Thursday, 21 May 2009

Fancy A Spot Of Pond-Dipping?

In the months of April and May, the Barleycorn ponds are awash with golden cups of sunshine of the caltha palustris plant, more commonly known as marsh marigolds. In churches in medieval times, they were given in tribute to the Virgin Mary at Easter and were called Mary Gold. I grow them because they remind me of happy childhood days when my brother and I would take our nets and go pond-dipping and I would gather a little bunch of sunshine to take home to my Mum.
Although the lily flowers are not yet in bloom, I find the beautiful shapes and hues of the leaves so attractive. Covering roughly a third of each pond, they help to keep out the light which enables algae to grow. They also provide hiding places for the many creatures which live in the ponds.

Unlike their garden cousins which will devour fresh young shoots, the lymnaea stagnalis or great pond snails mostly tend to live on decaying plants, algae and debris in the pond, which makes them very useful. The two in this photo are foraging on the roots of a ranunculus plant which has come adrift from its mooring in the soil. They are greyish-brown in colour and around 60mm in length.

I find them fascinating to watch as they come part-way out of their shells to feed and often float upside down on the surface of the water as they go about their business acting as pond dustmen clearing up the rubbish and keeping everything clean and healthy. Because they absorb oxygen through their skin, they can live underwater for several months. I feel glad when I find a long string of their eggs under the leaves of aquatic plants because it is proof that they are thriving. In Winter they hibernate in the mud at the bottom of the ponds.

This tiny creature is a ramshorn snail and belongs to the family Planorbidae. There are many of these little snails in the ponds. Their shells are coiled into flat spiral discs. They are also vegetarian and graze on algae covering the plants, as this photo shows. They tend to grow to 18mm. What amazes me is the fact that all the creatures found their own way into the ponds.

If you are interested in looking at the creatures in more detail, click on each photo to get up close and personal. This photo shows the larva of the great diving beetle. They are voracious carnivores, feeding mainly on tadpoles and other insects - including their own brothers and sisters - which they grab with their pincer jaws. They look like scorpions as they keep their tails upright while swimming. They push their tails up out of the water to take in oxygen through an air hole in their tails.

This photo shows a pair of dytiscus marginalis, great diving beetles, at the breeding time in April. As it was a cloudy day, the water looks dark and murky. They are the adults of the larva in the previous photo. They actually pupate on land and then return to the water, though I have often had a fright when I have seen them flying as they look a bit like cockroaches.

The water boatman is hilarious to watch as it swims along upside down carrying a bubble of air on its abdomen. It has two pairs of legs- a short front pair, and a strong hind pair - which it paddles like oars. They grow to around 20mm in length. I would need an underwater camera to show you his large red eyes. They live on tadpoles and insects, and can eat fish too, though we have none in our ponds. The adults can fly and move between ponds.

Here we have a pair of Gerris lacustris, pond skaters. They are mating while resting on a lily pad. Normally, they are seen skating across the surface of the ponds. They are around 20mm long and move very quickly. If their bodies and legs did not have velvety hairs, they would sink through the water. Their diet consists of insects. I often see them jumping to avoid being eaten by predators.

At this time of year there are often wasps taking in water from the surface of the ponds. They are fetching water to cool and fan their nests. Birds, of course, use the ponds for drinking and bathing and often come in little groups. In fact, there is year-round activity of one kind or another at our watering-holes from visiting wildlife.

Over the years we have seen a huge increase in newt population in our ponds. The male in the photo is curled inside a red lily leaf. You might want to enlarge the picture to see him more clearly.

Spring is the best time to see them in the water as they live most of their life on land. Triturus vulgaris is the scientific name for the smooth or common newt. When they come to the surface to breathe, there is a little popping sound as they gulp air.

Depending on the sunshine and shade, the newts can appear to be black in colour. However they are actually pale brown or olive green. Both the males and females have orange bellies covered in black spots, though the females' are paler orange.

If you can get close enough to see, the males have fringed toes, which helps to distinguish them from the females. The males also have long wavy, rather than crested, backs and tails. They have tiny teeth to catch tadpoles and insects.

They breed in the ponds in Spring and are able to feast on frog tadpoles. They can lay around 400 eggs on the leaves of the waterplants. It takes around 10 weeks for their young to emerge as juveniles.

Adult newts can shed their skin once a week. Athough I have never seen any lying around, I have frequently seen casings of dragonflies. In late July they return to the land and become mainly nocturnal.

The frogs spawned one week earlier this year than in the previous three years. In spite of that, we had lots of frost and the ponds were partially frozen many days. As a result, the tadpoles hatched at the usual time.

When the sun's rays managed to penetrate the jelly, we noticed slight movement from some of the tadpoles, whereas the tadpoles in the frozen parts of the pond seemed in suspended animation.

