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Gardeners often see bugs as an enemy, but those creepy crawlies that you find in or around your pond have an essential role in the healthy functioning of the ecosystem. Here’s a guide to the role that some common insects play in the aquatic life cycle, and how you can support them.
There are around nine species of pond skater in the UK according to the Wildlife Trust. They are commonly found ‘skating’ over the surface of freshwater ponds, lakes, and slow-moving bodies of water, hence the name. They are usually seen in large groups between April and November and are present in both urban and rural areas throughout all regions of the UK.
They prey on smaller insects in the pond, which they can detect through vibrations in the water. They are between 1-2 cm in length and have water repellent hairs on the bottom of their feet, which enable them to move over the surface of the water.
The common water measurer is often confused with the pond skater, but it is smaller and more slender in appearance, with long fragile looking legs. Like the pond skater, it moves over the surface of water and picks up on vibrations to track its prey. However, the water measurer prefers stagnant water such as marshes, ditches, or even mud.
Water stick insect
The water stick insect has a thin stick-like body and a long thin tail, with long jointed legs on either side of its body and long front legs that are used to catch prey. It hunts underwater and is active year-round. However they can also fly to travel between ponds. They are common in southern and central Britain but rarer further north.
The water stick insect hides in submerged plants to catch passing tadpoles and sometimes even small fish. It breeds in springtime, laying its eggs on plant stems and floating plants.
The Lesser water boatman
The Lesser water boatman is commonly found throughout the UK and can be spotted swimming on the surface of ponds and lakes. It is not predatory, but is a herbivore that feeds on algae and other plant matter in the water. There are several species of water boatman that all look fairly similar to each other.
Lesser water boatmen have lozenge-shaped dark brown bodies with yellow stripes and powerful back legs that act as paddles. They need to breathe on the surface, but can survive underwater for periods and can also fly. Almost all types of pond should attract water boatmen in the UK.
The common backswimmer is a predatory species of water boatman that feeds on tadpoles, small fish, and other invertebrates. Unlike the lesser water boatman, it swims on its back. It is a powerful predator and can even bite humans, which although not poisonous, care should be taken if you are placing your hands in the pond water.
The whirligig beetle is a small black oval-shaped creature that grows between 5-7mm in length. Their back legs are paddle-shaped for swimming, and their front legs are used for catching prey. They move in fast circles on the surface of the water to avoid predators, and also to prey on small pond insects.
They have two pairs of eyes: one that looks downwards under the water, and one that looks upwards. This helps them to both detect prey and to look out for predators simultaneously. Speed in the water is aided by a water-repellent waxy substance on their bodies. During the breeding season, the females lay their eggs on waterweed.
The common froghopper is a small brown insect that grows to about 6mm in length. The larvae live in a mass of froth, known as cuckoo spit, often found on aquatic plant stems. The froth is produced when air is forced into a fluid excreted from the anus of the larva. This protects the larva from predators and helps to provide moisture.
You may notice cuckoo spit on pond plant stems between June and September. The froghopper is so-called because of its impressive jumping skills, which can be up to distances of 70cm. They are herbivorous, feeding on plant sap of woody and herbaceous plants throughout all stages of their lives.
The great diving beetle is a common aquatic predatory insect that can be found in ponds and slow-moving water bodies throughout the whole of the UK. They are a blackish-green colour and grow up to 3cm in length. This predatory beetle will eat tadpoles, small fish, and other invertebrates. It can also fly and will travel between ponds.
Two-spotted water hoglouse
The two-spotted water hoglouse is a type of aquatic woodlouse that lives on the bottom of freshwater bodies including ponds, lakes, rivers, and canals. They feed on the decaying organic matter found underwater, such as leaves and dead creatures. They may also eat frogspawn.
There are about 51 species of mayfly in the UK, but it is most likely that you will spot the Pond Olive in your garden. They are more common in southern areas with alkaline soils. Like most mayflies, it spends the majority of its life underwater as larvae, before emerging in spring or summer as a short-lived adult.
Pond Olives live for up to two weeks while they mate and lay eggs which form larvae that overwinter on algae and submerged plants.
The striped mayfly grows up to 35mm in length and is light coloured with two pairs of veined wings. They are among the rarest species of mayfly in the UK.
Pond mud snails
Pond mud snails are between 12 and 25mm long, with brown conical shells. They are found in a variety of freshwater habitats including garden ponds. However numbers have declined significantly in recent decades due to habitat loss, and they are now listed as a priority species for conservation.
They are most suited to bog gardens as they require a habitat that will dry up partially or completely during the summer.
If you are looking for bog garden plants for sale, please get in touch today.