It is widely considered that ponds are an aesthetically pleasing addition to gardens, parks and nature reserves but for many fish and animals, they are also the crucial hub of their community! Given the right conditions, ponds and lakes play a critical role in preserving wildlife. Even a small pond can attract fish and dragonflies at a miraculous speed!
Lakes and ponds provide drinking water, breeding spaces and retreats for a myriad of creatures ranging from the tiniest insect to large birds such as herons and flamingos. Once you consider just how much of monumental necessity ponds and lakes are to fish and aquatic animals, you’ll be inspired to explore further so here is a guide to help identify the fish and animals who occupy these tranquil lentic ecosystems.
List Of Animals That Live In Lakes
We all know that apart from looking beautiful, lakes are the reed-filled sanctuaries that many familiar creatures such as fish and frogs call home. But you might be surprised and delighted to delve a little deeper into the algae-lined reservoirs and discover that these highly productive biomes can be home to 1000s of species with wildly diverse characteristics.
Scientific name: Salma truffa
Integral to the food chain, trout are found in cool water throughout North America, northern Asia and Europe, in fact, they have been introduced to every continent except Antarctica.
During spring and autumn, trout favour the near-shore transitions of lakes. As it gets warmer, they will move into deep water for the comfort of lower temperatures.
Trout that live in different environments have wildly varied patterns and colours, for instance, the rainbow trout is named for the visible pink stripe found on its side.
The cutthroat trout has red colouring underneath its lower jaw which looks as though its neck is bleeding. In fact, when it comes to subspecies, the cutthroat trout holds the champion’s cup as there are 11 options each with its own unique flourish!
Scientific name: Siluriformes
Catfish prefer deep pools and love to hide around logs and even in holes which they often dig along the banks. If you are looking for catfish, try the deepest part of a lake or pond which is usually the middle.
Catfish thrive in almost all continents but are most diverse in tropical South Africa and Asia. A key fact about this ray-finned species is that they have an incredibly vast range of size within one single order.
They are very large and powerful predators who will feed on small mammals but they also scavenge along the water beds. Young catfish stick mostly to larvae and insects and will move on to snails, other fish and fish eggs.
Catfish come in many shapes and sizes but the largest is the Mekong giant catfish, the Wels catfish and the Piraiba catfish.
They also have an impressive ability to produce a variety of sounds and discriminate between pitch, velocity and distance.
Scientific name: Salmo salar
Salmon can be found in a number of lakes in eastern Northern America and Northern Europe.
Juvenile fish stay close inshore feeding on plankton and insects, usually at night.
The presence of salmon is an important indicator that a body of water is healthy as they play an intrinsic part in a thriving ecosystem. That is because predators, such as brown bears, will dispatch nutrients into forests which enhances tree growth.
A beautiful outcome is that eventually, the trees fall back into the water forming a shelter for future generations of salmon.
Salmon are generally anadromous meaning that they hatch in the gravel beds of shallow freshwater streams moving on to the ocean and then returning to their humble beginnings to reproduce.
There is a folklore which states that they return to the exact spot where they hatched out when it is time for them to spawn.
Mammals That Live In Lakes
A lake is a perfect environment to observe a miraculously balanced cycle of life, where not only fish and birds, but many mammals manage to live in harmony. Each plays its part in the food chain and helps lay the foundations which will enable the next generations to thrive.
Water is, of course, a tremendous source of food and shelter and lakes in particular are a very important part of the global landscape. There are lakes on every continent and for so many species, lakes are the places where creatures feel safe and supported.
For instance, for many fish, birds and small animals, the lake is a shield which predators would have to break through in order to attack them.
Scientific name: Castor canadensis
Beavers live in lakes, rivers, ditches and marshes. They are famous for the way they gnaw through wood and love herbaceous woody plants and places in which they can dig and build. Valleys are ideal as are any slow-moving bodies of water.
Another activity beavers are renowned for is building dams which they do in order to control the water levels. Beavers have one litter of ‘kits’ per year and though they are predated upon by mammals such as foxes, they have a powerful alarm system in place involving slamming their tail robustly on the ground.
Adult males and females live in monogamous pairs and when they have reproduced, their industrious young offspring actually help their parents along with the dam building!
