Nature in L.A.

October 18, 2016

The Sound of our Griffith Park Mountain Lion: P-22 and the Mysteries of Puma Communication

What comes to mind when you imagine the call of P-22, L.A.'s famous urban mountain lion (Puma concolor)?  Do you imagine a roar or violent hiss? If so, you are not alone because that is what people most often see and hear in the movies.

Photo by Miguel Ordeñana

However, a recent video of P-22 vocalizing (first ever!) paints a different picture. The video supports recent cutting edge research suggesting that puma communication is more complex than we once thought.  As we prepare to celebrate our beloved Griffith Park denizen on...

October 7, 2016

L.A. Mushroom Season Starts!

The early Fall can be an extraordinary time for finding fungus in Southern California, as I was thrilled to discover at the perimeter of two NHM sites.

Along the border of the Exposition Park Rose Garden, adjacent to NHM’s Nature Garden, is a grove of remarkably large Ficus and Eucalyptus trees. Recently, two of the six or so Eucalyptus trees were sporting young fruiting bodies and more mature “shelves” of Laetiporus gilbertsonii, a fungus known as the California Chicken of the Woods. This species is a wood decay fungus common to California oaks and eucalyptus trees especially when they are old or stressed from something like drought, which we are experiencing in Southern California. These golf-ball sized, candy corn-colored blobs were as weird as they were wonderful.


September 30, 2016

Slimy friends or...?

While looking for snails and slugs on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona recently, I uncovered this cozy scene: an Ambigolimax slug nestled between two land planarians. Despite my disappointing photography, the result of which is the blurry photo you see here, this slug/planarian coupling is noteworthy for a few reasons.

1. You can see their differences. Land planarians are often mistaken for slugs, and although these animals are both slimy and found in the same moist, leaf litter habitat, the planarian belongs to the Flatworm (or Platyhelminthes) phylum, while the slug belongs to phylum Mollusca. The planarian is much thinner than any slug and often has two dark brown bands running the length of its body. The body of slugs is stout compared to the very...

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!


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...