Nature in the Middle
Last week we set out in search of a local pond, equipped with some homemade tools to help us explore. The weather has been fantastic this past week and hopefully you were able to get outdoors and explore a pond.
This week I’d like to take a closer look at the community of organisms living in a pond ecosystem. One of my favorite pond dwellers is featured in this short Nature Moments video (below):
Yes, I’ll admit it, I love leeches! Watching them swim through the water is one of my favorite sights while visiting a pond; it’s like watching a flying piece of ribbon. If you’ve had some fear of leeches in the past, hopefully that “Nature Moments” video helped ease your worries.
If you were a frog, then worrying about Haemophagic leeches (the ones that suck blood) would be sensible. But beyond being a worry to frogs, what role do leeches play in their ecosystem? Leeches are mid-level consumers in their aquatic food chains. Depending on the particular species of leech, they’ll eat small insects, small fish, frogs, and worms. Ducks, wading birds and larger fish will eat them. If you’ve ever fished for smallmouth bass then you may have used a rubber leech lure as bait; smallmouth bass love leeches!
TO DO: Take three of the organisms that you found in your ponding explorations last week and create three Pond Food Chains. For example, if I used my friend the leech:
Great Blue Heron – Bass – Leech – Frog – Water boatman – Algae
In my example, my food chain has six links. Yours may have less, but it’s fun and challenging to see how many links you can come up with. Also, once you have your three food chains, see if you can start connecting those together to form a Pond Food Web.
Ponds are full of creatures with amazingly unique adaptations. The Water boatman in my food chain example is a type of insect named for one of its unique features: a set of “oars” that it uses to propel itself from the surface to the bottom of a pond where it finds its food. These “oars” are an extra-long set of hind legs. Since water boatmen need air to breathe while they’re diving and feeding, they’ve developed an adaptation to solve this problem. Just like scuba divers bring their own supply of air with them, the water boatman brings a thin, silvery bubble of air, trapped against its body, down during dives. If you’ve never seen this, watch closely and observe a water boatman the next time you visit a pond.
TO DO: Take the list of organisms that you found during your pond exploration and list their adaptations.
Divide these adaptations into physical (like the long back legs of the water boatman) and behavioral (gathering air from the surface of a pond to breathe underneath the water). Create a table of your organisms, like this:
|Name of organism||Physical Adaptation||Behavioral Adaptation|
|Water boatman||Long rear legs for water propulsion.||Gathering an air supply from the surface to use below.|
|Great Blue Heron||Long legs that enable it to wade into ponds in search of prey.||Remaining very still in order to catch unsuspecting prey.|
Visiting a pond is like exploring another universe, with a population of creatures who are uniquely adapted to survive in an alien landscape. Next time you’re feeling bored and in the mood to visit someplace new and “exotic,” go find a pond. Take some tools with you and explore this ecosystem more closely. There are new discoveries waiting for you at each visit!
- Ponds are great environments to explore the topic of life cycles. Many of the organisms living in a pond undergo complete or incomplete metamorphosis.
- Try creating an online field guide with your students, gathering all of their collective pond findings together into one place. Have your students discover whether there are differences in what was found in one pond vs. another. What might account for these differences? Is more research or data collection (such as water temperature) needed in order to answer these questions?
Our educators, scientists, advocates, and naturalists are committed to keeping you connected to the natural world as we deal with the coronavirus situation together. Check in every weekday on our Connections page for family activities, parent/teacher tips, backyard birding, nature exploration at our sanctuaries, and more.