Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory - Conservatory - Life Among the Butterflies

The Conservatory: A Photographer's Dream


"Can I take pictures inside the Conservatory?"


YES - absolutely yes! Some of the best photos we’ve ever seen have been taken by our guests inside the Conservatory. Thanks to Instagram and Facebook, we’ve been able to connect with some very talented people and are honoured to share their work. They’ve been kind enough to tell us a bit about their experience taking photos in the Conservatory, as well as share some tips and tricks for other photographers.


Check it out!

Seth Macey



"Shooting in there was amazing. If you’re shooting people or models, definitely have them wear colours that contrast the different shades of green in there. For example the person I took a few shots of was wearing a red sweater. I would say also to use the foliage as a way of framing subjects, like the waterfall. Lastly, use the butterflies to your advantage and have patience! I took a portrait headshot of the person I was with there and had her stand with her head wrapped around some leaves and we just waited until a butterfly landed in the perfect spot. Patience is key there if you want to get shots involving the butterflies."


Meagan Smart



"Shooting in the conservatory is such a peaceful and amazing experience. It is such a vibrant atmosphere that just radiates happiness. I love being able to see all different kinds of butterflies and capture them in their habitat. Patience is key when it comes to any photography, but especially butterflies as they are so active when the sun is shining. A tip would be to take as many pictures as you can, some of them will turn out how you want them to and have a lot of patience. They are almost never still, so when they are jump on that opportunity and take multiple pictures in case that butterfly never sits down again. The best time to go is when the sun is shining outside as they are much more active. I love being able to go to the conservatory on my weekends off."

Alyssa Couroux



"My experience shooting in the conservatory was great - it wasn't too busy, and the rice paper butterflies loved my vanilla perfume so they stayed on me, or close by. If I had any tips it would be to utilize a mono pod, which is a tripod but with one leg so it's allowed in the conservatory. It really helped me gain height so I could shoot butterflies face on while keeping the camera still for better focus and sharpness. I keep my flash off-and use natural light, I find this keeps the photos looking more natural. In terms of the actual photograph - I try to focus on the background. The colours and way they blend when blurred makes a huge difference in how the shot will turn out. My favourite is the monarch one because of those gorgeous deep green colours in the background blur."

Please note:

We don't allow the use of tripods during our normal business hours. For this reason, Amateur Photography Groups may wish to reserve time either before we open or after we close to take photos in the Conservatory. Click here for more information.


Professional photography (family photos, engagement photos, etc.) must be booked outside of our normal business hours. Click here for more information.

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Hort Report - May 2018



To Till or Not to Till – Disturbing the World Wide Web

As gardeners prepare the plot of land destined to support vegetables over the next few months or so, there is some controversy as to whether to till the soil. There are two trains of thought as to the proper gardening method. Here are some issues to consider.

To Till


  1. Tilling helps aerate the soil which helps moisture penetrate the roots and helps soil become more friable, making it easier to weed.
  2. Tilling eliminates weeds that have established themselves over winter.
  3. Compost and manure can be added at this time and dug into the soil as organic fertilizer for the crops.
  4. The soil surface looks groomed and manicured.


  1. Erosion is more likely to take place in disturbed soil.
  2. Disturbed soil is a breeding ground for weed germination.
  3. Disturbed soil also discourages colonization of beneficial micro-organisms such as plant-eating nematodes, beetles and earthworms from establishing themselves in the soil.



  1. Maintaining intact soil allows moist, humus soil to become the perfect environment for earthworm habitat.
  2. The undisturbed soil encourages populations of beneficial fungi that provide plant roots with nutrients and, in turn, procure nutrients from their roots.
  3. Worms, ants and micro-organisms aerate the soil.
  4. The excretions of these colonies of micro-organisms add natural fertilizer to the soil.
  5. The thick layer of natural mulch helps prevent rapid water evaporation, giving the plants more of an opportunity to absorb moisture.
  6. The increase of plant growth hormones increases the yield of your vegetable garden.
  7. Increases defense against insect pests.
  8. No-till gardening sequesters CO2. Plants absorb the carbon from the air and it is stored as part of the root/soil structure while releasing oxygen.
  9. The best overall benefit - no sore backs!


  1. Selective hand weeding with a digging fork may be necessary but is a gentle disturbance compared to tilling; there will be less weeds with every passing year.
  2. The garden doesn’t have a groomed appearance and looks less tidy.

Mother Nature has been maintaining forests, meadows and various landscapes since the beginning of time without any interference or help from humans. In their pre-occupation with aesthetics, humans remove the spent foliage from the garden, place them in a compost pile only to return the finished compost to the very garden in which it came.

The process of decomposition occurs naturally without help from humans. Mother Nature performs this process in layers: in the autumn with a layer of spent foliage and fallen leaves, and then in the winter with a blanket of snow. These layers insulate plants and soil by protecting them from the freeze/thaw that can damage roots. The snow also helps break down the layer of carbon.

The micro-organism machine continues the decomposition process. There is a symbiotic relationship between the soil and its microorganism inhabitants. In undisturbed soil, a naturally occurring fungus called Mycorrhizae Fungi threads its way through the soil, colonizing plant roots. It derives carbohydrates delivered through plant roots and, in turn, helps nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, to become more bioavailable to plants. It also connects plants in an underground network enabling them to communicate with each other, helping to initiate host defense against pathogens and diseases. Many plants can survive without this network of fungal threads, however, they will thrive growing in a myccorhizal environment. Some of the most important species have essential underground tasks, so keep them in mind when planting.

Happy gardening!

