Last Friday was incredibly hot in North Carolina, so it wasn’t the best day to be outside. I spent most of it indoors, but I didn’t get to stay inside the whole day. Thankfully, the things I had to do outdoors were either brief or fun, and I finally got a chance to spend a few moments rooting around in the pond down the hill from my office. There was some great stuff in there too! I scooped a few choice things into a little bucket and brought them back up to the office to look at more closely, then I brought it all home to photograph. The big things were exciting, including…
Shallows ponds like the one where I work are pretty amazing places! They’ve got a huge variation in habitats, from the mucky bottom to the sides of emergent vegetation (like cattails) to the algae floating on the surface. If you scoop a sample from the cattails, you’ll get different things than you will from the bottom or at the surface or in the open water. This lovely dragonfly nymph came from the mucky bottom. Look at all those hairs on the legs! Pretty cool nymph. Sadly, it was eaten by the…
PREDACEOUS DIVING BEETLE LARVA
This has got to be a Dytiscus species because it was absolutely gigantic, over 2 inches long! It walked around and around the bucket with those enormous jaws held wide open. Every now and then it would try to sneak up on the dragonfly and grab it, but the latter kept getting away. Apparently the beetle eventually succeeded because I woke up a dead dragonfly nymph held fast in the jaws of the beetle. What an impressive beetle larva! It did not succeed in grabbing this nymph though…
CREEPING WATER BUG NYMPH
We had a lot of naucorids in Arizona, so these seem like a perfectly normal thing to find in a pond to me. What I’m not used to seeing is a pale green bug with crazy red demon eyes! When the light hit the eyes just right, they even glowed a little, which made them downright creepy. This insect is, I’m told, also one of the most painful of the aquatic insects you can be bitten by, which adds to the creepy factor of the red eyes.
Another green thing was very abundant in the pond…
I figured I should include at least one thing that wasn’t an insect here because so many other things belong to the pond’s ecosystem. Duckweed is one productive little plant! A few tiny little plants is all it takes to start forming a dense mat that can eventually cover the entire surface of a pond. There’s not that much duckweed on the Prairie Ridge pond yet, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much of the surface is eventually covered this summer. I can’t help but love duckweed though! It’s one of the smallest flowering plants in the world, just a little cluster of tiny bright green leaves attached to a root system. The whole plant floats on the surface of the water with the roots dangling below in the water, as you see in the photo above. It’s an adorable little plant.
The best thing I found in the pond though, was something that I only saw because I caught a tiny motion out of the corner of my eye:
PHANTOM MIDGE LARVA
I can only imagine that these are called phantom midges because they are so darned hard to see in the water! This larva was absolutely transparent except for the big air bubbles you can see inside the larva in the photo and the tiny black marks. It was nearly impossible to see in the bucket and every time I lost track of it I had to spend several minutes staring into the water to see it again. Phantom midges are cool looking insects, but they’re also one of the few insects that live out in the open water of ponds and lakes. Most aquatic insects in ponds are found on the bottom or close to the shoreline (in the littoral zone) , but these are often found swimming about right out in the open water. They move up and down in the water column by adjusting the air in those little air sacs and avoid predation by hiding near the bottom during the day and coming up to the surface to hunt with their prehensile antennae at night. If that’s not the coolest aquatic insect, I’m not sure what is! And this was the very first one I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t have been happier to find it!
That’s a tiny taste of what’s living in the pond down the hill. I’ll be down there doing programs throughout the year, so it will be interesting to see how the populations change over time and how shifts in the dominant species occur. And, it’s only a 3 minute walk! I had to drive at least 30 minutes to get to any sort of habitable water in Arizona, so having a pond so close is a dream come true. And someday I’ll get down into the creek too. I’ll let you know what I find when I do!