So this evening I took a picnic dinner to the park after work. It was still beautifully sunny and warm. I found myself a bench in a quiet corner of the park and ate my dinner. I messed about on Twitter for a while and then thought I might attempt some mindfulness meditation before heading back home. After struggling to concentrate for a few minutes, I focused on a pink flower in the middle of the small pond just in front of my bench. For some reason, staring at this made me want to investigate the pond more closely and see whether there might be any small fish in it. I crouched down on the ground at the side of the pond and peered into the greenish depths…
And a fascinating world opened up before my eyes. I couldn’t see any fish, but after barely a minute I realised that the pond was teeming with all sorts of different, non-fishy creatures, some of which I could identify and others which were unknown to me. Pond society also seemed to be clearly divided into levels, with different creatures in each one and also a few that moved between the levels. For example, there were tiny flies that landed briefly on the water, so light they almost seemed intangible, their bodies not making even the slightest ripple as they touched the surface. Then there were a couple of pond skaters, their splayed legs making faint impressions on the water as they paused before swiftly gliding to pastures new. Just below the surface, there were a couple of water boatmen, their elongated back legs looking exactly like a pair of oars. One very large one which hovered very close to the edge of the pond seemed to suffer from periodic attacks of nervousness, during which it would hide beneath a conveniently placed leaf, before cautiously venturing out again some moments later.
Further down in the depths there were bright red water mites darting about and silvery-transparent shrimp-like things whirring briskly along in short spurts, as if powered by a slightly dodgy motor that threatened to give out completely at any moment. I also spotted a couple of worm-like creatures wriggling about right at the bottom of the pond – these may in fact have been leeches, Google tells me, but I can’t be certain.
The most interesting creature, however, was one which moved from the depths to the surface and back again with a swiftness I would not have believed possible from such a large, chunky creature. This was a water beetle, a good few centimetres long with black wing cases and strong, thick legs. It would shoot up from nowhere and then pause at the surface, upside-down with its bottom poking up in the air. After a minute or so, it would plunge back down into the water again and disappear. I was frankly baffled by this – at first I thought it must be coming up for air, but when I noticed it was upside down, I decided that couldn’t be possible. However a quick Google search on my return to the flat proved that my original guess was correct. The beetle carries an air bubble lodged between its outer wing cases and its abdomen and breathes in the air through little holes in the abdomen known as spiracles. When the air has been used up, it returns to the surface and refreshes its supply. Essentially, the beetle carries round its own scuba tank!
I was crouching there, gazing into the water, for a good twenty five minutes, by which time it had begun to get slightly cooler and the light was starting to fade. It struck me that pond-watching was exactly like a smaller-scale version of scuba diving over a reef. It was all there – the vicious shark-like predators (water beetles will attack almost anything and are also known as ‘water tigers’), the large, turtle-like creatures (water boatmen), the coiling sea serpents lurking at the bottom (leeches) and the busy little fish buzzing in and out of the weeds (water mites and shrimp). I can just imagine how exciting it would be to shrink down to the size of a tadpole and go scuba diving in a garden pond – but terrifying too – tadpoles are popular prey! It would be a fascinating experience and probably just as full of wonder as diving in the open ocean.
I have included a picture of the pond below, to illustrate the fact that even though it is clearly a man-made environment and designed purely for ornamental purposes, it does in fact contain a large number of easy-to-spot creatures and taking the time to observe them would be well worth a few minutes of your day.
*All photos apart from the top one are from Google Images*