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

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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I see unique koi online but I can’t find them at the pet shop. Do they only sell certain ones, or do they change when they get bigger? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: I see unique koi online but I can’t find them at the pet shop. Do they only sell certain ones, or do they change when they get bigger?

Q: I see unique koi online but I can’t find them at the pet shop. Do they only sell certain ones, or do they change when they get bigger?

Jeri – Hartsville, SC

A:  It’s easy to spend hours online ogling champion koi. The fishes’ near-perfect silhouettes, vivid color palettes and balanced scale patterns – not to mention their healthy size – inspire hobbyists to go on their own quests for the Holy Grail of pond fish. So they search pet store aquariums. They peruse tanks at their local pond supplier. They even eye their friends’ fishes, finding themselves coveting a golden butterfly or a sparkly gin rin kohaku.

Does this sound familiar?

Unfortunately, championship-quality koi are rare, as are some of the hard-to-find varieties. The good news, however, is that all koi are unique, and each variety has its own distinct color combination, scale pattern and physical characteristics. They’re called “living jewels” for a reason!

Read on to learn more about the different koi varieties – and how to find the exceptional ones.

Colorful, Common Koi

Most pet stores and pond supply shops stock the most popular varieties of koi, including these, below.

  • Kohaku: These fish have a solid white body overlaid with large red markings (hi). Top quality Kohaku display a bright, blemish-free white combined with deep, vibrant red patterns that are evenly distributed along the body.
  • Sanke (Taisho Sanke): These koi look similar to Kohaku, but they also have small black markings (sumi) overlaid on its white base. Experts say a high quality Sanke pattern begins with a great Kohaku pattern, to which the black is a welcome complement.
  • Showa (Showa Sanshoku): Commonly known as Showa, these fish have a solid black body that’s topped with red and white (shiroji) markings. Showa can be confused with Sanke; the difference is that in Showa, the black patterns wrap all the way around the body and appear on the fish’s head. The red, white and black should be evenly balanced, with crisp, clean edges between each color.
  • Ogon: Their metallic scales are in one solid color, typically yellow (Yamabuki Ogon) or white (Platinum Ogon). A clean solid-color head and unblemished body are crucial to a high-quality Ogon.

Exceptional Specimens

If you want to add some rarely seen jewels to your pond, check out these varieties below. Though you may find them at your local retailer, you’ll have better luck sourcing them via online vendors and koi auctions.

  • Shusui: Shusui are the scaleless (doitsu) version of Asagi, which are koi that display a blue net-like pattern on the back that’s complemented by red or orange patterns on the body. In Shusui, the blue net pattern is replaced by a single row of scales along the dorsal line at the top of the back.
  • Kumonryu: Another scaleless variety, Kumonryu have patterns of grey or white combined with black. They will completely change their pattern many times throughout their life. They can go anywhere from solid white to solid black, or any conceivable combination in between.
  • Tancho: Tancho is a popular variation of Kohaku, in which the only red pattern appears as a single red dot on the head. The symmetry and placement of the Tancho mark are main factors in determining the quality of any particular koi.

Whether choosing a common or uncommon variety, look for bright colors, crisp edges and interesting patterns. The koi’s color vibrancy and pattern edges will change over time (dramatically, in the case of the Kumonryu!), but its variety will stay the same; a Kohaku, for instance, won’t change into a Showa.

Nutrients in your koi’s food can affect its color display, so be sure to feed them some Growth & Vibrance Fish Food after transitioning them from their wheatgerm-based Spring & Fall Fish Food. It contains spirulina and stabilized vitamin C for show-stopping color.

Pond Talk: What types of koi do you have in your pond? Do you have a showstopper swimming among them?

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Do I need to put enzymes in my pond if I put bacteria in there? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Do I need to put enzymes in my pond if I put bacteria in there?

Q: Do I need to put enzymes in my pond if I put bacteria in there?

Tom – Clinton, AR

A: Bacteria and enzymes may both be microscopic heavyweights when it comes to breaking down decomposing organics in your pond, but they play distinctly different roles. Here’s what you need to know about them – and how they complement each other.

Natural Bacteria: The Leading Role

Aerobic and anaerobic bacteria already live your pond, and they’re prolific. These hungry stars of the show decompose organic material, like dead algae, decomposing weeds and leaves, and pond muck.

Of the two types, the aerobic variety, which is found in bacteria additives like MuckAway™ and PondClear™, does a much better job at gobbling the decomposing organics than the anaerobic type that lives in oxygen-depleted environments. Most ponds, in fact, have an overabundance of anaerobic bacteria, thanks to poor circulation.

Enzymes: The Supporting Cast

Enzymes are a different critter altogether. In simple terms, enzymes accelerate chemical reactions – so in a pond, they play a supporting role. They’re catalysts that help natural bacteria by speeding up the digestion of all that organic material. This allows the bacteria to work more efficiently.

Give Them a Boost

Do you need to add both bacteria and enzymes to your pond? No, not really.

