Nature Gardens at NHM: LA's Urban Nature

Showing posts from : 2012

December 24, 2012

New Fly Species Likes to Party It Up Poolside in Brentwood

I've been scratching my head for a story to tell in this week's blog. At 6:20 last night it hit me! I've never related our Curator of Entomology, Brian Brown's, story of how he discovered a brand new species of fly, right here in Los Angeles! That's right folks, undiscovered fly species are here right under your noses oh and don't forget that one that  flew into your eyeball, maybe that was new to science too, I guess next time you should try to save it!

All kidding aside, there are likely hundreds of new species scientists have never discovered before, right here in L.A.. Brian is famous here at the Museum for saying, "It's just as likely to find a new species to science in L.A., as it is in Costa Rica [where he does a lot of his research], 100%."

All you have to do is look at the numbers. Scientists have described almost a million different species of insects. However, they estimate that there may be anywhere between 9 and 29...

December 13, 2012

Weevil is as Weevil Does: Total Agave Meltdown

I don't know about you, but I'm not freaking out about the end of the world on December 21. Though, I can tell you "who" should be those agave plants, that's who! So much so, that if I was magically turned into an agave plant tomorrow, I'd totally start partying it up in preparation for total meltdown. Seriously though, agave meltdown is no joke. It's a very real disease that is highly lethal to agave plants and we've just discovered it in the Museum's garden!

It all came about last week. Richard Hayden and Daniel Feldman, the Museum's garden staff, noticed that some of our Agave americana plants weren't looking so hot. Some plants had a few leaves that were wrinkled and beginning to discolor, others were so bad they weren't able to stand up straight anymore. Experimentally, Daniel tugged on a leaf of one of the sick agaves, and surprisingly the entire plant came out of the ground in his hand! What they discovered beneath the surface was not pretty. The...

December 1, 2012

A Plague of Grasshoppers on Figueroa?

Recently, our garden staff has been finding LOADS of grasshoppers, but what are they all doing here? Are grasshoppers good for our gardens, or are they destructive like the plague of locusts (a swarming variety of grasshoppers in the family Acrididae) that appear in the Bible?

 

On November 14, I snapped a decent picture of a grasshopper hanging out on a pitcher sage plant, Lepechinia fragrans. I thought I'd have a crack at identifying it, and hoped that, through the process, I'd be able to figure out what exactly they're doing in the garden.

 

Not a bad picture for my camera phone!

 

Armed with a trusty book, the Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States, I began my quest. It was a long and arduous quest...


November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving for the Butter-butt (but not the Butterballs)!

Hold your horses...give me a moment to clarify this title, I'm talking about birds here! When I say "butter-butt" I'm actually referring to a small grey songbird that has a bright yellow patch on its derrière (yes, this really is what dorky birders like myself call this bird when we're out birding). In particular, I'm talking about the below pictured butter-butt, that narrowly escaped death hence the giving of thanks. In contrast, all those Butterball turkeys won't be giving much thanks. But hey, maybe you'll be inclined to give some on their behalf!
If this bird had a speech bubble, what would it be saying?

This is what Museum bird expert, Kimball Garrett, has to say about butter-butts, a.k.a. Yellow-rumped warblers:

...

November 16, 2012

Massive Black Fly aka Mexican Cactus Fly

Earlier this week I was outside being interviewed about Entomophagy, the practice of eating bugs. While they were setting up the camera and sound equipment I took a few moments to see what insects were visiting the bright yellow flowers on the bush I was standing next to. Among the usual honeybees, I saw a massive black fly. This fly was huge (3/4 of an inch in length) and really stood out against the yellow flowers.


It was a Mexican cactus fly, Copestylum mexicanum, feeding on nectar, and this was the first time I had seen them around the Museum!

Here's what Flower Flies of Los Angeles County book has to say about them:
"This is the largest flower fly in Southern California, with a body length of 18mm. It gets its name from the larvae that feed in wet decaying prickly pear...