It was interesting to watch different batches hatch and mature at different times. At first the jelly looked clear. As time went on it became green. I was fascinated seeing tails twitching, watching gills appear and finally legs.

At one point we had a writhing mass of taddies with gills, eyes and long tails, while, at the same time, there were also later batches still inside the spawn. Around this time I watched and waited for the newts to appear.

Sure enough I was not disappointed. Although the water was a dark green murky colour at this stage, you can still pick out the long, dark shape of the newt across the top of the photo. At this stage the tadpoles were coming up for air and leaving lots of bubbles on the surface of the pond.

The newt down the middle of this photo is extremely well camouflaged. There was still a loose jelly around the tadpoles at this stage and the newts would come swishing up from underneath the mass and grab some lunch.

Over the years I have been scattering forget-me-not seeds under the weeping birch tree outside our back door. Though there are so many pictures I could have shown you of how our garden looks at the moment - as opposed to what is happening in our ponds - choosing these little flowers over grander specimens was easy, for they have a simple beauty of their own and very much typify the Spring in our garden at Barleycorn.
The footage in the little video below was taken from the 3rd to the 12th April. There are six little videos joined together to show you the progress of the tadpoles. There is a little footage of newts amongst them towards the end of the video. Now that the tadpoles are swimming freely across the pond, it is difficult to catch sight of them.

Caltha Palustris, Marsh marigolds
Pond lilies
Lymnaea Stagnalis, Great Pond Snails
Planorbidae, Ramshorn Snail
Dytiscus Marginalis, Great Diving Beetle
Larva of Great Diving Beetle
Notonecta Glauca, Water Boatman
Gerris Lacustris, Pond skater
Vespula Vulgaris, Common Wasp
Triturus Vulgaris, Common Newt
Myosotis, Forget-me-nots


Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Wildie, hello! That's so interesting about the newts--I didn't realize the way to tell males apart from females was through fringed toes. Some frogs have the gelataneous egg mass too; it keeps the inner ones moist and protected from being eaten, so more survive than if eggs were laid individually. Also, didn't know that about marsh marigolds, though we do have them here.

A wildlife gardener said...

Good afternoon, Monica :) Lovely to see you :)

I like to slip in little bits of info to make the photos more interesting :)

Thanks for all your comments :)

Midmarsh John said...

Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your pond and the wildlife it contains. My pond also has quite a few newts but no luck with frog spawn this year. The only mass was not fertilised. In the end the great pond snails cleared it up.

Kitty said...

Another wonderfully interesting post! It's fascinating how complex the web of life can be, even in a pond - it's nice that you give such a full picture of all that goes on in it.

Deb said...

A pond has been on my garden "wish list" for a long time :-) Yours is wonderful!

Jeanne said...

Fabulous my friend as is all you share

shirl said...

Hi again Wildlife Gardener:-)

What a treat for us to see all the creatures living in your pond. Great pics and video too – my you’ve lots living in there! I particularly enjoyed seeing the newts. I am thinking about a slightly bigger pond (than my tiny one). I’ve bought some ramshorn snails ready for it. Hope they’ll breed too :-D

Wishing you a great month! Looking forward to seeing your summer garden full of poppies, nectar bar butterflies and bees :-D

Cheryl said...

Dear Wildlife Gardener.....absolutely wonderful post....your ponds are so full of life, amazing. You must have over the years created the perfect balance with your plants etc...

I had the Gt Diving Beetles last year in my little pond....they are a bit scary but I love to watch them....water life is just incredible and as you say it is just amazing how they suddenly appear.......

I love the forget me nots under the very idea of the perfect scene.....and I loved that you talked of plants that take you back to you childhood. I can understand that so well......

A lovely post...such a lot of interesting information....thank you.....

swallowtail said...

Oh what an amazing and wonderful journey on which you take us! I have never seen tadpoles in such numbers, or newts snacking upon them. Remarkable and facinating to me. I will revisit this post until I am 'filled!' Thankyouthankyou

SandyCarlson said...

Such a lovely place teeming with life. Gorgeous photos.

Sally said...

Hello, W.G. Wonderful post, as usual.I envy you your pond. Some day I would like to see Barleycorn and walk the garden with you.

A wildlife gardener said...

A warm welcome to our little corner of paradise, Everyone :)

* Lovely to meet you Midmarsh John :)

Ponds are interesting to have in the garden, aren't they? One year we found twelve dead frogs in ours. They were all white and blown up in appearance. But, try as I might, I found nothing to tell me why..I even contacted several organisations but none could give an answer to why it had happened.

