One fringe benefit of owning a pond is viewing wildlife that is attracted to the pond. Occasionally visiting animals cause problems. Sometimes pond owners have unfounded concerns. However, animals that damage a pond may need to be controlled or removed.
Livestock. Agricultural livestock is the most common source of animal damage to ponds. Livestock tramples banks, muddies water by wading, and excretes into ponds. These problems shorten the life of a pond & promote fish kills. The remedy is fencing, & installing pond plumbing for livestock watering prior to pond construction. Agricultural extension agents can recommend the best ways to water livestock without compromising pond health. It is best to consider livestock watering before pond construction.
Crayfish. Burrowing crayfish may become established in ponds and in extreme cases cause structural damage and water leaks. In such rare cases, burrowing can become so severe that the pond banks appear honeycomb-like. These conditions can become a particular problem in ponds with large and frequent water level fluctuations. However, ponds with established fish populations rarely become plagued with burrowing crayfish to the extent where control measures are needed. In fact, the majority of ponds in Ohio do not have crayfish in them.
Ponds with crayfish usually have such low numbers due to the predation of fish and other animals, that crayfish are not a problem. If crayfish burrowing does become a problem, maintaining high densities of largemouth bass in the pond (the large bluegill management option) can be effective in reducing crayfish densities. Crayfish numbers can also be reduced by seining for them or trapping them with modified minnow traps; these methods do not provide a long-term solution however. Although it is not recommended that you introduce crayfish into your pond, they do provide supplemental food items for largemouth bass, bluegills, and channel catfish.
Turtles. Turtles are often thought of as pests in fish ponds because they occasionally steal an angler’s bait or fish from a stringer. However, turtles pose little threat to fish populations. In fact, most types of turtles feed almost exclusively on plant matter and pond problems due to turtles are rare.
The snapping turtle (pictured) is the most common turtle found in Ohio ponds, but the less common painted, musk, and soft shell turtles may also be found there. Snappers and soft shell turtles offer good eating and may be trapped or caught by angling, bank lines, trotlines, and specially designed traps. (Learn more about catching & cooking turtles)
Muskrats. Muskrats are members of the rodent family with partially webbed hind feet and water-resistant fur that make them well suited for an aquatic life. They are typically 18 to 24 inches long with small front feet used for digging and feeding, and a long and narrow tail.
Muskrats cause problems when they burrow into pond banks and dams to make their dens. Pond banks can be damaged and dams can be weakened when their tunnels and dens collapse. You can identify the presence of muskrats by trails or “runs” they make through aquatic vegetation, freshly cut cattails floating on the water’s surface, or large piles of vegetation rising out of the shallow water. If vegetation is lacking, small pockets of muddy water adjacent to the pond bank often mark the den entrance and recent digging activity. Sitting quietly on the bank in the evening is a good way to confirm the presence of muskrats.
Muskrats may need to be removed from your pond. The best method of muskrat control is a trapping program conducted annually during the state’s trapping season in the fall and winter. Leghold traps, conibear body-gripping traps, and various box traps are all suitable for muskrat trapping.
Barriers placed along shorelines can be used to keep muskrats from burrowing. Materials used include a layer of rock riprap that is at least six inches in diameter, chicken wire, or hardware cloth that is two-inch mesh or smaller. The materials should be placed from one foot above the normal water line, to three feet below the water line. Aquatic vegetation control may also deter some muskrats, but it is no guarantee that they will avoid the pond completely.
Beavers. Like the muskrat, beaver are rodents that are well adapted to life in the water. Adult beaver can weigh from 35 to 50 pounds. Their thick brown fur is oiled by glands that make it water-resistant. The tail is broad, flat, and dark brown to black in color. The hind feet are very large and fully webbed. The front teeth are large and well adapted for cutting vegetation and wood.
Beaver cause problems to pond owners by cutting down trees and shrubs around the pond. The cuttings are sometimes used to block the flow of water through outlet pipes and emergency spillways. This can result in valuable land, plants, or structures being flooded. Like muskrats, beaver can also cause damage by digging bank dens. They will also feed on nearby garden vegetables and crops and cut cornstalks to use in the building of their dens and dams.
Beaver signs include cut sticks without bark that are lying in and around the pond, partially girdled or debarked trees, stumps of trees and shrubs cut by the beaver, bank dens, lodges within the pond built from cut trees and mud, and outlet pipes and spillways plugged with sticks and mud. Beaver can be legally trapped in Ohio during the winter trapping season. As with muskrats, trapping is the best means of control and leghold traps or conibear body-gripping traps can be used. Much larger traps are needed for beaver than for muskrats. Disturbing dens, lodges and dams does not discourage beavers. They will repair the damage and cut more trees and shrubs to complete their job.
Groundhogs. Groundhogs, or woodchucks,are rodents that grow to be 16 to 20 inches long. They have fur that is a combination of brown, gray, and black hairs, front feet with long curved claws that are well adapted for digging, and a four to seven-inch long tail. Groundhogs can damage ponds by digging burrows into the banks and dam. Burrow openings and mounds of excavated soil can be dangerous to recreational users walking around the pond.Hunting can be a very effective means of control and groundhogs can be hunted yearround in Ohio except during deer gun season.
Another control method is the use of commercial gas cartridges. The gas cartridges are ignited and placed in the burrow after all burrow entrances have been sealed. The gasses produced are lethal to groundhogs. Cartridges are available from local farm supply stores.
Livetrapping Nuisance Animals. Muskrats, beaver and groundhogs can also be livetrapped as a means of control. The Division of Wildlife maintains a list of nuisance animal trappers who have special permits for trapping, removing, and relocating wild animals. Contact the nearest Division of Wildlife district office for a list of nuisance animal trappers and for more details on controlling wildlife-related pond problems.
Canada Geese. Waterfowl commonly use ponds as resting and breeding areas. Most pond owners enjoy seeing ducks and geese swimming across the water or resting at the water’s edge. A pair of Canada geese is often welcomed. However, if they raise young on the pond and their presence attracts additional geese to the site, their numbers can increase dramatically and cause problems.
Adult male geese defending nesting females can become aggressive toward humans. They have been known to strike humans with their wings and pinch with their beaks. The droppings from a family of geese will foul the pond and its banks, making it unpleasant for recreational users. Geese will move into adjacent crop fields, garden areas, and lawns to feed. Also, the honking of several disturbed geese can be annoying.
If a pond is isolated from the home site and infrequently used by residents, then the presence of Canada geese may not be a problem. But if geese are a problem, then the pond owner needs to take action. The best method of control is to prevent Canada geese from becoming established on the pond. Harass the geese from the moment they first land and be persistent. If they are allowed to initiate nesting activities then they will be more difficult to frighten away. Frequent loud noises and visual scare devices can be used to deter geese. However, the geese, their nests, and their eggs are legally protected and cannot be harmed.