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I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to?

Q: I am seeing quite a few tracks near my pond. Who do they belong to?

Shawn – New Hudson, MI

A: Water attracts all sorts of critters. From bugs, birds and deer to reptiles, raccoons and muskrat – and even an occasional coyote or bear – wildlife of all shapes and sizes frequent ponds and lakes. If you’re experiencing visitors near your pond, that’s great! You should be excited to have the animals use it as a natural resource!

To help you decipher what’s leaving behind those tracks, here’s a quick rundown of the most common critters we find near ponds and lakes:

Muskrats: Measuring about 2 feet long and covered in thick dark brown or black fur, these medium-size semiaquatic rodents are often found in wetlands and near the water’s edge. They have long, vertically flat tails covered with scales, which help them to swim. When looking at muskrat tracks, the hind feet will be larger than the front feet, and you’ll see a distinct mark from their tail that drags along the ground.

Raccoons: These little masked bandits, which will sometimes make a meal of your game fish, are very intelligent and have extremely dexterous front paws. They walk with their feet flat on the ground and can stand on their hind legs to examine objects with their front paws. When examining raccoon tracks, you’ll see the flat-footed footprints with claws on all the toes. Their front foot and opposite hind foot tracks will be side by side or close together.

Deer: Widely distributed across the country, deer—which are pretty good swimmers, by the way—prefer to live between forests (for cover) and grassy fields (for food), though you’ll find deer tracks anywhere around your pond. Unlike raccoons, deer walk on their hooves, or their toe tips that are strengthened by a thick horny covering. When looking at deer tracks, you’ll see the outline of their hooves, which will look like upside-down hearts.

Turtles: Terrestrial and amphibious turtles have short, round, sturdy feet to bear the weight of their heavy shells. They also have long claws that they use to help them clamber onto rocky shorelines and floating logs. You’ll most likely see turtle tracks near the water. The marks will look almost oval with toes or claw marks on one side of the oval. You may see a tail or shell drag mark, too.

In most cases, these critters will do little or no harm to your pond or lake. They do leave waste behind, but we can keep that in check with aeration and bacteria. So have fun identifying your little visitors!

Pond Talk: What’s the strangest animal track you’ve identified near your pond or lake?

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Why is there fog on my pond in the mornings? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Why is there fog on my pond in the mornings?

Q: Why is there fog on my pond in the mornings?

Joann – Knoxville, TN

A: A misty morning fog conjures a sense of mystery—but why the fog appears isn’t so mysterious once you understand what it is and how it forms.

Fog Defined

Fog is simply a concentration of low-lying water vapor in the air. In the fall, these tiny liquid water droplets often form over bodies of water like your pond or lake.

Temperature Mix

Fog forms when cool air and warm water meet and, more specifically, when the difference between the temperature and the dew point is less than 4° Fahrenheit.

You see, in your pond, the water, heated by the sun, stays warmer than the air temperature during the cool night. When the cold layer of still air settles over your pond, warm water vapor from the pond evaporates, entering the cool air above it. The cool air then traps the concentrated water vapor and fog forms. In the morning, as the sun heats the air and temperatures rise, the water vapor evaporates and dispels.

Fog Fighters

If you don’t like fog and prefer to use your pond early in the morning before the misty stuff dissipates, consider installing an AquaStream™ Fountain. A fountain adds oxygen to the pond—but that’s not all. It also creates movement above the water, which prevents cool air from settling on the water surface. This will help prevent fog from forming.

Pond Talk: Are you a fan of fog on your pond or lake? Why or why not?

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I would love to have ducks at my pond. Is there any harm, and how do I attract them? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I would love to have ducks at my pond. Is there any harm, and how do I attract them?

Q: I would love to have ducks at my pond. Is there any harm, and how do I attract them?

Jerry – Cass City, MI

A: Ducks certainly make an entertaining and colorful addition to a pond or lake. Various species of these plumed wetland visitors grace just about every continent and climate on planet earth – including sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia and the Aucklands to oceanic locales like Hawaii and New Zealand.

