Finding Nature in an Urban Playground

July 12, 2016


Jesse Brewer Park. Useful, if not exactly lovely. Photo by: Brian Brown

Across a small lane from the Museum lies Jesse Brewer Park, a modest, if thirsty, area of lawn, trees and playground equipment. Usually, there are homeless people encamped there, waking up in the morning as I arrive at work. I sometimes look at the park and think that it is an uninspired space compared to the Museum’s Nature Gardens, but it is surely better than concrete, providing much-needed play space for kids.

But what, I ask myself, does it provide for wildlife? Surely there must be some habitat, since the park has large, mature trees. Recently I walked across the road with camera in hand to see if I could find something interesting.

It didn’t take long. The sycamore trees along the east side are dotted with pupae of ladybird beetles, or ladybugs. Like all beetles, ladybugs have “complete” metamorphosis, with an egg, larva, pupa, and adult stage. There are no “baby” beetles that somehow grow into larger beetles; once an adult emerges from its pupa, it is done growing.

Yes, this is a beloved creature: ladybug pupa. Photo by: Brian Brown

Looking like some fabulously ornate shell, a ladybug pupal skin nested inside its bristly larval skin. Photo by: Brian Brown

I found a number of pupae decorating the trees, usually skirted with their spiky larval skins. Some of them looked a little different and might represent other species. Finally, I came across an adult, a still-pale-colored (from having just recently emerged) Harmonia axydris, the Halloween ladybug, so named by my friend John Acorn because of its orange color. It is an introduced species that has caused concern that it might be competitively excluding some native ladybugs, but in Jesse Brewer Park they are a welcome decoration on the sycamore trees.

Harmonia axydris, the Halloween ladybug. Photo by: Brian Brown

Find nature in your local park? Share your photos with us, so they can become data points for science. Use #NatureinLA to share on social media, or e-mail your observations to nature@nhm.org, or upload them directly to iNaturalist using the free app. 


(Posted by: Brian Brown)


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Scavenging Sarcophagid Flies!

June 2, 2016

 

Flesh fly, in the family Sarcophagidae a.k.a. sarcs. "They all look the same." Photo credit: Brian Brown

In the entomological world, “scavenger” can be a dismissive term, hurled at animals that seem to feed indiscriminately on any available garbage or rotting material. The ultimate scavengers are indeed those insects that frequent trash bins and dumpsters: unsophisticated diners on our scraps and leftovers, annoying infesters of our cities and houses.

The image of an unsavory “scavenger” can obscure some fascinating and extremely specific matters of lifestyle that defy the notion of a creature with wholly undiscerning habits. One example is our previously featured “coffin fly” (Conicera tibialis), a tiny phorid that burrows through the soil to reach its buried prize. This fly is perfectly capable of going through its life cycle in test tubes, feeding on meat, but in nature it is virtually never found in an unburied corpse.

I was reminded about scavengers by the submission to the Museum of some fly pupae, found in the shells of dead snails by SLIME participant Cedric Lee. We reared the pupae to adulthood, and each one yielded an adult sarcophagid fly. The flies of this family (Sarcophagidae; often shortened to “sarcs” by dipterists—i.e., fly specialists) are commonly called “flesh flies” due to their breeding in dead bodies and attraction to nearly all types of noxious decaying material: carrion, dung, dead insects, etc. They are large flies, with gray and black striped bodies and red eyes. The fact that, at least externally to a non-expert, most sarcs look extremely similar leads to their often being labeled as “just” scavengers. In fact, sarcs are among the most diverse families of flies when it comes to the types of lifestyle they employ. The larvae of various species are: scavengers (often highly specialized), predators (that feed on and kill more than one host), parasitoids (that feed on and kill a single host), and true parasites (that feed on but do not kill a host).

