Difference Between Pond and Lake: Definition & Traits

Among the general public, the difference between a lake and pond might come down to size. However, scientifically speaking, the difference between a pond and lake involves depth. Explore the different traits a pond vs. lake have.

difference between pond and lake difference between pond and lake

Difference Between Pond and Lake

The difference between a pond and a lake is a bit muddy. Why? Because technically speaking, there really aren't definite distinctions between the two. Therefore, whether something is a lake or a pond might come down to naming conventions. However, freshwater scientists (limnologists) break them down into depth. Lakes have a deeper depth than ponds; therefore, lakes will have areas where the sun doesn’t hit the bottom. As a result, the plantlife and wildlife will differ. Explore other differences that can be found between a pond and a lake by looking at their definitions and traits.

What Is a Pond?

You might have a pond in your backyard. Or, is it a lake? To figure this out, you need to look at the definition of a pond. A pond is a body of water that is smaller. It also might be formed artificially, meaning a machine came in to dig out your pond. However, not all ponds are small. Some are relatively large in size. Additionally, some form naturally over time. How and why a pond came into existence is important, but not as important as the traits which make it a pond.

Traits of a Pond

Knowing whether you have a pond or a lake on your hands comes down to the specifics according to scientists. There are three criteria which make a body of water a pond.

  1. Sun can hit all parts of the pond. Since the sun is able to reach all the different portions, plants can grow within all parts of a pond making it a photic zone.
  2. The temperature is relatively uniform throughout the entirety of the pond. While some variations might occur, ponds typically have a uniform temperature throughout because the sun can go all the way to the bottom.
  3. Waves are smaller than one foot in height. You might not think of waves typically appearing on a pond but they can. As long as they are smaller than a foot, you are in a pond.

What Is a Lake?

Lakes might bring to mind luxurious days at the beach basking in the sun. You might also think of lakes as those water bodies surrounding Michigan known as the Great Lakes. Because of their size, many think of lakes as large bodies of water. However, a lake is actually just a body of water surrounded by land. It could be a man-made or naturally formed body of water. However, to be a true lake, it needs to have specific traits making it different from a pond.


Traits of a Lake

Not all lakes are large. While many might think of lakes as vast bodies of water, they can be relatively small as long as they meet specific requirements. What makes a lake comes down to a few specific criteria, many of which are the opposite of a pond.

  1. Lakes are deep. How deep? Well, lakes are so deep that sunlight can’t hit the bottom of them in some areas. This doesn’t mean that the whole lake is deep, but at its deepest point, there is no sun making it an aphotic zone. Therefore, a tiny water body with an aphotic zone is a lake.
  2. Lakes have waves. A lake's waves aren’t as vast as the ocean, but they do reach over 1 foot, making them pretty fun.
  3. Lakes also have temperature variations in the warm upper water and the deep lower water because the sun heats the warm upper water, but the lower water doesn’t get sunlight making it colder.

Pond vs. Lake vs. River vs. Wetland

Once you have a clear distinction between what makes a lake or a pond, it can be helpful to look at the difference between rivers and wetlands. While a lake or a pond is a standing body of water, a river is a moving body of water. Rivers have a current that flows from one area to another. Additionally, rivers might form lakes.

Wetlands, on the other hand, are areas where the water and land meet. It’s an area of land that is wet and full of vegetation. Many might call a wetland a swamp.

Knowing a Pond vs. Lake

The difference between a pond and lake comes down to a few factors. However, in many cases, the terms can be used interchangeably, making the distinction between the two hard. Now that you’ve explored ponds and lakes, you might want to look at examples of food chains.