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Nature in L.A.

September 27, 2016

Straighten Up and Fly Right, “Collective Wisdom” in Pigeon Flocks

Our fearless, GPS-tracked homing pigeon leader, poised to steer the flock astray. Photo by: Zsuzsa Ákos

In a recent study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, researchers from the University of Oxford have discovered that pigeons have more reasoning capacity than urban-dwelling humans have ever credited them.

It was previously thought that “bad” flock leaders that made navigational mistakes would propagate their errors down through a hierarchical decision-making system in species that travel together, like the homing pigeon (above and below). 'Lo and behold, the researchers found that those...


September 20, 2016

Late Summer in the NHM Nature Gardens

Dioprosopa clavata. Photo by Brian Brown.

With the flowering of the buckwheats almost completely finished, the insect activity has temporarily dropped off in the Nature Gardens. I say temporarily because the coyotebush, Baccharis 'Centennial,' is almost ready to flower, and when it does the 1913 Garden becomes an insect photographer's paradise. 

Green fig beetles (Cotinis mutabilis). Photo by Brian Brown.

Until that happy event, only a few days away, the action is now...


September 13, 2016

East Ridin’ Pseudoscorpion Picked Up in LA!

Pseudoscorpions (meaning "false scorpion") resemble miniature scorpions without a long stinging "tail." Photo credit here.

The Coolest Hitchhikers in the Galaxy

Imagine being only a few millimeters in length with a big round body, 8 legs, and 2 large pincher-like “claws.” With no wings to transport them, it’s a great big world to navigate for the tiny predatory pseudoscorpion, a relative of spiders, scorpions and their kin. Hunting food and finding mates may seem like an impossible challenge for other tiny organisms, but pseudoscorpions DON’T PANIC, for evolution has made them the coolest little hitchhikers in the galaxy!

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September 10, 2016

Mutant Snail!

Take a close look at this Brown Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum. Instead of the usual two optical tentacles (a.k.a. eye stalks), this snail has three! The photo was sent to us by one of our citizen scientists, Rhondi Ewing and added to our Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments project. There aren't many records of land snails with this sort of mutation, but a number of sea slugs (nudibranchs) have been recorded with forked appendages. Check out the iNaturalist page Amazing Aberrants. The project aims to...


September 8, 2016

We Want Your Baby (Lizard) Photos!

People all over L.A. have been finding baby lizards lately. Here are a few of my favorites: 

Okay, so this one was found by me, but I mean come on is there anything cuter than a baby western fence lizard? Found while hiking in Griffith Park (August 9), I moved him off the trail so he wouldn't get stepped on.

My friend Yara Zair posted this picture to her Instagram account @califlorescence of a wee alligator lizard found while watering her garden in Hermon (August 26).

This baby lizard came via text message from fellow @nhmla staffer Laurel Dickow. Her cat found it in her Highland...


September 6, 2016

L.A. Spider Survey News: Locally Rare Ground Spider Found in La Mirada Backyard

We are never sure what we are going to find when we go collecting in the backyards participating in the BioSCAN project.  We expect the usual suspects: widows, cellar spiders, various ground spiders, orb weavers, jumping spiders, and funnel web weavers.  Sometimes we find less commonly collected spiders, like green lynx spiders or crab spiders.  But, every once in a while, we find a spider we have...


September 1, 2016

Breaking Arachnophobia News!

A local silver garden orbweaver, Argiope argentata, in our Spider Pavilion. 

In a study published in Current Biology, researchers from two Swedish universities have used arachnophobes to demonstrate the success of "memory disruption" in the treatment of anxiety disorders. The authors set out to improve on the results of exposure therapy, in which a patient is gradually exposed to the object or context that provokes fear, anxiety or trauma. (In the study's case, subjects were exposed to photos of spiders.)

Exposure therapy works by replacing an old fear memory with a safer one. But sometimes exposure therapy fails to have a...


August 30, 2016

Moth Flies Living in Your Drain?

Is this guy in your drains, too? Moth fly larva. Photo by: Kelsey Bailey

Have you ever gone into your bathroom and noticed tiny, dark, gnat-like bugs flitting around your sink? If you try to drown one with a spray of the faucet, it miraculously rises from the deluge like a minuscule, winged Lazarus. You may regularly find the gnats hanging out on the bathroom wall, and because they are relatively sedentary and witless, unlike your wily common house fly, you can leisurely grab a square of toilet paper and smush them, which leaves a dark smudge on your wall. It is the kind of bug for which you instinctively have disaffection. More so when you know the reason for their presence in your bathroom: their larvae are living...


August 25, 2016

Monarch Chrysalis Gets a Hotel Upgrade

Many people know that camera traps capture photos of mammals, but few people know that they are also good at detecting the presence of other animals. Camera traps are motion-activated cameras used mainly to target terrestrial mammals.  Surprisingly, I regularly detect insects and other arthropods as well. Not in the pictures but inside the actual camera trap—because they make homes out of the camera trap housing! When checking cameras, I've been surprised to find everything from large black widows to hundreds of earwigs flowing from the camera trap case. In fact, a select few of the spiders even become data points for the NHM Spider Survey!

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August 23, 2016

A Campus Trek, Wildlife Camera In Hand

Esparanza elementary school students wrote about another one of their urban wildlife explorations on campus with the help of their renaissance principal, Brad Rumble. Once again, they knocked it out of the park! I spent an afternoon with some students to talk about the ins and outs of camera trap research. From finding an optimal location, the technology, why camera traps are handy tools for assessing the health of an ecosystem, to cool local discoveries already made with camera traps (obviously I talked about P-22 our Griffith Park Mountain Lion).

Miguel introduces students to camera trap technology....