Unfortunately, for me, sarcs are also among the most disgusting flies. I know my colleagues who work on sarcs—and who are as fond of them as I am of phorid flies—might be dismayed by my contempt, but I can’t help being revolted by their reproductive process. Sarcs are ovoviviparous, meaning that the eggs hatch within the female abdomen and the female deposits larvae, rather than eggs, on the food source. When studying phorids associated with millipedes, I have frequently been repulsed by the arrival of female sarcs, who immediately spew several maggots on the scene, ruining my experiments. The larvae enthusiastically crawl into the millipede body and start feeding. Of course, the most gut-churning sarcs are the parasites, some of which infest incapacitated humans and cause noteworthy and alarming medical conditions.

Most people interact with sarcs  soon after noticing the smell of something dead under their house or in the walls. They’ll start to see large, clunky sarcs flying around their windows, trying to escape the house. These flies are the offspring of a female who somehow found a way to lay larvae on or close to whatever died, and who have helped to get rid of the body. I am often asked by homeowners how to eliminate these flies, and my answer is to let them do their scavenging, so that in a few days all the decaying material will be gone.

Circling back to my original point, Cedric’s flies are not just scavengers—they are probably highly specialized feeders on dead molluscs (several sarcs are known to do this). I say “probably” because it takes a specialist to identify sarcs, and we will have to send ours out to one of the three or four people in the world qualified to tell us what they are. Such unusual natural history discoveries can depend on the thoughtful observance of Citizen Science participants like Cedric. One of our top citizen scientists, Cedric will likely contribute to one of the first records of a species breeding in dead snails!  
 

Star Citizen Science Participant Cedric Lee. Photo credit: Cedric Lee

 

 

(Posted by: Brian Brown)


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A Pomace Fly Invasion

January 12, 2016


The beautifully-striped African fig fly, Zaprionus indianus. Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

We always say that biodiversity is constantly changing in the Los Angeles area, but few groups of insects show this as blatantly as "pomace flies" do. This group, more formally known as Drosophilidae, includes the famous laboratory fly, Drosophila melanogaster, whose genetics have been the source of many of our advances in medicine and cell biology. Most of us know these flies because they "magically" appear when bananas become overripe on the kitchen counter, or they suddenly appear when a bottle of wine is opened. Their attraction to fermentation is also historical, with the first records of these flies in the literature noting that they are found in wine cellars. Growing up, we always called them "fruit flies", but that name is more properly reserved for another fly family, the Tephritidae, which includes the famous med fly.  Thus, the common names "pomace flies", or "vinegar flies" are more appropriate and less confusing (once you know why).

Of course, like many other insects, the association of one species, in this case Drosophila melanogaster, with fermentation is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of life histories and diversity of species. Some drosophilids (the way we refer to members of a family like Drosophilidae is to call them "drosophilids") are associated with fungi, and can be seen in clouds over mushrooms on damp logs. Others are parasitoids, whose larvae attack and kill spittle bug larvae (a type of bug that produces a frothy mass to live in–they are often seen on Rosemary plants) . Still others attack plants, as leaf miners (literally living under the surface of the leaf and burrowing through the cells) or flower feeders, and one tropical group feeds on the embryos of frogs! According to my colleague, and world expert on the family, Dr. David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, most pomace flies are not associated with fruits.

Last year (2015), we reported on two unusual drosophilids from the BioSCAN project: one was a species previously known only from a handful of specimens from Central America, the other previously known only from Australia. Because of this, Lisa Gonzalez (one of the collection managers working on the BioSCAN project) keeps a close watch on the drosophilids from our samples. When I asked her a couple of years ago to watch out for the newly recorded Asian species Drosophila suzukii (the spotted-winged pomace fly), she quickly returned with specimens.

More recently, last year, we received a bulletin from the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioners office about yet another newly recorded pomace fly, Zaprionis indianus, a beautiful orange colored fly with a couple of white stripes through its body. Although present in low numbers in the past, Z. indianus populations seem to have exploded in the last 6 months. The bulletin from Thursday, August 20, 2015, in part, read:

The African fig fly Zaprionus indianus was found in backyard figs in Downey. It is a generalist drosophilid that breeds on fallen fruit and fruit on the tree. It is known to infest fruits of 70+ species of plants. Can possibly become a problematic pest for our fig industry.