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Hort Report - April 2018

Hort Report - April 2018


5 Tips for Seed Starting

As we wait for nature’s palette to reveal itself from under the frozen ground, we can create our own palette by starting seeds indoors.  The seed catalogues are full of magnificent colours of thriving, healthy plants but sometimes the hope that we carefully nurture in the cell packs never comes to fruition.  While reading the instructions on the seed packet is very helpful, here are some other tips to help ensure that your seedlings will mature into healthy specimens and reward you with a season of colour:

  1. Soil: Using a good quality seed-starting mixture is the perfect beginning to ensuring a successful project. Use warm water to moisten the soil, not only to hasten germination but also to soothe your gardener’s soul and loosen winter’s icy grip.
  1. Seed Depth: Ensure that you’re planting the seeds at the proper depth. If there are no instructions as to the seed depth, the general rule is to plant the seed three times as deep as the diameter of the seed. Many seeds require light in order to germinate, in which case simply press the seed into the soil surface and mist them daily to prevent them from drying out.
  1. Prevent Damping Off: Many new gardeners trying their hand at sowing seeds indoors are devastated to find that their nurtured seedlings are laying collapsed on the soil surface. This is generally caused by “Damping Off”, a fungal disease that prefers cool, dimly lit and wet conditions.  Although there is no cure, there are measures that we can take to inhibit its growth: 
    1. Set a fan on low speed to maintain air movement.
    2. Place a germination mat under the seedling tray to help to maintain soil temperature.
    3. Improve lighting by making sure that your seedling tray is set in a sunny window or use grow lights.
  1. Sufficient Lighting: Many seedlings tend to look rather leggy as they reach for the light. Moving the seed tray to a sunnier window will help prevent this, however, you can use full spectrum fluorescent grow lights on a timer to provide good quality light and more daylight hours to encourage plant growth and flowering.  Pinch the plant tops back using your finger tips or snips in order to encourage bushier growth.  Be sure to maintain a two-inch gap between the lights and the seedlings and adjust them as they mature.
  1. Hardening Off: This is an important step towards realizing your spring dreams. Approximately one week before the last frost is expected, begin exposing the plants to the outdoors in order to help acclimatize them to their permanent home.  This transition avoids the shock that sometimes takes place with seedlings that have grown accustomed to being coddled throughout their lifespan.  Initially, place them in a shady area protected from harsh wind where they will eventually adapt to fluctuating temperatures, rain, and gentle breezes. Throughout the week, gradually move them from solid shade to a filtered shade and then on to full sun.  Be sure to bring them inside daily, incrementally increasing their outdoor time.

Once planted, you can enjoy the fruits of your labour as will all of the busy pollinators and wildlife.  If a frost warning is forecasted, simply lay sheets of newspaper over your plants.  Spray them with a fine mist of water to help keep the breeze from moving them.  In the morning, remove the newspapers and the plants that you nurtured carefully over the last two months will have safely endured one of nature’s first threats of the season. 

Happy gardening!


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Hort Report - February 2018


Shinrin-Yoku: the therapeutic practice of ‘forest bathing’

Shinrin-Yoku, the practice of ‘forest bathing’, has roots in many cultures, but it was first identified and recognized as a form of therapeutic healing by the Japanese. In 1982, forest bathing was introduced as a Japanese public health program recognizing a true, meaningful appreciation of nature and its role in humanity.

It may seem like forest bathing is only reserved for warmer seasons, but even in winter a walk through the forest can be a therapeutic practice. Consider taking a meditative stroll through the sun-dappled woods or following a tranquil path that winds around trickling creeks, bogs, and the protective canopy of swaying, towering trees. While slowly meandering along a carpet of freshly fallen snow, brush past the foliage of an aromatic Cedar and breathe in the cool, crisp air. Sense the insulation of protective evergreens shielding you from the elements. Inhale, pausing in a moment of mindfulness, and fill your lungs with the fresh, clean forest scent. Slowly exhale. Spend a few minutes repeating these actions while appreciating the peaceful solitude. You will notice that your mood is improving and your stress is melting away.

Forests consist of a vast community of living things that communicate with each other, play a vital role in our ecosystem, regulate climate, provide a habitat for innumerable species and serve as the lungs of the Earth. What we have learned is that it is also a source of therapy. Forests and woodlots that have been banished to the perimeters of our towns and cities to pave way for a booming human population are now becoming a destination – nature’s rejuvenating health centre.

Forest bathing has many therapeutic benefits: it stimulates immune activity, reduces blood pressure, lowers your heart rate, and can result in a healthy, restful sleep. The therapeutic effects are partially attributed to the organic compounds released by plants, which help to regulate immune response, leading to significant health benefits for humans.

So, with the new year upon us, as we take a step to a new, healthier lifestyle consider taking that step – into a forest.


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Favourite Storytime Books


Our Top Fave Storytime Books

When we introduced weekday Storytime two years ago, it was an instant hit with kids and parents alike! On a quiet weekday morning you can come for a stroll amongst the butterflies, stay for storytime and then still be home for lunch. It's a great way to spend the morning with your young ones.


We like to feature stories that are both engaging and educational, particularly about insects and animals in nature. Over the years we've read dozens of storybooks, from Eric Carle to Lois Ehlert to Dr. Seuss.


There are so many good ones out there, but there are some great ones that we keep returning to because they're our favourites!


Here's our list of top faves, in case you'd like to search them out and read them with your young ones at home or share them in the classroom. Many of these are easy to find for sale, including in our Gift Store!


"Hey Little Ant!" by Phillip & Hannah Hoose

hey little ant book

This is a fun, rhyming story that is fine for younger kids but the topic may be better suited for older children. It explores the concept of size (a human vs an ant) and challenges the reader to think of life from the perspective of an ant. It also touches on the issue of peer pressure, as children can often feel that it's "cool" to squish ants. The story ends with an open ending, in that the reader can discuss with the audience what they think will happen next, or what they would do if if they were in the story.
"What the Ladybug Heard" by Julia Donaldson
what the ladybug heard book Another rhyming story that gets the kids involved making various farm animal noises! It teaches your young ones the common animal noises (ducks that quack, dogs that woof), and makes it more interactive for the audience. And the ladybug is the animal that saves the day on the farm - what's more fun than that? It can also introduce the idea that sometimes it's better to be quiet instead of noisy, because you may be the one who ends up overhearing an evil plot and saving the day...
"The Bugliest Bug" by Carol Diggory Shields
the bugliest bug book This story may be a little longer, but it's rhyming text is just so much fun! All the bugs get together for a talent show to display what they do best (praying mantids pray, and crickets sing). But there's some mischief afoot when the judges don't turn out to be who they said they were...We won't spoil the ending, but let's just say that this book also introduces the difference between insects and spiders in a fun way.
"Bob & Otto" by Robert O Bruel
bob otto book We like this story because it celebrates how all animals are beautiful and have their place. It's the story of a butterfly caterpillar and an earthworm, who are friends growing up but then life changes seem to separate them. The earthworm starts to feel inadequate and boring, but the butterfly helps him realize that they both need each other for things to be the way they are. It's also a great story to discuss the differences between worms and insects.
"The Very Lazy Ladybird" by Isobel Finn & Jack Tickle
very lazy ladybug book Ladybugs are also called ladybird beetles! This story follows the journeys of a lazy ladybird who doesn't want to fly. It meets up with a lot of other animals (like crocodiles and elephants), and again, this story is a great interactive one. Kids get to follow along with making animal noises and actions. Stories that get the kids involved are always the best!


