Pond Dipping

Andy Upton

Derby City Pond Warden Association

A fun and educational activity, pond dipping allows you to explore the wildlife that lurks in and around ponds. Click the items around the table for more information.


When to go Pond Dipping

The best time for pond dipping is between the months of May and August, when the aquatic invertebrates are at their most active and the amphibians, such as frogs, toads and newts, have completed their breeding cycle. It is also the best time to view the aquatic plants when they are out in flower, thereby making them easier to identify.


Where to Pond Dip

Derby Treasure Map

Choose a pond with easy and safe access to the water’s edge. A pond with a dipping platform or a paved edge is ideal as they provide a stable place to kneel down next to the water, especially during damp weather.

The DCPWA website shows the location of ponds in the Derby area. Please obtain the land­owner’s permission before the pond dip.

Pond Dipping Equipment

  • Pond Dipping Net


    To be used for dipping into the pond and hauling out little creatures.

  • Tub


    Temporalily house any creatures you find in plastic tubs, preferably white to aid observation.

  • Tray

    Water-tight Tray

    It is easier to empty out your net into a container with a large surface area.

  • Pot

    Observtion pots

    Small transparent pots or jars can make it convenient to observe your catch.

  • Spoon

    Plastic Spoons

    Thes can be used to move creatures between containers, or to lift them up for a closer look.

  • Magnify

    Magnifying Glass

    Some of the creatures in a pond can be very small. Use a magnifying glass to embiggen them.

  • Camera

    Camera or Smart Phone

    To record your finds. A camera with a "macro" setting can help focus on small things.

  • Pencil

    Pencil and Paper

    For making notes about the finds.

Pond Dipping

Dipping is simple enough for anyone to enjoy:

  • Half fill all of the containers with pond water
  • Place the tray next to the water’s edge
  • Dip the net in the pond and sweep in a figure-of-eight or circle
  • Gently turn the net inside out into the the tray so the creatures can swim out
  • Once sufficient creatures have been caught, they can be transfered to containers away from the pond for examination
  • After the finds have been examined, gently return them to the area of the pond where they were caught


  • Dip in different areas, depths and habitats to find a variety of species
  • While dipping near weeds, sweeping a few times will catch animals hiding from earlier sweeps
  • Do no collect too much mud, as this can make it diffficult to spot the creatures

  • Invertibrates
  • Odonata
  • Amphibians
  • Plants

Pond minibeasts (invertibrates)

Damselflies and Drogonflys (Odonata)

Frogs, Toads and Newts (Amphibians)

Pond vegitation

  • Like 98% of animal species, pond creatures are usually inverti­brates, which means they have no internal skeleton.

  • Pond Snail
    Photo: © Malcolm Storey

    Pond Snail Lymnaea stagnalis

    The snail’s 45-60mm brown shell has weakly convex whorls. The upper whorls are pointed, while the bottom is suddenly inflated to be much larger than the others.

  • Greater Water Boatman
    Photo: Holger Gröschl

    Greater Water Boatman Notonecta glauca

    Known as a backswimmer because they swim upside down. They measure up to 20 mm long, and can give a nasty bite.

  • Lesser Water Boatman
    Photo: Piet Spaans

    Lesser Water Boatman Corixa punctata

    This insect swims on its front and is not related to the Greater Water Boat­man. The long hind legs are covered in tiny hairs which helps them float on the surface of the pond.

  • Pond Skater
    Photo: Webrunner

    Pond Skater Gerridae

    A bug that can walk across the surface of the pond, using the water’s surface tension to support its legs.

  • Whirligig Beetle

    Whirligig Beetle Gyrinidae

    Usually seen on the surface of the pond, they swim rapidly in circles when alarmed. Also notable for their divided eyes which enable them to see both above and below water.

  • Hog Louse
    Photo: Marion Barlow

    Water Hog Louse Asellus aquaticus

    Known by many names, this freshwater crustacean resembles a woodlouse. Its presence in a pond is a sign of good water quality.

  • Water Flea
    Photo: PLOS

    Water Flea Cladocera

    A small crustacean with a length between 0.2 and 6.0 mm.

  • Red Worm

    Red Worm Eisenia fetida

    A type of earthworm that prefers to live in rotting vegetation rather than soil. They have bristles on each segment that move in and out to grip nearby surfaces to enable them to push themselves forward.

  • Leech
    Photo: Karl Ragnar Gjertsen

    Leech Hirudinea

    A blood-sucking type of worm, they have a sucker at each end. Some types have been historically used in medicine to remove blood from patients.

  • Glassworm
    Photo: © Malcolm Storey

    Glassworm Chaoborus

    A type of midge lava, can be up to 2 cm in length. Also known as a Phantom Midge Lavae because of its transparency.

  • Mayfly Nymph
    Photo: © Malcolm Storey

    Mayfly Nymph Ephemeroptera

    The insect lives for a year in their aquatic nymph form, but only about a day as an adult. Nymphs are distinctive in having seven pairs of gills on the dorsum of the abdomen, and three long cerci or tails.

  • Odonata are carnivorous insects that live in water during the early stages of their lifecycle. Young odonata Damselfly Nymph Dragonfly Nymph are called nymphs, and have multiple stages of developmnt that are called instars.

  • Banded Demoiselle
    Photo: Charles Sharp

    Banded demoiselle Calopteryx splendens

    This is a large damselfly with a total length up to 48 mm and a hindwing length up to 36 mm. The male has translucent wings which have a broad, iridescent blue-black band across the outer part.

