Discover the amazing world of aquatic life with #TEAMAQUA

Kari-Anne Heald, our wonderful #TEAMAQUA Leader tells us about the amazing world of aquatic life, how to find it and how you can look for frogs, aquatic invertebrates and more in your garden….

“Dragonfly larvae, toads, water beetles…..Are you interested in freshwater wildlife and would like to help us find as much as possible for the City Nature Challenge? Can you join us for the River Bug Hunt on Friday 27th April 3:00pm-5:00pm? If not, no problem. You can still take part in the City Nature Challenge by doing your own survey throughout 27th-30th April.

It’s simple:

  1. Find a pond, either in your own garden or a local park
  2. Watch the pond first for any signs of life
  3. Start dipping: you’ll need a white tray (or you can put some white paper in the bottom of a baking tray) with some water in it and a net or even a sieve.
  4. Make sure to dip amongst the plants as this is where most of the animals hide. They are often not to be found in open water so gently disturb the plants with your net but be careful not to gather up lots of mud from the bottom of the pond. You won’t collect many animals from the pond floor and it will literally muddy the waters, making it difficult for you to…..
  5. Identify what you find. Here are some ID guides that you can use:

6. Once you have identified the species, or even if you’re not sure what it is, pop it into the iNaturalist app (in the ‘City Nature Challenge: Bristol & Bath‘ project) to allow the wildlife to be recorded as part of the challenge. The challenge is to record as much wildlife as possible for your region so one last thing: bring your enthusiasm!

What might you find……?

I grew up in a small town and my first recollection of being near a frog was when my brother put one in my bed. These days, despite living in a city, I am fortunate enough to see frogs in some damp patches of vegetation in our garden. I suspect that they hatch from our neighbour’s pond, as we know that there is frog spawn in there every year, so I recently popped over the fence to look at the pond with my lovely neighbour. Sure enough, we found frogs and tadpoles just by looking in and around the pond, as well as pond skaters skimming across the surface.

Common Frog (Rana temporaria).

In urban areas, garden ponds are so important for this frog as they can be found almost anywhere in the UK where there are suitable breeding areas, which is basically a shallow area of water. You can distinguish the frog tadpoles from toad tadpoles because frog tadpoles become mottled / brown and don’t shoal but toad tadpoles remain black and often form shoals; whilst adult frogs can be distinguished from toads because adult frogs have smooth skin and long legs for jumping whereas toads have warty skin and prefer to make small hops. Like Kermit, we traditionally think of frogs as being green in colour. Whilst the common frog will often have an olive green or brown skin colour, they can be a variety of colours such as orange, cream or even black. They are even known to lighten or darken their skin colour to match their surroundings. If you cannot find frogs in your pond or a damp area within your garden though, you may hear them with their soft, repetitive croak. This is a great website to listen to the different frog and toad calls:

Freshwater Invertebrates

Once you start dipping, you may also find freshwater invertebrates in your pond. They are an excellent indicator of the health of your pond. One of the guides above is an online scoring sheet which you can use to see if your pond is the ideal habitat for many species or whether there is room for improvement. One of the invertebrates with the highest score of 10, indicating good pond health, is the cased caddis fly larvae. The female caddisflies lay eggs on vegetation just above the water. The larvae hatch from the eggs, drop into the water below and start to build their case. The larvae will use small stones, sand and pieces of leaves to build their case which they glue together by producing a silk lining. They keep their body within the case so, when you have your pond contents in your white tray, look out for moving objects e.g. sticks that are crawling. However, these insects will hide when disturbed so have a little patience.

With a lower score of 5, you may also see back swimmers which are common in ponds, ditches and canals in the UK. As back stroke is my favourite swimming stroke, I am drawn to the name of this water bug. Like humans swimming the backstroke, they swim on their backs but they do so just under the water surface. Don’t be fooled by their innocuous name though, they are predators that can change direction at lightening speed, allowing them to inject toxic saliva into the bodies of their prey. If you try to handle them, they can inflict a painful bite so it would be better to watch their swimming skills in the tray rather than trying to touch them. My neighbour has previously seen many backswimmers in her pond, and flying away from it, but we weren’t fortunate to see any when we looked together.

Hopefully, you will see these creatures and many more. We really hope that you can join us in the challenge and have lots of fun whilst you discover what lies in the water!

Finally, the serious but important stuff:

The iNaturalist app is the official app for the challenge and all sightings must be recorded on it to count. You can download the app free from the app store. Click here for more information about recording wildlife on the app.

Please remember to always be careful around water. Do not leave children unsupervised around water and be aware of the risks of slipping, minimising them where possible.

It is also very important to make sure you clean your equipment in between sites; we don’t want to spread any diseases or non-native species. Clean off any mud etc then disinfect your equipment (net, tray, boots) by using 300mls of 5% bleach to just under 5 litres of water. Leave everything to dry thoroughly before the next use.

Have fun and happy pond dipping!”

All photos taken by Kari-anne Heald