Wildlife Pond Cleaning

This article first appeared in the Internet Ponder On-line Magazine in March 1997.

This month's "Critters in your Pond" will investigate how we can protect dragonfly &/or damselfly nymphs, frog eggs & pollywogs, and other such critters in our ponds.

Dragonfly/Damselfly Nymph Protection Techniques

Last month Ron Lyons shared a tremendous amount of information on dragonflies and damselflies with us. If you missed his article please click here: DRAGONFLY ARTICLE. Now that we are aware of their life cycles and behaviors, how can we apply that knowledge to protect these critters in our ponds?
Well, I've been learning by experience. My first experience was a very 'bad' one: The Creeping Primrose was growing by leaps and bounds and needed pruning last Spring. So I walked right in, used the pruning shears to lop big sections off and hauled them immediately to the compost/shredder-grinder pile in the back of our lot.

Hours later I walked by the pruning pile again and was horrified to see literally dozens of damselfly nymphs dramatically trying to metamorphose on the spot as their only chance of survival (gills don't work well in the air!). [see examples of what damselfly nymph look like to the right - images courtesy of James Robinson at Odonate Research at UTA] Many were not successful as they weren't really mature enough to be ready and had deformed wings, etc. I felt horrible. Since then, whenever I prune back any of the underwater or floating on the surface plants, I place the prunings alongside the pond edge or over a large mesh screen so that any hidden critters can drop back into the pond. I usually leave them there overnight before taking the pruning to the compost pile, but even doing that for just a few hours would undoubtedly save many larval forms that live in our ponds. Care should also be taken when repotting water plants.

When Fall arrived I was kept busy netting leaves out of the pond. At least I had learned! I began checking the leaves and sure enough, there often was a damsel or dragonfly nymph on them. So I developed the technique where I pile the leaves loosely into a 1 or 5 gallon bucket as I collect them. The water that adheres to the leaves pours down and collects at the bottom of the bucket. Most of the "captured" larva wiggle about in distress and end up eventually in the water at the bottom of the bucket. Then the next day I lift off the leaves to compost them and check in the water that has collected in the bottom to see what's there. (Sort of a treasure hunt!) I "save" any damsel/dragonfly naiads by picking them up and putting them back into the pond. They don't bite! But I suppose the squeamish could attempt netting them out. I admit to not saving all the snails and little red worm-like critters I find. But I have also found mayfly larva, water beetles, backswimmers, water striders and other insects which I try to identify, besides fish fry, pollywogs and frog eggs.

Now this last month I've been using a bottle brush on a pole to pull out gallons of stringy algae (fun, fun, fun!). And guess what I do? YEP, I put it in a bucket overnight. Most of the dragonfly/damselfly larvae seem to appear at the top and sides of my bucket of green goo. So, I pick them up and put them back into the pond. One other "protection" to be aware of is if you need to treat your fish for disease. Be aware that any medications that say they may be harmful to invertebrates will likely harm your dragonfly/damselfly nymphs too. If possible always treat sick fish in a separate hospital tank/pond.

Skimmer and Darner nymph photos courtesy of Texas A&M University

If any of you have any other suggestions I'd sure love to hear them. Kathy Biggs

Visit Kathy's Southwest Dragonflies or California Damselflies and Dragonflies site which have links to pictures of all the species occurring in the state of California &/or the Southwestern USA, and many that occur elsewhere, esp. in the west.

Please consider your pond a haven for wildlife and a treasure in these days of diminishing natural wetlands.

Next month "Critters" will include a feature about BATS.