Self-sufficient microorganisms, aerobic bacteria naturally secrete their own enzymes to help digest muck. Simply increasing the number of hungry bacteria by adding PondClear™ and MuckAway™ (both found in ClearPAC® PLUS Pond Care Package) will grow the amount of productive enzymes, which ultimately means more decomposed muck and a cleaner, clearer pond.

If you want to give your bacteria a boost, be sure your aeration system is in tip-top shape to pump oxygen into your pond, and use EcoBoost™ Bacteria Enhancer to bind excess phosphates and other suspended organics in the water. It also adds more than 80 trace minerals to promote fish health and growth, so it’s great for all critters – microscopic or otherwise!

Pond Talk: What plans do you have for your pond or lake this spring?

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What’s the best way to get debris off the rocks when I clean out my pond this spring? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: What’s the best way to get debris off the rocks when I clean out my pond this spring?

Q: What’s the best way to get debris off the rocks when I clean out my pond this spring?

Jake – Grand Junction, CO

A: There’s nothing like spring cleaning – especially when it gives you a chance to remove some of that icky, slimy scum and debris that’s been growing on your waterfall, rocks and gravel all year-long. With the water drained from your pond (after your fish are safe in a temporary tub), you have easy access to those hard-to-clean spots. Here’s our two-step solution to scrub everything clean.

Step 1: Power Wash
Without a doubt, power washing with a pressure washer or high-pressure nozzle is the quickest way to blast debris off larger rocks and features. Once your pond is drained, and you’ve removed large debris and trimmed away dead plant material, start power washing from the top and work your way down, being careful to avoid growing plants and curious frogs. Some of that debris contains viable beneficial bacteria, so it’s OK to leave a little behind.

Because all that stuck-on debris is easier to remove when it’s wet, start power washing as soon as possible after your pond is drained. Believe us: It’s harder to clean off that debris once it’s dried out and crusty!

Step 2: Oxy-Lift
Next, use Oxy-Lift™ Defense® to lift and remove tough debris on larger rocks, waterfalls and streams by pouring it directly on the trouble spots. While you’re at it, sprinkle some on the smaller rocks and hard-to-power-wash gravel, too. You will instantly see it start to foam and remove stuck-on scum. After about 10 minutes or so, hose everything down, drain the dirty water and debris, and repeat as necessary; it might take a few cycles for a thorough clean-out.

After your pond is spick and span, your rocks and gravel are in place, and your plants are repositioned, fill it back up with water and add a chlorine remover or Stress Reducer Plus to condition the water and make the freshly cleaned aquatic environment safe for your fish. While your filters and pond are being reestablished with beneficial bacteria, keep your finned pals on a light spring diet.

For more tips on how to perform a spring cleanout, check out our video that details what you need to do to prepare your pond for the warmer months.

Pond Talk: When your pond is drained while you’re spring cleaning, what other maintenance chores do you do?

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How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck?

Q: How can I tell if the duck that visits our pond is a wood duck?

Robert – Galesville, WI

A: As some of the most stunningly colorful visitors to pond, wood ducks – scientific name Aix sponsa – are easy to spot as long as you know what to look for. Get out your binoculars, because here’s a quick primer on wood duck field markings and behavior.

Unmistakable Appearance
Both male and female adult wood ducks measure about 19 inches high and have a wingspan of 26 to 29 inches. Unique among the duck species, wood ducks have a boxy, crested head, a thin neck and a long, broad tail. When airborne, their silhouette shows a skinny neck, long body, thick tail and short wings.

During mating season, which runs from autumn to early summer, male wood ducks sport colorful, ornate plumage. Some of their telltale markings – which are designed to attract females – include:

  • Red eyes and bill.
  • Metallic purplish-green plumage on his head and crest.
  • Black cheeks with a white stripe along his neck that extends up each cheek.
  • A yellow patch at the base of his bill.
  • Dark red chest and rump.
  • Drab yellow side with black and white stripes at the edges.
  • White belly.
  • Blackish tail and back.
  • Black and blue wings.

After mating season, male wood ducks lose their bold colors, but they retain their bright red eyes and bill.

Females lack the showy plumage of male wood ducks. Rather than colorful feathers, they don subtle yet intricate grayish-brown feathers on their bodies, with their sides a lighter shade than their backs, and a white ring around each eye. Their heads have a crest of feathers at the back and white feathers on their throat and chin.

Water-Centered Behavior
Wood ducks pair up in the late winter and breed in the spring. If you listen carefully, you can hear their calls: Males attract females with a squeaky whistle of “jweep,” and the females answer with a different, louder “oo-eek” whistle.

After they breed, wood ducks build a home – preferably in a tree that’s near a wooded swamp, pond, lake or marsh with cattails stands, or along a river or stream. They fashion their nests in cavities in nearby trees that are either natural or abandoned by a woodpecker. If they’re unable to find suitable trees, wood ducks will readily use nest boxes built by people. (Check out how to build one here.)