Scientific name: Lutra canadensis
Many otter species live in extremely cold water but to compensate, they have high metabolic rates which keep them warm, in fact, European otters must eat 15% of their body weight each day for the same reason. Most otters hunt for between 3 to 5 hours a day and nursing mothers, up to 8 hours a day.
Otter species vary greatly with some being rather solitary whilst others live and hunt in groups. Fish forms the staple of their diet but from time to time this will be supplemented with frogs, crabs and the occasional shellfish.
Otters are extremely active hunters and will pursue their prey along the water banks as well as in the water itself.
6. Water Vole
Scientific name: Arvicola amphibious
Water voles like to live in burrows or where there are plenty of reed beds nearby which they can use to weave their nests. They prefer calm and slow-moving water and lots of open wetlands away from tree cover.
Their nests are cleverly made into a ball shape and they will make these homes above ground if burrowing is not possible.
Adult water voles do not usually live in groups and prefer the water’s edges where they can enter and leave at whim. They are excellent swimmers and will scent mark if they feel their territory is being attacked.
You can keep a lookout for water voles by watching for signs such as burrows along the edges of the water often with telltale nibbled grass around the entrances!
Reptiles That Live In Lakes
Although reptiles evolved to be able to walk on land, many of them never quite forget where they came from and were called to make the sprawling pilgrimage back to the comfort of their origins!
In fact, some love the water so much that they only make an appearance on land when circumstances necessitate for instance, in breeding season or if they’re in distress having been disturbed by a predator of some kind of pollutant.
Reptiles such as water snakes, crocodiles and turtles all frequent lakes and you may not even know they’re there at first glance. Many of these curious creatures live secretive lives in underground and underwater hideouts and of course, they are perfectly disguised to blend in with their surroundings.
But they’re not all shy, homebodies; some can be found basking upon logs or if not seen they can be heard calling to attract a mate when mating season comes around.
The following list takes a deep dive into the beautiful lakes which we sometimes take for granted and outlines some vital facts about our well-known reptilian cousins who dwell beneath the deceptively quiet algal bloom!
7. Water Snake
Scientific name: Nerodia sipedon
Water snakes are fairly large non-venomous reptiles which can be found sunbathing on rocks near slow-moving water such as ponds, lakes, marshes and canals.
Interestingly, snakes cannot self-regulate their body temperature so they really rely on weather conditions, which makes us wonder, where do they go in wintertime when it’s cold? Well, they go under the ground where the temperature remains stable and often burrow down along with other snakes until winter is over!
Water snakes range in size from just a couple of feet to around 5 feet long. They are generally an olive-green or brown colour with regular patterns.
These snakes are frequently confused with water moccasin snakes (often referred to as cottonmouth snakes) which actually are venomous. In fact, this confusion has sadly led to the destruction of many innocent water snakes who were merely minding their business.
A very good way to tell these two apart is by looking at their heads and necks – if you can get that close – a water moccasin has a large heavy head and a stocky body, especially for its length. whereas a water snake has a long slender body – even for a snake.
Most experts agree that if you’re not sure which snake it is you are dealing with, it is best to steer clear, just in case.
Scientific name: Crocodylidae
Crocodiles like to stay close to swamps, marshland, brackish water and lakes and the most common areas to find them are North America, Asia, South America, Africa and Australia.
They are often mistaken for alligators due to their strikingly similar appearance but you can be sure it is a crocodile you have seen if the jaw is a V shape as opposed to a U shape!
Crocodiles are a little more versatile as far as where they will roam, dipping into salt as well as freshwater with alligators being resigned to fresh water only.
When most people think of a crocodile, they might immediately think about its incredibly powerful jaws and many conical teeth. Actually, crocodiles have a fascinatingly unique body which allows the eyes, nostrils and ears to comfortably be above water while the rest of the animal is safely hidden below.
Scientific name: Testudines
Many turtles live in freshwater habitats such as lakes, streams and ponds. Some can tolerate a small amount of salt water but for many, it is harmful and sometimes even fatal.
Turtles are very unique vertebrates with hundreds of different species residing under the genus.
Throughout history, turtles have been hunted whether it is for food, sport or mythical reasons as turtles are a feature of many folklore traditions around the world.
