Fish, frogs, turtles, and beneficial insects are right at home in a water garden. Here's what you need to know about common wildlife pond visitors.
frogs resting on lily pads with pink flowers

A healthy, balanced ecosystem is home to a host of intriguing creatures. You’ll know you have created a brilliant water garden when you spot frogs jumping into the water as you approach and dragonflies gliding over the water surface.

An array of fascinating creatures can transform a water feature, such as a pond or stream, into a veritable theater. Birds, koi and goldfish, salamanders, water bugs, and other pond denizens animate the garden with movement, color, and song. You may start out thinking it will be nice to have a few fish and soon realize how interrelated all the players are.

As a sustainable ecosystem, a water garden needs wildlife. They play key roles in pond health. Fish and amphibians keep mosquito populations in check. In turn, snails and tadpoles feast on fish eggs—ensuring manageable numbers—as well as on algae. Lady beetles and lacewings snack on the aphids that sometimes plague lily leaves, while dragonflies devour mosquito larvae missed by fish and amphibians. Likewise, frogs and toads gobble insects, algae, and slugs.

Other critters likely to make themselves at home include caddis flies, damselflies, and dragonflies, which chow down on mosquito larvae. Equally captivating are pond skaters, water boatmen, and other water bugs that walk on the pond surface. (Wildlife such as this should be allowed to find their way to your pond of their own accord, because transferring wildlife from one habitat to another can upset nature’s delicate balance and spread disease.)

dragonfly resting on rock
dragonfly showing wing while sitting on grass

Dragonflies and Damselflies

Entirely beneficial, dragonflies and damselflies feast on mosquitoes, aphids, gnats, and flies. In turn, they are preyed upon by a range of animals and are a key part of the aquatic food chain. They usually find ponds on their own and do not need to be introduced. Their presence is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Sedges, irises, and floating plants of all sorts will help draw dragonflies and damselflies to your pond. The insects use the plants as safe places to lay eggs, and young dragonflies rely on them for shelter. Damselflies—neon-winged toothpicks—rest and perch in sunny places like dragonflies.

mossy tree branch with turtle on top

Water Turtles

Some species of turtles are water-loving amphibians that are delightful—but hungry—pond inhabitants. Many will munch on goldfish and koi. They will also eat the underwater stems of water lilies and other floating plants. A medium-size pond can support one or two turtles, but a large turtle population will destroy much of the plant life in a pond. If you want turtles in your water garden, create a separate pond just for them. You’ll have to build a fence or other enclosure to prevent them from wandering away.

green frog on lily pad in water garden

Water Frogs

Some frogs come to live in a water feature; others just visit to sample the local insect fare. Frogs thrive in water garden settings if you offer refuge for tadpoles, which also make tasty snacks for fish. Attracting frogs requires little effort. Plant the edge of the pond with sedges or arrowhead to provide frogs with shade and cover.

Trees, stands of native grasses, rain gardens, and meadows all welcome frogs; bogs promise safe harbors for tadpoles, as do ample plantings along a pond’s edge. Rocks with surfaces extending above the water give frogs a place to sun and sing. Help frogs survive by avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical lawn fertilizers.

giant gold fish in garden pond

Pond Fish

Koi, goldfish, and golden orfe are reasonably easy-care fish varieties if water quality is good and numbers are carefully controlled. To keep fish happy and healthy, practice good hygiene in and around the pond. Make your water garden fish-friendly by including a diverse collection of water plants. Water lilies and other floating plants provide valuable shade, preventing the water temperature from fluctuating too much and stressing fish. Submerged plants create an underwater cover for fish, especially young ones. Many fish species lay their eggs in submerged plants. The young hatch and grow in this sheltered environment.

bird blue haring in water

Predatory Pond Animals

An array of creatures will visit or stay in your water garden throughout the gardening season. You may not notice many, but some you’ll quickly spot because of their size or the damage they cause. Keep an eye out for predators that can wipe out a fish collection overnight, and learn how to minimize their potential damage. Birds of prey (such as Great Blue Herons, right, owls, and hawks), raccoons, opossums, and domestic cats will happily eat fish in a pond.


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