Pond Pad: Life Above and Below

By Bonnie Chasteen | July 1, 2016
From Xplor: July/August 2016

Lots of cool critters hang around a pond. But don’t let the peaceful water and pretty flowers fool you. This scene is anything but chill. From the agile dragonflies that buzz the air to sneaky snapping turtles lurking below, the pond is a combat zone where everything is lunch, and everybody is hungry — all the time. Let’s dive in and see who’s eating who.

Bottoms up!

Is this big bird drinking or eating?

A dragonfly zips over the lily pad, and a leopard frog shoots out its long, sticky tongue to catch it. When the frog strikes or swims, its lower eyelid, called a “haw,” slides up to protect its eyes — kind of like when you wear swim goggles in the pool.

It’s lunchtime under the lily pad! Tiny mosquito larvae cling to the leaf. They breathe with their bottoms, which snorkel up into the air. Their hungry mouths hang down, eating microorganisms. Minnows cruise by, snapping the larvae up like hotdogs at a picnic.

With its scissor-like bill, the great blue heron can snag a fish mid-swim. Like the leopard frog, the heron has a special protective eyelid that slides up when it plunges its head underwater.

To the left, a dragonfly nymph shoots out its lower jaw to harpoon a passing minnow. This fierce predator detects its victims by movement and eats any water animal smaller than itself. The dragonfly nymph can live for years underwater, where it will eat lots of water critters before becoming an adult dragonfly.

To the right, the water scorpion has a long, pointed tail, but it doesn’t sting. Instead, it uses its powerful forearms to catch and hold prey like this chubby tadpole. Water scorpions suck the juices out of their prey with their sharp, hollow beaks.

Both dragonfly nymphs and water scorpions are the terrors of small pond life, but they help humans by controlling lots of mosquito larvae.

A couple of hungry bluegill eye a wary crayfish. Bluegill have small mouths, but they love bite-sized crayfish and will eat them if they can catch them.

When threatened, crayfish propel themselves backward with a flip of their powerful tails. After the coast is clear, this crayfish will continue searching for lunch — decaying plants and animals, and little water critters, including other crayfish!

Where the water lilies rise from the mud, a knobby old snapping turtle strikes at a passing bluegill. The turtle is usually too slow to catch fish in the water, but that doesn’t stop it from trying. Missouri’s common snapping turtles eat insects, crayfish,fish, snails, earthworms, frogs, snakes, small mammals, and birds. However, they also eat lots of water plants like — you guessed it — water lilies.

Do you have a favorite pond?

You can find lots of public ponds to visit at mdc.mo.gov/atlas.

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This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Karen Hudson
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Nichole LeClair Terrill
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White