Nature in L.A.

April 10, 2015

Ankle Bracelets for House Sparrows

Last week, husband and wife ornithologist team Kimball Garrett (Museum ornithology collections manager) and Kathy Molina (Museum Research Associate) partnered with citizen science staff to band house sparrows (Passer domesticus). We hope that by banding these birds, we'll be able to understand how they use our urban environment. These little brown birds are literally everywhere, yet not much is known about their local behavior.  What we do know is that they are originally from Europe and were purposefully introduced to North America starting in the 1850s. Because they are very adaptable in both urban and rural areas, their numbers have since exploded. You might recognize them as the bird that once stole your French fries!

Kimball wants to know more, "do they spend all day feeding and socializing in our Nature Gardens or do some have lunch at the...

April 1, 2015

Purple Pollen Eaters: A Honey bee's Love Affair with Phacelia

Spring is here and everyone is totally digging the wildflower display in our Nature Gardens. Casey Schreiner from Modern Hiker even gave us a shoutout on Instagram

It's a good day for #wildflowers at the @nhmla!

The two flowers vying for your attention in this photo are, according to Carol Bornstein Nature Gardens Director and native plant guru, "the white-tipped yellow blossoms of tidy tips, Layia platyglossa, and tansy leaf phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia." Carol goes on to explain, "the nectar-rich, sweetly scented purple flowers of this taller annual are attracting droves of bees."  Boy is this true.


March 19, 2015

How I Discovered 30 New Species of Flies in Los Angeles

By Emily Hartop

When I came to work at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, I had no idea exactly what was in store for me. The NHM had recently initiated a massive study to search for biodiversity, or the variety of life forms in a particular area. This study wasn’t taking place in some lush tropical jungle, though; in fact, far from it. This fabulous study was (and is) taking place in the backyards of Los Angeles. I got hired to be part of the entomological team for this urban project called BioSCAN (Biodiversity Science: City and Nature) and before I knew it, I was describing 30 new species of flies collected right here in the City of Angels. Before I explain how this all happened, let...

March 18, 2015

Kid Citizen Scientist Finds First Snail for Project S.L.I.M.E.

A few weekends ago, citizen scientists from all over L.A. came to the Museum to see what they could find hiding in the damp and cool shadows of our Nature Gardens. Twenty people joined Museum experts (Lindsey Groves and Florence Nishida) to search for slugs, snails, and fungi—those often overlooked decomposers that break down dead and decaying material. They were also the first people to test out our latest and greatest citizen science project, S.L.I.M.E. (Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments). Within ten minutes, one of our youngest citizen scientists made the first S.L.I.M.E. discovery - a glass snail (Oxychilus draparnaudi) in the Pollinator Garden.

Check out what else we found:

A bunch of turkey tail fungus on a dead log:

March 6, 2015

Why Bother With Urban Biodiversity?

By Dean Pentcheff
On one day in the past decade, someone who never lived an urban life came to a city. Perhaps it was a man in China looking for work in Beijing, a hungry woman from a rural farming family in India moving to Hyderabad, or perhaps a baby born in a Los Angeles hospital. That unheralded, unnoticed arrival delineated a turning point in human history. That person was the one who tipped the scale from rural to urban. For the first time, more than half of us live in cities.

Urban vs. rural population trends (United Nations. 2014. World Urbanization Prospects. ST/ESA/SER.A/352)

Urban vs. rural population trends (United Nations. 2014. World Urbanization Prospects. ST/ESA/SER.A/352)[/caption]That trend is expected to continue, as world population expands and farming necessarily becomes ever more...

February 20, 2015

Introducing: ButterflySCAN!

By Elizabeth Long How lucky are you, Dear Reader? Two posts within a month about butterflies! We’re excited to announce the launch of a new study in conjunction with BioSCAN: ButterflySCAN!


By Elizabeth Long How lucky are you, Dear Reader? Two posts within a month about butterflies! We’re excited to announce the launch of a new study in conjunction with BioSCAN: ButterflySCAN! As mentioned in our last butterfly post, the sampling method that we use in BioSCAN, the Malaise trap, is an unusual way to study butterflies and not much has been written about how effective it is. Outside of the tropics the most common way to study butterfly diversity is via a method called the Pollard Walk . This is a fairly simple method...

February 10, 2015

Faces of BioSCAN: The Heinzelmännchen

Heinzelmännchenbrunnen (© Raimond Spekking, via Wikimedia Commons)

Who are the Heinzelmännchen who sort all those BioSCAN samples? — a peek into our lab and behind the scenes. Our BioSCAN project collects 30 samples per week, 52 weeks per year, for 3 years. That will be a staggering 4,680 samples. In order to describe the biodiversity of Los Angeles, we need to figure out what is in each jar. How can this possibly get done? The short answer is a small army of undergraduates. The longer answer is — young, bright, energetic minds looking for petri dish safaris under microscopes. [caption id="attachment_621" align="alignleft" width="242...

January 27, 2015

115th Annual Christmas Bird Count @NHMLA!

On December 28, everyday people from all over Los Angeles flocked to the Natural History Museum to help count the bird life of L.A.! Some came as beginners ready for an intro to birding from Kimball Garrett, one of the best and most well-known birders in town, who also happens to be the Museum’s Ornithology Collections Manager. Others came because they were interested in contributing to this important bird census, but didn’t plan to see any surprising or remarkable species in our small urban oasis.  Little did they know they were in for some surprises.

Kimball started off the morning explaining what the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is all about. He hyped up the activity by reminding everyone that it is the oldest citizen science survey in the world and provides invaluable information on bird population trends.  Another fun fact that Kimball...

January 26, 2015

BioSCAN: Not Just About Flies

By Elizabeth Long By now most people familiar with the BioSCAN Project know that we spend a lot of time looking at flies, but it may come as a surprise that we are equally passionate about other insect groups that can also be used for our biodiversity research. One such group is the Order Lepidoptera, the much beloved butterflies and moths. They are not usually collected by way of Malaise traps (they get a bit soggy in the ethanol), so for this reason there’s not much information about butterfly diversity in Malaise trap based projects. When I first started to identify the BioSCAN samples, I didn’t know what to expect and I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t be finding any new species of butterflies, much less 30 new species (yes, sometimes I have phorid fly envy!) — collecting and naming butterflies has been popular for centuries.


January 9, 2015

Faces of BioSCAN: The Fabulous Betty Defibaugh!

BioSCAN is a unique project because it focuses the excitement of scientific discovery right here in our own bustling city and relies on the dedication of L.A. residents through whom those discoveries are made. Our BioSCAN site hosts provide a crucial service by keeping our large insect traps (called Malaise traps) in their back yards, changing the samples weekly, being our "eyes in the field," and by sharing photos, stories and the excitement of their own insect observations.  I am thrilled to introduce Betty Defibaugh: world traveler, entomologist, Natural History Museum volunteer extraordinaire for the last 26 years, and proud BioSCAN site host! [caption id="attachment_589" align="alignnone" width="748"]Betty with a drawer of her favorite insects: butterflies. Photo by Kelsey Bailey. Betty...