Just scoop some water from a pond, and you’ve got the start of some fun summer science projects. The classic activity of closely examining pond water to see what’s living there, sometimes called “ponding,” combines two kid favorites: getting wet and playing detective. It’s also an easy, hands-on way for kids to start understanding the importance of habitats and to learn how to identify different creatures they find.
On an outing this June, my daughter and I saw a dragonfly larva, a small leech, the larva of a non-biting midge, and a fingernail clam. They were all in one bucket of water scooped from a Massachusetts pond. And there was plenty more that we didn’t identify.
The larva of the non-biting midge, also called a bloodworm, was the most fascinating find for me. We were lucky enough to be in the company of a naturalist who pointed out the larva, which looked like a short red thread that swam. A hemoglobin-like substance gives the larva its dark red appearance, she explained, and allows it to survive in the low-oxygen waters of murky ponds. Although having an expert on hand made learning such facts faster, we also used books with images of bugs to try to identify what we saw.
You can go ponding yourself using inexpensive supplies, such as a metal strainer attached to an old broom handle. Dip it into the pond, pour the contents into a bucket, and use a clean old yogurt container to dip more pond water and pour it through the back of the strainer to push everything out and provide enough pond water for whatever creatures you discover. You may want to pour some of the water into a shallower pan to look more closely, and use plastic spoons to lift specimens out briefly.
Add a magnifying glass and a bug book and this summer pastime becomes an informal science class. Once your child’s interest has waned, pour the water back into the pond.
Here’s a list of the items you may want to bring to a pond for this activity:
- Strainer attached to broom handle
- Large empty yogurt container
- Cookie sheet with edges or other shallow pan
- Plastic spoons
- Magnifying glass
- Aquatic insect identification book
- Appropriate shoes and clothes for mucking around a pond.
Photo of bloodworms in a dish of water by Philip Rowley.