November 7, 2012

The Hitchikers Guide to Los Angeles

Have you ever jumped in your car and realized there was a bug on your windshield? Not a gross squished one, I mean a living one, ready for a hitchiking adventure. When this happens, you might be like me, and decide to spark up the engine and see how long that sucker can stick around for (never speeding of course)! In my extensive experience, the bugs usually manage to "hang on" for much longer than one would expect. Case in point: This bright green katydida close relative to grasshopperstraveled with Nature Lab project manager, Jennifer Morgan, all the way from Palos Verdes to Pasadena, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph!   

Katy "done" did it right!

For a better idea of what a katydid looks like, here's an image courtesy of...

October 31, 2012

Psycho Spider Killer: What is It?

I've been waiting an entire month to write this post, and maybe my entire life to entomologically riff off a Talking Heads song title! On Monday, October 1, I found a large tarantula hawk wasp (a.k.a Pepsis wasp) on some flowering Baccharis in the North Campus. This blue wasp with orange wings was the first of its kind spotted in our new gardens, and is indeed a spider killer.
 
Tarantula Hawk on Baccharis
 
This is what Insects of the Los Angeles Basin has to say about tarantula hawks preying on spiders:
 
"When a female wasp finds a tarantula, she alights and engages it in battle. The wasp then stings the spider on the underside between the legs and usually succeeds in paralyzing but not killing it....

October 26, 2012

What's Up Goatsucker?

Yes, the first Goatsucker has been found in our new wildlife gardens! No, I'm not talking about a weird new species of goat parasite, I'm actually talking about a type of owl-like bird. Goatsuckers, a.k.a. nightjars, are members of the family Caprimulgidae, which comes from the Latin word Caprimulgus, literally meaning goatsucker. The Latin name came about because of the mistaken belief that these birds would swoop under milking goats to steal milk from the teat!
 
Common Poorwill, Phalaenoptilus nuttalli,
found on North Campus
  
Here's what Kimball Garrett, our awesome Ornithologist, has to say about the Common Poorwill (the specific type of Goatsucker) we found:
 
"...

October 18, 2012

The L.A. River is Alive: From Mudbugs to Mallards

On Sunday, I joined two amazing people, Jenny Price and Lynn Garrett, on the Hidden L.A. River Tour. Yes people, L.A. does indeed have a river, one with real flowing water, real wildlife, and people like Jenny and Lynn, who are really passionate about it. It was an awesome adventure to explore our river with such knowledeable and enthusiastic people!

The morning started bright and early at 9 am at the L.A. River Center and Gardens, where many river-based non-profits have their offices. We quickly figured out the carpool situation, since it was a driving/walking tour of the river, and got a brief introduction that outlined the six rivery stops that were ahead of us. Without much further ado, we piled in our cars and headed to our first stop on the river.

We didn't have far to travel. The first stop was only five miles north of our starting point, and as we drove we followed the river's course (though we were travelling against...

October 6, 2012

First Canada Warbler Spotted in Exposition Park

This week I got another e-mail from one of our scientists. This time it was from Kimball Garrett, our amazing Ornithology Collections Manager. He found another bird for our Exposition Park bird list, and my isn't it cute? Here's Kimball's communique from October 3rd at 1:24pm:

"All,


Canada Warbler, Cardellina canadensis [= Wilsonia canadensis] along the south edge of the Rose Garden just now.  First for the park, and brings the wood-warbler (Parulidae) list for the park up to 22 species and the park list to 171 species.  Sorry, no photos obtained."

But wait, Kimball, never to be outdone by a bird, sent me this e-mail at 4:38pm that same day:

"Lila,

I went back out late this afternoon and had much better studies of the Canada Warbler and managed to get a...

September 26, 2012

Kinky Bug Found in Museum's Gardens

 

I just got this e-mail from our Curator of Entomology, Brian Brown.
 
"I asked Entomology Volunteer Franesca Zern to concentrate on identifying true bugs from the North Campus Malaise trap. She just identified (through her own research) a new record for Los Angeles County, a mirid plant bug called Coridromius chenopoderis. This tiny, 2 mm long Australian bug feeds on plants, including beets and spinach, but is considered unlikely to be a pest. According to our colleagues at L.A. County Agriculture, this is the first report from here, although it is also known from farther south in California."

