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Nature in L.A.

July 5, 2016

A Microscopic Look at Snail Jaws

Have you ever wondered what the inside of a snail's mouth looks like? 

The anatomy involved in land snail and slug feeding is fascinating. Well, I’d like to guess that it is more fascinating than you’d expect, if you’ve ever thought about snail and slug feeding in the first place. Snails and slugs have evolved to eat just about everything; they are herbivorous, carnivorous, omnivorous, and detritivorous (eating decaying waste from plants and other animals). There are specialist and generalist species that eat worms, vegetation, rotting vegetation, animal waste, fungus, and other snails.

Brazilian snail eating lettuce.

Thousands of Microsopic Teeth!

Snails and slugs eat with a jaw and a flexible band of thousands of microscopic teeth, called a radula...


June 28, 2016

Stink Beetle Hits the Trails

The following is a sneak peek at @NHMLA's upcoming L.A. Nature Guide. This is one of 100 species accounts that will be in the book:

Stink beetles can be seen bumbling across almost any hiking trail in our local mountains and other natural areas. Hikers in Griffith Park often spot them. What are they doing? Since they can not fly—their shield-like front wings are fused together—they have to walk everywhere. Scientists have followed them and found out they are usually in search of food. They are so good at living in dry climates, they can get all the water they need from the plants they eat.

Stink beetle wanders across a dry wash in Lytle Creek, California. Photo taken by Lila Higgins.

Chemical Defense = Not Dinner

If a stink beetle is disturbed, it has a few ways to escape...


June 22, 2016

Smells Like Baby Skunk Spirit!

What’s that smell?! It’s baby skunk season!

Mother striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are on high alert and especially territorial between mid-May and mid-June because they are protecting their kits (another, more adorable word for baby skunks). After all, their scientific name, Mephitis, is Latin for "bad odor" and also the name of the Roman goddess of noxious vapors (a.k.a. bad gas) and illness, which makes sense since most people and animals don’t feel their best after getting sprayed, especially in the face and eyes.

Photo 1: A couple of skunk kits discovered in the Atwater neighborhood near the L.A. River.  Photo Credit: Stephanie Stein

Mephitis mephitis...


June 14, 2016

Summer of Chub

Just in time for summer, baby Arroyo chub have hatched in our Nature Garden pond!  Sharp-eyed Will Hausler from live animal programs spotted dozens of tiny black fish darting around in the shallows at one end of the pond.  He shared his discovery with Leslie Gordon, our live animal programs manager, who arranged the chub introduction and has been keeping tabs on them.  

baby chub in pond

The tiny chub in the pond (left) and darting out of the photo (right).  Chub have a black stripe on the side which is very obvious in the juveniles.  Photo credit: Will Hausler, Chris Thacker.

Her first thought was that they must be the offspring of the chub we released in March, but she wasn’t sure. It’s hard to tell what kind of...


June 2, 2016

Scavenging Sarcophagid Flies!

Flesh fly, in the family Sarcophagidae a.k.a. sarcs. "They all look the same." Photo credit: Brian Brown

In the entomological world, “scavenger” can be a dismissive term, hurled at animals that seem to feed indiscriminately on any available garbage or rotting material. The ultimate scavengers are indeed those insects that frequent trash bins and dumpsters: unsophisticated diners on our scraps and leftovers, annoying infesters of our cities and houses.

The image of an unsavory “scavenger” can obscure some fascinating and extremely specific matters of lifestyle that defy the notion of a creature with wholly undiscerning habits....


May 31, 2016

More Bees, Please: A Bee Sanctuary in the Heart of Urban L.A.

Metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) (Left) and Mason bee (Osmia sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

Backyards are not what they used to be. As an urban biologist who has spent countless hours exploring yards in L.A., I have seen lawns and rose gardens replaced by succulents and sages, bug zappers exchanged for hummingbird feeders, and swing sets coupled with bee hotels. More and more Angelenos are seeing their personal green space as not just a place to rest and play, but as integral habitat to share with local wildlife. Our Museum’s Nature Gardens are living proof that even in the core of the city, planting with purpose can have a profound beneficial effect. The area that was predominantly a concrete parking lot less than ten years ago is now home to 10 mammal species, 168 bird species, and heaps of insect species that we...


May 24, 2016

War of the Larvae: Ladybug Grub Eats Flower Fly Maggot!

Immature ladybug eating flower fly larva, photo by Brian Brown.

Urban Nature Research Center (UNRC) co-director Dr. Brian Brown recently wandered out of his home into his Monrovia backyard and caught sight of something unexpected on the outside of his insect trap: an immature ladybug (also known as a larva or grub) consuming the larva of a flower fly (also known as a maggot).  The large, tent-like Malaise trap—used in the UNRC's BioSCAN project to collect and study flying insects from multiple sites across Los Angeles—has a sloped, white mesh cover that serves as a perfect backdrop to capture an image of a bristly black and orange ladybug larva mid-meal....


May 17, 2016

Citizen Science: Third Graders Changing the World, One Observation at a Time

Ms. Denner and her third grade Super Citizen Scientists in the school garden.

Third graders at Billy Mitchell Elementary School in Lawndale are looking at the world a bit differently now, thanks to their participation in NHM’s urban research SuperProject! For the past six months, the three third-grade classrooms led by Ms. Denner, Ms. Bradley, and Ms. Courtnell have been conducting observations in their school garden, and they have made some amazing discoveries along the way!

Students have documented many garden creatures, including Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars,...


May 10, 2016

Misplaced Fears: Rattlesnakes are not as dangerous as ladders, trees, dogs, or large TVs

In Southern California, rattlesnakes can be seen year round, but spring and summer have the most rattlesnake activity. This also means that these months generate the most concerns about rattlesnake bites. The good news, however, is that here in the United States, the fear of venomous snakebite seems to far outweigh the actual chance of being bitten. Let’s take a closer look at the statistics behind venomous snakebites. 

A typical Southern California rattlesnake encounter. Here, a large Southern Pacific Rattlesnake crosses a dirt road in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

In the U.S., the snakes typically involved in human fatalities include native species like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths as well as a number of nonnative species that are sometimes kept as pets, both legally and illegally, and zoo animals....


April 29, 2016

Meet a Citizen Scientist: Eric Keller

This week's blog is written by one of our @NHMLA citizen scientists, Eric Keller:

If I were to make a list titled, “Accomplishments I Never Really Planned On But Achieved Anyways,” I think having a species of phorid fly named after me would have to be at the very top. And how did I manage to do this? Simple, I just volunteered as a citizen scientist by giving a little time and a small patch of real estate to Dr. Brian Brown and his BioSCAN team at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and as a nice thank you the museum dubbed one of their newly discovered species “Megaselia kelleri”.

Digital model of a Coffin Fly, Conicera tibialis.

But this is not all I got out of the...