When scientists look for evidence of life on other planets, the first thing they seek is signs of water. Indeed, 'follow the water' is the mantra of extra-terrestrial life-seekers at NASA. 

They don't need to send up a space robot with a jay-cloth to see what they can mop up, because liquid water and ice and water vapour create tell-tale signs that can be seen from afar, and water has so many incredible chemical properties that it is considered to be perhaps the most important pre-requisite for life.

You only have to look around the garden to see how essential water is. Even on a hot summer's day, its evidence is all around us, although maybe not at first glance. Much of it is held in plants; you only have to pull up a weed and you will see how quickly it wilts as the water content falls. LIving plants are pumped full of fluids, and anything that eats leaves or sips nectar or probes into plant stems is taking advantage of plants' ability to pump up water from the ground and make it available. They are nature's taps to the reservoirs below. I don't ever water my Bee and Butterfly Borders but they remain nectar-filled throughout the summer

But it is when water sits on the surface that a whole new world moves in.The most obvious winners, to our eyes, are the 'big things' - the amphibians, the birds coming to drink and bathe, the dragonflies and damselflies.

However, the host of other life that arrives once you create a pond is astonishing, and it creates the food chains that sustains the larger life. Caddisfly larvae, drone fly larvae, pond snails, pond skaters, back-swimmers, water boatmen, diving beetles, water lice, freshwater shrimps, phantom mudge larvae, water-fleas (not as itchy as they sound!)... and those are just the ones that are large enough to see and live near the surface.

Even though I peer into my pond on a daily basis, I suspected there was more I could find. So today I put on my 'looking eyes' and went to see if I could find something new to share with you.

Sure enough, it only took five minutes of proper looking to come across this:

It is a Water Measurer. It is just over a centimetre long and looks rather like some of our common species of pond skater but it walks, ponderously, across the water surface. Its head is incredibly long, and those are its eyes half way along like a pair of little bulges. Cute! (Well, kind of).

While I was looking at the Water Measurer I noticed some little 'dots' moving around nearby, much smaller, maybe a quarter the size of a grain of rice. Lots of them.

I managed to get a photo of a couple, and in close-up they are really rather attractive.

They are called Microvelia, a type of micro water cricket. They potter about on the water surface eating even tinier insects.

As they were going about their business, some 'tidal waves' came rushing across the pond (or so it must have seemed in their world). The cause? This:

Yes, Mr Blackbird in full splash-tastic action.

It reminded me so pwoerfully that adding water to the garden is right up there alongside growing plants as the best thing you can do to help wildlife in your garden. If you have yet to put in a pond, or even just a birdbath for starters, do it - it will repay you in spades with the pleasure it will bring.

And when it comes to water itself, well, one day society may truly see it as the precious commodity it is. I'd love to see those weather forecasters who wrinkle up their noses at the prospect of rain cheer instead - it is liquid gold, for wildlife and for us.

Anonymous
  • Great photo of the blackbird with his punk head feathers.

    You're so right about the value of water, and the weather presenters are the worst for moaning about rain. They should live in Saudi for a while, then they might value it. Why can't they appreciate all varieties of weather? 'Dismal', 'miserable', 'dreary', all words they use just because there's a bit of rain or cloud. They of all people should know better.