Sadly they are currently categorized as endangered and for this reason, it is very useful when people decide to attract turtles to their ponds or lakes as they are not only controlling the insect and algae propagation but could well be helping to keep a particular species alive.
Scientific name: Rana temporaria
Aquatic frogs like to hop around in freshwater lakes, marshes, swamps, fens and bogs. They actually inhabit most of the globe with only very few exceptions such as very remote islands.
A group of frogs is known as an army and they are certainly a successful one because there is evidence to suggest that frogs have roamed the earth for more than 200 million years! The largest species of all is known as the ‘Goliath frog.
An incredible fact about frogs is that they do not need to drink water, they are able to simply absorb it through their skin! They are also one of the five most diverse vertebrate orders in the world!
An adult frog has a very stout body, an anteriorly attached tongue and protruding eyes.
Their skin ranges in colour from a vibrantly patterned red, yellow or black to forewarn of toxicity to a very dappled brown and muddy green. This colouring helps to keep them well-camouflaged amongst the reeds and algae.
Birds That Live On Lakes
Most of us are familiar with the birds we might see on a lake when we visit our local parks such as ducks, swans, herons and geese but it is really worth looking a little deeper or venturing a little further because you might be amazed at the expansive variety of birds you find.
Even very marshy lakes will be the perfect home for some birds who are interested in the algae and insects it attracts.
Overhanging branches, cool, still water and muddy banks are extremely attractive nesting places for so many species that we will barely scratch the surface but here are a few favourite birds you can look out for!
Scientific name: Ardeidae
Herons are extremely widespread across the globe with the only exceptions being extremely cold environments, mountains and the driest deserts. They are a very mobile species and follow the food trail, colonizing as they go. In fact, a group of herons is known as a ‘siege’!
As you might expect from this long-legged opportunist, their diet is as varied as their distribution and they love all kinds of snacks including molluscs, fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and bird eggs!
Herons exhibit very little sexual dimorphism as far as size goes and the smallest size is generally considered to be the dwarf bittern which measures 25-30 cm (10-12in) in length. The feet of a heron have very long, thin toes with three pointing forward and one pointing backwards.
Many species will tackle larger prey such as other birds and bird eggs, rodents and even carrion.
They like to nest close to or above water but if there is an absence of appropriate shelter they will build close to the ground. The nest is very important as it’s where most of the courtship takes place.
Scientific name: Phoenicopterus rubber
There are few birds as flamboyant as a flamingo! Found in tropical and sub-tropical areas they like to make their homes in inland lakes, mangrove swamps, sandy islands or near the sea.
The quantity of available fish is the main deciding factor for these long-stemmed pescatarians.
Flamingos who breed at high altitudes tend to migrate when the lakes freeze over but usually return to their native stomping grounds. Migration takes place at night and follows a favourable tailwind and clear sky.
Flamingos get their pink colour directly from the food they eat. Plants contain natural pigments which are called carotenoids and as a flamingo snack on algae and brine, their bodies convert the pigments by metabolizing them and this turns their feathers pink!
When it’s time for them to eat they turn their heads upside down and sweep them from side to side, using comb-like plates to filter through the water.
They form strong pair bonds and will defend their territory together once the female has chosen a nesting spot.
Flamingos are extraordinarily sociable and thrive in colonies which can sometimes contain thousands of birds!
Scientific names: Ardea alba
This elegant wading bird likes to live in shallow water such as ponds, lakes, marshes and wetlands. These are perfect places for them to search for food.
They have very long, curved beaks ideal for catching fish, frogs, lizards, snakes, small birds and the occasional small mammal! As they are very opportunistic feeders, they have even been known to inhabit flooded fields and even farms.
Their distributions vary depending on the species and can range from a very small area to vast territories. When covering large landscapes it is not unusual to discover several sub-species within one area.
This bird has white or buff plumage which develops into a fine plumage of milky white during breeding.
The word ‘egret’ comes from the French word ‘aigrette’ which means ‘silver heron’ and also ‘brush’.
During the 19th century and the earliest part of the 20th century, egrets were hunted for their plumes which were in demand by hatmakers. This placed their survival in jeopardy.
In fact, the white egret was almost wiped out in the United States but fortunately, legislation has since been passed to protect these birds and in some cases to create sanctuaries.