Photos of the bug taken by Inna Strazhnik:

 

 

But that's not...


September 22, 2012

Q: What are Those Miniature Spiky Puffballs? A: Brown Widow Egg Sacs

Earlier this week, staff found some small circular egg cases on a gate in the North Campus. Upon closer inspection we realized they were brown widow, Latrodectus geometricus, egg sacs. But how did we know this?

Two egg sacs, each containing about 100 eggs,
notice the geometric design.

Differences between brown widows and western black widows:

Brown Widows
Egg sacs are pale yellow and spiky (BINGO)
Egg sacs contain upto 150 spiderlings (best word ever)
Can lay 20 sacs over their lifespan
Adult females are USUALLY tan with an orange hourglass design on the underside of the abdomen
Lower incidence of medically significant spider bites

Western Black Widows...

September 12, 2012

Oh My, What Lovely Saddlebags You Have!

Quick Dragonfly Update!

I've documented another dragonfly visiting our pond. It was a Black Saddlebags, Tramea lacerata. My phone's camera couldn't capture a picture of this fast-flying critter, but I was able to send myself an e-mail documenting the find. Here's the e-mail:

"Saw a saddlebags by pond
August 22, 2012
3:00pm"

This brings our total number of dragonflies and damselflies to six species! Check out this recent post to see the the other five.
 

Black Saddlebags perching
Photo courtesy of JerryFriedman

August 31, 2012

What's that Bird of Prey Eating?

We've had another visitor at the pond. Since it's a bird, Kimball was kind enough to write this week's post!


"Cooper’s Hawks, Accipiter cooperii, such as this adult, have frequently been recorded by Sam Easterson’s “camera traps” as they drink and bathe at the Natural History Museum’s North Campus pond.  These hawks are among the most conspicuous vertebrate predators in urban Los Angeles – a significant turn of events given that this species was on the National Audubon Society’s “Blue List” as recently as the 1970s.  The “Blue List” – a sort of early warning list of potential endangerment – included species “suffering population declines or range diminution in all or parts of their range.”  Cooper’s Hawk populations have rebounded spectacularly in part because of reductions in the use of...

August 24, 2012

More L.A. Mushrooms

As I proclaimed in last week's blog, it's been hot! Not the sort of weather you would expect to be finding mushrooms in the arid Southwest. However, Carol Bornstein, Director of North Campus and  gardens found mushrooms on her way into work on Monday morning. As she parked her car, she noticed some yellow patches under a citrus tree. Upon closer investigation, Carol discovered they were clumps of emerging yellow mushrooms!

Needless to say, I was out there quick as a flash to snap some photos. This is what I found:
 
 
When I parked the next morning the mushrooms had completely changed!
 
 Picture taken by Patrick Tanaka, Museum outreach instructor
 ...

August 17, 2012

We've Got Flying Neon Toothpicks in Our Pond

I admit it! I totally stole the title of this week's blog from my Facebook friend John Acorn, aka The Nature Nut. To be specific, I gleaned this gem of a title from one of his books, Damselflies of Alberta: Flying Neon Toothpicks in the Grass.

Today, instead of taking lunch like a normal person, I went out to the pond with Kimball Garrett to survey for adult Odonates. Odo-what? I mean dragonflies and damselflies (the flying neon toothpicks), the jeweled predators of the sky.

Among other things, Kimball and I found damselflies for the first time. Yay! Here are some pictures of what we found:

The first ever damselfly to be found in the pond!
Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula

...

August 11, 2012

Who are Those Ants in Our Homes and Gardens?

Lots of people in the L.A. area have been complaining about the heat. Over the last week, cities in our region have been experiencing temperatures well into the 90s. On Monday, Woodland Hills reached 108 degrees!

Whenever the temperature rises like this, I start to notice ants indoors. Only this morning during our Nature Lab meeting, I found a trail of ants leading to the sink, and another leading to the snack shelf.