* Lovely to see you, Kitty :)

The ponds are always full of interest and make a change from blogging about the rest of the garden :)

* I can recommend a pond, Deb, as there is always something to see...from bathing birds, to all myriad of insects, to the antics of frogs, toads and newts. And, in Winter, the cats skate across the ice, much to our amusement :)

* Lovely to have your company, as always, dear Jeanne :)

* Great to see you, Shirl :)

The larger the pond, the easier it is to get the balance right :)

We had a small pond in our last house where we lived for 20 years...but these ponds have been the jewel in the crown of the garden with treats all year round :)

* Always a treat to have you in the garden, Cheryl :)

I can honestly say the ponds are like a magnet attracting all sorts of wildlife to the garden :)

I suppose a great deal of my garden has been created from memories of my childhood :)

* Wonderful to have your company too, Swallowtail, in the garden:)

We have three pairs of your cousins in the barn. I love them coming year after year. Sadly, so far we have no martins :(

In the breeding season the ponds teem with frogs, tadpoles and newts :)

* Thank you, Dear Sandy...always a treat when you come to visit :)

* Wouldn't that be just great, Sally? Then we could sip a glass of wine and smell the roses...aahhh! dreams... :)

kari and kijsa said...

What an amazing post! It is incredible how God designs down to the last detail even the microcosm of pond life- fascinating and well written!!
kari& kijsa

Kathleen said...

Good morning Wildlife Gardener! I am even more thrilled by your pond posts now that I have a little one of my own. I'm hoping some of the wildlife that has made its way to your ponds will do the same with mine. It might be too much to ask for everything tho! I have already had a toad hanging out so I think that's a good sign. Your ponds have to be so healthy and balanced with all the variety of life forms they support. I'm working hard to get mine that way. I had algae bloom, just as you said happened, but now that is under control (thank you on the oxygenators!). Lily pads are just reaching the surface so soon things will be even better. You've inspired me again to keep working at getting it right. Have a great weekend!

Sorrow said...

This was so wonderful!
Thank you for sharing this...
so much information, and such wonderful insights and photo's.
I hope that the warming days bring you an abundance of life, and little miracles...

linda may said...

What a fascinating post and place you live in. Also great that you know all the details of the life that goes on around you. So fitting of the words from your previous post.
Love it! A lot of those little creatures are not in this country but a few of them are similar like the water beetles, back swimmers and wasps.I love tadpoles and collected them when I was a child. I had them in every available container and once filled up the bathroom sink much to my Mum's and sister's disgust. He he.We lived in Darwin then,and they used to be in the roadside puddles in the rainy season, when the puddles shrunk they were easy to scoop up and take home, but lots of them dehydrated.

Barbara said...

It would be a great temptation for me to sit a whole day at your pond for watching, observing, looking, listening, wondering, photographing, relaxing.....Luckily I can do all these too when sitting here at our tiny pond we have. But ours isn't so interesting and full of life as yours.

Ruth Welter said...

H WG, what wonderful photos of all the beautiful nature surrounding you.


Marie said...

What an interesting post!
I wish I had a pond like this :)

A wildlife gardener said...

Welcome, Everyone, to our little corner of paradise :)

* So lovely to have your company by the pond, Kari & Kijsa :)

I couldn't agree more. The world of Nature has fascinated me since I was 'knee-high to a grasshopper'!

In fact, my earliest memories are of lying on a path in my Dad's garden, staring at the minuscule white flowers of a moss growing through the tarmac... :)

* I am excited at your new pond too, Kathleen :)

Our frogs and the snails all came quickly. Then the flying insects came...the diving beetles, the dragon and damselflies...and, lastly, the newts.

The oxygenators do a wonderful job and are well worth the expense. The pond lilies don't take long to grow and the colours of the leaves are a joy throughout the year :)

I wish you every success, Kathleen. Now we have something else in common :)

* It's a pleasure for me to share the ponds and garden with Everyone, Sorrow :)

Come and join me by the pond for a glass of wine...we'll sit here and let the cares of the world go by, as a damselfly rests on the nearby hosta and the blackbird serenades us with his amazing whistling :)

* Hey there, Linda May...great to see you again :)

The fascination with pondlife takes us back in time to when we were young, don't you think? Most of us learned about frogs and their life-cycle through dipping for tadpoles. It's lovely to share our memories :)

* I didn't know you had a pond, exciting :)

Your garden has so many hidden delights. I can tell from all your wonderful photos :)

* Pleasure to share with you, dear Ruth :)

* Hello, nice of you to visit the ponds :)

You are surrounded by such beautiful coastline, Marie, I'm not sure your beautiful garden misses a pond...whereas I have to travel quite a distance to get to the coast :)

Bimbimbie said...

