Nature Gardens at NHM: LA's Urban Nature

Showing posts from : 2013

December 23, 2013

Twelve Days of Los Angeles Nature: 2013

Let's celebrate another year of L.A.'s AMAZING BIODIVERSITY. The benevolent blogger that I am, here are your gifts:

Twelve Rattlers Rattling


Eleven Potter Wasps Piping


Ten Flies Decapitating (decapitating ants that is)


Nine...


December 18, 2013

California Holly: How Hollywood Didn't Get its Name

In Nancy Dale’s 1986 epic tome of Southern California native plants, Flowering Plants, she has this to say about Toyon — aka California Holly, Christmas Berry, or, if you’re a botanist, Heteromeles arbutifolia:

“It is thought that masses of this native shrub growing on the hills above Hollywood gave the community its name.”

This idea of floral origins for Hollywood is romantic. It’s also not true. Hollywood got its name for a much more mundane reason: someone wealthy liked the sound of it.

Toyon on Los Vaqueros Watershed Miwok Trail, photo by Miguel Vieira

In 1886, Harvey Henderson Wilcox, a rich prohibitionist from Kansas, and his wife, Daeida, purchased 120 acres of apricot and fig groves near the Cahuenga Pass at $150 an acre. Harvey, an inveterate businessman, realized he could make a lot of...


November 26, 2013

What Does the Gray Fox Say?

A few days ago, Miguel Ordeñana, NHMer and local biologist working on the Griffith Park Connectivity Study, captured images of the elusive gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus. Fortunately, I'm able to speak fox (growing up on a farm in England gives you certain skills), and have, through the magic of Photoshop, been able to translate his "Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding's" and "Fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow's" into English.

*If you have no idea what the heck I'm talking about, you may want to check out Ylvis' sensational internet hit, "What Does the Fox Say?" Sure the fox they are talking about is most likely the red fox, Vulpes vulpes, but hey, I think you'll get the idea!

This is what the gray fox says:

All kidding...


November 18, 2013

Ant-decapitating Fly Found in Glendale!

I just found out we have ant-decapitating flies here in Los Angeles! Dr. Brian Brown, the Museum's Curator of Entomology and one of the world's foremost experts on flies, made a chance discovery by looking right under the nose of an unsuspecting USC student.

It all started last Friday, while we were enjoying a nice stroll through the Nature Gardens. First, we checked out the Malaise trap that Brian and his staff set up as part of the BioSCAN project, which aims to survey the insect biodiversity here in Los Angeles. Then, we headed into the Nature Lab to see insects from this trap, and the 25 others that have been placed all over Los Angeles, being sorted.

As we got close to the demo table, Brian was suddenly transfixed. He'd seen...


October 31, 2013

Oak Wasp Galls

Let me introduce you to a tiny parasitic wasp that makes a unique nursery for its offspring. Meet the Oak Gall Wasp:

To construct her nursery, female Oak Gall Wasps employ a not-so-subtle subterfuge. Instead of woking to find and construct a nest of her own, the wasp turns to the mighty oak and bends it to her will!

Eggs are gently inserted into the flesh of the oak's limbs and cause the area to swell. These deformaties are better known as galls, and help to protect and feed the developing wasp larvae that hatch inside. Although they are sometimes refered to as plant tumors, these growths are not harmful to the oak. Galls made by this particular wasp, can grow to the size of a small babies fist, and to the untrained eye look like apples. Therefore, they are often refered to as oak apples. What if one were to pick...


October 24, 2013

Immortal Worms Found in L.A. Pond!

Yay, we just found flatworms in the Museum pond! You know, the worms that some of us (I'm not naming names) might have cut up with a knife in high school biology class. But don't worry! These worms are, "immortal under the edge of a knife." At least, that is how the noted flatworm specialist, John Graham Dalyell Esquire, described them in 1814.

An Immortal Worm, also known as a Planarian.

Dalyell goes on to describe their regenerative capabilities, in his distinctive early 1800s prose:

"Certain animals, though liable to perish by simple evaporation of their surrounding fluid, can, in other circumstances, endure privations apparently inconsistent with life itself. What prove deathly wounds to the majority of creation, only serve to awaken in them the active principle of an inexhaustible reproductive power. The perpetuation of...


October 18, 2013

Green Anoles in Hancock Park!

