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/Aquatic Gardens, Design, Construction & Maintenance

Turtles and "Other" Animals For The Pond


By Bob Fenner

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

"What is that? I didn't put...? Well I'll be" Even as you read these words, they are being spoken and thought in several languages around the world. Water is the ubiquitous molecule in all life and living environments, and your pond will attract an endless variety of "other" critters and plants.

Indeed, rather than a discussion of what you might further add other than the Koi, goldfish, and plants laid out so far, this Section might focus on ways to "keep out" other forms. Depending on where you live and the shape that physical barriers take in getting to your water, waterfowl, bobcats, salamanders, frogs, turtles, snakes 'coons, insects, and so much more may find their way to your yard. Is this necessarily a "bad" thing? No, unless such animals disrupt the system, and consume your "intended" livestock, they probably "deserve" to be there.

Let's devote the space and time here to an enlightening review of the ever-expanding realm of these possibilities.

"Other Fish(es)":

There are about twenty-five thousand species of fishes described; more than the rest of the vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals) combined. I can imagine what you're thinking, "Oh but that includes marine fishes, and deep water types...". Well, guess what? I've seen marine ponds, with lobsters, moray eels; even one's with sharks, shades of James Bond! You can keep saltwater, trout, other game fish species (whether you may is another, local legal matter), given adequate provision of water quality (temperature, circulation, etc.).

Game Fishes:

Can be fascinating either as a single species or "mixed-bag" of predators and prey. Be very aware that there is a definite "pecking order" between and within species of fishes, and that they all need their "space". Make habitat to afford each one of them separate hiding and forage areas.

For example, a "small lake" arrangement might be tried with a combination of catfish and sunfish family members (Centrarchidae); one, or a few basses, and bluegills, red-ear sunfish, pumpkinseeds. If the system is large enough, and combines shallow water plant cover, you might get away with sponsoring a group of minnows or livebearing-toothed-carps as well. In orchestrating such an assemblage, the order of introduction is crucial; place the forage fishes first, and add top predators (like the bass(es)) one at a time afterwards.

To reduce aggression and lessen wastes, it is best to train such mixes of fishes on dried-prepared, usually pelleted foods.

Other Cold-Water Fishes:

What about the hundreds of minnow species in the same family as Koi and goldfish (Cyprinidae)? Red horse minnows, golden shiners, Orfes, dace, tench, rudd, among many others are to be had through "bait shops", or by way of ardent "net-dipping".

Many of these natives and "imports" are beautiful and interesting behaviorally. An added plus is their overall hardiness and resistance to disease.

A note here regarding whether to have any fish or not in your system; definitely do so. Utilizing even the most drab Mosquitofish or guppies will aid you in keeping the basin(s) clean and clear of algae and pesky insects. If you are going to have even the simplest biological system (as opposed to a poisoned, sterile reflecting pool or fountain) by all means place a few of these. You won't have to fool with these fishes in the least, and they're so fast to swim and reproduce that outside animals won't eliminate them.

Tropical Fishes:

Surprised? There are many species of warm-water fishes and plants that can thrive in sunny months outdoors. You will have to provide them with heat during the winter, or remove them to warmer quarters. I once visited a woman's pond in Los Angeles who profitably bred and raised African cichlids throughout the year in her outdoor pond. She had rigged a clever heat exchange loop around her water heater that water was continuously recirculated through.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

Think you've seen everything? Ever take a gander at 2,3 up to five foot salamander? Well, there are such animals; hellbenders are amongst the biggest, with the Japanese giant salamander at the top, but the couple of "Congo" eels from the southeastern U.S. get to three feet. Most salamanders and newts are only a few inches long, however, and make peaceful, interesting pond life.

Frogs and toads of all sorts may be more of a nuisance from their noisy calling than as fish predators. If your fishes are more than mouth size these nocturnal crooners will leave them alone. An added bonus, these amphibians are voracious feeders on slugs and insects, and will aid your efforts in keeping those pests in check.