Despite their worldwide distribution, getting ducks to call your pond home can be a challenge. But you can attract them if you understand their specific needs.

Pondside Open House

The duck types that frequent ponds include mallards and wood ducks, along with Muscovy ducks, black-bellied and whistling ducks. Ducks are omnivores and like to eat a wide range of foods, from small fish, eggs, snails, worms and bugs to grass, weeds, seeds and berries. In general, they require a lot of space and copious amounts of water in the form of marshes, lakes or large ponds. Aquatic plants, like reeds and water lilies, make them feel at home, as does concealed areas with tall marsh grass and shrubby cover for nesting and hiding.

Attracting the Flock

Providing a duck friendly habit is the best way to convince the feathered visitors to stop by, but here are some expert tricks to make your pond more appealing:

  • Create a Mess Hall: Set up feeding areas by clearing out an area or providing large, low platforms, and toss out some cracked corn, spilled birdseed and kitchen scraps. Don’t feed them by hand, but use goodies to pique their interest.
  • Plant a Duck Garden: Berry bushes can help draw ducks. And if you have a garden area near your pond, use mulch to attract tasty insects and earthworms.
  • Offer a Nest Box: Though ducks will nest in a variety of places, from ground nests in grassy areas near the pond to brush piles and hollow logs, provide them with nest boxes to help attract nesting ducks.
  • Install a Fountain: Ducks flock to the sound of splashing, so consider installing a fountain or waterfall in your pond.
  • Use Natural Décor: Add some half-submerged logs, overhanging shelves, marsh grasses and marginals, aquatic plants and brush piles to your landscape.
  • Add Some Decoys: A duck decoy pair floating quietly on your pond will attract the attention of the real-life things. They’ll swoop down to investigate and (hopefully!) decide to stay for a while.

Duck Dangers

Unlike a Great Blue Heron, ducks will leave your fish alone – but they can trigger other problems. If a lot of them are visiting, they can cause water quality issues (which can be remedied with the beneficial bacteria in Pond Logic® PondClear™). They could bring in unwanted weeds, like duckweed and water milfoil, that weren’t present before. The ducks, ducklings and eggs could also attract feral cats, raccoon, skunks and other predators.

Having these colorful beauties visit your pond, however, is worth the hassle. When they do stop by, observe them from a distance – and enjoy bird watching!

Pond Talk: Do ducks visit your pond regularly?

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We just bought a house with a pond. Do people actually swim in them? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: We just bought a house with a pond. Do people actually swim in them?

Q: We just bought a house with a pond. Do people actually swim in them?

Julie – Calcutta, OH

A: Yes, absolutely! Swimming ponds are all the rage—and for good reason. Compared to chemical-laden swimming pools cleaned with chlorine, swimming ponds use plants, natural bacteria and aeration to keep the water crystal clear. The Europeans have been creating these for years, and the trend has taken hold here.

Whether you want to dive into your new-to-you pond, however, really depends on how well it has been maintained. Here are some tips to prepare your pond for summertime fun!

  1. Reduce Muck
    There’s nothing like tiptoeing into a pond, only to sink 6 inches into the slippery, slimy muck. Ponds that haven’t been maintained often have a buildup of this sludge. One way to reduce it is to use natural bacteria like MuckAway™. The tiny microbes gobble through the decomposing debris, going through 2″ a month when used as directed.
  2. Add Aeration
    Did your pond come with an aeration system? If not, you need one. An aeration system will increase the productivity of those muck- and odor-eating natural bacteria by infusing the water with oxygen. An aerator will also improve water quality and churn the water column.
  3. Zap Algae
    Algae around your beach area is no fun—and it’s no good for your pond’s water quality, aesthetics and usability. Algae happens, particularly in ponds that have a lot of nutrients (muck and other decomposing debris) and sunshine, but you can battle it with some Algae Defense®. The algaecide goes after chara, filamentous and planktonic algae, the main cause of pea soup-colored water.
  4. An ‘Activity’ Pond
    Rather than refer to your pond as a “swimming pond,” think of the area as your summer activity zone. Who needs summer camp when you can do all these things around your pond:

    • Go fishing! Stock it with fish, grab your pole and tackle box, and catch and release some game fish.
    • Get some exercise! Run or walk laps around your pond, or drop in a paddle boat and do some laps—just 30 minutes can burn 100 calories.
    • Build sandcastles! Why go to a crowded beach when you could build sandcastles at home! Dump a truckload of sand pondside and enjoy your own dunes.
    • Try snorkeling or diving! It may not be the Great Barrier Reef, but you might make some interesting discoveries. Let us know if you find any sunken treasure.

