Have you ever looked into a pond? What did you see?
The water in some ponds is so clear you can see to the bottom. You can see plants growing, maybe a fish, and the squishy pond bottom under your toes. Some ponds are so covered with lily pads and other plants you can barely see the water. Some ponds have a thick green scum on the top with lots of interesting insects and maybe a black and yellow water snake making his way along.
When Kelly was a little girl, there was a “green scum” pond near where she lived. The water wasn’t deep, but it was mysterious. It was a favorite place for all the children in the neighborhood. There were some logs that had fallen out over the pond. The children would carefully slide out on the logs on their bellies and poke long sticks down into the pond to see what they could feel. They would stir the green scum, trying to see what was underneath. Sometimes they would make up stories about what would happen to children who fell off their logs and disappeared under the mysterious green scum.
A pond is a really interesting place. All kinds of wonderful creatures live there. Some are big like the great blue heron you may have seen standing as still as a statue at the water’s edge until he sees the fish he wants for dinner. Some are little one-celled creatures, so small you can’t see them without a microscope. Yet they come in all kinds of colors and shapes. And some, like an amoeba, can even change its shape to move itself along.
Kelly especially liked to watch the water striders. These bugs, with their long, slender legs, can stand right on the water. They have large flat feet which are lined with a velvety coating of waxy hairs that repel water. They can walk, run, skate or skim on top of the water in search of something to eat. Even more amazing, they can jump six inches into the air. In human terms, this would be like your being able to jump from the ground to the roof of a five story apartment building!
While the water striders skate on top of the water, the crayfish is a pond-bottom dweller. He looks like a miniature version of a lobster. He eats a wide variety of food, including partly-rotted plants that would otherwise fill up the pond. Catfish also clean up little bits of plant and animal matter that would build up and make the pond smelly and unpleasant.
For the salamander, however, the smell of the pond is very important. A salamander is a lizard-like creature that hatches from eggs in a pond, but lives its adult life in the woods. The unique smell of the pond in which it was hatched as a baby is the way the salamander finds its way back to the pond to breed. When it’s time, the male and female return to the pond of their birth and do a nose-rubbing mating dance. Then the female releases her eggs by the two-hundreds into the pond just as her mother did, and her mother before her.
The fire-red water mite lives among the pond plants. You could line 10 bright red water mites up on your ruler side by side and all ten would measure about one inch. They can get themselves around by using the hairs on their legs as paddles. But most often they hitch a ride on insects, worms, and other creatures that pass by. And they not only don’t provide any thanks for the ride, they slowly suck out the other creatures life juices through a long, sharp beak while they are traveling along!
Ducks love ponds. Have you ever noticed that a male duck is usually much more brightly colored than the female? One reason Jesus made them this way is that the female usually cares for the young, and her dull colors don’t attract the attention of predators who might make a meal of her little chicks.
Plant life in a pond is very important to all the creatures that live there. The tall slender-stalked cattails which fringe the edge provide a protected home and a place to hide from harm. Did you know that cattail leaves are so strong they can bend and twist without breaking, even in the fiercest wind? The sweet smell of the water lily lures all kinds of creatures to live safely under its big umbrella leaves and in its folds.
Tiny drifting plants and animals known as plankton are so small that a single drop of water contains thousands of them. But they are the source of food for many other creatures like the waterflea. The waterflea swims by paddling one of its two pairs of antennae. The tiny waterflea is clear as glass. You can see all of its internal organs, including a small yellow heart which pumps colorless blood around its body.
Ponds are so interesting that many scientists have spent their entire lives learning about just one of the creatures that live there. Scientists are now learning that it can be even more interesting to study how all the animals and plants living in a pond affect one another. They are interested in things like who eats what, and who protects what, and who cleans up after whom. That’s because in order for a pond to stay alive and well, all the plants and animals have a part to play. The salamander needs the algae to smell. The waterflea needs the plankton to eat. The ducklings and their mother need the cattails to nest and hide in. The fire-red water mite survives by stealing a ride and nourishment from another insect or worm. And everybody needs the crayfish and catfish to clean up after them. Every plant and animal has its effect on everything else. And each is dependent on the pond as a whole to survive.
People are like that too. Your family at home, your friends, and our family here at church. Everything we do and say affects the others around us. And we all need each other to stay alive and well. When you wake up in the morning and decide to be grumpy today, it’s harder for the people around you to be cheerful. When you smile and offer to help your friend with a hard math problem, people around you might find themselves smiling and helping too. The Bible says, “Encourage one another and build each other up.” See what you can think of to make your family and our church a happy place this week.