Turtles are a broad and divisive area of discussion; they are both loved and despaired of by pond keepers. All will make meals of your fishes, and tear up aquatic plants; even aquatic species will mysteriously "leave" your system. The best advice I can offer is to provide yours with a specialized "turtle place" with a sunning area, and their own food and filtration. AND KEEP YOUR EYES ON THEM.

Should we even chat about snakes and crocodilians? Yes, they're fish and more eaters. No, I wouldn't encourage their keeping. Some "visiting" serpents are deadly venomous (e.g. cottonmouths and water moccasins); do not attempt to handle these snakes.


Birds will alight to drink at your water's edge, and more. some may become semi-permanent residents, even evil-fish-eating pests.

Waterfowl are virtual, no make that real manure factories; ducks, geese eating and defecating will quickly overwhelm a small system's filtration, and should be shooed away. My take on their care is that as per turtles; if you must have them, provide your water birds with their own separate "duck-pond" with provision for ready cleaning through flushing to waste or irrigation.

Predatory, fish-eating birds can be a real problem in some areas; cranes, cormorants, raptors (hawks and relatives) and more can empty your system in a matter of hours to days. Some methods of scaring them off include hanging netting or steel wires a few feet above the water, faux snakes and owls, and at the worst, calling your local wildlife enforcement agency for a depredation permit and instructions.


Companion animals like dogs and cats, and not so-companionable types as opossums, raccoons, bobcats and cougars can find their ways to your pond. Some may just be out to quench their thirst, but your livestock could be in peril. I once visited a pond in La Costa, California that was "missing" several expensive Koi, with only telltale Felis concolor (cougar) prints scratched into the pond walls where it had scratched it's way back out to tell the story.

If regular fencing won't deter such mammalian sojourns, it is time to rig up an electrical one. Such a "hot-wire" need not be obtrusive in appearance and can generally be turned off once the offending mammals learn their place.


Include particularly the insects, which most folks would rather avoid. Most all of the plethora of insects, worms, crustaceans et al. are of small consequence in a well-maintained, fish-populated system. Don't be so fast to engage a chemical control should you espy these unwanted guests in your water; often a blast from a hose and leaving off with your fish food for a while clears them out quite handily.

The one exception to my lackadaisical attitude are the biting and sucking flies, especially those we call mosquitoes. should you detect these scourges, you are encouraged to go all out to eliminate them. The Volck oil treatment detailed in D) ii) 1) will clog up their breathing apparatus in short order with no harm to the rest of the livestock. Find and eliminate the causes (stagnant water, lack of predators) of their infestation.

Maybe one other potential ne'er do well should be mentioned; crawdads/crayfishes. These crustaceans are outright destructive, tearing up and burrowing into sand and soil, cutting up plants. They will viciously attack and consume your other wildlife. Remove them on sight.


As can be seen from the above discussion, a pond can indeed be many things, livestock-wise. As with other matters partially in our control, one should go about the placement and "allowance" of life forms in one's care (or at least on the premises) with "open eyes" and an open mind. Don't panic should you encounter something strange and exotic in your aquatic garden. Either welcome their "visit", or make provision to accommodate them elsewhere. Remember, amongst all the possible problem animals, our species ranks as the most potentially and actually dangerous.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Alderton, David. 1986. A Petkeeper's Guide To Reptiles & Amphibians. Salamander Books, Ltd., London.

Halliday, Tim & Kraig Adler. 1986. The Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Facts On File Inc., NY.

Mattison, Chris. 1982, 87. The Care of Reptiles and Amphibians in Captivity. Blandford Press. Revised ed. Wing Ting Tong Co, Hong Kong.

Meyer, Stephen M. 1988. Mixing koi and goldfish; Yes, you can keep koi and goldfish in the same pond, but there are reasons not to. AFM 10/88.

Smith, Stephen J. The temperate zone; fishes for the garden pond. TFH 6/94.

Zear, L. 1977. Tropical fish in a garden pond. TFH 5/77.  

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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