Be sure to join us Tuesdays - Fridays for February, and Monday - Friday in March** & April at 11 am for a few good stories and a creature feature with one of our bugs!


**Storytime will not be offered during March break. For more information and dates, please check here

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Hort Report - November 2017


Moods of the Conservatory

Written by Luci White, Horticulturist


Over 10,000 sq. ft. of lush tropical gardens are available to tens of thousands of eager visitors every year. The Conservatory can be an exciting place, and as the Horticulturist I have been fortunate enough to observe its various moods as it evolves throughout the day.


As I enter the Conservatory in the pre-dawn hours, contrary to the expected silence, I am heralded by a chorus of crickets celebrating their nocturnal activities. The glass roof allows me a secluded view of the moon and stars reflecting on the pond and lighting up the foliage and pathways like a secret garden.


I turn on the main lights and I spot our Green-cheeked Conure, Cheecho, snuggled in his furry bed, waking from his peaceful slumber and peeking up at me. As I prepare his meal, he climbs onto the perch and paces, anxiously waiting for breakfast to be served. The Owl butterflies wake and begin to flit about, engaging in synchronized aerial acrobatics. The pond inhabitants begin to circle excitedly anticipating their morning meal.


As dawn breaks, I make my rounds up and down the pathways to see which areas require attention, but I am never alone. The curious Chinese Painted Quails are perpetually investigating my work areas, always in pairs, pecking and rooting under foliage. The canary perches nearby and serenades me with her melodious morning song. The doves coo and land nearby to remind me that it’s their breakfast time as well.


It’s so rewarding to see the plants’ response to the warm and humid atmosphere. Happy vines opportunistically wind their way off the trellis into tree branches and up walls. Tree canopies reach for the sun, snuggled up to the glass roof; tropical shrub foliage spill over the pathways.


As the warming sun starts to peak over the roof, hundreds of butterflies take flight and soar through the foliage, taking advantage of the nectar flow in each bloom. A thunderous waterfall curtain signals the arrival of visitors, and the Conservatory is alive with squeals of gleeful children and happy families. Toddlers look up in amazement as they enter this dream-like wonderland. Little fingers point to the soaring butterflies and pudgy hands are held out palms up as they proceed slowly in a seemingly hypnotic trance in the hopes of one landing in that special place. Sunbathing turtles are the star of the pond in every child’s eyes.


During December and January, as snowflakes softly fall outdoors, the Flight of White event treats visitors to a warm, magical, fairy land with little white mini-lights adorning the tropical foliage, white Poinsettias accenting the landscape and soothing classical music permeating the air. This is a Conservatory mood that lifts spirits, sparks a smile and everyone can share! Hope to see you there!



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Creepy or Cute?



"Eeww, that bug's creepy!"


What does it mean to be creepy? The meaning of the word refers to that skin-crawling sensation when something strange happens or weirds us out. There are many things that can be creepy to a person, and bugs are probably one of the top groups of animals that rate as being creepy.


But something that creeps out one person may be fascinating to another. And what may be labelled as gross by some, may be seen as cute by others. Often when you learn more about an animal and begin to understand it a bit better, it can lose the creepy factor - and even if you don't come to love it, at least you may not be creeped out as much by it.


We'd like to introduce you to some of our favourite "creepy crawlies" that live at the Conservatory. They may be creepy to you, but we challenge you to think of them as cute! Which of these would you label as creepy or cute?



 domino roaches 435x225Domino Roaches:

It's safe to bet that most people would certainly label roaches as creepy! But since these unique Domino roaches have been on display here at the Conservatory, we've been hearing people describe them as "pretty" and "cute."


These small, round roaches are aptly named for their bold pattern of black and white. They can look pretty cute as they constantly scurry around exploring their surroundings. What do you think: creepy or cute?




young thorny devil stick bug nymph435x225Baby Stick Bugs:

Perhaps when you've come to visit, you've met our famous Stacey the Stick Bug or Jenny the Jungle Nymph. These are two species of stick insects we raise here regularly, and every generation, the baby stick bugs hatch from tiny seed-like eggs.


These baby stick bugs (called nymphs) remind us a lot of baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. We think their gentleness combined with their amazing camouflage makes them cute. Do you?


giant land snails eggs to adults 435x225Snails:

These are not your average garden snails! We display Giant African Land snails in our Conservatory, which are one of the largest land snails on the planet. Their shell can reach 20 cm (almost 8 inches) in diameter!


Our population is still growing, as they hatched form their grape-sized egg several years ago. These snails are very long-lived, often living up to 10 - 15 years. Snails can be slimy, but we don't hold that against them - they can be pretty cute as they slooooowly come out of their shell to eat their salad for lunch.


baby whip scorpions 435x225Baby Whip Scorpions: Despite their name, these are scorpions that don't sting. Whip scorpions are close relatives to spiders and true scorpions, but they lack a stinger and they don't have pincers. These arachnids live in the desert of southwest USA, as well as many tropical areas of the world.


They can look ferocious, but are in fact quite harmless. The "whip" part of the name can refer to either their long pair of front legs, or their "tail" (called a flagellum) from which they can spray acetic acid. Adults can live for 12 - 14 years, and babies such as these may take up to 10 before they reach adult size. When young, their mandibles are even bright red! Cute or what??