The ants I found are Argentine Ants, Linepithema humile. They are an introduced species from South America (Argentina and Brazil) and are now considered the most common ant in our area. According to the Insects of the Los Angeles Basin book, these ants were "introduced to New Orleans before 1891 in coffee shipments from Brazil, and it has since spread rapidly over much of the United States."

This is what the same book has to say about their pest status:

"The species is one of the most persistent and troublesome of all our...

August 3, 2012

Bugging Out in Arizona

Hey folks, I'm out of town this week at the Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference in Tucson, Arizona. Forgive me for not providing you with your weekly dose of L.A. urban nature, hopefully the images I'll share of the insects we're finding here in Tucson will suffice!

The conference I'm attending with Shawna Joplin, our Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, is put on by the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute (SASI). SASI is a non-profit organization devoted to fostering awareness, knowledge and appreciation of all nature through the study and interpretation of the vital roles arthropods play in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

I go to this conference every year to meet up with other entomologists, invertebrate educators, and of course the USDA staff who give us permits to operate our Butterfly Pavilion, and Insect Zoo. The most fun part of the conference are the field...

July 24, 2012

Are you Ready for the ZomBee Apocalypse?

Today, we launched our latest Citizen Science project, ZomBee Watch, in partnership with San Francisco State University. Yes, that's right folks, we want you to become a real life ZomBee Hunter! To inspire you to do so, sit back and relax while I tell you this epic story of zombification!

Dead honey bee parasitized by the Zombie Fly.
Can you see the white maggot emerging from the neck region?

In the darkness of night zombified honey bees (ZomBees) abandon their hives and embark upon a flight of the living dead! These honey bees, Apis mellifera, have been infected by the Zombie Fly, Apocephalus borealis, brethren of the nefarious ant-decapitating flies. 

...

July 20, 2012

Do Wasps Have Free Will?

 
We found a new wasp species in the North Campus. The Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneous, is an impressively large (approximately one inch long), and active solitary wasp. Although many see a wasp this large and brightly coloredthe orange and black combo usually tells us to "stay away"this wasp is not aggressive and is very rarely observed stinging. Solitary Hymenopterous insects (those in the order Hymenoptera, aka bees and wasps) are not prone to stinging the same way social species are. This is because they don't have a hive to protect.  
 
Great Golden Digger Wasp feeding on milkweed nectar
 
The Great Golden Digger Wasp is actually a beneficial insect in our gardens. Here's how:...

July 12, 2012

Bird's Nest Fungi, Exploding Eggs, and Mushroom Soup

Yay! Today I documented the first bird's nest fungus, Cyathus sp., in the North Campus. For months, I have been looking forward to finding these fascinating, weird, and wonderful fungi. When North Campus Director Carol Bornstein told me she had found some, I immediately knew I had to blog about them.

Bird's Nest Fungi with my finger for scale.

As you can see, this fungus looks like a miniature bird's nest with oddly flattened eggs in it. Mycologists refer to them fondly as BNFs, bird's nest fungi. The "eggs" (periodoles to be geeky and precise) are actually packages containing thousands and thousands of spores. When a raindrop, or some other drop of water, hits the periodole it causes a miniature explosion. The spores are released and propelled out of the cup (some spores can be projected over six feet in this manner),...

July 6, 2012

What Do Animals Think About Fireworks?

Last night many of us were enjoying the Fourth of July firework displays. Many of our pets were closed up indoors cowering under blankets, hiding under beds, or being generously shut up in bathrooms or garages. But what about the wild animals?

Up to this point in my life, I had never paused to consider how wildlife might react to fireworks. Maybe this is just me, but until I got into work this morning and saw some footage and stills from our camera traps, I had never even stopped to think about it.

Here are the images Sam Easterson sent me:

Did the opossums feel like they were under attack?

Or were they going out to enjoy the show?

Sam said, "The Opossums got really agitated by the sound of the fireworks last night. There were a lot of...

