Only seven miles east of the constant traffic on Interstate 10 lies the pools and palm oases of the Coachella Valley Preserve, established in 1984 to protect the endangered Fringe Toed Lizard.
Ginny Short manages the preserve at the Thousand Palms Oasis, which includes several unique fresh water springs.
“We specialize in managing wildlife areas in perpetuity so we manage a number of preserves that have threatened or endangered special status species,” Short says.
But, lurking in the waters along the San Andreas fault is a creature much more common to a seafood dinner than a desert landscape.
“This is actually a really unique earthquake fault spring that we probably have about a quarter of an acre of water in,” Ginny says, “and unfortunately it’s been invaded by an exotic species from Louisiana, the Louisiana Red Swamp Crayfish.”
You might know them as crawfish, crawdads, or even mudbugs. Whatever you want to call them, they’ve taken over.
“They have actually threatened every native species in these waters. So we did have Desert Pupfish which are native, endangered fish. It’s native to the Colorado Desert here, those fish are no longer here,” says Short.
Every two weeks or so, Ginny and a local volunteer pull traps from the waters teeming with what look like miniature lobsters. They bait the various traps with a mix of dogfood among other food items.
“We have about 40 traps that we’re running and right now we’re really just working on control. We’re doing a number of experiments to see if we can find something else that will work to eradicate them but they’re very hardy.”
So what happens to the crawfish after they’re caught?
“We actually humanely euthanize them and feed them to our local wildlife. The coyotes love crayfish night so we do recycle them in the local wildlife.”
And no, Ginny won’t give you a pound of the tasty critters if you ask nicely. The only way to score some Crawdads is to hop in the water yourself.
“If you’re a volunteer up here I do often allow my volunteers to take them to eat them.”
So how did they get here?? With cases of invasive species that’s usually difficult to figure out.
“In this particular case our neighbors over here at Chimney Ranch happened to record the story,” Short says. “Back in the 1950’s there was a boy scout troop who thought it would be fun to see crayfish in the water and I always ask every older man who’s out here, are you a boy scout in the 50’s? I just want to know. Haven’t found them yet!”
If they ever do find that troop of scouts, they could certainly use their help. Ginny is not optimistic about their chances of getting rid of the mudbugs.
“It’s really a tough call because you have to get every single one of them. Keep in mind that if I had one pregnant female left in this pond, one pregnant female can lay up to 500 eggs and she can breed in this pond up to three times a year.”
“They’re burrowers so they are pretty tenacious. So we hope, but it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of time.”
Even after all of their efforts, the population hasn’t changed much since 1993 when they were first counted. So if you decide to ignore the no swimming signs and dip your feet in the water at McCallum pond, your toes might suffer a pretty good pinch from the creatures crawling in the mud.