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The Hort Report - October 2017


Autumn on Fire!

This time of year we always wish that we had planted more of those striking foliage plants with fall foliage colour. Autumn drives become a spectacular treat as forests of Sugar Maple are set ablaze against a backdrop of feathery yellow Larch and a carpet of glowing Goldenrod – all initiated primarily by shorter daylight hours.


The process of abscission (where leaves no longer need to make nutrients therefore the roots no longer provide the the leaves with minerals) results in the break down of chlorophyll (green pigment) leaving only xanthophylls (yellow pigment) and carotenoids (orange pigment) in all their glory for all to enjoy. Anthocyanins produce the striking purple and red pigment that takes our breath away. As cells become weaker, the foliage that once provided nourishment to all of the trees, shrubs and plants all season long is released to dance in the wind and blanket green lawns. Eventually, the only pigment that remains are the tannins leaving the foliage a crispy brown soon to be covered by a clean blanket of snow.


Now is the time to compile the wish list for next year, so that when we storm the garden centres next Victoria Day weekend, we arrive armed with our Autumn inspiration.



  • Natives like Sugar Maple, Red Maple and Sumac are proud show stoppers of fiery canopies; the Larch’s enchanting feathery, yellow foliage towers throughout the open woodlands; Birch trees develop yellow heads topping their snow-white papery bark trunks; Aspen accent the landscape with yellow halos; Serviceberry turns a brilliant red and orange; Witch Hazel’s golden hue bears decorative red margins.
  • Gingko’s golden foliage fans wave and glow in the sunlight.


  • Natives like Viburnum, an outstanding fall specimen with ornamental clusters of red berries that the birds enjoy; falling leaves reveal the Red Twig Dogwood’s striking red stalks which are the perfect accent for the perennial garden.
  • Burning Bush, so aptly named for its brilliant red foliage
  • Smokebush provides the entire fall spectrum of plum purples to orange accents
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea boasts a kaleidoscope of brilliant shades of plum, red and orange


  • Vines: Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper both deliver a powerful punch of firey red foliage

So, don’t mourn the end of the growing season. Take advantage of this winter season to rest, peruse through garden catalogues and plan garden interest for all of the coming seasons – especially the Fall.


Photo Credit: Mike White

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The Hort Report - September Edition

The Hort Report - September Edition

Photo Credit: Mike White

Bulbs and Corms and Tubers – Oh My!

Bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes are buried treasures that burst open in the Spring displaying floriferous bouquets of colour to welcome the season. Crocuses celebrate the melting snow, trumpeting daffodils hail the sunshine, and tulips cheerfully rejoice the arrival of warmer days. No doubt you’ve received your favourite bulb catalogue in the mail by now and are gleefully perusing through the pages, checking off your favourites. Let us help you with your choices!


Tulips, Daffodils and Lilies are a rounded modified stem with fleshy layers storing nutrients for the impending growth season. The bulb is shaped to a point similar to a tear drop and wrapped in a papery tunic (except for Lilies) with a basal root plate that anchors the plant snugly in their home.

Pollinator magnets:

  • Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) are one of the earliest blooming bulbs known to flower before the vernal equinox, poking their little heads up above the melting snow; they are a honeybee favourite!
  • Striking vivid blue Iris reticulata heads follow close behind; another honeybee favourite!
  • Gigantic Allium balls serve as nectar lollipops; a favourite of most pollinators.


Gladioli and Crocuses have a round modified stem that usually looks like a little mini-pumpkin which stores food; corms do not develop layers of growth rings like bulbs do. The towering spires of Gladioli are available in a myriad of colours but are not hardy - they can be lifted and stored indoors for the winter. Hummingbirds are attracted to the vertical buffet of flowers. Colourful heads of Crocuses will burst through the soil in late March to early April and provide many pollinators, especially honeybees and bumble bees, with an ample load of life-sustaining pollen and nectar.


Tubers like Begonia, Cyclamen, and Potato, have a modified stem with several growth points called “eyes” without a tunic or basal plate. The nodes do not bear roots like rhizomes do. Tip: planting them on their side takes away the guess-work as to which is the top of the tuber!


Canna, Lily of the Valley, and Bearded Iris are horizontal stems of modified storage organs from which vertical above-ground growth takes place similar to ginger root. Nodes do bear adventitious roots. Perennial bouquets of Iris blooms are capable of producing a kaleidoscope of colour in early summer; they require lots of garden real estate as they multiply by producing more rhizomes so be sure to divide them every few years.


Check off your favourites in the bulb catalogue today and plant your little gifts before the ground freezes. The delicate treasures that cannot survive the toils of winter such as Cannas, Dahlias and Gladioli can be stored indoors until the ground is warm enough for planting. Alternatively, in early Spring you can get a head start by planting them indoors in pots and placing them in a sunny window allowing them time to establish a root system and peak their heads up through the soil in their search for Spring! Happy shopping!


Have questions about planning your spring garden? Email us at Enjoy!

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Monarch Population Status Update


It has been a banner summer for the Monarch butterfly!


We've been getting a lot of feedback from butterfly enthusiasts across southern Ontario who are all reporting seeing more Monarchs than last year. Certainly we have also observed more butterflies and caterpillars on our milkweed than the last two years combined, which is great considering the delayed spring made for a rather slow start for Monarchs this year.


The annual migration will be starting very soon, if it isn't already slowly taking place. There are still caterpillars and chrysalides out there on wild milkweed, so don't be surprised if you see adult Monarch butterflies right until the end of September. Over the next few weeks, adult Monarchs will begin a 4000-5000 km one-way journey to the Transvolcanic Mountain range in Mexico where they will overwinter.


While it seems like there's been an increase in their numbers this summer, it's still important to remember that the Monarch population has experienced a huge decrease over the last 15-20 years. It is still currently listed as a species of Special Concern on the Species at Risk (SAR) list, although it has been recommended by the COSEWIC committee to be listed as endangered.


