“No one will protect what they don’t care about;
no one will care about what they have never experienced.”
– David Attenborough, Biologist, Natural Historian, Author
Pond dipping is an outdoor adventure that can be enjoyed by the whole family and may just spark a life-long love of learning and protecting the environment.
May to September are the best months for pond dipping, as this is when most pond critters will be active and breeding. Kids should be accompanied when exploring ponds to ensure they are safe around open bodies of water. But beware, pond dipping isn’t just for children. Accompanying your child for a day of pond dipping may be the start of something marvelous for you as well.
Click Pond Dipping 101 for step-by-step instructions on pond dipping complete with a photo guide!
Field Notes from Scientist Heather!
Our resident entomologist, nature guide, and Team Lead at Scientists in School, Heather Staines, has shared some of her favourite pond critters with us to help guide the learning and discoveries that can take place at your local pond! From aquatic homebuilders to multi-headed monsters, Heather explains the unique behaviours, diets, and habitats of some fascinating pond critters.
Caddisfly Larva: Aquatic Homebuilders!
Caddisflies are closely related to moths and butterflies and belong to the order, Trichoptera, a Greek word meaning ‘hairy wing’. Take a close look at their wings and you will soon discover that their name is very suitable. The wings at rest are folded and resemble a roof-top and they are covered with hairs or have hairs on the veins.
Like moths, adult caddisflies are terrestrial and tend to be most active at night and are often attracted to lights in large numbers.
Immature caddisflies or caddisfly larvae live in both still and running water. Most species live in a mobile case constructed from plant material, algae, grains of sand, pieces of snail shells, or entirely of silk. The case is held together with strands of silk secreted by the larva. Some cases are thin tubes and some resemble logs made of twigs that are custom-trimmed by the larvae.
In streams or rivers, where staying in place is a challenge, the larvae use heavier building materials like tiny pieces of gravel, or they spin a net that they glue onto a rock or into a crevice. Unlike turtles, whose shell and body are joined, caddisflies can leave their case of sticks or stones. Naked—deprived of their homes—they look like little wet caterpillars.
Caddisfly larvae are detritivores, they feed on decaying matter. Caddisflies themselves are a significant food source for many fish and water bird species. They are also used as bait by anglers. Most caddisfly larvae are intolerant of pollution so spotting them in bodies of water is an indication of good water quality.
Dragonflies – Aerodynamic Wonders!
Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, meaning “toothed ones,” a reference to their serrated mandibles. They have two sets of wings that move independently. This adaptation allows for skilled acrobatic flying: they can hover like a helicopter, move up and down, and fly backwards and forwards, reaching speeds of up to 55 km/h. This amazing ability is one factor in their success as aerial ambush predators—they can move in on unsuspecting prey from any direction.
Young dragonflies, called nymphs or naiads, are aquatic and are as dedicated predators under water as the adults are in the air. They possess a formidable anatomical structure not present in the adult which is a modified labium (mouthpart). The labium is an extendable jaw with fang-like pincers at the end used to seize prey such as worms, crustaceans, tadpoles, and small fish.
They can also quickly expel water by contracting or squeezing their abdomen to form their own ‘jet propulsion’ system to escape predators.
When the nymph is ready to metamorphose or change into an adult, it climbs up a reed or other emergent plant at night. Exposure to air causes the nymph to begin breathing. The skin splits at a weak spot behind the head and the adult dragonfly crawls out of its old skin, waits for the sun to rise, pumps up its wings and flies off. The entire life cycle of a dragonfly can take up to several years, the adult stage, however, lasts only a few weeks.
Dragonfly nymphs and adults are the top predators in many aquatic food webs and consume a large number of insect pests, including mosquitos.
Did I just spot a dragonfly or a damselfly? These two beauties are sometimes hard to tell apart. Read Summertime STEM for tips on how to spot their subtle differences.
Daphnia – Water Fleas!
Daphnia are small, aquatic, mostly freshwater crustaceans and include more than 100 known species found around the world, from huge lakes to very small temporary pools. The English name for Daphnia, water flea, originates from the jumping-like behavior they exhibit while swimming. This behaviour stems from the beating of the large antennae, which they use to direct themselves through the water.
Adults range from less than 1 mm to 5 mm in size and feed on small, suspended particles in the water. The food is gathered with the help of a filtering apparatus, consisting of the phylopods, which are flattened leaf-like legs that produce a water current. As the current flows anterior to posterior, the Daphnia collect particles that are transferred into the food groove by special setae (hair-like structures). Food is usually made up of planktonic algae.
You are what you eat!
The colour of Daphnia adapts to the food that is predominant in their diet. Daphnia feeding on green algae will be transparent with a tint of green or yellow, whereas those feeding on bacteria will be white or salmon-pink.
Ecologically, Daphnia are important components of freshwater food chains. In most habitats, Daphnia have low density or completely disappear during part of the year, usually the cold or the dry season.
For humans, Daphnia also make model organisms for biological study and as an indicator species (an organism whose presence, absence, or abundance gives us important information of the current environmental condition). Daphnia can also be cultivated as food for aquarium pets such as fish, tadpoles, salamanders, newts, or aquatic insects.
Hydra – Multi-headed monster!
Hydras are a relative of jellyfish and sea anemones. They are named for the serpentine water monster in Greek and Roman mythology and can be found in freshwater, either in flowing or standing waters.
Their bodies are small, about 10-20mm in length and also quite simple, composed of two cellular layers around a central cavity which acts like the Hydra’s stomach. At the end of this cavity, the body gives way to tentacles which surround the Hydra’s mouth. Hydras usually secure themselves to hard surfaces including stones and bits of plants. There the Hydra waits for food, stretching its tentacles up to three times the length of its body in search for prey, like crustaceans, insects and even small fish. Their tentacles are armed with little projectile cellular capsules called nematocysts. One type of nematocyst is equipped with a thread that is designed to wind around the Hydra’s prey, another has an opening at the tip which allows it to puncture the surface of the Hydra’s prey and inject a neurotoxin. When prey brushes up against the Hydra’s tentacles, the nematocysts are discharged very quickly.
POND-er these cool facts!
Scientists studying Hydra over several years have found no signs of aging in the organisms, meaning Hydras could very well be immortal.
Dragonflies have been around for 300 million years, making them older than dinosaurs.
Hydras have spectacular regeneration abilities. If cut into several sections, a new Hydra will generate from each piece.
More Great Resources that Explore Water!
Book Wetland Wonders!
Dive into the world of wetlands with our virtual hands-on workshop! Discover who calls them home and how they influence their environment. Create a food chain, investigate adaptations and explore invasive species. Build a mini wetland, explore how it holds and filters water, and learn the importance of preserving this habitat. Wetlands are truly a wonder! Workshops are curriculum-aligned. Each student receives their own mini science bag full of investigative materials.
Watch Exploring Wild Wetlands!
Explore animals and plants that live in the water! Water is important for all living things. Some need it to breathe, lay eggs or provide shelter. In this video, Scientist Heather takes us on an outdoor adventure where we use our senses to explore the wild wetlands. PLUS: Download our FREE scavenger hunt guide to explore wild wetlands yourself!
Watch Wings Over Water!
Join Scientist Heather on a water bird adventure! Discover the incredible diversity of birds that live in and near water, including shorebirds, wading birds, and waterfowl. Investigate how birds float, how they stay warm, their feeding habits, and how their webbed feet help them navigate through water.