Lined with feathers from the female, a wood duck’s nest can house anywhere from six eggs to more than 40 eggs. Why the wide range? If a female cannot find a nest of her own, then she will lay her eggs inside another wood duck’s nest.

After a few weeks, the ducklings – which are already covered in a full down coat – hatch from their shells and venture into the world. Rather than being raised in the nest, however, the tiny ducks get their feet wet by literally jumping out of the nest cavity and waddling their way to the water. Talk about sink or swim!

Grubs and Greens
As ducklings and juveniles, wood ducks eat a lot of protein, preferring bugs, worms and, occasionally, a small fish. As they get older, their diet grows to include more plant-based grub. They’ll seek out wild fruit, seeds, nuts and aquatic plants, along with flies, beetles, caterpillars, isopods and snails.

Wood ducks are particularly drawn to open-water areas with dense, vegetative cover for hiding and foraging. They also prefer clean, clear water when diving for fish, aquatic bugs and greens. You can optimize their food sources by using muck-busting and water-clarifying solutions like Pond Logic® MuckAway™ and EcoBoost™.

The bacteria and enzymes in MuckAway™ eat through the accumulated muck and debris at the bottom of your pond, and EcoBoost™ is a natural bacteria enhancer that will bind organics suspended in the water. When used together, you’ll see a cleaner, clearer water column – perfect for any wood duck!

Pond Talk: How do you encourage birds to visit your pond or lake?

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When is the best time to install underwater pond lighting? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: When is the best time to install underwater pond lighting?

Q: When is the best time to install underwater pond lighting?

Lou – Winston, OR

A:  Whether it’s illuminating a patio, a landscape or a water garden, outdoor lighting can have a dramatic impact on the area’s space. It creates a special mood and spotlights stunning features while adding ambient light to the environment.

Underwater lighting is best installed when your pond is empty, like while it’s being constructed or – in most cases – while you’re doing your annual spring cleanout. If you’re putting in lights this spring, here are four key tips to follow:

  1. Choose the Right Lights: Landscaping lights come in many different sizes and varieties, and so it can be hard to choose the best for your needs. Luckily, we offer three above- and underwater lights that will do the trick.
    • LEDPro™ 6-Watt LED Light Kit: These lights highlight your pond and landscaping with energy-efficient LED bulbs. It shines with the same intensity as a 50-watt halogen but with a longer life span and lower energy costs.
    • LEDPro™ 12-Watt Single Light: This spotlight also features an LED bulb, but it shines with the same intensity as a 70-watt halogen.
    • LEDPro™ Rock Lights: Featuring a realistic stone finish, these small warm-white LED lights illuminate 10 watts per light but use only 2 watts of power. They’re perfect for accenting special features in your garden.
  2. Point Lights to the Pond: Rather than directing your landscape lights toward the patio or other viewing area, shine the light on pond instead. Your goal is to illuminate your water feature – not blind yourself while viewing it.
  3. Cast an Underwater Glow: Beneath the water’s surface, install lights that will spotlight your waterfall or stream’s cascading water. And don’t forget to include some that will highlight landscaping around and pondscaping in your water feature, too.
  4. Stash Extra Power Cord: To give yourself easy accessibility to the underwater lights when you need to change their bulbs, wrap some excess power cord around the light. This will allow you to simply pull the light out of the water and change the bulb without having to drain the water or move a rock.

Over time, algae and other debris will build up on your lights – and so you’ll need to add a new to-do item on your spring cleanout checklist! Each year, plan to give those lenses a good scrubbing and replace any burned-out bulbs.

Pond Talk: How do you use lighting effects in your water feature?

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Why do koi have barbels? | Decorative Ponds & Water Gardens Q & A

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Q: Why do koi have barbels?

Janice – Clear Creek, KY

A: Koi have been growing trendy whiskers way before the hipsters made it cool! Those whiskers—or barbels—are a defining characteristic of the fish. Here’s what they are, what they do, and why the popular pond fish has them.

Super-Sensing Organ
Barbels are sensory organs not unlike whiskers in mammals. Rather than being used for tactile sensing, however, a fish’s barbels are used for taste. Koi, along with catfish, goatfish, hagfish, sturgeon, zebrafish, some species of shark and other carp, have barbels. They use these taste bud-covered organs to search for food in murky water.

Tasting Without Ingesting
Koi and other carp have four barbels, with two on each side of the koi’s mouth (termed “maxillary barbels”). The top two appear shorter than the lower two, but they all serve the same purpose: taste debris without actually ingesting it. Being omnivorous scavengers that forage along murky pond and river bottoms, it’s a good survival skill to have.

Weird Appendages
As spring approaches and you start feeding your finned pals some Spring and Fall Fish Food, take a closer look at these weird appendages. Most koi (except those with mutations) have barbels—even koi fry have them! So go grab a pond net, catch a koi or fingerling, and look closely to see them.

As with hipsters and their whiskers, they probably won’t like you playing with their barbels. But they’re still fun to look at!

Pond Talk: Are some of your koi’s barbels bigger than others?

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