Because of citizen science projects like the tagging program through MonarchWatch, we are able to have information and gather data on the Monarch population. Tagging adult Monarchs before they begin their migration is one of the best ways to help scientists monitor population dynamics.


Don't know what tagging a Monarch looks like? Watch our video below and come out to our annual event, Monarch Tagging Weekend! Learn more about the amazing story of the monarch butterfly, their migration, and how you can help.


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The Hort Report - August Edition

The Hort Report - August Edition

Photo Credit: Mike White

The Ecosystem of a Garden

By now your garden should be alive with pollinators – both winged and terrestrial critters. You’ve probably noticed many plant pests lurking around your lush foliage and feasting on your floriferous buffet and you’re scheming and plotting their demise. Hoards of aphids are sucking the life out of your Cup Plants and Roses. Who you gonna call? Bug Busters!


Gardens are ecosystems full of a variety of plants and animals that all serve a specific purpose and rely on each other in order to stay alive. A monoculture of arching Ash trees used to line many roadways but this lack of diversity made them vulnerable to plant pests who didn’t have far to wander in order to find their targets and had very few predators. Previously, it was Elm trees that were almost eradicated. Luckily, landscape planners are becoming more conscientious about planting a diverse population of trees in order to help maintain nature’s balance.


So - before you bring out the heavy artillery, look carefully at your plants, because predators may have the pests already in their cross hairs!

  • The pollen of Linden trees, Goldenrod and Marigolds will attract adult Soldier Beetles (closely related to Fireflies) which are not only a valuable pollinator but at the larval stage can clear out an infestation of aphids and other soft-bodied insects in no time!
  • By their 4th week of life, Ladybug larvae will have chowed down on at least 5,000 aphids, scale insects and plant mites making them, not only valiant warriors, but also prime candidates for competition eating.
  • Don’t be too pristine about tidying up your gardens because a garden of mulch and rocks provides the perfect terrain for Ground Beetles involved in a ground force attack on cut worms, slugs, snails and Colorado Potato Beetles.
  • Lacewings are opportunistic and will strategically lay eggs near unsuspecting aphid or whitefly colonies. During their 15 – 20 day lifespan, the larvae (a.k.a. aphid lions) obliterate their prey with non-stop pincer-like jaws.

However, all of these efforts can be thwarted by the army of ants, that deliberately farm aphids, scale and mealy bugs, taking advantage of their honeydew, and will not only defend them from predators but will move them to new targets.

This calls for the Special Ops team:

  • Spiders contrive intricate webs as ants stumble into their woven prisons. Water spiders also keep mosquito larvae in check.
  • Birds serve the airbourne operations, setting their target and swooping in from the skies.
  • Frogs are snipers, lying in wait, lashing out their whip-like tongue retrieving the enemy with a skill, precision and speed 5 times faster than you can blink an eye.

While the battleground metaphors are cheeky, it’s a battle that isn’t meant to be won completely by either side. Mother Nature is the commander of both and balance is the goal. The more plant diversity, the more diverse the wildlife, and the healthier your garden!


Have questions about pest control in your pollinator garden? Email us at Enjoy!

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Fun in the Arizona Desert!


Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference 2017 - Tuscon Arizona

We might be biased, but we think entomologists or "bug geeks" are some of the friendliest and most fun people to hang out with. Similar to any kind of hobby club, when you get together with a group of like-minded individuals who are all passionate about the same things you are, it makes for a great time!


Last week, our Executive Director, Adrienne, and our Naturalist, Andalyne, spent 5 days in Tucson, Arizona at the Invertebrates in Education & Conservation Conference (IECC). This is an annual convening of folks from all over the world (although primarily North America) who work with insects and arthropods. Participants include representatives from butterfly conservatories, insectariums, zoos, and universities.


Over the five-day conference, attendees could participate in workshops, presentations, and field trips. Here's a glimpse into what it's like hanging out with fellow bug geeks at the IECC conference.


Day 1: Tuesday


Tuesday they arrived in Tucson where it was hot and rainy because it is still the monsoon season there, which means risks of flash floods but lots of insect diversity! That night they heard from keynote speaker Clay Bolt about his video project working with the endangered Rusty-Patched Bumblebee.


Day 2: Wednesday


Wednesday was the first day of field trips! Andalyne and Adrienne travelled to a nearby canyon up in the Catalina mountains to explore a desert hillside with oaks and cacti. After 4 hours, they had turned up: scorpions, blue fungus beetles, beautiful butterflies, a walking stick, and even a praying mantis. There were also some ants - Andalyne got stung by a harvester ant, one of the most venomous of all North American stinging insects. It was pretty painful, but at least now she has bragging rights!


That evening was the first night of blacklighting, which is an all-time favourite thing to do: you put up a UV blacklight behind a big white sheet and you sit back and watch moths and other awesome night-flying insects come in! It's also a great social activity, where attendees get to meet each other and talk. The light attracted a wide variety of insects including sphinx moths, jewel scarabs and owlflies.


Day 3: Thursday


Another favourite part of the conference is the presentations, which started Thursday and ran through Saturday. Andalyne and Adrienne heard from 24 different presenters sharing information on topics like how to raise rhinoceros beetles, captive rearing of threatened butterflies like the Quino Checkerspot butterfly, and educating youth with special needs about bugs.

Thursday was also another field trip up into the Madera canyon, which is a hotspot for insects. They stayed out past dark to put up blacklights to draw in moths, beetles and more but unfortunately the outing was cut short - some thunderstorms rolled in over the mountains and they had to get out before there was flash flood!


Day 4: Friday


Friday morning was the second day of presentations. One organization shared about how they started a county-wide pollinator project to install 250 pollinator habitats, and someone from a relatively new butterfly house in the western US talked about a butterfly citizen science project they've involved with. It is amazing to see everyone so dedicated to both education of insects as well as conservation and citizen science.


Friday afternoon, Andalyne participated in an afternoon workshop to learn how to rear black soldier flies. These flies are a food source for other critters at many of our facilities, and some places around the world are even raising them as human food! It's an economical way to raise protein in-house, and a great introduction to the role that insects play with the recycling of compost into protein food.


