A wildlife pond is not only an attractive feature, but with a little thought put into its design and construction, can also be a haven for wildlife. Over the years nearly 3/4 of our natural ponds have disappeared from the UK countryside, meaning your garden pond has an increased importance for pond-life. Frogs, toads, newts, leeches and boatmen will live and breed in a wildlife pond providing the environment is right.
Frogs, toads and newts, can be beneficial garden creatures eating a wide range of garden pests. Pond-life can be encouraged into your garden by providing log piles and other damp habitats in which they can shelter and a wildlife friendly pond where tadpoles can develop.
These are the key factors in getting the environment and habitat right to attract and sustain pond life
Water is obviously essential to pond life and other wildlife living in and around your garden who will make use of it:
Shading over part of the pond
Ornamental KOI fish
Maintaining a wildlife pond
Stocking the pond.
Frogs, Toads, Newts, Leeches, Blue damselfly, Dragonfly and Boatmen.
The Common Newt
The Common Newt can be found throughout England. It prefers to live in garden ponds with an abundance of pond weed and without fish. It spends more time on land than in water and thrives in an environment that is surrounded by vegetation. I have even found common newts under a concrete path I was breaking up, with no pond in sight.
The male Common Newt is an orangey brown colour, with darker brown spots of different sizes. The female is almost the same colour, but with smaller spots that are almost black in colour. Both the male and the female have orange undersides. From April to May the male Common Newt can be distinguished by a long wavy crest running along the length of its body.
Common Newts produce about two hundred eggs, wrapped individually in a water plant leaves, hence the need to have plenty of plant life growing in your pond. After about three weeks the tadpoles will hatch out. They have long tails and feathery gills and look like little fish darting about. In about three months they turn into miniature adult newts and leave the water to spend time on land feeding on insects, worms and slugs.
The Common Frog
The Common Frog will normally be the first pondlife to take up residence in your new wildlife pond. The Common Frog is found throughout England in ponds and lakes which are surrounded by dense vegetation.
The Common Frog can be easily recognised by its yellow-brown colour with lots of dark spots and patches all over its body. Its orangey yellow coloured eyes with large black pupils stick out high up on its face. If you take a look at its back feet, it has five webbed toes.
Common Frogs start their lives as tiny black tadpoles hatched from frog spawn laid in jelly like clumps just under the surface of the pond. Frog spawn is easily differentiated from Toad spawn that is laid in strings. As the tadpoles develop, they grow legs, first the back ones and then front ones and at the same time the tail shortens and eventually disappears. The tadpoles have now turned into tiny frogs, able to leave the pond to hunt for insects amongst the plants and grass around the margins and edge of your wildlife pond.
Common blue damselfly
The male Damselfly has a blue abdomen with black spots; the female, a yellow or bluish abdomen with variable dark markings and is common throughout England. Between May and September you will see the pair resting on vegetation near the wildlife pond. And flying together over the pond, mating and laying eggs on pond plants, just below the surface of the water.
The eggs hatch and the larvae, called nymphs, live in the pond until they are ready to climb up a plant stem to moult into damselflies.
A dragonfly is a double winged insect similar to damselflies. The adults can be differentiated by the fact that the wings of most dragonflies are held away from, and perpendicular to, the body when at rest.
Dragonflies eat mosquitoes and other small insects like flies, bees, ants, wasps, but very rarely butterflies, so should be encouraged around your wildlife pond. They are usually found around marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands because their larvae, like the damselfly, known as "nymphs", are also aquatic. There are over 5000 different species of dragonflies so impossible to list them all here.
The Common Toad
The Common Toad is probably the most widespread amphibian in England, found in woodlands, rough grasslands, moors, and your garden pond. It actually spends most of its life on land. When breaking up old paths, I have even found them living and breeding, apparently trapped in small damp alcoves under concrete paths. However, because they usually need to breed and lay spawn in water there is normally a pond nearby to head too, usually in masses, around February to March, to find partners, mate and lay spawn. Common toad spawn can be recognised from frog spawn as its laid in strings.
The Common Water Boatman
The Common Water Boatman is a fascinating small water bug, about two centimetres long, light brown or green in colour with piercing and sucking mouth parts. It is found all over England in ponds, canals, rivers and lakes, even in cow troughs. It has its name ‘Boatman’ because its long hind legs are shaped like oars and when it swims near to the surface of the water, it just looks like a very small rowing boat.
When the Common Water Boatman swims up-side down, it carries lots of air bubbles on its underside which makes it look a silvery white colour. It has two short front legs used for grabbing prey and two long, paddle-shaped hind legs used for swimming. It has a triangular-shaped head and mouth and two large red eyes.
The Common Water Boatman arrives by air, into your pond and lives off small tadpoles, small water fleas and mites. Kids are fascinated by its rowing boat shape paddling across the pond.
The Medicinal Leech
The Medicinal Leech is the blood-sucking worm with a flattened segmented body, used for centuries for medicinal purposes, like removing ‘bad blood’ or to ‘treat headaches’. The leech is found all over England in muddy ponds with lots of waterweed.
The Medicinal Leech is about eight centimetres long with a dark brown or black body with orange-red lines running down it with a sucker on its head and at the end of its tail. The Medicinal leech uses these suckers to attach itself to frogs and other pond life and then bite into its prey and suck blood. When the Leech has taken enough blood, it drops off into the water and it may not need to suck blood again for another six month.
The leech is not easy to be seen, but if you look very closely, can be spotted moving around your pond in a wriggling fashion. You are most likely to spot it when attached to a frog.