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Our pond attracts all kinds of wildlife. What can you tell us about snapping turtles? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Our pond attracts all kinds of wildlife. What can you tell us about snapping turtles?

Q: Our pond attracts all kinds of wildlife. What can you tell us about snapping turtles?

Gail – South Boston, VA

A: Healthy ponds do tend to attract all types of creatures to your backyard, some more desirable than others. Snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina) are large freshwater turtles that make their homes in ponds and streams with plenty of room and food. When encountered in the water, they typically slip quietly away from any disturbance – but because they can have fierce dispositions, it’s a good idea to get to know these shelled reptiles and their habits a little better.

How to Identify
Snapping turtles have a look all its own. Resembling a prehistoric dinosaur, the snapping turtle has a large, muscular build with a rigid carapace (hard shell) that can grow up to 18 inches. They usually weigh between 10 to 35 pounds. Its most defining features, however, is it’s long, flexible neck and beak-like mouth used to snap prey and defend itself from predators.

What They Eat
This omnivore’s preferred meals include just about anything it can capture and swallow, including aquatic plants, invertebrates, fish, frogs, reptiles, birds and small mammals. Snapping turtles also clean-up your pond by consuming carrion (or dead animals). In a farm or swimming pond, a snapping turtle might snap up some undesirable visitors, like snakes.

Nocturnal Activity
A snapping turtle is mostly active at night, but it does venture out during the day to bask on fallen logs and scavenge and hunt for food. When C. serpentine is on dry land, it can be aggressive, particularly when it feels threatened – and this is when you should avoid contact at all costs. A snap from a snapping turtle can be painful!

Remove & Relocate
If a snapping turtle is causing problems in your pond, your best bet is to safely and humanely remove it. Grabbing its shell with your hands is a bad idea; it can easily stretch its neck back across its own shell to its hind feet and snap your fingers, and it can scratch you with its sharp claws.

Instead, trap it in a turtle trap, like a Tomahawk Live Traps. The 32-by-18-by-9-inch trap made with 12-gauge wire comes pre-assembled and ready to use. Simply place it in the water partially submerged and bait with fish or meat. When you capture the critter, relocate it to a place that has a water body, food and shelter.

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

Trap Unwanted Guests - Tomahawk Turtle Trap

Why did I lose my fish? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Why did I lose my fish?

Q: Why did I lose my fish?

James – Willmar, MN

A: After a long, roller coaster winter, there’s nothing more disappointing than returning to your pond to find your fish floating and bloated in the water. This winter fish kill, or “winterkill,” can happen when the ice sheet on your pond prevents gas exchange and reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, ultimately causing your fish to suffocate. Shallow lakes, ponds and streams are particularly vulnerable to winterkill.

What causes it, and how can it be prevented? Read on to learn more.

Starved for Oxygen

Winterkill occurs when ice and snow cover your pond or lake for long periods of time. That solid sheet of cold stuff seals off the water, stopping oxygenation and gas exchange at the surface, but that’s not all it does. The ice and snow cover also prevent sunlight from reaching pond plants, which normally produce sub-surface oxygen via photosynthesis. Add to that a lake full of decomposing organic matter releasing toxic gases that are trapped under the ice, and your poor fish do not have enough oxygen to survive.

The ones that do survive are not finned superheroes, but they are more tolerant of a low-oxygen environment than their dearly departed cousins. The species type and size makes a difference, too, in their ability to deal with less-than-optimal living conditions.

Stayin’ Alive

Unfortunately, you cannot bring your fish back to life, but you can prevent winterkill from happening in the future. We recommend a simple, two-pronged approach:

  1. Aeration: Aerate your pond year-round with an Aeration System to circulate the water, increase dissolved oxygen and keep oxygen levels more consistent throughout the pond. It will also keep a hole open in the ice, allowing for gas exchange.
  2. Muck Removal: Using natural bacteria, like MuckAway™, or a dredge in extreme cases, remove as much muck and decomposing debris as possible before the ice forms. This will prevent the pond from naturally filling in, and it will reduce the amount of gas produced from the decomposition process.

Winterkill is a disappointment, but it can be prevented with some planning and preparation in the fall. In the meantime, restock your pond and enjoy!