Dr. Greg Pauly, the Museum's intrepid curator of herpetology, just found a previously undocumented population of green anole lizards, Anolis carolinensis, in Hancock Park! This is the latest discovery in our increasingly popular RASCals (Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California) citizen science project.

One of the Green Anoles, Anolis carolinensis, Greg found in Hancock Park.

But how did Greg find these little fellas? It's all down to a birder with a keen eye for wildlife in his backyard! Here's Greg with the story:

"This past December, Kimball Garrett, was leading a Christmas Bird Count. One of the other birders participating in the count told him about some anoles he had been seeing in the yard of his Hancock Park home near the Wilshire Country Club. Kimball alerted me to this observation, and I...


October 2, 2013

We Have a Bat Detector, and Bats Too!

Guess what? We have bats in the Nature Gardens! And we have proof, thanks to two of our intrepid scientists, Jim Dines and Miguel Ordeñana.

Here's the proof, in sonogram format:

Keep reading to find out what bat these blue and green blobs belong to!

Here's what Jim and Miguel have to say about our bat detector:

"Colleagues: Last Friday we installed newly acquired bioacoustic monitoring equipment near the pond in the Nature Gardens in the hope of documenting nocturnal aerial visitors. Yes, we’re talking about bats! Beyond expectation, our equipment has already recorded two different species of bats foraging in the Nature Gardens: the Mexican Free-tailed Bat and a Myotis species. Detectors like the one we are using are a great way to passively monitor for bat activity. The device records the ultrasonic...


September 24, 2013

Green Lacewings: Eat, Prey, Love Biocontrol

We've added a new insect delicacy to the menu for the dwellers in our Spider Pavilion. That's right, usually the ladies (and few gents), that call the spider pavilion home, get fed butterflies, crickets, and flies, but as of this week we've added green lacewings!

Whitebanded Crab Spider, Misumenoides formosipes, getting ready to eat a Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris.

Green lacewings, belong to the insect order Neuroptera, also known as nerve-wings. Not only does this mean that most people have never heard of them, it also means they have complex designs, or "nerves" in their wings. Some might think that this translates into flying well, but alas, this group of insects...


September 20, 2013

I Found a Huge Green Spider in My Garden!

Ever found a large green spider in your garden? Chances are, if you're in the Los Angeles area, the spider you've found is a Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans.

Here's one that NHM staffer, Richard Smart, found in our Nature Gardens on Wednesday:

Photo taken by NHM's own Spider-Woman, Cat Urban.

This was perfect timing, as we desperately needed one for display in our Spider Pavilion, which opens to members today and to everyone on Sunday. As many of you know, this exhibit is a place to get up close and personal with spiders in a safe and garden-like setting.

To prime visitors for the experience of walking amongst hundreds of free, web-spinning spiders (that's right, the Spider Pavilion is an immersive...


September 9, 2013

Nature's Tiniest Potters

Did you know there are small wasps here in Los Angeles that are potters? No, I don't mean some sort of weird waspish Harry Potter fan club—although that sounds like something I'd be totally into—I mean wasps that use mud to make miniature pots. Take a look at the craftsmanship, the sharply narrowed neck and that wide fluted rim, exquisite!

Photo taken by NHM Head Gardener Richard Hayden, with my fingertip for some perspective!

This "pot" was constructed by a small wasp (one of those solitary wasps that are not prone to stinging us humans), which entomologists call potter wasps. However, this wasp wasn't just being artistic, she constructed this pot for a purely utilitarian function—it is actually a nest for an egg!

A few weeks ago during a California Naturalist training, I spotted this...


August 21, 2013

Take a Moment to Listen to the Trees

Trees don't have heartbeats. You can't put a stethoscope up to a tree trunk and expect to hear that familiar dull thumping that gently insists, "I am alive." At least I'm pretty sure you can't, no matter what hardcore LOTR fans say, Ents do not exist! However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't try putting a stethoscope up to a tree and listening.

What do you think you would hear?

Alex Metcalf knows.

Okay, so I know that silver trumpety thing isn't a stethoscope, but it would be really gross for a Museum to let thousands of school children and other visitors use the same stethoscope to listen to a tree. Since we're so considerate of our visitors and we really wanted everyone to be able to listen to the inner workings of a tree, we worked with British artist, ...


