Aquatic sciences include the study of wetlands, freshwater and marine aquatic systems, and their boundaries. Though we had a particularly dry winter, March has brought the rains – Yippee! We took advantage of the blue skies one morning to do a little aquatic science of our own and explore vernal ponds.
Vernal ponds or ephemeral pools, are temporary pools of water that provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, and thus allow the safe development of juvenile amphibian and insect species.
Pond Studies – Let’s Get Wet
The kids were very excited to explore this ecosystem. Upon arrival, they dropped their journals and immediately waded into the water in search of critters. The dominant organism observed was without a doubt the tadpole. All the kids exclaimed that they wanted to bring home a few tadpoles and fortunately I brought along containers for each family.
The kids enjoyed the freedom to explore for about an hour. We then gathered our collection tubs together to take a closer look at what we found. I had hand lenses and a microscope on hand for those who wanted to observe the critters in more detail. I loved that my kiddos pulled out their journals and began to illustrate what most interested them.
In addition to the tadpoles, we also observed several aquatic insects: backswimmer larvae, mosquito larvae, water striders, and water boatman. We are looking forward to observing our catch more closely at home when there are fewer distractions. Setting up an aquarium at home provides us with the opportunity to observe the critters more closely and thereby further our pond studies at home.
Looking for aquatic critters has always been one of our favorite activities when the weather warms. Take a peak at one of our earlier excursions, Aquatic Critters: Summer Nature Study, and download a free dichotomous key to aquatic insects.
Take it Further – Inquiry Science
Upon visiting a pond, collect critter samples to bring home for an aquarium for closer observations over time. Use pond water to fill your aquarium, not tap water, because it contains the microorganisms plankton eat. Any tap water added to account for evaporation should be left uncovered overnight to allow the chlorine to vaporize. I’ve created a free printable you may wish to use to record your observations.
How would you set up an experiment to answer these experimental questions? Make a list of needed materials and write down a hypothesis before you begin.
- If given a choice between open water and water filled with submerged plants, which animals choose the open water?
- Do more prey survive when plants are present?
- Will predators eat less of one particular type of prey if other prey are present as well?
- Do pond animals have any preference between light and dark?
- Does darkness affect the ability of the predators to catch the prey?
- Where will algae and snails survive best, in the dark or in the light?
** Remember that backswimmers and giant water bugs bite with a stinging effect and large dragonfly nymphs may also bite.
For more ideas for ecology studies, Ecology Explorations is a wonderful collection of hands-on lessons and inquiry projects designed with the middle school student in mind.
Though it is a 10-week unit, you can pick and choose activities to according to interest or to tie into another curriculum study.