Do you ever wonder what creatures live in our rivers, lakes and ponds? Well, let us give you an idea of what life underwater is like for an array of different species that call it home. At Newport Wetlands we have many large freshwater lagoons which are home to a lot more than just the birds you see swimming on the surface.

Species you may find include Three-spined stickleback, Phantom midge larva (glass worm), Bloodworm, Ramshorn snail, Pond snail, Freshwater shrimp, Water fleas (cyclops and daphnia), Water louse, Pond skater, Damselflies, Dragonflies, Caddis fly Larva, Mayfly Larva, Backswimmer (greater water boatman), Lesser water boatman, Great diving beetle, Whirlgig beetle, Water beetles, Water spiders and Smooth newts.

Image credit: Great Diving Beetle, Helen Gottschalk

Our water habitats have large food chains with producers such as algae, weed and detritus which feed Ramshorn snails, Pond snails, Bloodworms, Mayfly larva, Caddis fly larva and Freshwater shrimp. These individuals are potential prey for larger consumers. Within the ponds you’ll find carnivorous species like the Three-Spined Stickleback and the Phantom Midge Larva also known as a Glass worm. The Stickleback will feed on many invertebrates such as worms, insect larvae small snails and crustaceans, they may even take a fancy to some young fish and eggs, sometimes coming across their own kind! The Glass worm will feed with a biological advantage of being transparent therefore it will blend into its background. To catch their prey of small crustaceans it has prehensile antennas to search them out and trap them for the jaws to then breakdown. Other species which feed on insect larvae are pond skaters and Great Diving Beetles.  Smooth newts will feed on a variety of invertebrates often predating eggs of its own species. The food chain doesn’t stop there… these primary consumers are at risk from the species you see on or above the water level like ducks, amphibians and birds who we call the secondary consumers.

Image credit: Smooth newt, RSPB images

So now you know a bit about the food chain of our ponds and rivers what about the behaviours of these creatures? Some of the most interesting characteristics in our animal kingdom come from the smallest of water loving species. One of the prettier looking individuals, the Ramshorn snail, an innocent looking creature has a tongue like a chainsaw! The tongue is covered with layers of hundreds of teeth called radula.  

Three-spined Sticklebacks are an exception to common fish behaviour, the male looks after the eggs and the young, whereas most other fish show no parental care at all once eggs are laid. The males are devoted to their young by building a nest made from plants held together by sticky threads ejected from his kidney. Once fertilised he will defend and protect his young until they are independent. Their spines are used as a defence mechanism as fish may find them hard to swallow when their spines are raised.

Image credit: Three-spined stickleback, RSPB Newport Wetlands team

Backswimmers, also known as Greater Water Boatman, have two short front legs and four long back legs. They are very active creatures and voracious predators. It will detect its prey from vibrations and make an attack rapidly by injecting toxic saliva and sucking out the prey’s contents. Delightful isn’t it! Their motion in the water is all determined by the light. In a natural body of water, the sun is above them and so they will swim upside down. The Lesser water boatman are not carnivorous like the other backswimmers and will swim the right side up. A Water Boatman is the loudest animal on earth relative to its body size a study has revealed. Scientists from France and Scotland recorded the aquatic animal "singing" at up to 99.2 decibels, the equivalent of listening to a loud orchestra play while sitting in the front row. Researchers say the song is a courtship display performed to attract a mate.

Image credit: Jeremy White

If reading about the wonders of the underwater life has taken your fancy, then why not come along to Newport Wetlands and get some hands-on experience of these species at one of our pond dipping activities this summer. You may not see them all, but it will be great fun for all the family.

Visit: events.rspb.org.uk/bigwildsummer and search: RSPB Newport Wetlands pond dipping

Author: Kirsty Lindsay 

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