some of the most unique plant communities in the world. There are plants here that cannot be found anywhere else on the planet which means they are endemic to the area.  Ash Meadows differs from some desert areas where spectacular blooms occur in the spring. Here the blooms occur throughout the year in small areas.  There are approximately 340 plant species on the refuge. To learn more about some of these plants  Plant Brochure 

  • Animals


    Other types of animals on the refuge include over 27 species of mammals, at least 20 species of reptiles and 4 species of amphibians. This includes desert bighorn sheep, blacktail jackrabbit, kangaroo rats, desert cottontails, toads, antelope ground squirrels, bats, snakes, lizards, coyotes and several different species of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. 

    Did you know the western zebra-tailed lizard can run up to 18 mph standing on just their two back feet?

    The chuckwalla, pictured on the left, is the largest lizard in the refuge.  When alarmed they wedge themselves into crevices; inflating their bodies by gulping air.  This makes it difficult for predators to capture they can deliver a painful bite. 

Last Updated: Jun 07, 2013
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