Facts About Lakes and Ponds

The distinction between a lake and a pond is not always clear and varies by region. Both lakes and ponds are characterized as standing or slow-moving bodies of water, and there are no scientific or official differences between the two. Some factors that can help in identification include size, depth, wave height, and temperature.


In general, ponds are typically smaller in size, shallow, capable of only small waves, and have a relatively uniform water temperature. For society, ponds provide many uses, including nutrient and sediment retention, livestock, fish, agricultural irrigation, wildlife production and protection, aesthetic appeal, and recreation. Performing pond management can help keep the pond healthy.

Ponds play many important roles in landscape and are often overlooked as sources of biodiversity and ecological habitats. Migrating birds and waterfowl rely on ponds for stopover spots, as well as a place to find food and rest. Insects and amphibians such as frogs, salamanders, and faerie shrimp spend their childhood stages in ponds. They, along with many other organisms that rely on pond habitats for breeding and to live at least part of their life cycle.


Lakes tend to be larger than ponds, have more depth, larger waves, and greater variation in water temperature. Lakes are deep enough that the water does not mix from top to bottom all year round but instead tend to stratify in the summer. Sunlight does not reach the bottom of lakes, meaning there is not rooted plant growth throughout. Generally speaking, lakes are a naturally occurring body of water, while ponds tend to be man-made features. 

In terms of ecology, lakes are similar to ponds in that numerous organisms call them home for at least part of their life cycle, and migrating birds and waterfowl seek rest and food from them during their travels. There may be a lack of rooted plant growth in the interior of the lake compared to ponds, but there is likely to be more along the shoreline. 

Ponds and lakes are different, but those differences are highly regional and dependent upon the presence of other water bodies in the area or lack thereof. What is considered a lake in an arid region may be little more than a small pond in areas where water is more plentiful. As is human nature, many choose to distinguish between the two by estimating the surface area. This can be accomplished by simply looking at a map, while other characteristics such as depth require multiple measurements taken from a boat.