Is that a fake reptile head in the BioPond?

Dear Benny:
I heard a rumor that the current caretaker of the BioPond is trying to remove the animals from the garden. Also, I saw a fake alligator head floating in the pond. Is it meant to scare off wildlife? Can you answer this for me?
—BioPond’s Best Friend Forever

Dear BioPond BFF,
Tracy Byford, who has managed the James G. Kaskey Memorial Garden, or BioPond, for more than two decades, says the plastic alligator head was placed in the Garden in an attempt to prevent ducks from destroying the pond’s plant life.

Byford says ever since Penn received a donation from the Kaskey family in 2000 to renovate the Garden, the plan has been to add plant life in the area to create a healthy pond.

However, Koi fish, which were added to the pond, and mallards, which fly in, have been eating the plants before they can take root.

The Koi can be kept at bay through a fencing system, but Byford says there isn’t much they can do to keep the ducks out. “You can’t physically trap the ducks and take them away,” she says. “And even if you did, you could take them 600 miles and they’d find their way back.”

Then there’s this not-so-pretty wildlife scenario: If the pond houses more than one female duck who hatches eggs, the first female to hatch will try to kill the ducklings of the second.

The BioPond staff has been researching non-harmful ways to dissuade the ducks from coming to the pond, including using the plastic alligator head. Until plant life begins to thrive, Byford says they’d like to discourage ducks from visiting.

“It’s not that we don’t like them, it’s just that they’re keeping us from getting plants established,” she says.

And besides, Byford says, the ducks are “not intimidated by the alligator head in the slightest.”

For more information on the BioPond, go to: www.bio.upenn.edu/ facilities/greenhouse/biopond.

Got a question for Benny? Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106.

Originally published on April 23, 2009