In light of recent weather, the Canadian classic of pond hockey has made a comeback in my spare hours. Between two farm property ponds here in NOTL, I’ve been blessed to lace up and skate with my family, friends, and girlfriend in extraordinary outdoor settings these days.
Just like most normal activities in life, I found my mind wandering as to what biodiversity was surrounding me in this moment. A Leafs jersey, a Bruins jersey (we all know the outcome of these two getting together!), and a load of lifeforms beneath the ice.
“Imagine all of the biodiversity we’re skating over right now,” I pondered.
Some of us have awesome backyard rinks with wooden boards, where water is imported from somewhere else to make a sleek rink. Others have access to ponds, or the knowledge of other natural water features which provide solid skating opportunities as well.
While skates, boots, and pucks traverse across the ice, a pause is required to consider what living things may lurk on the underside of the face-off circle.
Let’s consider the species which may frequent a typical rural Niagara-on-the-Lake pond. They’re probably out there right now, even as you read this in the middle of a wintery cold snap.
While my brother and I are shoving each other around in the corner of the rink, perhaps a snapping turtle lies beneath our skates. We won’t see Ontario’s largest freshwater turtle until May, most likely, and that’s because they are all hunkered down in the warm, insulating mud of the pond’s bottom. One may even rest on top of the mud mat without moving for weeks, and what’s more, is that that these reptiles have been witnessed swimming under the ice in the dead of winter. Their metabolism drops severely, and their heart rate of one beat per 10 minutes keeps the turtle alive enough.
I’m sure all of us skating on the pond would feel cold just thinking about plunging through. How do animals survive in cold water and mud, and who would ever choose to go there? Many species know about the pleasant zero to four degrees celsius water which exists all winter long, so they have evolved to appreciate its stability during winters where it may be -15 above the ground.
Imagine the amphibian variety living beneath the hockey game. Bullfrogs, green frogs, and leopard frogs are the most likely residents in your NOTL backyard farm pond.
When the pond turns into a skating rink, we glide across the ice and make passing plays. My dad and I find ourselves taking a breather in the lawn chairs, placed in an icy corner of the natural arena. With the ice sheet as strong as steel, it makes you wonder how frogs would come up to get oxygen. Being trapped beneath ice sounds like a human nightmare.
Frogs get around this problem by absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide through their skin. Like the snapping turtle, their heart rate drops to minimal levels, but they don’t move around nearly as much, if at all, while they are entombed by the icy world above them. Both the turtle and the frog wait for spring’s longer and sunnier days to resume another half year of breeding and feeding.
Unless a blue heron drops off an unexpected visitor from the sky, big rural ponds around here are likely limited to green sunfish, smallmouth bass, or the familiar and introduced goldfish. With antifreeze proteins in their blood, they continue to swim around beneath the ice, unabated by the change of season. It’s bizarre to be on a breakaway, and think about fish swimming beneath your skates and your stick-handling.
While we thank cold temperatures and old friends for visiting the pond, we might be missing out on appreciation for the dragonfly larvae in limbo under the ice, resembling an alien action figure more than a beautiful adult dragonfly, but it is lying dormant until it can move around to feast on mosquito larvae in the spring. That’s right. Dragonflies will take on mosquitoes by our backyard pond as adults, but the mosquito control begins well before their familiar adult lives.
The green algae waits to spread itself out in the sun again. Millions of bacteria are sleeping, ready to begin decomposition once the pond even remotely resembles a hint of spring. The aquatic plants lazily float in the underwater realm, or they conform with the ice in an untranslatable hardiness. I pull off my best Connor McDavid impersonation, only to shoot the puck wide and into a shallow, melted pool in the corner. I peer in to get the puck, and yet again, I see something interesting.
There is life and biodiversity in every corner of the world, and every corner of every outdoor rink.