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Nature in L.A.

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...

August 3, 2015

Coyotes of L.A.’s Urban Core: Using Science to Separate Fact from Fiction

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area formally announced this week that they launched the first study on urban coyotes of Los Angeles.  I was fortunate enough to be able to help with the processing of C-145, a coyote that was captured in Silver Lake.
 C-145 spotted in the Silver Lake neighborhood, Photo Credit: National Park Service

It was half past midnight and I was getting ready to turn off Jimmy Kimmel Live and head to bed, when all of the sudden I received a text from Justin Brown, National Park Service Ecologist, stating “trap triggered silver lake.” I quickly put my boots on, said bye to my wife, and rushed out the door.  My 6 minute commute from my Los Feliz apartment to the Silver Lake location was a very surreal experience as I drove by the dog park where I would bring my childhood dog and the recreation center where my brothers and I played...

July 28, 2015

'Tis the Season for Baby Lizards

Over the last few weeks, baby lizards have been hatching out of their eggs throughout Southern California. Most of these baby lizards are one of two widespread species, the Western Fence Lizard and the Side-blotched Lizard, but it is also hatching season for many of Southern California’s other lizard species.



Father and son citizen scientists Drew and Jude Ready observed a baby Western Fence Lizard in Claremont on June 30th. Jude carefully picked up the tiny lizard, while Drew took a photo that he then submitted to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) citizen science project....

July 16, 2015

The Midday Sunflower Long-Horned Bee Huddle

The life of the bee as we often think of it is one of constant motion: buzzing, dancing, collecting, feeding, searching, and digging is all in a days work for the “busy bee.”  What many may not realize is that this perception of the bee is mainly from our frequent encounters with the females of the species which must not only feed themselves but also take care of their young.  Honeybees, which are highly unusual in their behavior compared to most bees, have workers that are specialized in gathering pollen and communicating its location through dance, building and cleaning the waxy hive, and taking care of their larval sisters. The vast majority of bee species, unlike the honeybee, are solitary: One female alone must take care of her young; there is no queen or workers to do all the grunt work.
 
Long-horned bee, photo by...

July 9, 2015

Walnuts, anyone?


by Carol BornsteinPhoto by Carol Bornstein

Squirrels and humans have something in common – both love nuts. If you skip the added salt and oil, these tasty “fruits” are good for you, too. And if you are interested in foraging – with permission and proper identification, of course - several of California’s native trees and shrubs offer up some mighty flavorful nuts. Just ask the squirrels!

For centuries, Native American tribes throughout California have harvested native hazelnuts, pine nuts, and walnuts. Birds, squirrels, and other wildlife also feast upon these nutritious foods. Here in the Los Angeles Basin, southern California black walnuts (Juglans californica) are still relatively easy to find in the Santa Monica Mountains, growing among coast live oak, toyon, elderberry, sycamore, and other...

July 2, 2015

Arroyo #Chubwatch 2015

After three long years of planning, 45 arroyo chub were finally released into the Nature Garden's pond last week. 
Arroyo chub (it's alive, don't worry!) held for a quick photo op before release into the pond! Photo by Richard Hayden.

Arroyo chub, Gila orcuttii, are a native freshwater minnow found only in the coastal streams of Southern California, says Chris Thacker, Museum Curator of Ichthyology (fishes). They are classified as threatened in this native range and are noticeably missing from the lower reaches of the Los Angeles river. So, when it came time to think about fish in the Nature Gardens pond, all our scientists and educators wanted Arroyo chub.

 
The chub were transported from the...

June 23, 2015

Museum Makes Room for Nesting Cliff Swallows

Cliff swallows have moved onto, rather than into the Museum! Last week, Kimball Garrett, Museum bird expert, reported finding a nest under the eaves of the building directly facing the historic LA Memorial Coliseum. As he got close enough to snap this photograph, Kimball observed a pair of young swallows peering out of their finely crafted mud dwelling.

Check out that architecture! The adult breeding pair work together to collect mud pellets from the immediate area and use their bills to transport and mold them into a viable nest.  

Cliff swallows, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, have historically nested on our building–back in the 80s and 90s Kimball would see them every year–but recently they have been noticeably absent. We are not sure what has caused them to return, but we're definitely tracking their progress and hope they...

June 17, 2015

Rare Nine-spotted Ladybug Found in L.A.!

During Bug Fair, I found a ladybug in the Museum’s Nature Gardens, that didn’t look familiar. It didn’t have any spots, but it somehow looked different than all the other no-spotted ladybugs I’d seen before. I took its photo, posted it to our Nature Gardens Survey on iNaturalist, and then totally forgot about it.

Nine-spotted ladybug, photo taken by Harsi Parker

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, while I was preparing for a behind-the-scenes tour in entomology that something made me come back to that photograph. I was planning to talk about a big discovery made by a citizen scientist back in 2009—the time Harsi Parker discovered a rare nine-...