Day 5: Saturday


The last day of the conference. On Saturday morning there were a few more presenters; Andalyne and Adrienne learned how to raise Goliath Beetles and keep a leafcutter ant colony! There was also a roundtable session where all attendees involved with animal husbandry (raising invertebrates) got to ask each other questions and learn from each other. The knowledge we've gained year after year simply from talking with fellow colleagues in our field is amazing! We can't wait to participate again next year!


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The Hort Report - July Edition


Photo Credit: Mike White

Planting Perennial Pollinator Gardens

We were going to use the title “Butterfly Gardens” but that wouldn’t be accurate. Once you plant a garden loaded with golden pollen and delectable nectar, you will attract butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, hoverflies and other animals that all serve as significant cogs in the ecosystem wheel. These insects and birds are attracted to the plant’s sweet nectar and, in turn, leave with a dusting of pollen to carry to the next target, and alas! Pollination!

Tips for Success:

  1. Wind Shelter: A sheltered area will serve our winged workers well as navigation in a windy locale can prove challenging.
  2. The right soil: Any well-drained soil provides a stable foundation for the season long buffet.
  3. SUNSHINE! Sunny areas are best since many of the pollinators are solar-powered and nectar flows more freely powered by the sun’s warmth.
  4. Water: A reservoir of water such as a pond or water feature which over-sprays puddles, enjoyed by butterflies and birds alike, are a welcome addition to any garden.
  5. Host Plants: Adding host plants for caterpillars to devour helps attract even more butterflies to the area as they scrupulously scout for safe places in which to lay eggs.

Gardening for the Seasons

Early Spring:

While patches of snow still linger on the lawn, Snow Drops (Galanthus) are the first harbingers to welcome the masters of all pollination – the honeybee. You will also find them celebrating all over the Crocus blooms. Allium raises their large round colourful heads attracting pollinators for miles around, and Lungwort (Pulmonaria) will satisfy the hummingbirds until you get the feeder out.



Sweet Honeysuckle is the next star of the show with their fragrance of their blooms wafting through the air. Towering spikes of Lupines and Foxglove welcome bumblebees and honeybees as well as hummingbirds, and we have personally witnessed a battle between a hummingbird and bumblebee over the territory of Penstemon blooms!



No garden is complete without the fragrant umbels of Swamp Milkweed flowers, which serves as both host and nectar plant for the majestic Monarch butterfly. The next show originates from panicles of Phlox blossoms teeming with the entire gambit of the pollination squad. Butterflies roost on lovely masses of Coneflower followed closely by the golden yellow glow of Rudbeckia.


Late Summer:

Lofty heads of Joe Pye Weed provide a late summer feast for gossamer-winged friends and their bumble buddies. Ecstasy is the only word that describes bumblebees rolling in a profusion of Japanese Anemone pollen. The season then culminates in a plethora of Goldenrod plumes and sprays of daisy-like Asters that dispatch Monarch butterflies on their way to their winter paradise in Mexico.


Have questions about planting your pollinator garden? Email us at Enjoy!

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Searching for Ontario’s only Endangered Butterfly


The Mottled Duskywing (Erynnis martialis)

Mottled Duskywing Photo Credit: Jessica Linton

Supporting butterfly conservation research, especially in our region, is very important to us here at the Conservatory. One such research project we’re involved with is the conservation of Ontario’s only endangered butterfly, the Mottled Duskywing.


On Saturday June 3, our Naturalist along with a group of researchers and naturalists, gathered at Pinery Provincial Park to conduct a survey this rare butterfly. The survey was led by Mottled Duskywing expert, Jessica Linton (Terrestrial & Wetland Biologist at Natural Resource Solutions Inc.)


This small brown skipper-type butterfly is currently the only listed as an endangered Species At Risk in Ontario. It depends on only two types of host plants – New Jersey Tea and Red-root – which are only found in pine-oak savanna habitat. This is a habitat that once was widespread in southern Ontario but has been mostly wiped out due to urbanization and habitat mismanagement.


There are only a few small populations of the Mottled Duskywing remaining, and the survey could help determine if there are any others out there! Pinery Provincial Park has the right habitat, and it even has the right host plant, so it is possible that the butterfly might be found there as well.


After some researchers had spent an entire week in the park mapping out where the host plants were growing, on June 3 our team split into groups to do a full-sweep of the park to see if any of us could find a Mottled Duskywing.


Did we find any? Unfortunately not. There hasn’t been a record of a Mottled Duskywing since the 1980’s, so it wasn’t too surprising that we didn’t see one. But we did see lots of other cool things: several other species of Duskywing, including the Juvenal’s and Dreamy Duskywing, Spicebush swallowtails (a southwestern Ontario specialty) and even a Harvester, which are not very common either. We stumbled upon a sleeping Whip-poor-will (a type of night-flying insectivorous bird), and an Eyed Click Beetle. Pinery Provincial Park really is a beautiful, highly diverse park that’s a great home for wildlife.


So what happens next for the Mottled Duskywing? Researchers will continue to monitor the known populations, as well as work toward rehabilitating habitat. The conservation research continues!


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Monarch Mania!


The Monarchs are Back!

The children & grandchildren of the overwintering Monarchs in Mexico have traveled thousands of kilometres back up through the United States and into Canada and are now being seen at their northernmost limit. The northern limit of monarchs is determined by the range of their host plant, milkweed, on which they lay their eggs, which can be as far north as Thunder Bay.


We found our first Monarch eggs of the season on June 5th on Common Milkweed that grows on our property. The caterpillar in the photo below is only a few days old!



The Monarchs that are seen laying eggs now are the great, great grandchildren of the monarchs that flew down to Mexico in the fall of last year. Monarch butterflies have two different generations: the winter generation that overwinters in Mexico lives for 6-8 months, and the summer generation that typically lives 6-8 weeks.




Our six voracious caterpillars did not stop eating for two weeks straight! The caterpillar below on the left is around 14 days old and made its J shape (below, right) shortly after the photo was taken! The caterpillar then sheds its skin to form its chrysalis.




