Britain’s ten rarest pond creatures

Have you been able to spot any of Britain's rarest pond wildlife this summer? 

Natterjack_big-90da97c

Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita)
It’s possibly easier to hear this toad than spot it as the male has a very loud croak which he loves to show off, especially after rain. Up to 7cm long, this toad is easily distinguished from other species by the yellow stripe down its back. Confined to mostly coastal areas as they live in sand dunes, heathland and salt marshes where they need shallow, warm pools to breed, they have relatively short limbs, so are poor swimmers and tend to run rather than hop. Rare in Britain and the only native toad in Ireland, the Natterjack toad is threatened through habitat loss and listed as Endangered.

Advertisement

Tadpole shrimp (Triops cancriformis)
The fantastic Tadpole shrimp is a living fossil that has remained unchanged in 220 million years. They resemble mini horseshoe crabs and reach up to 11cm long in the wild where they live in temporary pools. Feeding on small invertebrates, microscopic particles and plants which they dig up using their shield-like carapace, Tadpole shrimps are very sensitive to veterinary compounds released into water from livestock waste. They are restricted to just one pond in the New Forest and a handful of pools in southwest Scotland, so are classified as Endangered in the UK.

Spangled water beetle (Graphoderus zonatus)
Spangled water beetles sparkle as if they have been sprayed with gold glitter. These beautiful little beetles are only 13-15mm long and live in just one pond in the UK and hence classed as Endangered. The larvae live in the water and feed on other aquatic insects whereas the adults can fly and may spend time on land. They are threatened by polluted run-on from their neighbouring roads and farm effluent as well as habitat loss.

Starfruit (Damasonium alisma)
The Starfruit is so-named because of its attractive six-sided fruits. The appearance will vary depending upon the depth of water, but may reach 30cm tall. Starfruit plants love the trampling effect of cattle but are Endangered in the UK due to mis-management of ponds and loss of habitat. Elsewhere in Europe it is not rare.

Brown galingale (Cyperus fuscus)
This plant reproduces quickly and can complete its entire lifecycle in just four months. Varying greatly in height, the Brown galingale is a small tufted sedge with tiny flowers that can exist in suspended animation in its seed form while waiting for appropriate conditions to arise. Listed as Vulnerable in the UK, it is threatened by loss and drainage of ponds.

Fairy shrimp (Chirocephalus diaphanous) 
Like its namesake the Fairy shrimp is delicate, translucent and tiny (only 25mm long). Unlike fairies, they swim around on their backs feeding on microscopic organisms in temporary pools. Any disturbance from farm animals benefits them and they are tolerant of fluctuations, but are a favourite prey of fish. In the past, they existed through much of England but sadly their main habitats are considered unsightly and filled in. They are related to the highly popular “Sea Monkeys” pets of the 1960s and 70s.

Lesser silver water beetle (Hydrochara caraboides)
Lesser silver water beetles are not terribly adapted to underwater life and are poor swimmers. The adults are up to 15mm long and are so-named because bubbles of air become trapped in tiny hairs on their underside causing a silvery appearance. They were widely distributed in the 19th century but have since declined and are now live in Cheshire and the Somerset Levels where they are classed as Endangered. The adults feed on decaying plant matter but the larvae are voracious predators of water snails. 

Tassel stonewort (Tolypella intricata) 
Although it looks like a plant, the Tassel stonewort is actually a green algae and the stem can reach 40cm in height. Some scientists think that stoneworts may be the earliest ancestors of all plants. They live in temporary pools with low nutrient levels in a few sites in the south of England and enjoy the trampling effect of cattle. They are classed as Endangered in the UK and threatened with over-shading by scrub and new pond/ditch management practices.

Three lobed water crowfoot (Ranunculus tripartitus)
This is the plant equivalent of a Royal Marine soldier. They cope best in difficult conditions where they are likely to become trodden on, squashed or grazed and do not like competition. They live in temporary, shallow water bodies, especially cart tracks near coastal strips. With a stem length of up to 60cm, this plant is a member of the buttercup family and the white flowers are held up from the water surface. They are listed as Vulnerable and threatened by a loss of its heathland habitat.

Advertisement

White-faced darter dragonfly (Leuchorrhinia dubia) 
A favourite species to spot for insect enthusiasts, White-faced darters are small dark dragonflies that prefer cool conditions. They mainly exist in Scotland in deep lowland peatbogs where their colouration helps them to warm up quickly. The larvae live in Sphagnum (a moss species that occurs on the surface of a peat bog) and cannot exist in ponds with fish. These attractive dragonflies are threatened by habitat destruction, pollution and removal of Sphagnum.