August 15, 2013

Los Angeles Meet Hollywood the Mountain Lion

Check out this never before seen image of our now famous Griffith Park mountain lion, Puma concolor, referred to by scientists as P-22.

P-22 (aka Hollywood) caught on camera by L.A. City Park Ranger Adam Dedeaux

Here's what Miguel Ordeñana, a field biologist and colleague of mine here at the Museum has to say about P-22:

"For those of you who don’t know, there is a mountain lion living in Griffith Park.  You may have seen some of his pictures on the Nature Lab [our latest Museum exhibit] screen.  My research team (Griffith Park Connectivity Study) first discovered him with one of our camera traps about a year and a half ago.  This was the first photographic evidence of a mountain lion in Griffith Park.  He was captured, collared, released, and named (P-22/Puma 22) soon...


August 9, 2013

L.A.'s Endangered Nature: Giant Flower-loving Flies

Ever heard of a fly that is big enough to be mistaken for a small hummingbird? Don’t worry this is not some horror movie featuring an overly large arthropod (think The Fly, Them, or the upcoming Big Ass Spider movie) this is real-life nature! Also, this is rare nature for Los Angeles; these flies are very, very uncommon in our region.

Ever seen this exhibit?

Some of you may have heard of the Delhi Sands Flower-loving Fly, Rhaphiomidas terminatus abdominalis, a federally listed endangered species. In fact, this is the only fly on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) endangered species list for the continental U.S. (there are a bunch of listed flies from Hawaii). We even have a whole exhibit dedicated to these flies in a somewhat hidden stairwell (close to...


July 26, 2013

Roadkill Science and the Dangers of Biking in L.A.!

What is the grossest thing that can happen to you while you are biking? Give up? Being splattered by freshly killed roadkill juice that’s what—did I mention it was a skunk?

This was my luck the other day as I was heading over to a picnic at the newly opened Echo Park Lake. Needless to say this trauma has caused me to extra vigilant and observant of roadkill of late. So much so, that I’ve even taken to participating in roadkill science—see it’s not creepy to get up close and personal with roadkill—it’s science!

Tuesday, on my day off, I drove around town looking for roadkill. I found two unfortunate animals who tried to cross the road (okay one of them was crossing a parking lot, but that makes for a terrible joke). I took pictures of them and submitted them to the California Roadkill Observation System (CROS). It was really easy, and I liked the...


July 12, 2013

Fire in the L.A. River

Many of you know I am a huge L.A. river fan. As a fan of the river and an advocate for river access, I was of course shocked and worried to hear about the fire that took place in the pilot recreation zone last Saturday.

The fire raged on a sandbar adjacent to the river bike path (image courtesy of Anthea Raymond).

The fire was caused by a gasoline tanker that crashed in the interchange tunnel between the 2 freeway and Interstate 5 (incidentally causing some of the most heinous traffic some of us have experienced in a long while). After it overturned, some of the 8,500 gallons of gas it was transporting leaked into a storm drain and traveled about half a mile into the river. The resulting fire was thankfully constrained to a...


July 1, 2013

June Beetles and Night Lights

This last weekend I stayed at Table Mountain campground in the Los Angeles National Forest and was visited by a group of beetles. No, not the British pop group out on a time-travelling-night-time-forest jaunt – though that would be blog worthy indeed. My camp buddies and I were visited by a gang of 40 adult male scarab beetles!

Three of the gang, hanging out on our picnic table. No they're not eating our hot dogs, they prefer pine needles

But what are they, you may ask? They are Ten-lined June Beetles, Polyphylla decemlineata, one of California's largest and most conspicuous scarab beetle species. And how did I know they were all males? This species exhibits sexual dimorphism (a fancy way for saying males and females look differently), which is most noticeable in the antennae (sure you could look at...


June 19, 2013

Bee Sex in the Nature Gardens

In July 2011, our Curator of Entomology, Dr. Brian Brown, brought in some old redwood he had lying around his yard. He wasn't just trying to pawn off some lumber he didn't need anymore, we wanted it to make some bee hotels.  Jerome Brown, one of our amazing exhibit technicians, fabricated two hotels and Phil Bouchard personally drilled the over 200 quarter inch holes (about an inch deep). Thanks guys!

Bee hotel in its new home by our hummingbird feeders.

