Many people can explain what they personally feel the difference between a lake and a pond is. However, the defining differences between a lake and a pond can be vague.

Learning more about each can help you determine what term is proper to use for any particular body of water.

Ponds vs Lakes

Definition

There is no true definition for what makes a lake or a pond. Some areas have specific rules that define each, but those rules can vary across each state, county, or even town lines.

In some regions, everything is simply called a lake. In other regions, any body of water that’s ‘small’ is called a pond, but the term small is often undefined.

Still, other places or groups of people use other factors to tell the difference between a lake and a pond. Often, however, it comes down to whatever the body of water is called.

If the word pond is in the title, it’s a pond, but if the formal name uses lake, it’s considered to be a lake. There are also a few other ways you can distinguish between the two, though.

Ponds vs Lakes

Size

As mentioned above, there is no true size definition for a lake or pond. Simply put, ponds are thought of as small, while lakes are larger.

In general, however, most people define a pond as less than 200 acres in size. However, the Environmental Protection Agency defines ponds as any body of water that’s smaller than 10 acres.

Some areas even limit ponds to 5 acres in size.

To make matters even more confusing, many explorers originally called lakes anything that was over 8 hectares, or 20 acres, in size.

This rule was also heavily debated, however, with other people claiming that a lake should be at least 40 hectares or just shy of 100 acres in total size.

large lake
large pond surrounded by trees

Outlets

Some bodies of water are fed by creeks, streams, or rivers, and the lake or pond might drain into larger rivers, lakes, seas, or an ocean.

Many people feel that any body of water that has an outlet, whether it feeds the body of water or the water drains into it, is a lake.

If the body of water is fed by a natural spring or has no other outlet, it’s considered to be a pond.

river creek running through forest

Man-Made vs. Natural

Not all bodies of water are natural. Instead, some have been dug out of the earth to create a space that can be filled with water.

Still, others are created when dams are built and an area is flooded. Some people consider any man-made body of water, particularly smaller bodies of water, to be ponds.

These people feel that any natural body of water should be called a lake.

People who don’t adhere to this rule often call man-made bodies of water reservoirs, and the term reservoir is more common in some areas than others.

man made pond

Depth

Depth is another important factor when it comes to ponds versus lakes.

Like size, there’s no true definition for how deep a pond or lake should be, although most people agree that a pond should be between 4 and 20 feet deep, and a lake should be 20 feet or more in depth.

Many biologists, however, use a depth of about 9.5 feet. Any body of water 9.5 feet or less in depth is a pond, and any over that can be considered a lake.

The Environmental Protection Agency defines ponds as any body of water that’s smaller than 10 acres.

Plants

Many naturalists and biologists consider any body of water that has plants to be a pond. Plants only grow in relatively shallow water.

They need to be able to root to the bed of the body of water but still grow tall enough to get sunlight so they can photosynthesize.

If a body of water has plants growing throughout it, instead of only near the banks, it can often be considered a pond. If the plants only grow a few feet from shore, it’s probably a lake.

pond with plants

Temperature Stratification

Stratification is another defining pond versus lake factor that has to do with the depth of the body of water. In deep water, the water will have several layers that are at different temperatures.

The top, which gets the most sun, will be warm, and the temperature of the water will gradually decrease until the bottom strata, which is generally cold even in summer.

Most people feel that only lakes are deep enough to experience stratification. In a pond, the difference in temperature between the top and bottom water layers is minimal.

Temperature stratification only occurs in depths of 9.5 feet or more. This creates a more scientific definition of just how deep a lake or pond must be.

lake with mountains covered in snow

Waves

Not all lakes have waves or experience tides. However, if you notice small waves at the water’s edge, the body of water is probably too large to be considered a pond and should be called a lake instead.

waves in a lake

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