Pond Vs Lake – What’s the Difference?

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Today, I’m going to drop a bomb on you that would solve the greatest mystery of limnologists. Well, not limnologists, but many of the true freshwater enthusiasts. And that is, explaining the exact differences between a lake and a pond. 

Honestly and scientifically, there’s no apparent difference between a lake and a pond. A pond is a small lake, and a lake is a large pond. 

However, some limnologists have categorized ponds and lakes on the basis of surface area and depth, while others have completely denied these traditional hypotheses.

Therefore, the pond vs. lake debate has been around since the 1700s. But still, it’s an enigma.

Today, I will discuss various aspects and my experience with lakes and ponds to distinguish the two.

What is a Pond?

Ponds are small depressions of shallow water that are surrounded by land. Ponds are freshwater bodies that cannot be larger than twenty acres. Any water bodies that are larger than 20 acres will be considered lakes.

Ponds are further categorized into two types,

Permanent ponds

Permanent ponds are all year long. They hold water all year round and provide habitants for a variety of wildlife. If you built a koi pond, this would be an example of a permanent man made pond. You keep it permanent by keeping it running year round. Naturally, it would likely dry out – would would classify it into the other type of pond.

Ephemeral Ponds or Temporary Ponds

These ponds usually form when rain and snowmelt and fill the depression in the ground. The temporary ponds develop during spring and dry up in summers. Hence, a breeding ground for frogs and other amphibians.

There are many ponds that are man-made and constructed for commercial or home use. However, natural ponds form near a swamp, surrounded by land.

Whatever the case may be, ponds have a sensitive ecosystem that is adversely affected by human actions, such as dam constructor, pollution, habitat reduction, and addition of non-native plants and animals to the pond ecosystem.

What is a Lake?

Lake is an inland body of freshwater found in mountains, deserts, near seashores, and in almost every climate or environment.

The size and other dimensions of the lake vary in size, ranging from a few square meters to bigger ones called seas.

Did you know?

The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest lake, covering an area of more than 370,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles).

Not only in size, but lakes differ in their deepest point as well. From the world’s deepest, Lake Baikal, and the shallow lakes that could allow a person to wade across them, lakes vary in depth greatly.

Did you know?

Lake Titicaca is one of the deepest lakes that is around 3,810 meters (12,500 ft) above sea level. However, the Dead Sea remains the lowest lake, about more than 395 meters (1,300 ft) below sea level. 

Lakes can be open or closed. However, it has been observed that all freshwater lakes are open, allowing the water to leave by a river or other outlet. Closed lakes are proven to be salty, due to the presence of salts and other solids by the process of evaporation.

Like ponds, lakes can either be natural or man-made. 

The Importance of Water to Wildlife

Pond Or Lake?

Even though lakes do not receive sunlight enough to allow aquatic life to grow throughout, they provide homes to many birds and animals. The different types of fish grow and thrive in lakes. For example, Sturgeon, a fish that grows 6 meters and weighs around 680 kilograms is usually found in lakes.

Lakes are also breeding grounds for other animals, including bats, mink, turtles, alligators, and beavers.

Not just animals, different types of birds and fish are most commonly found in lakes.

What is the Difference Between the Two?

Like I mentioned earlier, size and depth are proven to be two relative properties that distinguish the two. However, there’s no set area to dictate the difference between lakes and ponds.

When I was in Russia, I had a healthy debate about lakes and ponds with my fellow hobbyists, to which they replied;

“Lake is natural water basin with slow water exchange and pond is shallow artificial water reservoir with an area of not more than 1km2.” It makes complete sense, but still highly questionable.

So, are there any differences between lakes and ponds? The answer is yes, though the line is slightly blurred.

A body of water with its own Microclimate

This is the most noticeable difference between lakes and ponds. The lakes have their own microclimate and they develop their own small waves in gusty conditions, preventing plants from growing right up to the water’s edge.

Contrastingly, ponds produce waves smaller than 12 inches in height.

Has a varied Water Temperature

Water in lakes has independent temperature layers, depending on the depth. However, a pond is a shallow enough body of water that is uniform in temperature throughout.

Size and Depth of Both Bodies of Water

The overall area and depth distinctions define the lakes and ponds. As a general rule of thumb, lakes are usually larger and much deeper than ponds.

In lakes, the sun rays can’t reach the bottom, whereas a pond is a body of water that is shallow enough to receive sun rays at the bottom.

The Presence of Vegetation

Since lakes (aphotic zone) are bodies of water that occupy a large surface area, sunlight doesn’t reach the floor, preventing aquatic plants from growing. According to some Limnologists, lakes allow rooted plants to grow around their edges only.

On the other hand, ponds (photic zone) are shallow bodies of water that allow natural weeds to take roots on the bottom and grow gracefully. As a result, rich vegetation and rooted plants thrive smoothly at the bottom of your ponds, and sometimes the surface.

Temperature During Summers

Lake Summertime

Temperatures in summers usually define the differences between ponds and lakes. In Limnology, if the water body is deep and laminate into three distinct layers, the water body is considered a lake. The three layers are stratified as;

  1. Warm layer on the top
  2. The cold layer at the ground
  3. A layer of varying temperature in between termed Thermocline.

However, during summers, if a standing water body has one or two weakly defined layers, it is considered a pond.

Effect on Environment

One factor that really sets pond and lake apart from each other is their individual effects on the surrounding environment.

Lakes affect the climate of their surrounding environment. However, ponds are affected by the surrounding ecosystem

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, even though, not scientifically proven, there is a fine line between a pond and a lake. Therefore, the name, lake, or pond is arbitrary and not based on scientific facts. In general, the following differences might help you distinguish between the two.

  1. In most cases, lakes are much deeper than ponds.
  2. Ponds produce smaller waves around 12 inches in height.
  3. Since lakes are deep standing bodies of water, sunlight doesn’t reach the ground which results in poor or no plantation.
  4. Unlike ponds, lakes host crocodiles, platypus, and other creatures.
  5. The temperature in ponds is relatively uniform than in lakes.


What makes lakes?

It all lies in the depth and how the sunlight reaches the bottom of the water body. The water temperatures of lakes range in layers. The lake floor is too deep to support plant life. Hence, as the pond gets deeper (until no sun rays reach the bottom), it becomes the lake.

Can you swim in the water?

One might think; water bodies, as shallow as ponds might be safe to swim in. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swimming in a pond might result in serious illness, especially in children, elders, and people with the weak immune system.

At what point does a pond become a lake?

Charles Elton was one of the most prominent founders of ecology who stated that lakes are the water bodies of 40 hectares (99 acres) or more. Therefore, a pond has to be 40 hectares to become a lake.

How big can it get?

There is no maximum or minimum size of a pond. Theoretically, a pond remains a pond until the sunlight reaches its bottom (photic zone). However, according to Wikipedia, the international Ramsar wetland convention sets the upper limit for pond size as 8 hectares (20 acres).

Final Thoughts

The differences between a pond and a lake are not drastic but important. Therefore, it’s best to educate yourself before going into the aquatic business.

One fascinating thing about lakes is that they can turn into ponds, marshes, swamps, or worse, dry grounds, if not properly taken care of. 

Hence, whatever you have, maintain its health and take care of the ecosystem to keep it thriving and healthy.

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