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If your main priority is to help out endangered amphibians, you may want to leave out the fish. While it's certainly true that fish and frogs coexist in the wild, not all frogs actually reproduce in the presence of fish. Some species breed in what are called vernal ponds, which are spots that fill with water only in spring, where fish can't survive. "Many different species have evolved to breed in these tiny, ephemeral, fishless vernal ponds specifically to avoid that level of predation," says Mizejewski.
If you do have fish, provide plenty of hiding places, including plants. While the fish will probably end up eating some of the tadpoles, if the pond is large enough, some will survive.
There's not much risk of fish making wild amphibians sick, says Dr. Greg Lewbart of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, because they don't share a lot of diseases. "The good thing about fish is they tend to keep their problems to themselves," he says.
However, new fish can bring diseases to your existing fish, so Lewbart recommends you quarantine them in a separate location for a month before adding them to your pond. "It doesn't have to be pretty or fancy," he says; goldfish will be fine in a five-gallon bucket with an airstone and frequent water changes.
Your pond is also not likely to breed certain annoying carriers of human disease: "The research shows that bird baths and water gardens are not significant contributors to local mosquito populations," says Mizejewski.
In a pond with moving water and plants covering part of the surface, there's not much opportunity for mosquitoes to lay eggs. And you're actually better off not using chemicals to kill them, which are also bad for the wildlife that eats mosquito larvae. "If you're putting in chemicals, you might be eliminating the mosquitoes, but you're also keeping the natural checks and balances out as well," says Mizejewski. "And the mosquitoes are the ones that come back first."
Finally, protect the health of your pond in the same way you would any other pet: Before you purchase your fish, check to see if there are any local veterinarians who can treat them should they become ill.
Being wildlife-friendly means letting the wildlife come to you. Don't buy frogs and turtles for your pond, and never let your fish get into natural bodies of water. "This is how eastern bullfrogs got introduced to the west, where they are an invasive species," says Mizejewski. Released in people's water gardens, they're now eating some local amphibian species into extinction.
And don't go out catching creatures from the wild and bringing them home either. You can't be sure you have the habitat a particular species needs to survive, so let the animals decide. Mizejewski says, "The real message here is, if you build it they will come — if you do it right."
A note of precaution: Some wildlife that your pond may attract can carry parasites that can be passed to pets and people. Talk to your doctor and veterinarian for advice on how to help protect your family.
Read more Vetstreet articles featuring wildlife:
Help Endangered and Threatened Wildlife by Taking Action, Going Green
Wild and Exciting: Inside the Unconventional Lives of Wildlife Photographers
Two New Apps Provide Real-Time Wildlife Sightings at Yellowstone National Park
Why You Should Think Twice About Trying to Rescue Baby Wildlife
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