The Essential Guide to Montreal's Biodome

The Montreal Biodome features thousands of plants and animals from the Americas, including the lynx (above).
Michael Malz/Flickr

The Montreal Biodome is an indoor zoo, an aquarium, and a botanical garden wrapped into one. It's a series of indoor ecological systems which recreate regions in the Americas, showcasing animal species as well as plant life indigenous to each area. 

Mimicking habitats to the point of regulating the temperature and humidity levels of each showcased ecosystem, the public can not only see what life is like in each region, but can actually feel what it's like too. The Biodome is effectively one of the only places in the world that replicates all four seasons indoors at the same time, attracting roughly 800,000 visitors every year.

In addition to its temporary exhibits, the Montreal Biodome features five permanent ecosystems. Visitors should factor in two hours to explore.

Montreal Biodome Opening Hours

  • Regular Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays September through February except Spring Break Monday, Easter Monday and Journée des Patriotes
  • Summer Hours (late June until Labour Day): 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day
  • Spring Break (usually first week of March): 9:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Nuit Blanche (last Saturday of February or first Saturday of March): 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.

2018 Admission Cost

  • $20.50 adult ($16 for Quebec residents)
  • $18.75 senior ($15 for Quebec residents)
  • $15 student with I.D. ($12.25 for Quebec residents)
  • $10.25 youth ages 5 to 17 ($8 for Quebec residents)
  • Free for kids under 5
  • $56.75 family rate (2 adults, two youths) ($45 for Quebec residents)

Save money and pay less on admission fees with the Accès Montréal card.

Getting to the Montreal Biodome

4777 Pierre-De Coubertin Avenue
Montreal, QC, H1V 1B3
By public transit: Viau Metro
By car: map
Phone: (514) 868-3000

Near the Biodome

Visitors heading to the Biodome  might consider making a full day trip to the Olympic Village area. The Biodome shares space with the Montreal Olympic Stadium, is located right outside the Olympic Esplanade's winter village, and is within walking distance of the Montreal Planetarium, the Montreal Botanical Garden and the Montreal Insectarium. Note that the area is not exactly crawling with restaurants so you might want to stick around one of the nature museum bistros. Food trucks might also be outside the Biodome.

Tropical Rainforest of the Americas

Of the Montreal Biodome's five ecosystems, the Tropical Rainforest of the Americas is the largest at 2,600 m² (27,986 square feet) and it also contains the widest array of indigenous animal and plant species at the Biodome, in the thousands.

With an average day temperature of 25 to 28°C within the confines of the muggy ecosystem, visitors experience a fairly accurate recreation of what South American rainforest weather feels like during the driest time of the year, at around 70% humidity.

But the Tropical Rainforest ecosystem is not just of layman interest. It also extends itself to research. According to the Biodome, "this ecosystem has made it possible to study important ecological processes that are generally difficult to isolate in natural environments, such as changes in the physical and chemical properties of the soil, the leaf phosphorus retranslocation of some tree species, the role of soil microorganisms, the foraging activity of pollen and nectar eating bats, and the growth of a free population of giant toads."

Laurentian Maple Forest Ecosystem

Found in Quebec, Ontario, Northern regions of the United States as well as in certain parts of Europe and Asia at comparable latitudes, the Laurentian maple forest is the Montreal Biodome's third largest ecosystem at 1,518 m² (16,340 square feet) after the Tropical Rainforest and Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Also known as the Laurentian mixed forest or simply St. Lawrence Forest, this ecosystem is characterized by its its mix of leafy, deciduous trees, and coniferous evergreens in addition to its comfort adapting to the seasons and corresponding light and temperature shifts.

To replicate the latter, the Biodome sets the temperature as high as 24°C (75°F) in the summer, lowering down to 4°C (39°F) in the winter, which is a narrower range than what's genuinely experienced in nature in Quebec, where January nights can dip well below -30°C (-22°F) only to spike above 30°C (86°F) on a hot, summer day. Humidity within the confines of the Biodome's ecosystem ranges from 45% to 90%. And as with the seasons, the Biodome's deciduous tree leaves change colors in the fall and start budding come spring, provoked by lighting schedules that echo the habitat's shorter days in the winter and longer ones in the summer.

Gulf of St. Lawrence

The Biodome's Gulf of St. Lawrence section is technically the nature museum's second largest ecosystem, covering an area of 1,620 m² (17,438 square feet), with the Laurentian Maple Forest trailing close behind at 1,518 m² (16,340 square feet).

Composed of a basin filled with 2.5 million litres (660,430 gallons) of "sea water" produced by the Biodome itself, this particular ecosystem recreates life in the largest estuary in the world. an area where freshwater meets cold, ocean saltwater.