June 29, 2012

Edible Nature

Last week, I collected the first garbanzo bean out of the Erika J. Glazer Family Home Garden. After showing the seed to some of my colleagues, who exclaimed, "Wow, that’s a garbanzo bean," I realized what a profound thing I was holding in my hand. From this tiny package an entire plant can spring, the potential for new life was right there in my hand.
 
Garbanzo bean close-up
To tell you more about this tiny seed I'll pass you over to Vanessa Vobis, one of our Gallery Interpreters that works in the garden.

 
Vanessa stopped working for a quick photo opp.
...

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...

June 15, 2012

I Have a Cockroach in My Office!

Last week, Tania Perez, who is on our Museum education staff, found a cockroach crawling on our office wall! Said roach was quickly trapped and contained and was waiting for me when I got back to my office. 

Here in North America we have 55 species of cockroach (there are 3500 total in the world)! Of these 55 species, six in California are considered pests. The American Cockroach is the largest of these six roaches, with individuals reaching a maximum of 2 inches in length. Surprisingly, this roach isn't from America at all. It actually native to Africa. The species is also known as the ship cockroach and has hitched rides on ships traveling from Africa to the U.S. A likely apocryphal story,  it paints the picture in such a way as to imply it was slave ships during the 1600s that inadvertently transported these insects to our shores.

Although this roach is sometimes found in...

June 8, 2012

Another New Bird for Our Bird List

170 and Counting...

Late last week, Kimball Garrett, NHM's Ornithology Collections Manager, spotted a new species for our Exposition Park bird list...drum roll please!

It was an Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea. Although Kimball had his camera with him, he was unfortunatley unable to snap a picture. Here is an image of a male Indigo Bunting, so you can at least get a sense of what they look like.

Wow, those are some seriously blue feathers!

 

You can also check out what they sound like from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

If your browser does not support HTML5 audio, you should upgrade. In the meantime, you could listen to it here instead.
 

...


May 31, 2012

Black Rats, Brown Rats, and the Plague

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about rats. Thankfully, it is not because I have a problem in my apartment! Unfortunately, for many people in L.A., rats are a serious pest, and it's not just one type of rat. The most serious rodent offenders in our cities are the brown (aka Norway) rat, Rattus norvegicus, and the black rat, Rattus rattus.
 

What species of rat is this?


Here on the North Campus we have camera trap images and footage of rats hanging out underneath the bridge. But what type of rat is this? Since Jim Dines, our Mammalogy Collections Manager, wasn't available, I decided to try and figure it out myself. Doing a Wikipedia search for brown rats, I came across a nice diagram that helped me to make an identification. What species do you think it is?

 

 

...

May 25, 2012

Kindergartner Finds Greater Yellow Underwing Moth on North Campus

This past weekend the Museum hosted the 26th annual Bug Fair. Over the course of 72 hours, more than 10,000 people visited us. These lucky visitors got to see, do, and taste many things. At Curator of Entomology Brian Brown's table, visitors were able to see the world's smallest fly from Thailand (oh and it just happens to be a brand new species in the genus Euryplatea). On our insect stage, they could meet Western Exterminator's bed bug sniffing dogs. If people were hungry, they could head outside and taste some insectuous delights including Orthopteran Orzo, a la Bug Chef David George Gordon, or wax worm salad prepared by entomophagy expert Dave Gracer. If they were interested in hunting bugs rather than eating them, we also held bug hunts out in the Erica J. Glazer Family Home Garden.

Everyone...

May 17, 2012

Pond Babies: Dragonflies and Diving Beetles

Two weeks ago I told you I'd fill you in when I found dragonfly nymphs in our pond. I wasn't expecting to be able to give you this update so quickly, but SURPRISE, nature moves fast, people! In the last few weeks, I've found more than 50 dragonfly exuviae (the papery exoskeletons shed between molts) attached to the rocks of the pond. Of course, this prompted me to take out my dip net and look for nymphs in the water.

