There is a secret world hidden just beneath the surface of every pond, lake, and stream. Those waters are filled with wails of hideous creates murdering other hideous creatures for food and sport. Beautiful animals like dragonflies and damselflies that you see in the light of day start their lives in this sparse spartan hellscape. Luckily, being giant mammals, we can pluck these creatures from the depths and look at all of their cool behaviors! All you need is a pond, net, and curiosity.
- Plastic cups
Step 1 Acquire Detritus
Detritus is the scientific word for all that gross, mucky, decaying plant and animal matter on the bottom of the pond. Carefully scoop your net into the pond and bring up a nice helping of oozing muck. Place the detritus sample in your bucket and add just a little bit of water.
Step 2 Abduct Innocent Creatures
Use your spoon to sift through the detritus in search of tiny animals. Keep a keen eye out because some pond animals are the size of a comma. Once you find an animal, get it onto your spoon and place it in a cup of clear water.
Letting the detritus sit untouched for a second or two while searching can help you find wriggling and crawling creatures you would not otherwise have seen. Remember that these animals have evolved awesome camouflage, so spotting movement is your best bet for finding them.
Step 3 Identify Subjects
The animals you get in your bucket will depend heavily on your geographical location. The coolest, most widespread creature you're likely to find is the obscure and misunderstood dragonfly nymph.
That's right! Dragonflies live the vast majority of their lives underwater as wingless nymphs. A female dragonfly will lay her eggs in the water on the stem of a plant. When they hatch, the baby nymphs venture out to take their place as the Grendels of the pond.
Below, a crazy green dragonfly nymph eye under the microscope!
They eat anything they can kill with their projectile jaws. The lower jaws unfurl to stretch out and grab pray that they can pull into the jaws. The jaws are so powerful that dragonfly nymphs can even eat tadpoles! I was bitten by a nymph on one of these ponding expeditions and it was almost as painful as a bee sting. They generally don't bite scary giant people creatures, but be careful.
Below, a dragonfly nymph's leg. Exoskeletons are awesome.
In our search for nymphs we came across some other cool stuff. Below is a crayfish. They are like tiny lobsters, and yes, they can pinch. There's no reason to pick these guys up, but if you must, do so at your own risk.
These dudes also have exoskeletons, but much sturdier ones. A crayfish will mess up a dragonfly nymph in a fight any day. When they are scared, the crayfish curl up their back tail and propel themselves backward.
Fingernail clams like the one below are about the size of the head of a pencil eraser. They are just like regular-type clams, but tiny.
We found a teeny tiny baby painted turtle sunning itself on the bank!
We took him back to take a closer look. Painted turtles love eating dragonfly nymphs, so we put them in separate containers. This turtle friend was about the size of a half dollar.
Here's a quick video outlining some of the micro-monsters from my adventure.
This is a super fun and very simple project to do on a weekend afternoon. What kind of stuff is hiding out in your neck of the pond? Let us know! Keep an eye out for the next episode, where we will follow the dragonflies from the pond to the field and see how their voraciousness plays out on land. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the forum or leave a comment below.
Just imagine how many more critters are hiding just under the surface of your nearest pond!
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