The Gulf of St. Lawrence extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the edge of Tadoussac, a small village at the confluence of the Saguenay fjord and the St. Lawrence river, a region known for attracting roughly a dozen different whale species, including endangered belugas, humpbacks, orcas, and even blue whales.

Though the Biodome does not house any of these whale species  (according to the Canadian Marine Environment Society, the Biodome tried over a period of three years to sway public opinion in favor of keeping belugas captive onsite, to no avail), the nature museum does showcase several large fish, such as sharks, skates, rays, and sturgeons.

Labrador Coast

Adjacent to the Biodome's south polar sub-Antarctic islands is the north polar sub-arctic Labrador coast ecosystem, one devoid of plant life but teeming with auks such as puffins and other birds native to the area. Penguins are not included in the arctic mix as they, contrary to popular belief, do not live up north. But they're readily found down south in Antarctica, or in the case of the Biodome, across the room.

Life on Sub-Antarctic Islands

As with the Biodome's Sub-Arctic Labrador Coast ecosystem, the Sub-Antarctic Islands don't showcase much in way of flora, but penguins? That's another story. They're the stars of this deep south ecosystem, as Antarctica and surrounding islands are their home. Temperatures are set at a steady 2°C to 5°C (36°F to 41°F) year-round with the seasons accurately mimicking those of the ecosystem's recreated southern hemisphere habitat, which means its seasons are in reverse relative to the North. 

Animal Highlights

  • Yellow Anaconda: The non-venomous yellow anaconda is on average 3 to 4 metres in length (10 to 13 feet) and generally eats birds, rodents, and fish, suffocating its prey and then swallowing it whole, head first. At the Montreal Biodome, feedings consist of a large rat "served" once every two weeks, sparing the fish who share basin space with the semi-aquatic snake from turning into lunch.
  • Red-Bellied Piranhas: One of the more common piranha species in existence, the red-bellied variety shares the South American freshwater fish's reputation as a bloodthirsty flesh-craving maneater, popularized by former American President Theodore Roosevelt's 1914 publication Through the Brazilian Wilderness and films like Piranha and Piranha 3D. Yet contemporary studies suggest the red-bellied piranha is more frightened omnivorous scavenger than ferocious carnivorous predator, relying on safety in numbers to defend itself from predators. As researcher Dr. Anne E. Magurran said in an interview with The New York Times in 2005, "they're basically like regular fish. With large teeth."
  • Golden Lion Tamarin: The golden lion tamarin, named after the lion for its reminiscent mane, is a small monkey native to Brazil. Slightly larger than a squirrel with tree hollows for a home, the golden lion tamarin is an endangered species, with roughly 1,500 left (estimate, May 2011) in the wild as a result of habitat fragmentation from agriculture, logging and other industrial pursuits. Only 2% of coastal Brazil forests hospitable to the social primates are left standing. Known to live in small groups where all members chip in to help raise offspring, including males and non-parents, infants are usually born as twins. About 500 golden lion tamarins are in captivity around the world.
  • Canadian Lynx: A medium-sized wildcat at least twice the size of a regular house cat, the Canadian Lynx is instantly recognizable by its frost-tipped silver fur (which turns reddish in warmer months), its dark, stubby tail, beard-like ruff, and black tufts of fur on each ear. A unique species to North America, hence the name, Canadian lynx populations have generally fared well in Canada though the National Wildlife Federation reports populations south of the border threatened by logging and habitat fragmentation. With large paws perfect for treading through snow, the Canadian lynx's diet of choice consists of hare and rabbit but the lynx will settle for rodents, squirrels, birds, beavers, toads, deer or anything else it can get its paws on, if necessary. A solitary animal, the Canadian lynx is admittedly not the easiest mammal to spot in nature or at the Biodome for that matter.
  • American Beaver: The quintessential Canadian mascot and largest rodent in North America, the American beaver is the only species of its kind on the continent, a monogamous, community-oriented, semi-aquatic mammal with teeth that never stop growing, and is considered at once a benefit and a pain. On on the one hand, beaver dams—the rodent's home and testament of its dietary penchant for tree bark and cambium—create erosion-preventing wetlands that offer a rich habitat to all sorts of species, from mammals to birds to fish, over time transforming into meadows and eventually, woods. Beavers have even been known to fix human-made dams; they reportedly dislike the sound of running water as it suggests a leak. On the other side of the coin (no pun), beaver dams can interfere with human activity, flooding roads, surrounding properties and farmlands as well as disturb mother nature, creating silt buildup, compromising stream flows and threatening pre-existing wildlife habitats.