Pond Talk: What favorite summertime activities do you do around your pond or lake?

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I know bass are good predator fish to put in a pond, but does it matter if they are largemouth or smallmouth bass? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I know bass are good predator fish to put in a pond, but does it matter if they are largemouth or smallmouth bass?

Q: I know bass are good predator fish to put in a pond, but does it matter if they are largemouth or smallmouth bass?

Joe – Alhambra, IL

A: Bass – both largemouth and smallmouth – make excellent predator fish. These strong, scrappy guys keep your bluegill population in check. They chase frogs, eat crustaceans and snails, and even catch unsuspecting birds and rodents like small muskrats. They’re a definite asset in your pond or lake.

These two fish cousins, however, have their differences. Read on to learn which is better suited to your pond or lake.

Distinct Differences

Though they’re both species of fish in the sunfish family, largemouth and smallmouth bass have different physical characteristics. The largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides, sports a big grin that extends way back beyond its eye, while the smallmouth bass, Micropterus dolomieu, has a smaller smile that reaches only to the middle of its eye. They also differ in their color and color patterns; the olive green largemouth has dark blotches of scales that run horizontally down its flank, and the brassy brown smallmouth has dark scales that run vertically.

Happy Habitats

These freshwater fishes both thrive in lakes, ponds and rivers, but each species has its preference. Largemouth bass favor crystal clear lakes with 2 to 6 feet of water, and sandy shallows and abundant rooted aquatic plants or habitat for spawning. They flourish in warmer water – even enjoying 80 to 90 degree temperatures in the summertime.

Smallmouth bass, however, are primarily river dwellers that like to hang out around pea-size to 1-inch-diameter gravel for spawning. They’ll tolerate lakes and ponds, but they like the steady current and higher rate of dissolved oxygen it provides. They also like water temperatures a bit cooler; anything warmer than 90 degrees F is lethal to smallmouth bass.

Food for Thought

These fishes also have different tastes in food. Largemouth bass aren’t too picky. They’ll gobble through a variety of foodstuffs, from Game Fish Grower Food to smaller fish like shad, perch, bluegill and sunfish. Smallmouth bass, however, stick to the bottom of the lake or river and nosh on crustaceans, insects and smaller fish.

Potential Pondmates?

Because both these guys are fun and challenging to fish, it would be fantastic to have both species in your pond or lake, wouldn’t it?

Large- and smallmouth bass can live together, but it takes the help of an attentive game fish manager to make that happen. The general consensus from most experts is that the largemouths will typically replace smallmouths in smaller pond settings unless subadult or adult smallies are introduced annually. Even if you provide an ideal spawning environment for them, the largemouths will still edge them out.

Bottom line: You’re better off with the largemouths. They’re easier to keep, and they adapt more readily to a pond- or lake-type environment.

Pond Talk: What types of game fish do you have in your pond or lake?

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We had lots of tadpoles in our pond last year. Will they still be tadpoles this year or can we expect more frogs? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: I see giant tadpoles and small black ones. Are these the same type of tadpoles at different stages?

Q: We had lots of tadpoles in our pond last year. Will they still be tadpoles this year or can we expect more frogs?

Lynn – Beecher, IL

A: What would a summer evening on your pond or lake be without bullfrogs? Let’s discuss how to distinguish bullfrog and toad tadpoles and understand how they develop into adults.