I brought this bulletin to Lisa's attention, and she relatively quickly found one from a Malaise trap sample from L.A. City Hall.

Z. indianus range as of 2010. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Fast forward to today, with our initiation of phase 2 of the project, and suddenly Lisa finds these flies in virtually every Malaise trap sample in our "ocean to desert" transect! It is incredible how quickly this fly has gone from first recognition to complete colonization of the Los Angeles area. Because we've been looking for pomace flies in hundreds of samples over the last few years, we are able to track and recognize this explosive range expansion.

It is sobering to think about how many other insects are being introduced, and rapidly spreading throughout the Los Angeles area, without anyone noticing. How large is the insect fauna of Los Angeles? Does the fact that this fauna is highly modified, with many native species negatively affected by urbanization, make it more susceptible to invasions like that of the African fig fly? How much turnover in species occurs among these tiny, and inconspicuous insects? Does the introduction of species like the African fig fly affect populations of other native or introduced pomace flies here? These are all questions that we hope to begin to address with our ongoing study 


(Posted by: Brian Brown)


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Second Ant-decapitating Fly Found in Glendale

January 13, 2014

Our scientists found another species of ant-decapitating fly in Glendale, Pseudacteon amuletum!

Pseudacteon amuletum. Photo credit: Phyllis Sun

Here's an account of this tiny, yet impressive fly, by Lisa Gonzalez, one of our BioSCAN entomologists:

"For those of you who missed Lila’s exciting account of the moment Dr. Brian Brown first spotted an ant-decapitating fly in one of our BioSCAN samples as it was being sorted in front of our visitors in the Nature Lab, please enjoy this post. As Lila so eloquently described, ant decapitating flies are tiny but mighty little phorid flies that lay their eggs inside of the bodies of, you guessed it, ants. Many of these specialized flies have been the focus of our Entomology Department’s research as conducted in other, more tropical locales, so it may come as a surprise to hear that we have these incredible phorids right here in L.A. These parasitoids (a term we use to describe organisms that eventually consume and kill their host) will not just lay an egg in any ant they come across, but instead target a particular species.

Pseudacteon californiensis. Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

For instance, Pseudacteon californiensis, the first ant decapitator to turn up in a BioSCAN sample, preferentially seeks out the native velvety tree ant, small ants with an orange thorax that nest beneath bark and in tree cavities. Some ant decapitating flies, like zombie hunters, “aim for the head,” but P. californiensis has been observed hovering over the abdomens of velvety tree ant workers where they appear to “lift” the abdominal segments to insert an egg into the host. The larvae must then travel towards the head, making their way through the occipital foramen (the very narrow opening containing the connective tissue between the thorax and head), to complete their development in the head capsule, which eventually is separated from the body by enzymes released by the developing maggot.

Our second Pseudacteon discovery from the same site in Glendale is P. amuletum, named from the Latin word for amulet due to its distinct horseshoe shaped oviscape that is reminiscent of a charm or pendant. One may also infer a deeper meaning of the name beyond shape but also of function: amulets can protect, and this species of Pseudacteon is important as a form of biological control against fire ants. A close relative of P. amuletum has been used to help control the spread of the imported fire ant Solenopsis invicta due in part for its rate of parasitism, but mainly because of how it affects the ant’s behavior. Solenopsis ants assume a very strange position when they detect Pseudacteon flies by lifting up their bodies and tucking their abdomens under and forward into a “C” shape with the same incredible skill of a Cirque de Soleil contortionist. It is believed that this helps protect the abdomen from egg invasion, but the trade-off is reduced foraging by the ant, which puts it at a disadvantage in relation to other more industrious, less preoccupied ant species. In this way, Pseudacteon contributes to a reduced fire ant population, which is greatly appreciated by those who know the alarming pain of a fire ant sting."

I don't know about any of you, but I can't wait to hear if we find a third species of ant decapitating fly. For breaking news on what they're finding in the other BioSCAN traps, check out their blog.


(Posted by: Lisa Gonzalez)


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Ant-decapitating Fly Found in Glendale!

