If you’re like me, when you visit your water garden, you’re swept back in time. You’re an eight-year-old child scouring the banks of a local watering hole, rooting around for tadpoles, crayfish, frogs, turtles, and whatever else you might find living in the wild.
When fish are simply not enough, perhaps you should consider some other critters to add to your water feature.
TADPOLES. These are the post-egg, pre-metamorphosis stage of frogs and toads. Oh, yes, toads come from eggs that hatch into tadpoles, too. When you go to your local nature center with net in hand and plastic bags in pocket, remember that, unless you’re an expert on reptilians, there’s no guarantee of what you’re bringing home—frogs or toads. Fortunately, both are welcomed additions to the water garden.
But what about toads causing warts? They don't--not ever. Not under any circumstances. They do secrete a toxic substance from their skin as a means of warding off predators, including inquisitive dogs and cats. They also urinate for the same purpose. Beyond those minor annoyances, toads are among the best insect eaters in nature, gobbling up literally anything that moves that they can fit between their lips. Toads and frogs are compatible with all but the smallest of fish.
A word of caution about introducing tadpoles to your pond: Make sure they’re too large for your fish to eat, or they’ll disappear in a hurry. You can sometimes find larger frog tadpoles in a pet shop or over the Internet. We bought one that turned out to be a genuine bullfrog that hung out with us the rest of the summer. He came to recognize our voices and serenaded us with his distinctive garr-rump, garr-rump, garr-rump every night.
CRAYFISH. Crayfish are among nature’s most fascinating creatures. They extract oxygen from the water, as do fish, and are pretty much omnivorous, meaning they’ll eat anything they can get their little claws on, which includes fish! I’ve seen a crayfish in an aquarium go about the task of picking up excess food from the bottom of the tank and devouring it. I’ve seen the same crayfish with a fish clamped to death in one of its claws, slowly and methodically picking it to pieces.
The only time crayfish are not a threat to fish is when the fish are large enough to be a threat to the crayfish. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for fish ponds; otherwise, they make fascinating additions to the water garden.
TURTLES. We recently showed our ponds to a contractor who was laying some ceramic tile for us, and he asked us if we kept turtles in our ponds. We told him that we didn’t, because they would eat the fish. He didn’t believe me, saying that he had an aquarium in which he kept several prized angelfish along with two turtles. I told him that he wouldn’t have them long. The very next day, he came by, shaking his head. “I can’t believe it happened,” he said, “just like you said. Those turtles are history!”
Turtles do make enjoyable pets, albeit not with fish. These colorful amphibians are intelligent, trainable, and just plain fun to watch. They’re also extremely inquisitive and, so long as they don’t feel threatened, will explore their surroundings both day and night. They, too, are omnivorous, eating anything they can fit into their mouths or shred apart with their claws. They’re also tremendously talented escape artists; so, unless you have vertical glass walls taller by far than the turtles they’re containing, plan on them getting out.
SNAILS. If you have a pond, you’re going to have snails. I don’t know how or why, but it never fails. Most of the water snails that find their way into your pond will be small and relatively insignificant. That means they’re not going to be much fun to watch, and they’re not going to eat much algae—which is one of the main reasons for keeping snails in the first place.
That, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy snails. Pick up some of the larger water varieties available at pet shops and over the Internet. A few species are winter-hardy, and some grow to baseball size or larger in diameter. Now, their appetite for algae is enormous! Snails live in peaceful communion with all but the most aggressive of fish.
Introducing various critters to your pond is one of the nicer things about having a water garden. You’ll soon find these natural cohabitants mixing comfortably, just as they would in any natural body of water.
How much more enjoyable it is to sit out by the pond in the evening, listening to a bullfrog croak and the birds chatter, watching a toad stalk a caterpillar, and marveling at the site of your fish swimming around in lazy little circles than it is listening to the horn from your neighbor’s car. With a little planning and some experimentation, you’ll find you’ll enjoy your water garden critters for years to come.
Check out D. J. Herda's two latest gardening books, Zen & the Art of Pond Building and From Container to Kitchen: Growing Fruits and Vegetables in Pots, both available from Amazon.com.