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Algae come in a multitude of forms. What native species of algae grow in your backyard?

Taken with a scanning electron microscope, this image shows two diatom species. There are about 10,000 known species of diatoms, which feature cell walls made of silica.

Taken with a scanning electron microscope, this image shows two diatom species. There are about 10,000 known species of diatoms, which feature cell walls made of silica.

Some consider algae to be a "slimy nuisance" or just "pond scum." But look closer and you'll see that algae (singular "alga") represent one of the most diverse forms of life on Earth, coming in a near infinite variety of shapes, sizes and geometric designs. The term "algae" is used to describe primitive plant-like organisms and is often given to unrelated groups that use photosynthesis or appear similar in shape or form. Algae are the base of the food chain — they convert nutrients to organic matter that other organisms eat.

Science activity instructions

Here is a short list of some interesting forms of algae:

  • The genus Pediastrum is a common green alga with flattened colonies of cells in an absolutely beautiful and elaborate star-like pattern.
  • Diatoms are microscopic, single-celled, yellow-green algae with two valves that fit together like a pillbox. Their cells are made of silica, and are often finely sculptured with lines and pits.
  • The genus Euglena is one of the weirder forms you'll encounter. Historically, it has been classified as a plant or an alga because most Euglena species have chlorophyll and manufacture their own food. Strangely, it has also been classified as an animal because of its ability to move independently with a single flagellum, and its conspicuous red eyespot. Life is rarely clear-cut when it comes to identifications or taxonomic classifications. End

Left: This image was taken in mid-winter from under a layer of ice. It shows a freshwater green algae species in the genus <em>Pediastrum</em>.  Middle: This unidentified algae commonly found at an Ottawa marsh in mid-winter. Right: This freshwater species which belongs to the genus <em>Phacus</em> and features a visible &quote;red eye&quote; near the top.

Left: This image was taken in mid-winter from under a layer of ice. It shows a freshwater green algae species in the genus Pediastrum.

Middle: This unidentified algae is commonly found at an Ottawa marsh in mid-winter.

Right: This freshwater species belongs to the genus Phacus and features a visible "red eye" near the top.