We now await our first Monarchs of the summer to emerge on Canadian soil! The grandchildren or great-grandchildren of these monarchs will fly back to Mexico in the fall dreaming of the next Canadian summer!

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Cecropia Moths


It's that time of year again - the Cecropia moths are emerging from their cocoons!


Cecropias overwinter as pupae, snuggled in their cocoons until the warmer weather signals to them that it is time to emerge as adult moths.


Like most silk moths, Cecropia moths lack mouth parts so they only live for a couple of weeks. They live to reproduce - females can lay several hundred eggs! The caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants including maple, birch, and apple trees.

Check out the video below:


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The Hort Report: June Edition


What a wonderful time of year - we get to enjoy the fruits of our labours while the gardens are still bug-free!

Now Showing:

Blankets of Moss Phlox, Rock Cress and Perennial Alyssum paint a lovely canvas this Spring. Other than requiring an occasional replacement plant they are generally maintenance free and enjoyed by many species – mostly humans.

Coming Soon:

The Peonies are about to pop and the Clematis have begun to climb. Peonies are a favourite of ours, not only are the explosion of blooms a sight for sore eyes but the foliage can serve as greenery for your flower vases all season long. Some Peonies aren't very well behaved, you may want to use a cage for support. There is one Clematis, ‘Comtesse de Bouchaud’ that always seems to require assistance finding the trellis so we gently weave the delicate growth through the framework and make occasional visits to monitor its progress. This is a good time of year to catch them early before they start growing astray.

Garden Maintenance:

There are a couple of time-dependent tasks to be completed in early June. Once the tulips have withered, you can “pop” them by grabbing the spent flowering stem and giving them a yank. You’ll get the occasional stubborn plant that hangs onto its bulb and you’ll have to stamp it back into the soil but, all in all, the garden will fill in around the former early spring glory.

Also, the new growth on the Mugo Pines will require “candling” which is simply pruning back the new growth to help maintain this dwarf evergreen shrub’s lush, full and even growth. Removing half the new growth tip will suffice to help the plant develop new growth buds. You can meticulously prune each and every candle by 50% or you can give it a massive hair cut using your hedge clippers as we do! Cutting into the woody growth won’t promote new growth so don’t wait until it’s too late!

Most importantly, it’s time to keep all of the Hummingbird feeders clean and full for the little avian jets who have moved into the neighbourhood. If you remove a couple of the yellow ports on the feeder, the Orioles will be able to access the sweet nectar as well. These feathered friends provide season-long entertainment among your nurtured paradise!

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National Volunteer Week!

National Volunteer Week!

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We love our volunteers! Each year during National Volunteer Week, we like to shine the light on our wonderful volunteer team and we invite you to join us in giving them a heartfelt "Thanks!"

Did you know that we usually have between 12 - 24 volunteers as part of our amazing team? They devote anywhere between 2 - 6 hours of their time each week to come in and help make the Conservatory an awesome place.

Our volunteers lend their skills and passion in a variety of ways: educating and sharing with visitors about the butterflies and bugs, keeping the gardens healthy and beautiful, or caring for our live animals (birds and bugs alike). 

We asked several of our volunteers the following questions so they could share with you why they enjoy volunteering:

1) Why did you choose to volunteer at the Conservatory?
2) How long have you been volunteering? What are some of the jobs you do?
3) Why do you like volunteering at the Conservatory?
4) What's one of your most memorable experiences while volunteering?
5) Why do you think volunteering in your community is important?


volunteer brooke

  1. I love working with animals and teaching others about nature. I had been to the conservatory before and loved interacting with the bugs.
  2. Volunteering for just over one year. I help in the morning preparing to open, like sweeping the paths and putting out fruit trays. Handling live bugs and providing information about them to guests is a lot of fun. I've also started doing story time, reading books to children and connecting them to some fun facts about the bugs. I like talking with guests about the emergence window and how surprised they often are to find out that the butterflies hanging there are real and alive.
  3. I love seeing the butterflies and being surrounded by nature, even if it's inside. It's great to see how excited guests are about meeting bugs, or watching someone overcome their fear and pet one.
  4. Introducing hissing cockroaches to guests from a senior home. They were so interested in learning about the animals and asked great questions, fearlessly touching the bugs. They really wanted to learn, and their enthusiasm was contagious as other guests arrived and met the cockroaches too.
  5. Volunteering is important to support organizations that provide important opportunities to the community. It's also a great way to gain experience in a field, or be active in a totally different type of work.

volunteer joel


  1. Because I like to play with bugs! I like to teach people about bugs. And Cheecho's pretty great.
  2. (Volunteering for one year) Play with bugs! Feeding and caring for the birds, feeding the butterflies, and socializing with Cheecho. I do the interpreting and the sharing the bugs with people.
  3. Bugs?
  4. I like the unexpected things that happen, like when we found a toad near the pond. Making friends with Cheecho and feeding him fruit in the mornings was an accomplishment.
  5. I think it's important to support an organization or community that you believe has a positive impact on people.


  1. I chose to volunteer at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory because I instantly loved the atmosphere. After my first visit I thought to myself "I want to work here." I applied to volunteer right away. I am happy in my role and I have thoroughly enjoyed my volunteer experience thus far. I am a huge insect enthusiast and animal lover, which is wvolunteer hillaryhy Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory is the place for me!
  2. I am a Nature Interpreter. My main responsibilities include engaging guests through insect encounters (handling live insects), sharing information, and preparing interpretation stations. I also assist with daily upkeep and maintenance of the conservatory such as feeding insects, misting habitats, filling nectar bowls, and sweeping. I have been volunteering at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory since May 2016 so I will be coming to the one year mark shortly. 
  3. Volunteering at the Conservatory is a lot of fun and always puts me in a great mood because it is a really positive environment. I love spending time with the insects and birds. I have learned so much during my time working at the Conservatory and I love sharing that information with guests. I enjoy the company of the staff and other volunteers, everyone is very laid-back and upbeat. I always look forward to my shift, it is the best part of my week!
  4. One of my most memorable experiences volunteering at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory was the recent Swallowtail project. To see the entire life cycle was truly fascinating. It was really cool to see the butterflies laying their eggs when we introduced their host plant. Then came the caterpillars which were so cute, I love the snake-like camouflage and I enjoyed learning about their osmeterium. I also had the opportunity to watch a caterpillar make a chrysalis which was an amazing experience.
  5. I think volunteering is a great way to give back to our community and make a positive impact. When you are volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about, it makes it even better. 