Here's a picture of one I found:

Variegated Meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum, nymph
Found May 5, 2012

While I was dipping for the dragonfly nymphs, I found a lot of other macro-invertebrates. The list isn't very long, yet, but includes immature mosquitoes, chironomid midges, mayflies, and predacious diving beetles!

...

May 10, 2012

Who's Visiting the Pond?

On the tails (mammal and bird tails that is) of last week's post, I thought I'd continue to focus your attention on our wonderful new pond. Sam Easterson has set up some of his trusty camera traps next to the waterfall to see who might be visiting the pond. Check out the following images to see what he has found so far.

 

 

 

Nighttime is busy at the pond!

 

 

 

 Stray cat...sorry, there aren't any fish in the pond yet
and no you can't eat them when there are!
...

May 3, 2012

InSEX: Mating's Risqué Business in the Insect World

Last night I hosted an InSEX dinner at an undisclosed and secret location. No, we weren't eating insects (in fact, we had a lovely vegetarian meal). Instead, we were discussing their weird, wonderful, and various reproductive strategies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vietnamese Walking Stick, Baculum extradentatum
A great example of asexual reproduction

 

 


April 27, 2012

Lizards, Snakes, and Frogs Oh My!

This last Saturday we held the second annual Lizard Hunt at Malibu Creek State Park! Dr. Greg Pauly, Museum Herpetologist, and Dr. Bobby Espinoza, CSUN Herpetologist, took a group of 25 lucky people out to observe, catch, and identify local herps.

Are you looking at me?
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentatlis

Here is a list of all the herps we encountered:

Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis
Common Side-blotched Lizard, Uta stansburiana
Tiger Whiptail, Aspidoscelis tigris
Western Skink, Plestiodon skiltonianus
Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus helleri
Gophersnake, Pituophis catenifer
Striped Racer,...

April 20, 2012

North Campus Unveiled with a Bang and a Bug!

Yesterday, we unveiled the North Campus at a press preview! We wowed the press with our amazing scientists, Poppy the pond turtle from our Live Animal Program, and a gaggle of school children planting in the Home Garden.

Dr. Greg Pauly, Museum Herpetology Curator with
Poppy the Pond Turtle


Student from the Ambassador School of Global Education
inspecting the Home Garden

Although there was a lot going on, there were a few distractions. Firstly, in the middle of Poppy's debut performance, there was a loud bangyes people, that was a collision between a motorist and the new Exposition light rail. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured!...

April 13, 2012

Hey People We've Got Baby Opossums

Remember back in December, when I said I'd let you all know if we had baby Virginia opossums, Didelphis virginiana? Well it's spring, and right on cue they're here! Sam Easterson's camera traps have caught the babies (we think there are three) on video over the last week, and although many people don't find opossum babies cute, there are a few of us here at the Museum that do. Check them out and make your own assessment.
 
Out for ride on Mom's back!
 
Here are some interesting facts about opossum babies.
  • The opossum gestation period is only 11-13 days.
  • When they are born, the babies are the size of a lima bean!
  • Female...

April 6, 2012

Rotting Fruit and Puddle Parties: Check out the Butterfly Pavilion!

It is that time of year again! Sunday is the opening of our Butterfly Pavilion, and although we still have hundreds of free-flying butterflies there's a lot that has changed out there. We have replanted the entire space, adding many more nectar and host plants for adults and caterpillars. We have also added new food sources for some of the adult butterflies that aren't quite so partial to sipping nectar!

The Mourning Cloak butterfly, Nymphalis antiopa, is one of the California native butterflies we put in our pavilion. Although these butterflies are not common to our area, they can be found in areas where their host plants thrive. Caterpillars of this species feed on various willow (Salix species), cottonwood (Populus species), and ornamental elms (Ulnus species). Unlike many of the other species of butterflies in our pavilion, the Mourning Cloak butterfly prefers to feed on rotting fruit  rather than plant nectar. In an effort to appeal to...

March 30, 2012

North Campus DIY

This week I've been working with Jared Nielsen, one of the Museum's Exhibit Technicians, who also happens to be a DIY (Do it Yourself) enthusiast. With his help we've managed to build and install two nest boxes and launch our first garden surveillance balloon!


