Ponds attract and support intricate living communities. Wildlife, from minnows to moose, depend on the water, food sources and habitat as they live in the pond, nearby or visit during migration. Ponds dot prairies, farmlands, coastal regions, valleys, high meadows -- even deserts have ponds. Wherever a pond's location is, plants, insects and animals appear and form an elaborate aquatic ecosystem.
Origins and Lifespans
Glacier-dug potholes, diverted streams, beaver activity and underground springs form ponds. In quick-draining areas of little or seasonal rain, ponds are short-lived. They dry out as the temperature increases. They freeze solid in winter. Ponds in lusher climates and locations are longlived but eventually fill up with sediment and dead leaves. This produces fertile new growing areas for the nonaquatic plants in the region.
Plants In and Around Ponds
Ponds host tiny floating plants including algae and duckweed. Depths are shallow enough for rooted plants such as water lilies to reach the surface also. Sedges, cattails and reeds stand tall along the edges. Wider-leaved plants such as pickerel and marsh marigolds flower along with yellow flag iris. Nearby, water-loving poplar and willow trees give cover to wildlife coming to drink at the pond.
The underwater population of a pond teems with insects, tadpoles and fish. Larvae of mosquitoes, midges, mayflies, water beetles, dragonflies and damselflies hunt, eat and grow until they emerge to their adult, airborne stage -- unless the minnows, perch, sticklebacks and bitterlings eat them. Other bugs, the water boatman and pond skaters, scoot across the surface, too light to break the surface. Frogs, newts, salamanders, leeches, snails and mollusks use the pond for daily life and reproduction. Toads, turtles and snakes come and go.
Besides a pond's permanent population, many migrant visitors stop for food, a rest and to raise a family. Geese, ducks and other waterfowl paddle along while small birds like the reed warbler build nests suspended above the waterline on reed stalks. Woodpeckers, wood ducks and chickadees nest in hollow trunks provided by trees that likely drowned when the pond's shoreline expanded. Both grazing and predatory mammals visit ponds. Deer, antelope, moose, muskrats and raccoons may see a fox or coyote. Even the creator of the pond might be a mammal if it began as a stream that beavers dammed.
Ponds are a vibrant ecosystem. Their tremendous community even adds sounds to the environment: the humming of insects, the flap of bird wings, croaking frogs, splashing fish and the slap of a beaver tail for punctuation.