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BACKYARD HABITAT

Frog Ponds

Pond PhotoWe've decided that our garden will be designed with two water features, one for fish, and one for frogs. Why frogs?

Well, for one, the sound of frogs croaking at night is wonderfully soothing, but more importantly- frogs are losing their Photo of Frog 1habitat and we intend on doing our part to give back in any small way we can. I was inspired by what groups of everyday gardeners are doing (their stories are listed in the links below). Here's a couple of exerpts showing how easy it is to create a little slice of Froggy heaven...

"Most of us are not able to provide habitat for the world's threatened animal species but there is one group, which gardeners may assist. Frogs are under threat throughout the world and loss of habitat is one of the factors contributing to their demise.

A frog pond is easy to construct, adds interest to your domestic landscape, increases the range of plants that may be cultivated and most importantly will provide a haven for the frog species in your area." 1

"Frog ponds can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. Before building your pond you should consider the size of your garden, intended location of pond, proximity to neighbors, available materials, local frog species already in residence, time available for maintenance and your budget.

Virtually any type or size container is suitable provided it is not metallic (tadpoles are very sensitive to metallic impurities). The following items may be used as frog ponds: old porcelain bath tubs, children's plastic wading pools (e.g. clam shell variety), prefabricated fiberglass shells, compacted clay, terra-cotta pots, PVC lined ponds and concrete (although concrete is expensive and is prone to leaking). Please note cement ponds will need to be cured before tadpoles can be introduced.

Your pond should have sloping sides to provide emerging frogs with a surface by which they can leave the pond. Broad twigs or untreated wood positioned at the water's edge will suffice. Your pond should be filled with rain water or tap water which has been allowed to age for 5 to 7 days in the sun before introducing tadpoles. This allows the chlorine time to dissipate.

Photo of Frog 2Regardless of what type of pond you choose, suitable pond surrounds will make your pond an attractive and safe place for frogs to visit. Young frogs emerging from ponds are particularly vulnerable to dehydration and predatory animals such as lizards, birds, snakes, large spiders and domestic animals such as cats. Adequate ground cover around your pond will provide protection from predators and the elements.

A balanced mixture of plants of varying heights will not only provide shelter but will also attract a wide range of insects on which frogs feed. Water plants produce oxygen and assist in improving the water quality of your pond. They also provide a resting place for emerging frogs and breeding pairs. As tadpoles return constantly to the surface to breath ensure that the weed does not multiply to such an extent that it clogs or prevents the tadpoles' access to the surface. Bordering plants which hang over the pond edge and into the water will provide shelter for maturing frogs and tadpoles feeding at the water's edge.

A watering system will assist in maintaining a moist environment preferred by frogs and low set garden lights will attract insects for your frogs to feed on.

Your pond should be located so that 2/3 of the water surface is in shade. Some sun is desirable as it encourages algae growth on which tadpoles feed and tadpoles often congregate in shallow, warmer sections of the pond. Do not locate your pond under trees with poisonous sap or leaves such as oleanders and pine trees.

Your pond should also include fish for mosquito control. Pacific Blue Eyes (a native species) and White Cloud Mountain Minnows (an introduced species) are both suitable as they have relatively small mouths and will not eat larger tadpoles. However all pond fish will eat smaller tadpoles.

Please do not release any fish or weed (native or otherwise) from your ponds into local waterways either directly or via sinks, drains or sewerage systems."2

Frog Related Links

Read about how people all around the world are creating frog habitats:

  • At schools: This school turned a small unusable area into a bustling frog pond.
  • Gaia Foundation: A group dedicated to living sustainably in the city, using environmentally friendly products, recycling,being car-free and using green power.
  • Save our Frogs: A list of easy ways you can help live more gently upon the earth.
    Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program: Go beyond Frogs and learn about gardening for all wildlife (no matter where you live!).

Keeping Crickets as Pets

I live in a beautiful city bustling with energy and offering dozens of culturally diverse experiences each and every night, but being an urban gypsy has it drawbacks.

Although I can venture out in any direction to hear music from distant lands being played in establishments on every corner, it is the purest form of music of Nature that I miss. Can anything truly compare to a star lit night with rolling hills and great Oaks standing quietly casting a moon's shadow across the plains. And the sweet smell of dew laden grass, or the chirping of crickets to lull you to sleep.

While you may not be able to have those things in the city, there is one of these delights that you can partake of. and that is your own little "Minstrel of the Hearth". a friendly little cricket to serenade you to sleep.

Crickets have been treasured for their songs for centuries. In Japan and China, they are prized treasures that have inspired poets and artists. Even today, people keep crickets as pets, and you can too.

I'm currently working on Cricket research and will post results here shortly.

From website: Natural Gardening
By Cynthia Berger

Attracting Aerial Acrobats to Your Yard

WHEN HER KIDS went off to college, Kathy Biggs got rid of her backyard swimming pool. But her Sebastopol, Photo of DragonflyCalifornia, yard still buzzes with activity on warm summer afternoons, because Kathy replaced the pool with a dragonfly pond. Now, instead of kids cannonballing off the deck, she watches cardinal meadowhawks diving after mates and emerald spreadwings basking in the sun.