What Came First: the Egg or Frog

Both bullfrogs and toads reproduce by laying eggs in the water. Female bullfrogs deposit their eggs on the pond surface in large round clusters or masses protected by aquatic plants. One bullfrog can lay up to 20,000 eggs, which are then fertilized by the males. Toads create strands of dark-colored eggs that look like black pearls attached to foliage and leaves near the water’s edge.

After 7 to 10 days, frog or toad tadpoles hatch from their eggs. Bullfrog tadpoles appear dark green to black in color and they’re big – much larger than other species of frog or toad. They also mature more slowly when compared to their toad counterparts. In fact, bullfrogs will stay in their tadpole stage for almost three years before transforming into adults.

From Aquatic to Terrestrial

A toad’s and frog’s physical development from tadpole (or pollywog) to adult are similar. As tadpoles, they live exclusively in the water and nibble on aquatic plants for nourishment. At first, their bodies are long and narrow and include a tail where they store fat when food is in short supply during the winter months. Eventually, the tadpoles will start to grow back legs, followed by their front legs. And then their tails shorten and disappear, and they develop lungs. Before long they’re full-fledged adults.

Survive and Thrive

As with most critters in the wild, the strongest will survive – and tadpoles are no different. Out of the thousands of pollywogs that are born, only a small percentage make it to adulthood. They have, however, evolved some survival traits that protect them from predators, including their camouflage color that makes them excellent at hiding.

You can help boost their survival numbers by adding pond dye or installing a decoy device, like an Owl Decoy or Nite Guard Solar®, designed to chase away rodents and snakes. With its timed head rotation powered by a built-in solar panel, the Owl Decoy will help repel nuisance birds and other small critters during the day. And the Nite Guard Solar® LED lights that resemble a predator’s glowing eyes will keep your pond – and your toads and frogs – safe at night.

Pond Talk: What kinds of frogs and toads live in your pond or lake?

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My son wanted to know if crayfish can live in our pond. I think they can, right? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: My son wanted to know if crayfish can live in our pond. I think they can, right?

Q: My son wanted to know if crayfish can live in our pond. I think they can, right?

Mike – Little Rock, AR

A: Yes, those little freshwater crustaceans can indeed live in your pond – as long as you provide the living conditions they need to thrive. Here’s what you need to know about growing a healthy crayfish population.

Home Sweet Home

Also known as crawdads and crawfish, North American crayfish belong to the family Cambaridae. More than 300 species live in rivers, brooks, ponds and even special “crayfish farms” across the country. Most types prefer fresh flowing water that doesn’t freeze in the winter, but some thrive in swamps and ditches.

During the day, crayfish hunker down underneath rocks to hide from predators like fish, birds and alligators. But at night, they slowly cruise the river bottom in search of food. Their preferred meals are anything decaying, including dead insects, worms, algae and fish, but they’ll also snap up small, live fish that are swimming by if they’re feeling too lazy to forage. They’ll also get their greens by gobbling through algae and aquatic plants.

These decapod crustaceans can grow up to 6 inches in length. They’re related to lobsters, crabs and shrimps, and they’re prized cuisine among foodies (etouffees anyone?) and larger fish, like bass and bluegill. Crayfish and dwarf crayfish are also kept as colorful pets in aquariums.

Welcome Residents

Crayfish can make a fun addition to your pond. They nibble on aquatic plants, so they help control weed growth. They eat decaying material, so they – along with Pond Logic® MuckAway™ – will help keep pond muck to a minimum. They’ll entertain your son (and his friends) for hours as they turn over rocks and hunt for crayfish. And they make for some delicious eating for you and your resident fish!

These guys will dig to create burrows in the bottom of your pond – but don’t worry. They won’t likely cause any leaks. It’s important, though, to control their population. Crayfish reproduction is tied to fluctuating water levels, so manage their population growth by stabilizing the water level in your pond, and use basket traps or lift nets baited with meat to remove large numbers.

Create a comfortable environment for crayfish by providing clean, aerated water and some rocks for burrowing. They’ll find their own food – or become food if they venture too close to your Fish Attractor Spheres!

Pond Talk: Have you ever hunted for crayfish?

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