Pond Talk: Have you even experienced winterkill in your pond? What did you do to remedy the situation?

Reduce Muck and Organic Debris Build-Up - Pond Logic® MuckAway™

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?

Shade Your Pond From Predators - Pond Logic® Pond Dye

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?

Attack Suspended Debris & Clear Water - Pond Logic® PondClear™ Beneficial Bacteria

Should we stock hybrid bluegill in our pond? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q: Should we stock hybrid bluegill in our pond?

Q: Should we stock hybrid bluegill in our pond?

George – Girard, IL

A: A cross between a male bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) and a female sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), a hybrid bluegill is an easy-to-catch, fast-growing game fish that makes a fun addition to recreational ponds and lakes. Here’s what you need to know about them and how to best stock them in your pond.

A Better Bluegill

Besides being the state fish of Illinois, regular bluegill are well known for being a feisty, delicious pan fish that thrive in streams, rivers, lakes and ponds. They grow to between 6 and 10 inches long, and appear olive green with an orange underbelly. Their uniform blue-black markings on their gills and fins give them their “bluegill” name. The problem with these fish, however, is that they tend to reproduce very quickly if they’re in a lake with few suitable predators.

That overpopulation situation is solved with hybrid bluegills. When the male bluegill and female sunfish mate, the resulting brood is 80 to 90 percent male. As a result, reproduction slows and the population count is kept in check – but you still have a healthy number of tasty fish growing in your pond.

Stocking Up

When stocking hybrid bluegill, your first step is to determine whether you have fish living in your pond and, if so, what types you have. If you’re unsure, use a fish trap or do some fishing to get a sample.

Hybrid bluegill are still bluegill, so their population will need to be kept in check. Ideally, you should have some predator fish, like bass or walleye, living in your pond. They should be around the same size as the hybrid bluegill so the two populations grow together. Plan to stock one predator fish for every three prey fish; for instance, if you stock 150 hybrid bluegill, also stock approximately 50 bass.

In addition to predator fish, stock some forage species, like minnow or shiners, too. This will give the small fish a chance to grow and provide everyone – predators and bluegill – with something to eat.

Home Sweet Home

Minnows and shiners will provide some sustenance for hybrid bluegill, but commercial fish food, like The Pond Guy® Game Fish Grower Fish Food, will be gobbled down, too. Packed with protein for fast growth, the diet contains all the nutrients the bluegill need to thrive.

The fish will also appreciate some safe hiding spots, fish habitats and spawning areas. We offer a range of habitats, including fish attractors and spawning discs, that’ll make those bluegill feel right at home.

Pond Talk: Has your bluegill population ever exploded in your pond? What did you do to control their overpopulation?

Great for All Types of Game Fish - The Pond Guy® Game Fish Grower Fish Food

Should we leave cattails in the pond for the animals? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q:Should we leave cattails in the pond for the animals?

Q: Should we leave cattails in the pond for the animals?

Cynthia – Greenfield, OH

A: Cattails may be a nuisance in ponds and lakes, but they’re not all bad – particularly if you’re an animal. All kinds of critters, in fact, use the plant as a source of food, shelter and supplies.

Cattail Basics

Cattails are common aquatic plants that grow from 3 to 10 feet tall in dense colonies around the margins of ponds and lakes. In the spring, the green strap-like foliage grows from large, creeping, below-the-ground rhizomes. As the seasons progress, the cattail’s leaves and spikes—or the plant’s brown cylindrical flower—grow. And when the flowers open and let loose their fluffy seeds, the cattails spread and propagate new plants throughout the lake.

Cornucopia for Critters

A small, managed area of cattails can provide an ideal habitat for amphibians, insects, birds and fish. These aquatic critters use the plants for all sorts of things, including:

  • Nesting Spot: Red-winged blackbirds often use cattails for a perching and nesting spot. Water fowl, like mallards and Canadian geese, also use the tall, tightly bunched leaves and stalks for nesting. Turkeys—as well as deer, raccoon and other mammals—use cattails as cover from predators.
  • Hatchery/Nursery: Birds and mammals aren’t the only ones that find refuge in cattails. Insects and amphibians, like dragonflies, frogs and salamanders, will lay their eggs in the brush and water between the stalks. Below the surface, fish and other aquatic creatures will hide and nest in the growth.
  • Multi-Purpose Material: The cattail fluff that explodes from the plant’s spikes makes excellent nest-making material for birds –and that’s not all it’s good for. Native Americans used it to cushion moccasins and papoose boards. Pioneers used it to dress wounds, start camp fires, and stuff quilts, cushions, mattresses and dolls. And the military used the water-resistant, buoyant fluff to stuff life vests. Besides the fluff, the cattail’s leaves were used to make mats and webbing, and the stalks were used to make fiber and adhesive.
  • Grocery Store: An integral part of the pond ecosystem’s food chain, cattails’ leaves, shoots and roots make a tasty buffet for muskrat, geese and snails, while the plant’s underwater stalks feed fish, frogs and turtles. Humans can eat cattails, too. The rhizomes can be used like other root vegetables, and they can be dried and ground into flour. Young green shoots, which taste like cucumber, can be chopped into salads. Green flowering stalks can be boiled and eaten like sweetcorn.

Pond Owner Considerations

Allowing a cattail stand to grow in your pond for the animals’ benefit is a great idea—and those critters will appreciate what you leave for them—but there are some things you should keep in mind.

If you’re trying to deter troublesome predators, like raccoon and muskrats, keep the cattails cut back. This exposes their hiding and hunting spots, so they’ll be less likely to stop by for some sushi. Use pond weed cutters and a rake to remove dead debris and growing cattails, particularly around the pond’s perimeter. While you’re at it, add some MuckAway™ to the water to help break down muck and other decomposing materials.

Your best bet is to mark out an area where you’d like your cattail stand to grow, and then clean up what grows beyond the border. You’ll provide an ecosystem for the animals while preventing your pond from being overtaken.

Pond Talk: How do you manage cattails in your pond?

Cut Through Tough Pond Weeds - The Pond Guy® 28” Weed Cutter

How are algae able to grow in the winter when everything else is dormant? | Ponds & Lakes Q&A

Q:How are algae able to grow in the winter when everything else is dormant?

Q: How are algae able to grow in the winter when everything else is dormant?

Patrick – Vandalia, IL

A: Algae can be tough little buggers. An estimated 72,500 algal species exist worldwide, and some of them can thrive in inhospitable conditions, including areas with ice and snow. With a handful of nutrients and a little bit of light, they’re able to grow – even in the 39 degree water under the ice in your lake.

But if your lake’s water is clean and clear during the spring and summer, how can it explode with algae in the winter?

Food Aplenty

Algae feed on byproducts of decomposing organic debris, like phosphorous and nitrogen, in the water. During the warmer months, natural bacteria would typically break down these nutrients, leaving little food for the organisms. But in the cooler months, those bacteria go dormant. That means the algae enjoy a feast – and a population explosion.

If you keep a hole in your lake’s ice, you can help control the nutrient density with a product like Pond Logic® EcoBoost™. This bacteria enhancer, which has no temperature restrictions, binds suspended organics while providing trace minerals to fish. Simply mix it with water and pour it into the lake.

Let There Be Light

Algae also require sunlight to thrive – but not much. Even through a clear, solid sheet of ice, algae can get enough light to use for photosynthesis. When that light is impeded, however, the algae won’t grow as quickly.

A layer of thick snow cover is Mother Nature’s way of preventing light from penetrating the water, but you can also use pond dye, to block those rays. The blue or black dye comes water soluble packets that are simple to use: Just toss two packets per acre into the lake, and the shade will inhibit algae growth.

Algae’s Benefits

Believe it or not, algae growth in the winter does have its benefits. It helps to filter the water, and on warmer days it’s a great snack for your fish. Plus, when the algae photosynthesize, they give off oxygen as a byproduct – which is then available for your fish (and other aquatic critters) to breathe.

Don’t worry: The algae won’t take over your pond like it does in the summer. It can grow, but the cold temperatures aren’t ideal for explosive outbreaks. If you’re concerned, however, try some EcoBoost and Pond Dye. They’re safe for your fish, and they’ll keep that algae under control until spring.

Pond Talk: Have you seen algae growing beneath the ice in your pond or lake?

Shade & Protect Your Pond - Pond Logic® Pond Dye Packets

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