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the insect order Odonata, and most members of this group rely on water throughout their life cycle. The juveniles, or nymphs, live underwater for months and sometimes years before emerging as adults; the adults tend to hunt for insects over water and lay their eggs in water or on adjacent vegetation. Under the right conditions, even a small pond will attract some of these aerial acrobats to your yard.

If you enjoy bird-watching, you'll probably love watching dragonflies. Their bodies tend to be larger, with broader wings, than those of damselflies, whose wings taper at the base.

Dragonfly Close UpLike birds, dragonflies are reasonably easy to identify by their field marks. Close-focus binoculars will help you get a better look. And like birds, male dragonflies are usually territorial and defend their turf aggressively. (No wonder they were a favorite emblem among seventeenth-century Japanese warriors, who called them "invincible insects.") Dragonflies resemble red-winged blackbirds or flycatchers in the way they claim an elevated perch on a stem of marsh grass, then sally out to chase away other males or make a mid-air capture of a mosquito.

During certain times of year, you'll also see what Arizona State University researcher John Alcock calls "the most striking and entertaining dragonfly behavior": mating in midair. Watch for two dragonflies in the "wheel" position, which means they're in the process of mating, or for damselflies flying tandem, like a car pulling a trailer (the strategy enables males to guard their mates during egg-laying).

"Before digging a pond to attract dragonflies, consider whether you live within a few miles of an established population," says Michael May, a Rutgers University entomologist who is president of the Dragonfly Society of the Americas. "You'll get faster results if you do."

Unless you live in the arid Southwest, your yard may be reasonably close enough to a stream, pond or wetland with a "source" population. Dragonflies are strong flyers, though most individuals stay around their natal pond or stream. "But a certain number float' through the landscape," says May. That often means, if you build it, they will come.

The next consideration is size. "My pond is about 20 feet in diameter," says Biggs. That's approximately the size recommended by the British Dragonfly Society. (The British have dragonfly clubs the way Americans have birding clubs.)

Many garden stores now sell stiff, pre-shaped plastic ponds, as well as flexible PVC or butyl rubber liners that will conform to the shape of a pond you design yourself. If you use a flexible liner, a layer of newspapers or old carpet under the plastic prevents punctures.

You don't necessarily need a large pond to attract dragonflies. "I've got friends whose pond' is a wooden half barrel," says Biggs, "and fork-tailed damselflies still come and breed in it. One of my grad students reared damselflies in plastic wading pools." Whatever the size, place your pond where it will be protected from wind and will get midday sun.

Craig Tufts, chief naturalist for the National Wildlife Federation, is well qualified to comment on the proper parameters for dragonfly ponds; he helped oversee the construction of two ponds last year. One is a centerpiece of the natural garden in front of NWF's headquarters in Reston, Virginia; the other is located several miles away in his backyard,
which happens to be near a sewage treatment plant that attracts a lot of dragonflies.

Tufts says the ideal dragonfly pond should vary in depth, shallow at the edges and at least two feet deep in the center. "Deep water offers nymphs a refuge from raccoons and other predators," he says. "Varied depths are also important to accommodate a variety of water plants." It's not that the nymphs or adults eat the plants. (Dragonflies are voracious carnivores.) Rather, underwater plants provide important habitat for the nymphs, which need places to rest, hunt for food and hide from predatory fish. And emergent vegetation--sedges, rushes and other plants that stick up above the water's surface--provides perching places for adults.

Such vegetation is also critical for dragonflies because the nymphs crawl up it when they emerge, making the transformation from water dweller to their free-flying adult form. And though dragonflies don't rely on specific host plants to nourish their young the way butterflies do, some species do use water plants as nurseries. They insert their eggs into the soft stems.

What you plant around the pond is almost as important as what you plant in it. Don't mow the border—let the grasses and rushes grow. "Make sure you have some shrubs within a few feet of the water," says May. "That will provide more perching sites." In many areas, lobelia, buttonbush and seedbox are good choices for your pond's edge.

Don't disturb wild habitat to stock your pond with plants. Many garden shops and catalog suppliers now sell all kinds of plants for water gardens. Look for species native to your area.

One last design detail: Put a few flat rocks near the pond's edge. "Dragonflies like to warm up by basking in the sun," says May. "Some species are attracted to light-colored rocks."

It can take a while for pond plants to get established. While you're waiting for your emergent vegetation to grow above the surface of the water, Tufts recommends putting a few perching sticks in the middle of your pond. Ordinary bamboo stakes—the kind you use to stake tomato plants—will do the job.

If you want breeding populations of dragonflies in your pond, it's probably best not to introduce fish, because they will prey on the nymphs and eggs.

Although experts say that about 15 percent of North America's 307 dragonfly species are in danger of extinction, the dragonflies at greatest risk for extinction are the stream dwellers, species that won't be attracted to your backyard pond. "You can help protect their habitats by supporting laws and practices that reduce water pollution and protect
riparian areas," says Tufts. "You'll be helping a lot of other creatures in the process."

Pennsylvania writer Cynthia Berger is an avid dragonfly watcher. For more information about how to build a backyard pond, see www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat. In North America, long-distance migrations of certain species of dragonflies occur between midsummer and fall. You can contribute to dragonfly research by reporting your sightings of such migration swarms to the North American Dragonfly Migration Project.

Dragonfly-related links

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