  • Blue-tailed Damselfly
    Photo: Charles Sharp

    Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans

    The insect has a largely black abdomen with very narrow pale markings where each segment joins the next. Segment eight, however, is entirely pale blue.

  • Comon Blue Damselfly
    Photo: Rushenb

    Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum

    This small (32 mm), brightly coloured damselfly is probably the most common of odonata throughout Britain.

  • Large Red Damselfly
    Photo: Luc Viatour

    Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula

    Another common damselfly, it is often the first to emerge, usually in April or May.

  • Emporer Dragonfly
    Photo: Quartl

    Emperor Anax imperator

    This large (78 mm long) species of dragonfly has a sky blue abdomen with a black dorsal stripe and an apple green thorax.

  • Four-Spotted Chaser
    Photo: Pjt56

    Four-Spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata

    The brown colour and the four spots on the wings makes this dragonfly unmistakable.

  • Ruddy Darter
    Photo: Jörg Hempel

    Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum

    A dragonfly with a wing­span of up to 6 cm. The head, thorax and abdomen of the male are vivid red, while the female is slightly smaller, and is a golden-yellow colour with black markings.

  • Southern Hawker
    Photo: Fred Böhringer

    Southern Hawker Aeshna cyanea

    A large dragonfly, with a long (70 mm) body. It has a black body with green markings, and the male also has blue spots on the abdomen.

  • Amphibians begin life living in the pond, before undergoing a metamorphosis to become air breathing animals.

  • Tadpole
    Photo: C. Lauter


    The larval stage in the life cycle of a frog or toad that lives in water. Has a tail and no legs, and, like a fish, breathes through gills.

  • Common Frog
    Photo: Richard Bartz

    Common Frog Rana temporaria

    Frogs have a plump body with a rounded snout, webbed feet and long hind legs adapted for swimming in water and hopping on land.

  • Common Toad
    Photo: Taka

    Common Toad Bufo bufo

    A toad’s body is broad and squat and positioned close to the ground. The hind legs are short relative to frogs’ legs and the hind feet have long, unwebbed toes. The skin is dry and covered with small wart-like lumps.

  • Smooth Newt
    Photo: John Beniston

    Smooth Newt Lissotriton vulgaris

    About 10 cm in length, they have pale throats with conspicuous spots. During breeding season, the male develops a tall, wavy, translucent crest along the spine and tail.

  • Palmate Newt
    Photo: Christian Fischer

    Palmate Newt Lissotriton helveticus

    A relatively small species, males reaching only about 8½ cm and females 9½ cm. The palmate does not have the spotted throat of the smooth newt.

  • Great Crested Newt

    Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus

    A protected species. If found, you should stop dipping activities in order not to disturb them. If you are in the Derby area, report any sitings to the DCPWA.

  • Ponds provide an environment for many plant species to thrive.

  • Photo: Ivar Leidus

    Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum

    Grows up to 2m in height with branched stems that have numourous hairs. The purple-pink flowers have four notched petals. The leaves have sharply toothed edges and no stalk.

  • Yellow Flag Iris
    Photo: Katrin Wicker

    Yellow Flag Iris Iris pseudacorus

    Growing to 100-150 cm tall, with erect leaves up to 90 cm long and 3 cm broad. The flowers are bright yellow, 7-10 cm across, with the typical iris form.

  • Photo: Meggar

    Soft Rush Juncus effusus

    Stems are smooth cylinders with light pith filling. The yellowish inflorescence appears to emerge from one side of the stem about 20 cm from the top.

  • Hard Rush
    Photo: Kristian Peters

    Hard Rush Juncus inflexus

    A tufted perennial with stiffly erect, grey-green leafless, ridged stems and brown flowers.

  • Bulrush
    Photo: Bogdan

    BulRush Typha latifolia

    Grows 1½ to 3 m high and has 2-4 cm broad leaves. Will grow in ¾ to 1 m of water depth.

  • Reed Sweet-grass
    Photo: Rasbak

    Reed Sweet-grass Glyceria maxima

    A grass whose base grows along the ground and may root at several places. It then grows erect and bears leaf blades. It is highly competitive and invasive.

  • Duckweed
    Photo: Barbarossa

    Duckweed Lemna minor

    A floating plant with one, two or three leaves each with a single root hanging in the water. As more leaves grow, the plants divide and become indi­viduals. The leaves are oval, 1-8 mm long and 0.6-5 mm broad.

  • Water Lily
    Photo: Patrice Icard

    Water Lily Nymphaea

    The leaves grow from the rootstalk on long stems and float on the surface of the pond. The flowers rise out of the pond or float on the surface, opening during the day or at night.

  • Water Starwort
    Photo: Derek Golson

    Water Starwort Callitriche stagnalis

    Slender stems reach to the surface and form floating mats of leaves, which are often round to spoon-shaped but are variable in morphology.

  • Floating Pennywort

    Floating Pennywort Hydrocotyle ranunculoides

    In the UK it is an invasive alien species which is currently spreading in waterways. It is native to North and South America and parts of Africa.

  • Greater Spearwort

    Greater Spearwort Ranunculus lingua

    A tall (1½ m) member of the Buttercup family with large yellow flowers.

Safety when Pond Dipping

Always be careful around any body of water!

  • Do not try to wade into the pond as it is difficult to judge its depth
  • Do not lean too far over the pond in case you lose your balance
  • Be aware that muddy areas beside the pond can be slippery
  • Examine your finds well away from the water’s edge
  • To prevent infection, use water­proof plasters to keep pond water out of cuts and scratches
  • After touching the water, keep fingers away from your mouth
  • Thoroughly wash your hands when pond dipping is complete

See also: RoSPA’s advice for school wildlife ponds.

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