Habitat Feature: Sun Perches

Photo © Cheryl Rose @TNC

Ponds provide essential habitat to numerous species. Frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, turtles, dragonflies, damselflies, and other animals require a water body as a part of their lifecycle. A pond in a yard, or at a local park provides this critical habitat; adding a sun perch is a great way to amplify the positive impacts of this habitat feature. Below, we outline the how-tos and benefits of this simple, sunny addition.

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Photo © Jen Goellnitz

Most pond dwellers are ectotherms, commonly called cold-blooded animals. This means they do not create their own body heat and their body temperature varies considerably based on their environment. Ectotherms depend on an external source of warmth and the sun provides the easiest and most reliable heat source for many aquatic inhabitants. To access the sun’s rays, ponds need to have safe points for animals to easily climb out of the water and soak up some sun.

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Photo © Richard Barry

Rocks and logs are ideal sun perches. Rocks provide excellent traction for animals climbing out of the water. Submerging a few stepping-stone rocks below the main basking rocks will allow the animals to easily move between the water and the sunning perch. Vegetation growing around the rock outcroppings will increase the ecological value as some animals will nibble on these aquatic plants while sunning. The greenery also provides some concealment from potential predators. Animals should be able to slip quickly and easily back into the water if they happen to be disturbed, so place those rocks and logs appropriately.


Photo © Thomas Quine

Along with being a surface sunning spot, the submerged part of the rocks provide an underwater habitat for aquatic invertebrates, like this mayfly larvae, to hide, feed, and anchor. Aquatic invertebrates, like larval dragonflies and damselflies, provide an important ecological service by helping to minimize mosquito larvae populations. They also are an essential food source for larger animals living in and around your pond.

Getting a little early Spring sun.... turtle-style!

Photo © Bob Travis

Logs are another helpful sunning feature to have in your pond. Like with rocks, you’ll want to submerge a portion of the wood for easy access and underwater habitat. Many turtles, like this eastern painted turtle, will spend up to 12 hours a day sunning.

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Photo © hjl

Large pieces of dead trees, commonly referred to as snags, provide critical habitat for a large percentage of invertebrate biomass in moving bodies of water like streams and rivers. The thinner top branches of these submerged trees stick up above the surface of the water and provide sunning locations for aerial visitors like dragonflies, butterflies, bees, and birds.

frog on log

Photo © Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Hardwood logs, such as oak or maple, will last longer than softwoods. Cedar is the exception to this rule and will have a slower decomposition rate than most other soft evergreen wood. Make sure to anchor the log to the pond’s edge so it does not float to the center of the water. This can be done by attaching the log to a structure around the pond, weighing it down, or burying part of the wood into the bank.

Beautiful pond and water feature

Photo © Andrea_44

For many people, there is joy in watching a basking turtle, frog, or dragonfly enjoy our handy work. Adding rock and log perches to a water feature will provide more of these special moments. So pull up a chair, grab your favorite beverage, and enjoy the fruits of your sun-perch-making-labor.


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Photo ©

Add your pond to your map as a water habitat and specify in the characteristics section that it is a pond.

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Then, on top of the water add a rock, log, or snag object.

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You can specify that this is a sun perch in the title and tell us what kinds of animals use it. Or, better yet, upload some photos of animals basking their days away.