Wildlife ID guide: what species lives in a pond?

Explore the world of extraordinary mini beasts and lurking monsters with this spotter guide that helps you get to know the 11 most common weird and wonderful wildlife that are likely to live in your local pond.

From meat eating predators to stinging scorpions, it’s amazing what you’ll discover when you delve beneath the surface.

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Happy pond exploring!

1. Whirligig beetle

Whirligig beetle

Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • One of several small black beetles that whizz around on the surface
  • Swims underwater when threatened, can carry a bubble of air to breathe with
  • A predator and scavenger, it eats smaller invertebrates
  • It has two pairs of eyes that can look above and below the water at the same time

2. Pond skater

Pond skater

Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • Skates across the surface on long legs – it has water-repellent hairs on the bottom of its feet, so it literally walks on water
  • Emerges from hibernation from April onwards
  • Flies well and rapidly colonises new ponds
  • A predator and scavenger, has a sharp beak to grab smaller invertebrates

3. Backswimmer


Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • It rows under the surface with oar-like legs on its back
  • A predator and scavenger, it can eat tadpoles and even small fish
  • Can give a painful nip if caught
  • They can also fly well to new habitat

4. Water scorpion

Water Scorpion

Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • Lurks in weedy margins
  • Note its huge pincers and long ‘sting’
  • A predator and scavenger

5. Lesser water boatman

Lesser water boatman

Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • Swims near the bottom on its front with two paddle-like arms
  • Lays eggs attached to plant stems
  • Eats pond matter and algae
  • Grazes on algae and rotting matter

6. Caddisfly

  • Can be found in most good-quality ponds
  • Most larvae have a case made by glueing together bits from the pond
  • They live in clean, shallow ponds with surrounding plants
  • Feeds on algae and decaying matter
  • The adults are nocturnal and fly at night. They resemble moths but with wings folded back along the body

7. Leech


Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • Likes to feed on water snails
  • When extended its body can be 30mm long
  • Pale grey or fawn in colour with yellow spots

8. Water snail

Water snail

Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • Feeds on algae and rotting matter
  • Can grow from 2-3mm to 50mm dependent on species
  • The glutinous snail is one of the rarest because it requires very clean water

9. Dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly larvae

Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • Voracious predator
  • Eats tadpoles and small fish
  • Has a fat, stocky body and can grow to about 40mm long
  • Easily distinguished from damselfly nymph as it has no ‘tails’

10. Damselfly nymph

  • About 20mm long
  • Slender body
  • Three long flattened ‘tails’ at the end of the abdomen
  • Predator of invertebrates

11. Diving beetle

Diving beetle

Illustration: Brin Edwards / WWT

  • Predator, eats other invertebrates, tadpoles and small fish
  • Larvae have two tails
  • It has red antennae and front legs
  • About 10mm long

Where can I find amphibians and grass snakes?

Although they breed in ponds, amphibians spend much of their time on land. Look for them around the edges of ponds. Tree stumps, stone walls and the foundations and loose brickwork of old buildings all provide good places for them to shelter and hibernate. Young frogs, toads and newts can be found in damp areas around the pond edges where they can hide and find food.

Frog tadpoles are golden speckled and hatch in clumps. Toadlets are black and the spawn is laid in long strings.

Because they mainly feed on amphibians, grass snakes are often found near ponds. Look for them basking in the sun in dry, sunny areas near to the pond. Compost heaps make excellent places for them to incubate their eggs.

What can you find at the edges of the pond?

Many animals make use of the rich variety of habitats found at the edges of ponds created by the different water depths. You can also find a fantastic array of pond plants including water forget-me-not and yellow flag iris.

The damp and dry pond edge is used by snails, spiders, fast running ground beetles and shore bugs. This is also a favoured feeding ground for many wading birds like moorhen and even small animals like water shrews, catching insects trapped in the mud.

Dragonflies like the southern hawker and the brilliant emerald often lay their eggs in the damp exposed muddy and stony edges of a pond.

What animals can you find near a pond?

Many pond animals use the land around the pond during part of their life cycle. Adult dragonflies roost amongst tall plants and hoverflies emerge from the pond to feed on the nectar of surrounding flowers. The larvae of many water beetles emerge to pupate in damp ground around the pond and then return to the water as adults.

You might also be interested in...

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A guide to British amphibians

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