Jared installing a nest box in the Shadow Garden

The other nest box in the Home Garden

The nest boxes we chose are made of PVC and designed to be particularly appealing to certain cavity nesting birds such as Western Bluebirds, Sialia mexicana.  These birds have been spotted in Exposition Park by Kimball Garrett, the Museum's resident ornithologist, and we hope they'll stick around to use our new nesting sites. The boxes...

March 23, 2012

New Snail Record for North Campus and Los Angeles County

We've discovered a snail never before found in L.A.! A few weeks ago, I was wandering through the North Campus and  happened upon a tiny gastropod snailing along the Living Wall! Most snails don't catch my attention as they are usually of the common garden variety, aka Brown Garden snails, Helix aspersa. This particular specimen caught my eye, because unlike the Brown Garden snail, this snail was much smaller and flatter (the shell is only 6.9 mm wide). I grabbed the snail, placed it in a vial and took it to our snail expert, Lindsey Groves.
 

Brown Garden snail, Helix aspersa
 
Southern Flatcoil snails photographed in...

March 16, 2012

Breaking and Entering: Squirrel Moves into Opossum Den

We have another new sighting for the North Campus. A California ground squirrel has been spotted using the opossum den located underneath one of our Museum sheds. So far it seems that both the opossums and the squirrels are sharing the space!

 

 

 

 

Sam Easterson's camera trap captures the first image!
 

This is what Jim Dines, our Mammalogy Collections Manager, has to say about them:

The California ground squirrel, as its name suggests, is common throughout California as well as the rest of the western U.S. Scientists know this rodent as Otospermophilus beecheyi (formerly known as Spermophilus beecheyi...


March 9, 2012

Thorny Devils in the Garden

I was recently out and about in the garden and found some fascinating insects, Keelbacked Treehoppers, Antianthe expansa. They were on some of our celery plants and are, according to Vanessa Vobis Master Gardener and Museum Gallery Interpreter, "a very annoying pest on our tomatoes."


Adult Keelbacked Treehopper on celery
(Approximately ¼ inch or 7 mm long)

When I found the Keelbacked Treehoppers, all but one were in the nymphal (immature) stage. As nymphs, these insects do not have wings (this is true for all insectsjust look at caterpillars, grubs, and maggots), and are bound to the area in which they were deposited as eggs by their mother. The nymphs are often attended by ants, which feed on their sugary excreta and provide a level of defense against the treehopper's predators....

February 29, 2012

Killer Legs: Crab Spider Wins Prize with Eight!

On Sunday, February 26, Museum Educator Anna Holden, and myself took some families out to the North Campus to collect spiders! The spiders were collected so they can be identified and preserved as part of our ongoing L.A. Spider Survey. They will also be added to our ever-growing North Campus species list.
 

Briana Burrows and Anna Holden
(looks like they really like collecting spiders too)


All told, we collected 17 spiders (not bad for a newly planted habitat) many of which were very small and non-descript think tiny brown specks almost indistinguishable from a piece of dirt (did I mention these children have amazing eyesight?). However, there was one...


February 24, 2012

First Clouded Sulphur Butterfly Pupa in North Campus

Last week, Jany Alvarez, one of the Museum's Guest Relations staff, was sitting at the bus stop adjacent to the North Campus. While she was waiting for her bus, she saw an interesting sighta caterpillar crawling along the sidewalk! Thinking that the caterpillar would be better off on a plant than on the cement, she picked the caterpillar up and placed it carefully on a Dudleya plant on the Living Wall.

Later that day, another Guest Relations staffer watched the caterpillar pupate! By the time word travelled to me, the pupa looked like this:

Yellow pupa on Dudleya

When I came into work on Tuesday morning, the pupa had changed color! I took more pictures and went back to my office to identify it.

...

February 17, 2012

American Goldfinches Find Feeders and Get Counted

American Goldfinches, Spinus tristis, have found our bird feeders! Flocks of them have been visiting the nyger seed feeders that the Museum's live animal caretakers fill on an almost daily basis.

