Pondering

Very fascinating organisms can be found in, on or around a pond. During the months of fall, Island amphibians are developing in to adults and preparing for winter, while bird and insect numbers are decreasing as they descend south. In this module, the children will be taken to natural ponds in their area to observe the fauna. They will learn about identifying the different amphibians and their lifecycles, monitor and record the different fauna and discuss the activity occurring in and around the pond. The children will play games that relate to life in and around the pond, and help them understand lifecycles

This module can be taught during any season or spread out over the year. Visiting a pond once or twice a season. 

If you do not have access to a pond, children can still be introduced to life around the pond, play games and investigate puddles or other areas with water life.

Lesson 1 - Introduction to Pond Life

Introduce the children to pond life. What will they see in the fall around the pond? Go to a pond and investigate the area. Have the children journal what they see, draw pictures and discuss.

Amphibian means leading a double life

  • aquatic and terrestrial aspect
  • breathe through their skin, have paired transmission channels in “middle” ear
  • have teeth with elongated base
  • need to keep their skin moist for survival
  • Toads, frogs, salamanders and newts are all amphibians

Invertebrate means without a backbone

  • majority of animal species (97%)
  • pond invertebrates include water boatman, giant water bug, backswimmer and whirligig beetles

Waterfowl

  • freshwater, aquatic birds
  • Geese, ducks and swans

Lesson 2 - Five Frogs and a Toad

This week is all about frog. Introduce the 5 native species of frogs in Prince Edward Island. Describe the frogs, show picture and discuss. Follow-up the lesson with a game about frogs.

Frogs and Toads

  • strong hindlegs for jumping
  • stout forelimbs
  • short body, very short vertebral column
  • males have vocal sac to call females
  • most specialized amphibians
  • 3800 species
    • 5 frog species and 1 toad species in PEI

Pickerel Frog

Pickerel frogs are spotted with irregular brown spots in rows along its back. They are yellow-brown with orange on their groin. They can be found in streams and lake shores, often foraging for food along grassy sedge, wood roads, roadsides, meadows and old fields. Pickerel frogs hibernate through the winter under bottom debris and silt. They awake in April, breeding through May. The females lay a globular mass of 1000 eggs attached to vegetation 10cm from the surface. The tadpoles develop into frogs during August and September. A Pickerel frog will feed on ants, spiders, bugs, beetles, moth larvae and other invertebrates

Wood Frog

Wood frogs are the smallest true frogs in P.E.I., measuring less than 6cm. They are brown or tan-coloured with a dark brown mask on side of its head therefore they are sometimes referred to as “robber frogs”. These terrestrial frogs have the furthest northern range of any other amphibian or reptile. They are one of the first frog species in P.E.I. to emerge in the spring, sometimes mating when snow is still present. The females lay fist sized jelly masses with roughly 1000 eggs. Their diet consists of invertebrates.

Green Frog

Green frogs are medium in size with a moderately heavy body. Their head and shoulders are leaf green, often darkening towards their feet. They have small, irregular black spots randomly located on their backs and legs. They feed on insects and can be found in all permanent bodies of water.  They breed in late spring or early summer. Green frog larva usually overwinter and transform into adult in the spring, therefore the tadpoles can be quite large.

Northern Leopard Frog

The Northern Leopard frog may be five to nine cm in length.  They are brown or green in colour, with 2 or 3 rows of irregularly placed dark spots between conspicuous ridges. They have numerous additional rounded dark spots on sides of the body. Northern Leopard frogs are often found in or near standing water bodies, feeding on mostly invertebrates. During the summer they migrate to fields and meadows returning to water in the fall. In mid-spring they will breed in standing water. This species produce high amounts of offspring therefore they are abundant and extremely important in aquatic food chains.

American Toad

The American Toad has rough, warty skin. They have two kidney shaped parotid glands, located behind their eyes, which secrete a toxin making them inedible to most predators. They are usually 5 to 10 cm in length. They are terrestrial when adults and are found in various terrestrial habitats. American Toads will eat large numbers of insects and other invertebrates. They breed in spring in quiet waters. The eggs are laid in long strings. During early summer tadpoles will transform, leaving the pool of water.

Spring Peeper

Spring Peepers are tree frogs. They are adapted for arboreal life with long limbs and digits, and adhesive disks on their toes that allow them to climb.  Spring Peepers are very tiny measuring 2-3.5 cm long. They are light brown in colour with a distinguishable dark “X” on their backs. Often found in thick brush, swampland vegetation and moist woodlands, they will mate in temporary muddy pools or puddles surrounded by vegetation.

 

Click here for games.

