Life Among the Butterflies

Get ready to go behind the scenes at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory!

The Secret Life of Lichens

The Secret Life of Lichens

Ever since the new Lichens exhibit arrived (on display now from November – April 2017), we’ve all been learning more & more about the fascinating world of lichens. At first it may not sound like it’s a very fascinating topic – but you may be surprised. Here are some quick, fun facts about the secret life of lichens.

 What are lichens?

The word itself translates to “tree moss” from its Greek roots. Unlike its name, lichens do not have roots; in fact, they’re not a plant at all. Lichens are unique organism, made up of fungi combined with algae. One of the most fascinating things about them is that, the fungus and the alga on its own usually look completely different than if they live together as a lichen. Together, they become something new and more as one organism.

...or ARE they??

Just this year has new research emerged on exactly what lichens are made of. A new study has revealed evidence that lichen may actually be composed of not two, but three organisms: fungus, algae and yeast! Is it time to re-write the text books?? Read more about this discovery here

 Do animals or people use lichens for anything?

Yes! Lichens are used & have been used for centuries by people, for things such as colour dyes, medicine, and food. Extracts from lichens are used in toothpastes, deodorants and perfume. Animals from mammals to insects use lichens as habitat, food, and shelter. Hummingbirds and flying squirrels use lichens in and on their nests. Reindeer depend on lichen as a winter food source, and there are several species of moth caterpillars that eat lichen (see photo at bottom).

 Why are lichens special or important?

Despite the fact they’re often overlooked, lichens are extremely important in the ecosystem for lots of reasons:

  • they create soil, often making new habitat for trees and plants to grow
  • they provide habitat for millions of little critters that are vital to a forest’s health, like decomposers (millipedes, beetles, springtails) and microorganisms for soil health
  • they serve as air pollution monitors, and even help to absorb carbon (which can offset greenhouse effects) and metals from the air

Where can I find lichens?
You can find these unique living things pretty much wherever you go! Their diversity and abundance increases you travel north (reindeer “moss” which is a kind of lichen, can literally blanket the ground in the boreal forest). All you have to do is look in your backyard, on buildings, on trees and rocks, and you’ll find lichen. Interestingly, they often benefit from human activities: for example, church cemeteries have provided a growing place for lichens where none used to exist.

What’s the difference between moss & lichen?

 One of the other things in nature you may confuse lichens with is moss. Sometimes the two can look similar at first glance, but if you look closer, moss will look like a tiny plant. They have tiny stems & “leaves”, and are a photosynthesizing, chlorophyll-containing plant. Lichens, as mentioned before, are mostly composed of a fungus combined with one type of algae. In appearance, lichens can look more crust-like, often hard & dry to the touch, and can be a variety of colours (orange, green, yellow, blue-grey). 

sunburst lichen 200x260lichen moth caterpillar 200x260trumpet lichen 200x260
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Landscapes of Biodiversity - Grand Opening Event

Landscapes of Biodiversity - Grand Opening Event

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We are tremendously honoured to have spent an evening with Dr. Roberta Bondar this past Tuesday to celebrate the opening of our new exhibit, Landscapes of Biodiversity, Presented by The Roberta Bondar Foundation. 

Special guests included local dignitaries MP Bryan May, MPP Kathryn McGarry, CAO of Waterloo Region Ken Seiling, and Mayor Doug Craig.

Many thinks to the staff at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory, as well as Bonnie Patterson and Berta Sears from The Roberta Bondar Foundation for their tireless efforts in making the exhibition as well as the opening event a huge success!

Come explore North America's biomes! Landscapes of Biodiversity is on exhibit now through October 31st.

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What kind of community do you live in?

What kind of community do you live in?

We all belong to communities, composed of businesses, architecture, people, plants and animals. A community in Toronto will be different than a community in Stratford. Each has features that are unique to those communities and reflect the location, geographical area and history of the land.

Just like an urban community is made up of living things (plants & animals) and non-living things (buildings, businesses, etc.), there are natural communities composed of living plants and animals, and abiotic factors like soil type, geological features and weather. These are referred to as biomes.

A biome is like a large community occupying a distinct type of environment.  Canada is such a huge, diverse country that there are several major biomes that exist across our country: forest biomes, coastal, lakes & rivers, wetlands, grassland, and desert. What kind of biome do you call home?

Whether or not you’ve had the chance to travel across Canada and visit these biomes yourself in person, you can have a glimpse of their unique beauty through the eyes of Dr. Roberta Bondar. Her collection of 23 fine art photographic images is now on display at Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory until October 31.

Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada's first woman astronaut and the world's first neurologist in space. Dr. Bondar is the only astronaut to use fine art photography to explore and reveal Earth's natural environment from the surface. Through her stunning photographs, you’ll be introduced to the beauty and diversity of the Canadian landscape.

We are pleased to be hosting Robera Bondar’s Landscapes of Biodiversity exhibit for the spring & summer season! Presented by The Roberta Bondar Foundation.

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