November 18, 2013

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 something interesting on the screen that shows visitors the insects our scientists are sorting under the microscope. By some amazing coincidence, the USC student who was sorting a sample collected in Glendale, just happened to be looking at a phorid fly. Phorids, aka humpbacked flies, are the group of flies that Brian studies, and according to him, they are a mega-diverse family. How mega, you might ask? Apparently, there are estimated to be 40,000-50,000 species of phorid flies, and only 4,000 have been described by scientists so far. Wow!

But, it wasn't just any phorid fly. After taking a look through the microscope himself, Brian nonchalantly walks back over to me and said, "Yep, it's an ant decapitating fly."

Whoa, what? I had no idea we had ant-decapitating flies (ADFs) here in L.A.! How could he have neglected to mention this exciting fact during all of our insect musings? Sure he's regaled me with stories of ADFs from Costa Rica and Brazil, always with devilish decapitating detail. But, he never mentioned we have phorids in the genus Pseudacteon, also known as fire ant decapitating flies, here in L.A.

Fire ant decapitating flies do just as their name implies. When a female is ready to lay an egg, she locates an unsuspecting worker ant and injects her egg into the thorax. As the larva develops it migrates into the head capsule and molts a number of times. Through this entire process the ant behaves normally. However, just before pupation, the maggot begins to consume the tissue inside the ant's head, which causes the ant to act oddly, and soon after, to expire. The head falls off and the mouth parts are pushed out, so the oral cavity is clear. As the larva pupates, the adult fly emerges from the now-clear oral cavity of the ant. How's that for an alien ant birth?

Later that day, Brian wrote an e-mail to the homeowner where the trap was located in Glendale:

"Your backyard trap got something unusual- a phorid fly (the group of insects I study) of the genus Pseudacteon. The flies in this genus are all ant parasites, developing in the ant's head, and are referred to as 'ant-decapitating flies.' Usually, in suburban areas, the ant hosts of Pseudacteon are eliminated by the introduced Argentine ant, but you must have (or be close to) a healthy native ant fauna!"

This, as Dr. Luis Chiappe, Vice President of the Museum's Research and Collections Department, put it, "is the power of science!" The presence of this parasite, allowed Brian to infer the presence of the host. If we went out to Glendale today, we'd likely be able to find native fire ants somewhere close by! And I know you all dying to join me on that adventure.

 

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Bee Sex in the Nature Gardens

June 19, 2013

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 should be. They're having sex!"

Well, it's all about the birds and the bees after all.

Here’s a photo Brian took of a bee using the hotel:

But why go to all the bother? The short answer is to provide a place for solitary bees to make their nests. The female bee Brian photographed is in the genus Megachile (pronounced mega-ki-lee), and she is about to start constructing a nest for her egg to develop in. Before any egg laying can happen she’ll excavate the nest and line it with chewed up leaves or plant resin (hence the name which is Greek for mega-big, cheil-lip, as in big powerful mouthparts for chewing up leaves and such). She’ll then lay an egg, or maybe a few, in individual chambers and supply them with a ball of pollen mixed with nectar to chow down on after they hatch. After eating all the pollen, they’ll go through a brief pupal stage and then chew their way out of the nest as an adult.

If you are reading this and thinking, why on Earth would I want to attract bees to my yard, here’s some food for thought. First off, don’t worry these bees are not aggressive stingers. Since they are solitary and don’t hang out in big colonies like honey bees, they don’t have the same urge to sting and protect their sisters back in the hive. Also, their venom is very mild. I mean you really have to work to get stung by one of these bees, like taking one and squishing it in your hand—and who would be dumb enough to do that? The sting pain index guy, Justin Schmidt, that’s who! *Nerdy entomological sigh*. He describes the sting of these bees as “lightly brushing a thorn,” and rated the sting as a zero, compare that to the two rating of the European honey bee! Other reasons to break out the drill and start constructing your own bee hotel: You’ll be able to boast about how you are increasing biodiversity in Los Angeles. You’ll have more native pollinators in your yard, and your neighbors' yards too, aren’t you a good person? Oh yeah, and it is super fun to lay bets on which hotel room is going to get used next! Of course you don’t have to lay down money, you wouldn’t necessarily want to teach your kids how to gamble, not till they’re 21 at least.