This spring we finally saw the first bees using the hotels! I was so excited, I jumped up and down, Brian did not, he just smiled. We watched as bees checked out the little holes and then I saw two fall to the ground. "Oh look they're fighting," I exclaimed. "No," Brian responded, "they're using the hotel like they...


June 6, 2013

Memory Mapping Los Angeles @ Leo Politi Elementary

This Sunday our brand new Nature Lab opens for every Angeleno to enjoy. Aside from all the other fun stuff that will be in the exhibit — live animals, camera trap footage, awesome taxidermy — it's going to be a place to tell stories about L.A.'s surprising biodiversity. During the development of the Nature Lab we would often find ourselves sitting around a table telling stories of the crazy nature encounters we'd had. Like the time my friend Kristin left her favorite bar in downtown and saw a deer walking down the street! Seriously.

Kristin's L.A. nature memory illustrated by Martha Rich:

To encourage visitors to recount their own L.A. nature memories we captured 16 unique stories (including Kristin's) and had six amazing illustrators (Brian Rea, Mark Todd, Martha Rich, Liz Burrill, Lizzie Swift, and Anne...


June 4, 2013

Rattlesnakes Like the Los Angeles Times

There are only ten days left until our new exhibit, Nature Lab, opens. Last week, I introduced you to some babies that are moving in, and this week I want to introduce you to rescued contraband!
 
This is Obsidian, our new Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus helleri.
 

Obsidian chilling with his morning paper!
 

Snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, are often maligned and misunderstood. But hold on a minute, any creature that is cultured enough to enjoy the Los Angeles Times should be given a second chance – surely.
 
Let me give you the back story first; Obsidian is a rescued pet from a drug bust that took place in Riverside. Although, his previous owners were...

May 29, 2013

Spring Babies in the Nature Lab

There are only 17 days left until our Nature Gardens and Nature Lab exhibits open! This makes me extremely excited and a little bit nauseous. To cope with the craziness, all I have to do is go and visit  our new Nature Lab babies. Just in case you're feeling stressed out too, here's some baby love for you:

This is our new program opossum, Didelphis virginiana. She is a rescue animal that we were lucky enough to get from a local rehabber. She is blind in one eye (from a dog attack) which makes her unreleasable, and therefore our newest and cutest ambassador for L.A. wildlife.

 
Look she smiles, even though she's blind in one eye!
 
We also have 14 baby Norway rats, Rattus norvigicus! They are currently in training to move into...

May 7, 2013

Sea Monsters or Beaked Whales

WARNINGS:

What you are about to look at is gross! Also, this post is not about L.A. urban nature, it is about  Orange County marine nature. But, I contend that some beaches are pretty dang urban and Orange County isn't that different from L.A.right? 

Plus, this is sort of sea monster-ish and therefore awesome, I couldn't resist!

This is not the rotting carcass of a sea monster!  

 *Note the ribs still covered with rotting flesh, and the exposed vertebrae. Jim said it smelled pretty awfull.

 So, what is that mass of rotting flesh? According to Jim Dines, our excellent Mammalogy Collection's Manager, it is a beached beaked whale.

 Here's the account Jim wrote up for our Research & Collections newsletter:

...


May 2, 2013

Do you have Museum Malaise?

You better not! However, just in case you do I have a line of curative agents perfect for any and all afflicted with such exhibit ennui. The elixirs I speak of are our new L.A. nature exhibits, Nature Lab and Nature Gardens, and they're about to open on June 9!

I've written loads of posts about both exhibits, so I thought it might be interesting to have a guest writer this week (I swear it's not because I'm too busy)! Dean Pentcheff from our Research and Collections staff is going to answer the question that everyone will be asking when the Nature Gardens open, who's camping in that tent out there?

"Peek between the bushes in the Nature Garden and you’ll see what looks like someone’s overnight camping spot. We do host overnight sleepovers at NHM but we don’t do it in the garden (at least not yet). What’s going on here?

...

April 26, 2013

Sink Bugs, Bathtub Bugs, Eyelash Bugs, or House Centipedes?

