Where have all the spiders gone?

A sand dune habitat should be a paradise for spiders, and the Pinhey sand dune was, until 1975 or 80, when farmers began using herbicides on nearby fields. The result has been a near collapse of the spider population on the dunes. In this video, entomologist Henri Goulet explains:


Collecting Biodiversity Data

Biodiversity assessments in a given area require good data collection techniques. Entomologist Henri Goulet describes the ant trap technology used to gather data on insects in the forest surrounding the dune habitat.

Study underway

Biodiversity Conservancy is undertaking a comprehensive scientific study of the biodiversity of the Pinhey sand dune complex, and plans to publish a scientific research article when completed.

An intricate web of life

The disappearance or reduction in numbers of a single species can affect a whole web of other living things. If, say, an insect disappears, its absence could in turn affect species that rely on it for food, pollination or symbiosis. That in turn could affect still other species. These multiplier effects are difficult to study. But they demonstrate the interconnectedness of life, an intricate web of interdependancies, both in a small region such as the Pinhey sand dunes, or across the whole planet.

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Life on the dune

A surprising biodiversity

At first glance, it is not apparent that there is abundant life in, on and around the Pinhey sand dunes. But a little patience will be rewarding. Many species of moths, butterflies, beetles and insects live here and will be affected if the dune disappears. And this is a main reason for our major conservation effort.

A sample of what you can expect to see:

Ghost Tiger Beetle

binocularsThe pale-coloured beetle is difficult to spot. Walk slowly on the dunes and watch for movement. They are most active on warm sunny days.

Ghost Tiger Beetle (Cicindela lepida)

The aptly named Ghost Tiger Beetle, a species well-adapted to the dune system, is perfectly camouflaged in the sand, rendering it nearly invisible.

This beetle is now threatened with extirpation (local extinction) from the Ottawa region. Saving the dunes will prevent this from happening.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle

binocularsWalk slowly over the sand and look about 6-8 feet ahead of you. They will move as you approach.

Big Sand Tiger Beetle
(Cicindela formosa)

Lives in dry upland sandy areas, sand pits, dry forest clearings, and edges of sand dunes.

The species can be seen at the Pinhey dunes, and is most active on hot, sunny days in the summer.

binocularsYou can easily spot the Ant Lion 'ant traps': distinctive concave hollows in the sand, usually near the edges of the dune.


Ant Lion
(genus: Myrmeleo)

As this dramatic National Geographic video shows, the Ant Lion has an effective and deadly way of trapping its prey: ants.

antlion trapsThe beetle digs at the sand, forming a concave indentation. And that becomes the ant trap.

binocularsThe grass is difficult to distinguish from other grass species, but, as Paul explains, if you see a clump of grass that reminds you of 'nature's bad hair day', you've probably identified it.


Bad Hair Day
(Carex rugosperma)

In this video clip, Botanist Paul Catling describes a particular species of grass (Carex rugosperma) that only grows in sandy soil and is threatened when sand dunes disappear.

Sand Mushroom

binocularsTo spot them, try walking near the perimeter of the dune near growths of poplars. The mushroom is edible but can resemble poisonous varieties.

Sand Mushroom (Tricholoma Populinum)

This mushroom often grows in large groups and is associated with poplar trees. It is usually found in late fall, growing up through the sand.

binocularsThese are easy to see, in and around the dunes, partly because their colour is darker than the surrounding sand. In forest undergrowth, they may be harder to find.


Star Fungus (Geastrum fimbriatum)

In this video clip, botanist Paul Catling describes the Star Fungus, sometimes called the 'Earth Star' fungus, a species that is often found in and around the edges of sand dunes.

Pink Ladyslipper OrchidPink Ladyslipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule)

Pink Ladyslipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule)

This delicate flower can be found in the sandy soil in the forests and near the edges of the Pinhey sand dunes. This orchid species requires a special soil with a symbiotic species of fungus to thrive so please do not pick the flower or dig up the plant as it will not survive transplantation.

binoculars The Pink Ladyslipper Orchid show their beautiful flowers in late May - early June each year. Just follow the “Orchid Trail” at the dune and enjoy the attractive beauty of this orchid. You can spot them in acid soils near pine trees. Enjoy them on the trails surrounding the dunes to be sure, but avoid treading on them or picking them.