June 22, 2012

Charismatic Microfauna in the North Campus

I've been away all week in Yellowstone for work and wasn't sure how I'd manage the blog this week. While there, I was stunned by the awesome wildlife I encountered, including bison, elk, black bears, pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and even a pack of six gray wolves!

Bison jams are a common occurrence in Yellowstone!

For those in the know, these animals are called charismatic megafauna. They are beloved by most, and therefore it's easy to get people to care about them and the issues they face. In stark contrast, much of the fauna I work with, and a focus of both the North Campus and Nature Lab projects, are tiny, seemingly inconsequential, and many times a turn-off to visitors. For instance, it's hard to get people to care about insects that live in what looks like spit! This morning I went out to see what charismatic microfauna I could find in the North Campus.

A pill bug seemingly doing a break dance move!
(It was actually caught in a spider's web.)
Aphids eating and ladybugs mating! 
(Note the soft focus on the ladybugs...I didn't want it to be too explicit.)
Immature Dusky Ladybug
(Look at that body gear)
Spittlebug retreats on our rosemary plants.
Spittlebug that lives inside the frothy retreat.
Have you seen these insects in your garden? They are a fairly common sight in L.A., and I most often find them on rosemary plants. Although these spittlebugs, a.k.a Froghoppers in the Cercopid family,  can be considered pestsby some gardeners, they don't actually do much damage to the plants. I was actually very excited when spittlebugs showed up in the North Campus, as I get a huge kick out of showing them to kids and adults alike.
Visitors are fascinated when I point out the white frothy homes on the plants and then gently remove an immature insect so they can see it up close. Through these moments of wonder and discovery, I hope I can inspire people to care, at least a little bit, about these creatures. They make our outdoor spaces more diverse, interesting, and also play a part in the intricate web of life that exists in each of our backyards.



Posted by:Lila Higgins

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