Ever seen a weird creature stranded in your bathtub, that could easily be mistaken for a discarded fake eyelash? Two of my friends, Matt and Kristi, have (p.s. they're Museum members too). In fact, they often find them in their bathroom. However, this week they had an unusual sighting. Matt was sleepily making breakfast and pulled out a package of oatmeallo and behold an eyelash bug darted out from the cupboard! Seriously, these bugs are FAST, so it's not surprising that it startled him. Quick to recover, he grabbed the nearest empty jar (only a bit of pickle juice was left), and captured the bug. Kristi kindly brought the bug to the Museum, so it could pose for a photo shoot and I could write this blog.

Thanks guys!

Captive Eyelash Bug

Love the gloves Kristi! 

So what is it? This bug is a House Centipede...


April 18, 2013

Glowworms in LA

On Monday night, I found a glowworm while I was up in Griffith Park! That's right people, glowworms really do exist, and they're right here in our city.

No it wasn't a discarded 80s toy, like these (though I might have been equally excited if it was):
 

Photo taken by Astronit
 

It was like this:

Check out those sexy pectinate antennae!

 
This beauty of a specimen is a male Western Banded Glowworm, Zarhipis integripennis. I know it's a male because it doesn't glow and it isn't wormy. That's right, only...

April 3, 2013

LA 2050: Vote for NHM

Hey Angelenos, did you know you live in a biodiversity hotspot? That's right, our city is home to a MASSIVE amount of awesome, and sometimes rare, life. Life that is under threat and needs to be studied.

We here at the Museum have been studying the life in our hotspot for a hundred years. To continue this tradition and to take it to the next level, we are inviting you to join us. Today we are launching a new initiative that will do this, NHM Urban Safari.

We are going to map the wildlife that lives all over our city. From places like Griffith Park and the L.A. River, to your backyards and school yards. To help us do this we have applied for a $100,000 grant through the LA 2050 competition. This is a huge project that involves all of us, and you can start helping today by voting for NHM.

Take a moment to imagine what L.A. could be like in 2050 if everyone in our city helped to study the AMAZING and AWESOME wildlife that lives here! School children...

March 29, 2013

Baby Mantis Explosion

Lately, I've been so busy working on our new Nature Lab exhibit (OPENING THIS JUNE PEOPLE) that I rarely make it into my office anymore. Earlier this week, I popped in to check some e-mails (fun I know) and what do you think I found?

An explosion of praying mantids!

They were on my #2 pencils:

#cute
 
They were on my scissors:

#thisisnotanadvertisement

 They hatched out of this ootheca (nerdy word for egg case):


If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, do not fret! All you need to do, is collect them in a jar and release them into the closest garden!
...

February 23, 2013

Ant Love From an Ant Nerd

A few weeks ago, this ant nerd traveled to the wilds of Arizona to pick up two ant colonies. Yes, myself and Leslie Gordon (the Museum's live animal queen), drove over 1000 miles in under two days to bring a few hundred ants back to the Museum. Why?
 

Our new harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex rugosus,
taking down a wax worm!
 

Well, these ants are for display in the Museum's new Nature Lab exhibit, which is opening this June. That's right, we're going to have a live colony of harvester ants, a.k.a. Pogos (the ultra cool, ant nerd way to refer to this ant genus), inside the Museum!

.

Since the exhibit isn't opening for another four months, we're keeping the ants in our super secret insect quarantine space. Here's a photo...


January 18, 2013

Ladybugs Make Me Smile

A few weeks ago, I was having a terrible day at work. The next day, my friend and colleague, Kristina Lockaby,  brought me a card that said, "Ladybugs make me smile." This is so true.

A recent ladybug that made me smile REALLY big, was one that our Head Gardener, Richard Hayden, found. He was out in the urban wilderness and stopped a moment to take a closer look at one of the willow shrubs. He noticed lots of aphids and a few ladybugs too. One in particular stood out to him. It was all black with two red spots on it, something he had never seen before on a ladybug.

He put the little beetle in a snap top jar and brought it up to our shared office. "Lila, I have a present for you!" he exclaimed as he came in. I immediately stopped staring blankly at my computer screen and turned to see what booty he was bringing in from the garden. He silently handed me the jar, I took a look, and I smiled.

Richard had...


January 4, 2013

Twelve Days of Christmas 2012

Since tomorrow is the twelfth day of Christmas, I thought I'd give you your belated gifts. Of course they're all part of L.A.'s surprising biodiversity, yes even those turtle wasps!

Twelve weevils wandering
 


Eleven pepsis wasps piping

 

 


Ten spiders-a-leaping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...