Our volunteers are one of the reasons why visiting the Conservatory makes for an awesome experience! Next time you visit, please take the time to thank a volunteer for all they do. 

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Butterflies in Winter

Butterflies in Winter

cecropia moth in the house with hand

Butterflies are sun-lovers, so much so that they can be considered little solar-powered beings who are dependent on the warmth to stay active and fly around.

So how on earth could be a butterfly be flying around in winter? It may seem like a strange concept but it’s not uncommon for our Naturalist to receive multiple calls through fall and winter from people who find themselves with an unexpected winged friend in their living room or basement!

How does this happen? You may remember our previous blog article on swallowtail caterpillars and how they overwinter as a chrysalis. This is a common way for butterflies and moths to “hibernate” until the warmer weather returns.

In this stage, although they are dormant (not moving or eating), they are still very much alive and in tune with their surroundings. Their development is dependent on the ambient temperature: in order to remain dormant until the appropriate season, the butterfly-inside-the-chrysalis must stay cold.

Sometimes the chrysalides are brought into our warm homes, usually inadvertently. House plants that have been put out for the summer had caterpillars living on them, even Christmas trees or other cut foliage, these are some of the vessels that can transport a chrysalis from freezing temps to balmy dwellings.

The warmer temperature signals to the butterfly inside the chrysalis that it needs to speed through its development and emerge, “thinking” that spring must be here because it's so warm! Suddenly a winged, adult butterfly is flapping around inside the house, and there’s still snow on the ground.

There are also some butterflies that overwinter as an adult by simply sleeping in the loose bark or branches of a well-sheltered tree. The Comma or Question Mark are two good examples of this type. It takes even less time for them to “wake up in the warmth” and become active.

What can you do if this happens to you? First, try to identify it as one of these species - see some examples below. You can always email photos to our Naturalist if you're unsure!


polyphemus moth and cocoon

eastern black swallowtail public domain pixabay


Species that overwinter as pupae: Swallowtail (shown right), Sulphur, Moths (Polyphemus moth above left),

  • If it’s a species that overwinters as a chrysalis, then the butterfly will probably only live a couple weeks (which is typical of an adult butterfly). You can keep it warm, feed it nectar (a sugar:water solution), and have it as an indoor guest for awhile if you wish.
eastern comma butterfly summer form

mourning cloak butterfly



Species that overwinter as adult: Comma (above left), Question Mark, tortoiseshells, Mourning Cloak (above right)

If it’s a species that overwinters as an adult, you have two options:

  • You can find a sheltered place somewhere in a forest (a fallen log, piece of bark, pile of leaves) and let the butterfly go there. It will go back into dormancy for the rest of the winter and re-awaken in the spring.
  • The butterfly can be gently slipped into an envelope and placed in the fridge or your garage – somewhere it will stay cold – and in the spring, you can release it. This a perfectly normal procedure that many entomologists perform for keeping cold-hardy insects dormant.
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Messengers from the Mangrove Forest

Messengers from the Mangrove Forest

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Imagine yourself in a lush, coastal mangrove swamp in Malaysia. There are stilted trees, thorny vines, and lush foliage so thick you can hardly see ten steps in front of you. In the water at your feet live endangered dugongs, and in the trees above you call proboscis monkeys, who also depend on this unique mangrove ecosystem.

Suddenly, out of the dimly lit foliage around you drifts a delicate, lacey white butterfly! In a wild and dense forest such as this, a graceful butterfly such as the Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe) seems almost other-worldly, and yet coastal mangrove forests are their native home. Perhaps this is why locals of the Malayan peninsula refer to these ethereal animals as “messenger butterflies”, thought to carry words from spirits to the land of the living.

What kind of messages could these butterflies be bringing with them? In Asia, moths & butterflies are held in high esteem as being the souls of those passed-on who have come back to protect their loved ones. In Malaysia, locals watch every spring to see if the white or yellow butterflies are sighted first: if it’s the yellow butterflies, it brings a good omen for abundant milk & butter for the upcoming year.

Since the country of Malaysia is one of the oldest rainforests in the world (next to the Amazon), it has many trees that are prized for their wood, which has led to deforestation and degradation of the unique ecosystem. Perhaps the sight of a Rice Paper butterfly can carry the message of conservation & hope for a forest that is in peril, and is the home to more than one endangered species.

The Rice Paper does carry a literal message, written in the patterning on their wings. The bold black & white coloration is a warning to would-be predators of a toxin contained in their body. Their slow, not-a-care-in-the-world flight may make it seem like they could care less about their surroundings, but in fact, their flight style is for a reason: to advertise the warning pattern and be sure the message is clear.

Since finding these black-and-white butterflies in their natural habitat is a rather rare sighting, it’s especially unique to step into a tropical Conservatory where literally hundreds fill the air. For several decades now, the Rice Paper has also been raised on butterfly farms (to avoid over-collecting of wild populations) and are then shipped as chrysalides to conservatories and display houses around the world, including ours right here in Cambridge, Ontario.

Watching these butterflies float & sail around in our own small tropical forest that is the Conservatory, their relaxed flight can't help but relay a certain message of peace and calm. The charm of a Rice Paper can also be experienced when they dip down low to frequently land on visitors who are wearing bright colours (see photo below). This has earned the Rice Paper a reputation as being one of our friendliest butterflies.

The Rice Paper is a year-round resident in our Conservatory, and one that we specially feature during December & January for our Flight of White exhibit. This time of year, we fill the air with literally hundreds of these beautiful butterflies. Come surround yourself with these peaceful “butterfly messengers” and perhaps you’ll receive a special message of your own, meant just for you.


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