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Nature in L.A.

Showing posts with label : Citizen Science

February 2, 2016

When it Rains in L.A.: My Quest for Mushrooms, Snails, and Dog Vomit Slime Mold

You know that earthy smell that comes just as it begins to rain after a dry spell? It has a name. Scientists call it petrichor.

When I smell petrichor, I get excited: Rain is a personal and professional obsession. I begin keeping close tabs on the window while I check weather reports for the forecast. As the manager of citizen science (getting the community involved in scientific studies) at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, I start making a list in my mind to share with others. What mushrooms and slime molds and snails and slugs will I be likely to find? I imagine all of the places I should check to find these uncommon organisms that only come out when the soil is moist.

Brown garden snail, found in Hancock Park.

Where I grew up—England—rain was not at all a rare event. As a kid, I’d follow the...

December 17, 2015

Citizen Scientists Discover New Slug in Los Angeles

Arion hortensis/distinctus (Image courtesy of silversea_starsong)

In November, three citizen scientists reported observations to our @NHMLA SLIME project of a handsome looking slug, known as the garden arion, in three different neighborhoods of Los Angeles. No one had ever recorded these slugs in L.A. before!
 
The garden arion is a smallish slug, measuring between 40- 50 millimeters – a little less than half the length of a ballpoint pen. It has a blue/black body, a bumpy mantle (a cape-like fleshy covering near the head), and an amazingly yellow/orange underside (a.k.a. foot). From this foot it makes yellow slime!
 
Garden arion slugs include two species found in California, Arion hortensis and Arion...

December 15, 2015

Super Citizen Scientist Charlotte and the Hunt for the Elusive California Pink Glowworm

Charlotte, NHM Super Citizen Scientist, and her bearded dragon Flamey (she also has a tarantula named Nightmare). Photo by Emily Hartop.

Charlotte McDonald, Age 8, is one of the NHM’s Super Citizen Scientists. Recently, Charlotte made an incredible find: a California pink glowworm, Microphotus angustus! I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life and I have never seen one of these lovely creatures. In fact, I didn’t even know they existed until my college years when my friend (and now BioSCAN colleague) Lisa Gonzalez gave me a copy of Insects of the Los Angeles Basin. In this magical book I learned that we have four local species of fireflies (beetles in...

December 7, 2015

Backyard Bobcats of L.A.

“Miguel, I found a dead bobcat!” It was 8:30 in the morning when I received a call from my friend Jessie Jennewein. Jessie and I work together at the Natural History Museum and share a passion for urban carnivores, such as pumas and bobcats.  So you can imagine that this news got our day off to a bad start.

Bobcat repeatedly spotted using the same backyard near Griffith Park for over a year. Photo Credit: Susan Swan


Although Jessie’s news was sad, it didn’t surprise me.  I’ve lived on the edge of Griffith Park for many years and have studied bobcats and other carnivores from the park.  In this line of work I’ve seen a lot. I’ve set up camera traps and used radio-tracking to learn where...

September 10, 2015

A Charm of Hummingbirds in DTLA

Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA) is cast as one of the most iconic concrete jungles, with skyscrapers, cars, and miles of concrete. Many think of this as a place bereft of nature. But, over the last number of years pocket parks have been built, landscapes have been changed (think City Hall), and street-side planters have been added (though the habitat value of the plants in the Broadway bump-outs is questionable at best). Nature has always been here, and will continue to be so. But the often cited examples of urban nature, rats, pigeons, and ants, aren’t the only ones calling DTLA home.



At our recent BioBlitz L.A. event at City Hall we worked to document the wildlife in downtown. With a dedicated crew of 9 citizen scientists, we managed to document 28 species in...

May 27, 2015

Lizard Love Bites

Have you recently seen lizards in L.A. that appear to be biting each other, or maybe they are trying to eat each other? 

If you have, you are not alone. Citizen scientist, Diana Beardsley, saw these two in her lizard-filled backyard and sent us this picture. It became the latest data point in our Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California project (RASCals) which helps us understand the state of urban lizard populations. It also helped us realize a pattern!

Diana was not the only one to send us a picture of one lizard biting another. Many of the people who sent us these pictures were not sure exactly what they were witnessing–were they fighting, trying to eat each other, or doing something else...

May 20, 2015

The Flight of Monarch Butterfly 64365

Somewhere in L.A. a monarch egg hatched and out popped a tiny girl caterpillar. That caterpillar ate, and ate, and ate. She ate milkweed, the only plant she could, until she molted her skin. All told, she molted four times until she was a big, fat, stripy caterpillar with black tentacles. She made one last molt and formed a bright green chrysalis with shining golden spots. Two weeks later she emerged from that chrysalis as an adult, and then she flew. On November 17, 2014 she was spotted in the Museum’s Nature Gardens. She was caught in a net, and gently removed by skilled hands. A small, circular, paper sticker was affixed to her hind wing with the numbers 64365 printed on it. She was released and flew off into the distance. We knew there was a good chance that we’d never see her again.

Monarch caterpillar by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

If you...

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...

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:
...

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...