Hi WG we have a little pond, mostly for the frogs and you're right it is fascinating to sit and watch all the comings and goings of life in and around the pond. And yes! how does word get around that a new pond has gone in for the water brigade to move into lol*!*

Sheila said...

Beautiful, my dear WG.
I especially enjoyed the video.
My sister and I were always fascinated with frog
spawn and the life cycle of frogs when were younger. We spent many happy hours on the banks of the stream..
I love Forget me Nots too, mine are now all through the lawn. I was frustrated by it at first, but it looks rather pretty. It's nice to look back on one's childhood and make these connections isn't it.

Andrew at Quicksilverbirds said...

That was one fascinating blog wildlife gardner, what a fabulous habitat you have built up there. Just goes to show one can have a wildlife safari in a garden, no need to venture thousands of miles to a wilderness. Great stuff.

A wildlife gardener said...

* Good Day to You, Bimbimbie. Lovely to see you again. Can you send some sunshine from Aussieland to warm our pending Summer? :)

* Welcome, dear Sheila...come and sit beside me by the pond and we'll chat about our childhood memories :)

* Great to have your company, Andrew :)

You are right when you say we need not venture far from home to see interesting wildlife. With nectar borders, a few trees and a matter the size...the wildlife will feel welcome to visit...and might even take up residence :)

Catherine said...

You always have the best looking ponds!! Fantastic captures!
Enjoy your day & those fabulous ponds!

A wildlife gardener said...

* It's lovely to meet up with you again, Cat. You are most welcome :)

The ponds and the wildlife they bring give us lots of pleasure :)

Duxbury Ramblers said...

Hi WG, we have always loved ponds use to be lots around when we were kids, we still enjoy pond dipping at our local ones, do not seem to find as much now but we were quicker then - probably why we see more flowers these days :)
Lovely photos.

The Ramblers.

Bren said...

your photos of the pond are wonderful. I can't wait to stop back to see what Summer has to hold for you.

Please stop by my garden sometime.

Chandramouli S said...

Wow! That was a wild post and I so loved it! Especially those of the snails. I never knew snails were useful in keeping the ponds clean! Next time I see them I'd be sure to watch their activities. I'm so impressed by the shots that I so wanna see a snail now for real!

A wildlife gardener said...

A beautiful sunny day to you all :)

* Ponds are fascinating, Duxbury Ramblers...and take most of us back to childhood days...

Rambling, or, in my case, strolling, is another great way to observe the flora and fauna too :)

* A warm welcome to you, Bren. Lovely to meet you :)

The Summers are great, here at Barleycorn, no matter the weather, as the garden is most colourful from May till October, and the wildlife it brings is most active then :)

* How lovely to see you again, Chandramouli S :)

Pond snails are invaluable as they mostly feed on decaying plants...and I can honestly say I have not lost any of the lilies to them :)

I find my garden snails eating a lot of decaying plants too..though, they can also eat fresh shoots...but I let them roam, as they are all part of the magical web of life.

If I were to kill them, my thrushes and other birds, as well as the frogs and toads, would go hungry...and, in turn, the birds eat the aphids and pesky insects which feed on my plants. So, I garden without the use of chemicals or pesticides, and try to harm no living thing :)

Sandy said...

What a great group of photos and those newts, wow. Such an infomative post..glad to see an update.

A wildlife gardener said...

* Always a pleasure to see you, dear Sandy :)

Thanks for the compliments. It's lovely to share it all with you :)

Bimbimbie said...

... I'd gladly send you some sunshine WG but it's gone and done a runner on us too ;( windy, overcast and showers, sounds a little too like the UK weather doesn't it*!*

A wildlife gardener said...

* It's a miracle, Bimbimbie! After I asked for some sunshine, we have had four days of glorious weather...a heatwave, in fact :)

I'll send some to you :)

joey said...

Oh how I wait for your delightful posts, indeed small miracles to sustain us all ... nobody does it better! (((HUGS)))

A wildlife gardener said...

* Dear Joey, I always feel humbled by your generous comments. Thank you very much indeed :)

Miranda Bell said...

Hiya - there was me thinking that I'd already left a comment on this posting and it doesn't look like I did... some wonderful pictures of your pondlife - takes me back to my childhood... I've been enjoying the company of a frog here recently which has taken up residence in an old tin bath - taking shelter under the pot that I'd put in there containing a small potted tree that needed a good soak! Each time I go and do my watering he pops up to say hello! Hope all's well with you... take care Miranda x

A wildlife gardener said...

* Great to hear from you, Miranda :)

Frogs are fascinating creatures, aren't they? Your little frog reminds me of the surprises I've had with toads popping up from under old flower pots :)

How's your cirsium seeds doing? did you manage to sow them successfully?

alex216 said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.


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