Lesson 3 - Three Salamanders and a Newt

Salamanders begin their lives in the pond, moving onto land, only returning to water to breed. Introduce the 3 native salamanders and the lone newt. Talk about lifecycles, describe the salamanders and try to find one. Roll over a log or look under a leaf.

Yellow Spotted Salamander

Yellow Spotted Salamanders are dark grey to blue-black with light blue-grey on their sides and bellies. Their most distinguishing trait is the two uneven rows of bright yellow spot along their back and tails. These are the biggest salamander found in P.E.I., measuring 10 to 20 cm long. These salamanders can be found along the moist forest ground underneath logs, rocks and fallen leaves. They are nocturnal organisms and hibernate during the winter months. In April and May the males perform an elaborate dance to impress the female. The salamanders mate in ponds. The female will lay several 100 eggs in a fist sized jelly mass in the water. After one summer in the pond some larvae will mature to adults, while others may overwinter in the mud and develop in to adults during the second summer. Once the salamanders develop into adult they lose there gills and move on to land.

Blue-spotted Salamander

The Blue-spotted salamander is similar in structure and appearance to the yellow-spotted salamander but not as heavy bodied. They are about 10 - 13 cm in length. They are distinguishable by the metallic blue flecks that appear on their sides and legs over a dark base colour.  They breed in the spring in small ponds, and ditches.

Redback Salamander

The Redback Salamander cannot be confused with the spotted salamanders as they are very small and delicately built. They are usually less than 10 cm in length.  They have a broad reddish brown stripe down their back from snout to tail. If the stripe is absent, the sides and back are a uniform slate grey. These salamanders are strictly terrestrial. They live and breed in the deep shade of mixed forests, laying their eggs in moist cavities of rotten logs. They will feed on small invertebrates. 

Red-spotted Newt

Newts are characterized with skin rougher than and not as slimy as salamanders. The Red-spotted Newt is fairly small, measuring about 10 cm in length. . The adult is green in base colour, with black specks and one row of red spots haloed in black on either side. Adult newts are aquatic, however, the red eft, a sub-adult phase, is terrestrial. Red efts have a tail fin, and are orange to brick red in colour making them easy to distinguish. Adult newts are found in permanent ponds and freshwater with low fish competitors. They find on invertebrates. After an elaborate courtship, Red-spotted newts mate in the water during the spring. The female lays eggs individually on aquatic vegetation and then abandon them.

Lifecycle: Larvae ⇒Terrestrial Red Eft (1 to 5 years)⇒Aquatic Adult

Lesson 4 - Invertebrates

Talk about pond invertebrates. Using the pond key ask the children identify and journal what they find.

Key to Pond Life

Lesson 5 - Waterfowl

Waterfowl is a word used to refer to freshwater, aquatic birds. This group of birds includes ducks, geese and swans. In P.E.I., there are 11 waterfowl known to nest here. When visiting a pond is it possible you will see one of this waterfowl, or other visiting ones, wading around. Most waterfowl migrate, so you are more likely to see them during the spring and summer. 

Below is a list of 11 Waterfowl known to nest in P.E.I., according to the Government of Prince Edward Island:

  1. American Black Duck - Very common (50 birds per day) during all seasons                                                                                                                               
  2. Blue-winged Teal - Very common; migrate south for winter                                                                                                                                              
  3. Canada Goose - Very common; migrate south for winter                                                                                                                                                 
  4. Common Merganser - Very common in fall and winter; migrate north in spring                                                                                                                                       
  5. Greater Scaup  - Very common in winter; migrate north in spring                                                                                                                                      
  6. Hooded Merganser - Fairly common (1-9 birds per day) in fall                                                                                                                                               
  7. Mallard - Common (10-49 birds per day) in fall and spring                                                                                                                                                                 
  8. Red Breasted Merganser - Common in fall and spring                                                                                                                                    
  9. Red Head - Rare (1 - 5 birds per season) ; fall season                                                                                                                                                    
  10. Ringnecked Duck - Very common; migrate south for winter                                                                                                    
  11. Wood Duck - Fairly common to common; migrate south for winter                

Visit here to see a list of all the waterfowl you may see in P.E.I.

Pond Olympics

A pond can be highly diverse when it comes to the organisms that inhabit the area in and around it. The movement of these animals differ greatly. A dabbling duck wades around the pond, sieving through the water for small plants and animals to munch on. When it is time for take off, the duck rises right up from the water, flapping it wings and flying away. Diving ducks, up-end themselves dipping their heads in to the water, using their long neck for reach. For them to take off, they run along the water, flapping their wings for lift off. Frogs use their strong hind legs to hop on land and Water Boatman and Backswimmers use their paddle-like limbs to get around in the water. All these movement, and a few others, can me imitated by humans. Pond Olympics test the ability of children to mimic other animals and compare.

Click here for games.

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