Nature in L.A.

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...

January 7, 2015

Selfie Sticks and Hummingbird Nests

We found another hummingbird nest in the Nature Gardens! On December 28th Miguel Ordeñana, Museum Citizen Science Coordinator, found an Allen's Hummingbird, Selasphorus sasin, nest in our cork oak tree.

Female Allen's Hummingbird, photo courtesy of Felipe Lepe.

As you can see she's (only female hummingbirds build nests and care for the young) sitting pretty in her nest, but are there any eggs? Over the last few weeks we've observed her sitting in the nest for extended periods of time. This behavior led us all to believe that there were definitely eggs in there. But, we wanted to be sure. As luck would have it, I recieved a late Christmas present last night–a selfie stick.

It was sort of a joke gift, I am a vocal selfie stick hater! I mean, I just can't...

December 23, 2014

First Lizard Found in Museum's Nature Gardens!

On November 19, 2014 something happened at work that I’ve been waiting three and half years for. Unfortunately, I wasn’t here to witness it, but thanks to citizen science I was able to celebrate the discovery, even though I was 6,187 miles away.

On that day, newly turned citizen scientist Toni Castillo documented the first lizard in the Museum’s Nature Gardens.

Photo courtesy of Toni Castillo

The lizard in question was a Western Fence Lizard, Sceleporus occidentalis, and Toni, a Museum staffer, just happened to see it as she was walking through the gardens.

“I was walking next to the Living Wall and saw something in the pathway. At first I thought it was a leaf or a stick, but then I looked closer and realized it was a lizard.”

Toni knew that this was a unique find—she’d heard...

December 11, 2014

Plant Clocks: Telling Seasonal Time in the Nature Gardens

Want to know the time of day? Look no further than your wristwatch, clock, computer, or cell phone. For the time of year, though, look to nature. Like a reliable timepiece, certain plants and animals signal the change of season. Just like learning to tell time, anyone can learn to read nature’s seasonal clock. As with so many things here in the Golden State, nature is decidedly different from the rest of the country — our spring really begins in autumn!

The current three-year drought aside, L.A’s Mediterranean climate is usually characterized by cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. California’s native plants have adapted over thousands of years to this cycle and, even before the first raindrops fall from the sky, some plants begin to emerge from their summer resting phase, sprouting new leaves or bursting into bloom.

Manzanita in...

December 2, 2014

Brainwashed Bees

By Brian Brown Some of you might have heard about the "ZomBee" project, both at our museum and perhaps at its source. It appears that honey bees parasitized by a phorid fly called Apocephalus borealis change their behavior and fly to lights in the evening. I witnessed this phenomenon myself in Pasadena a couple of nights ago, where dozens of bees were circling a porchlight and crawling on the side of a house at 8pm. Apocephalus borealis, the "zombie fly" Apocephalus borealis, the "zombie fly"This is just a reminder that if you see or hear about this type of abnormal bee behavior, please let us know so we can investigate....