American Goldfinch (upper left) and
Lesser Goldfinch (lower right) feeding on nyger seed

Like most finches, American Goldfinches are primarily seed eaters, making them some of the most readily-attracted birds to feeding stations. They are fond of the small seeds of grasses and annual plants, especially a type of thistle seed called nyger. Within 24 hours of putting up our first nyger feeders, we recorded both American Goldfinches and the very closely related Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria. Of the two species, Americans are slightly larger and more numerous, but are usually only present in Exposition Park...

February 11, 2012

Blooming Agaves

More plant news from the North Campus. Recently some of our blue lotus agaves, Agave ceslii 'Nova', have begun to bloom. This is an impressive sight as these plants send forth long spikes, (between four and six feet long), that look a lot like giant asparagus stalks. This type of agave is monocarpic, meaning that it only flowers once, and this particular selection happens to flower at a relatively young age compared to other species. Incidentally, the genus is commonly called century plant because it can take decades for them to flower. The entire stand of this agave (approximately eight plants) is flowering at the same time, because they were all propagated from the same tissue culture, which is a common nursery practice for certain landscape plants. Although flowering signals the end of the plant's lifespan, we can expect to enjoy the flowers and fruits for the next several months!

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February 2, 2012

First Baby Oaks Sprout Up in the North Campus

The North Campus is the proud parent of some baby oak trees!

Baby coast live oak sheltered by wall

Carol Bornstein, our new Director of the North Campus Gardens, discovered a couple of oak saplings on one of her recent outdoor forays. The babies are coast live oaks, Quercus agrifolia, of which we recently planted several trees. We've also planted another species of oak, the Engelmann oak, Quercus engelmanni (we planted only three of this species). Both species reside in the section of the garden called the urban wilderness which is composed of several kinds of California native trees and shrubs.

This might be the mother oak!

Oak trees provide amazing habitat value,...

January 28, 2012

Unusual Bird Sighting: Common Yellowthroat

Sam Easterson has caught a relatively unusual occurrence on camera. On New Year's day Sam's camera trap discovered a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) skulking behind one of our sheds (I should add that this is the same shed the opossums have a den underneath). It is relatively unusual only because of the season, this is only the third time a Common Yellowthroat has been sighted here in winter!

New Year's day sighting of female Common Yellowthroat

According to Kimball Garrett, our Ornithology Collections Manager, the Common Yellowthroat is a widespread North American wood-warbler, breeding in marshes and wet meadows and scrublands over most of the continent. In Exposition Park, Kimball usually observes yellowthroats in the Rose Garden, where the dense beds of roses provide good places to hide...

January 20, 2012

Aphid Eating Flower Fly Found in North Campus

There are over 150,000 species of flies in the world! Most visitors who come to the Museum can name only a few of these flies (house fly, horse fly, or mosquito for examples) and many hold the belief that we would be better off without flies in our world. On Wednesday, January 18, we found a fly that I am sure will help you realize that all flies can't be cast as "bad" characters I introduce the humble aphid eating flower fly, Eupeodes volucris.

Female Eupeodes volucris
Photo taken by Jerry Friedman

Why do people like these flies and not others? This isn't an easy question to answer, but I'll have a go... First of all, these flies eat aphids and as any gardener will tell you, aphids are a serious garden pest....

January 5, 2012

Walking Sticks Mysteriously Appear in Museum

Last Friday two Indian walking sticks, Carausius morosus, mysteriously showed up inside the Museum! They didn't escape from the Insect Zoo (we've never kept this species of walking stick before), and we haven't been able to find out exactly how they got here. What we do know is that the insects were discovered after a visitor felt one "fall" on his arm, and then promptly reported it to a staff person.


One of the Indian walking sticks found in the Museum!


Indian walking sticks, a.k.a. laboratory walking sticks, are one of the most common walking sticks around. They are often kept as pets and classroom teaching tools, and their eggs can even be purchased on eBay for fish food! Surprisingly these insects have recently established themselves in our area through...