Nature in L.A.

October 7, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

Los Angeles (top) and Warsaw (bottom), two cities on the urban biodiversity frontier (both images from Wikimedia Commons).

The NHM Superproject, a collaboration of the BioSCAN, RASCals, S.L.I.M.E. and Southern California Squirrel Survey projects, is beginning data collection in less than a month (we are still recruiting eager naturalists here). Our study is certainly the largest urban biodiversity study to be undertaken, but urban biodiversity studies of any sort are often considered to be new, innovative research programs. Recently, however, I found an older model...

October 5, 2015

L.A. Bats Fight On!

Happy (American) football season everybody! Yes, some scientists enjoy playing and watching sports in addition to searching for wild animals and staring at tiny things under a microscope. This is true for me. Growing up in a Nicaraguan family, playing and watching sports was a big part of my life. Nicaraguans are known to be baseball fanatics, but my mother and I, both being USC alumni, are also serious Trojan football fans.  I’ve been watching the Trojans play at the L.A. Coliseum since I was a young boy and now I take my little brothers to games. But, even when a game is playing out below, I can't completely turn my scientist-self off–particularly when there are bats involved. Let me tell you about the bats that Fight On!

Mexican free-tailed bat (aka Brazilian free-tailed bat) from NHMLA's mammalogy collection. ...

September 25, 2015

Introducing Your Los Angeles Snails!

There is a new citizen science project in town and we need your help to document the snails and slugs that call Los Angeles home. SLIME (Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments) kicked off earlier this year, and we are already making some interesting discoveries about life in L.A.'s slow lane. 

White Italian snails on a sprinkler at the White Point Nature Center, San Pedro, Los Angeles County. Notice the variation in color and pattern. Photo by Austin Hendy.

There are about a dozen common land snails in Los Angeles County....

September 20, 2015

Meet the Insects of L.A. City Hall

Being a resident of the most filmed city in the world, there are some buildings that I have as much familiarity with from portrayals on the silver screen as I do from my daily commute home.  One such building is our iconic City Hall, completed in the 1920s in a fashion one architect described as an architectural hybrid “Modern American” style.  Built from concrete taken from sand from all 58 Californian counties and mixed with water from all 21 Missions, this classy behemoth has been featured in dozens of films and TV shows (my personal favorite cameo is Carpenter’s 1980s classic, “Escape from L.A.”).

Photos above by Estella Hernandez. All photos below by Kelsey Bailey.

Standing at 450 feet, L.A.’s City Hall is a structural...

September 10, 2015

A Charm of Hummingbirds in DTLA

Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) is cast as one of the most iconic concrete jungles, with skyscrapers, cars, and miles of concrete. Many think of this as a place bereft of nature. But, over the last number of years pocket parks have been built, landscapes have been changed (think City Hall), and street-side planters have been added (though the habitat value of the plants in the Broadway bump-outs is questionable at best). Nature has always been here, and will continue to be so. But the often cited examples of urban nature, rats, pigeons, and ants, aren’t the only ones calling DTLA home.

At our recent BioBlitz L.A. event at City Hall we worked to document the wildlife in downtown. With a dedicated crew of 9 citizen scientists, we managed to document 28 species in...

September 8, 2015

Los Angeles is Being Invaded by Frogs!

Sunday, September 6, 7:54 pm, my phone vibrates with an incoming text message. I look down and see a photo of a frog taken in Hollywood. This isn’t an unusual occurrence. When you study urban biodiversity and spend big portions of time telling anyone that will listen that they can make the next big urban biodiversity discovery, this is the happy result—incoming photos of critters to identify. Usually it is a native frog, lizard, or snake, but with alarming and increasing frequency, the photographed critter is a nonnative species.
The mystery frog as found in Hollywood and photographed by Elizabeth Long.

In this photo, the critter is a frog. But is it a common native or an unusual nonnative? Unfortunately, smartphones aren't great at taking nighttime photographs of frogs, and I can't yet be sure of the identification. However, I...

August 31, 2015

When Fig Beetles Attack!

Photo by Brian Brown

It’s a beautiful summer day in L.A. and I am strolling across a wide open lawn. The sky is bright blue and decorated with scattered clouds. The sun shines with that lazy-afternoon-golden-California glow and the grass tickles my toes. A bird sings sweetly and the whole scene is so idyllic it is cliché. Suddenly, a loud buzz and “WHACK!”, something the size of a large marble slams straight into the side of my face. Meet the fig beetle.

Fig beetles (Cotinis mutabilis), also known as figeater beetles or green fruit beetles, are a Southwestern species of beetle that careen through the air with the grace of a charging rhinoceros. They are loud, they are big (often around an inch long), and they are everywhere right...

August 21, 2015

Of Droughts, Data, and Butterflies

Photo: Variable Checkerspot, Euphydryas chalcedona, nectaring along the Castro Crest Ridge, Santa Monica Mountains, May 2015 (Elizabeth Long).

Californians are all painfully aware that we are suffering through year 4 of a significant drought. It's easy to predict that animals that rely on streams, ponds, or lakes are going to suffer from the scarcity of water. Animals that live in water, reproduce in water, or simply need these water sources for drinking are all under an increased risk. But what about things like land-dwelling insects? One of the questions I've been asked often in the past few months is "How are the butterflies responding to the drought?" One might think that would be an easy question to answer, but the reality is more complex.

Butterfly watchers have some common wisdom that they share...

August 13, 2015

Fieldwork Fails Attributed to Black Witch Moth in Los Angeles

Museum herpetologist, Dr. Greg Pauly, has been experiencing a spate of bad luck recently. He purchased losing lottery tickets and had some epic #FieldWorkFails—science really isn't always as glamorous as everyone makes out. But, can all this bad luck really be traced back to Greg's encounter with a giant moth?

On August 5, Greg was walking through the Museum's Nature Gardens and snapped this picture of, "a really giant moth." Not knowing what it was, he sent the photo around to Museum entomologists. Dr. Brian Brown was the first to respond with an e-mail of only two words—Brian is well know for his brevity in such matters—"black witch." 

The black witch moth, Ascalapha odorata, is...

August 8, 2015

Opening a new window to the small

Photo by Emily Hartop

The insects collected by our Malaise trap range in size from the four-inch wingspan of the Giant Swallowtail to microscopic parasitic wasps far less than an inch long. It is a fact of insect samples that there are many more of the smaller ones in each trap, most of which are barely visible without magnification. How do we get you, our blog readers, to care about such tiny objects and to share our excitement in seeing them? We have to a) make models (too time consuming), b) make drawings (but I stink at drawing), or c) photograph them. Until recently, none of these options was satisfactory, but, boy, has that changed: thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, our museum, and Victoria Dean, we obtained an amazingly high resolution, automated digital microscope. Operating at...