Now go out and build a bee hotel, then post a picture to NHM’s FaceBook, Instagram, or Twitter feed!


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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New Fly Species Likes to Party It Up Poolside in Brentwood

December 24, 2012

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 million yet to be described! And this is just the insects we're talking about people. A New York Times article that came out last year noted that, "A single spoonful of soil may contain 10,000 different species of bacteria, many of which are new to science."Back to Brian and his flies. Not everyone believed Brian when he told them he could find loads of interesting and new species here in L.A.. To prove that urban environments can be a frontier of discovery, he set up an experiment. In a Brentwood backyard, he set up a Malaise trap  a tent-like device that captures flying insects in a large jar of alcohol, a.k.a. "jar of death." One week later he visited the backyard again, collected the jar full of insects, took it back to the lab, and separated out all the phorid flies (that's the family of flies that Brian is a world specialist on).

Poolside Malaise Trap 

"Jar of death"Sitting at his microscope, Brian pulled out a small (~2mm in length) yellow phorid fly that looked interesting. To identify these flies, you have to dissect them and take them through a special fly key, that asks the you to look for crazy characteristics like laterally flattened hind femoras. So Brian popped the head off the fly and stuck it under the microscope. He took the small fly through the entire key and it didn't match anything this was a brand new species to science, it had never been described before, and it was the very FIRST fly he had looked at! 

Brian's new fly speciesBrian pulled out a second fly from the sample and repeated the process. This specimen was similarly small, but brown instead. It also had a characteristic he recognized, the penultimate tarsal segment (a.k.a. second to last segment of an insect leg) was shorter than the last one. This is a characteristic common to a species only known from Europe. Brian took it through the key, and it was indeed the European species. Which, might I add, had never before been recorded in the U.S.!

European flies have a certain je ne sais quoi!Wait, wait there's more! Seriously, as Brian kept looking he found a third interesting fly in the sample. This fly was a male from the genus Chonocephalus. This fly is from both coasts of Africa, the Seychelles and Canary islands to be exact. This was the very FIRST time it had been discovered outside of that native range! 

Chonocephalus, African phorid flySo, by looking at only three, seemingly inconsequential flies, Brian had made three scientific discoveries, which have since then been published in well-known journals. Imagine what a month of sampling might uncover, or a year, or what about three year's worth of sampling!This is exactly what the Museum has funded Brian and a group of other Museum scientists to do. Brian and his crew have dubbed the project BioSCAN (BIOdiveristy Science: City And Nature). Here's what the BioSCAN website has to say about the project:"This first-of-its-kind scientific investigation will discover and explore biodiversity in and around one of the world's largest cities: Los Angeles. In three years of sampling from the urban core right out through less-urban surrounding areas, we will focus on the insects, the most diverse group of animals on our planet. We will discover and document the diversity of insect species living with us in Los Angeles as well as test intriguing hypotheses about how natural areas around the city affect its biodiversity, and specifically, how light in the urban environment is affecting its inhabitants."Wow! I can't wait to hear what they find.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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A Plague of Grasshoppers on Figueroa?

November 30, 2012

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, seriously! I spent almost an hour (okay, I know, I'm prone to hyperbole) going through the pictoral key, comparing my photo with the beautifully drawn pictures, and then cross-referencing with the species accounts, and range maps (they really helped me eliminate quite a few species straight away). Alas, it was all to no avail!

 

Not to be outdone by a "lowly" grasshopper (am I a dork because I couldn't write lowly without quotes? I don't want the grasshopper to feel bad), I turned to the INTERNET! Bugguide.net to be exact. I submitted the above picture to their ID request section on November 20, at 11:55am. Eight days, 10 hours, and 17 minutes later, the quest was over. Thanks to David J. Ferguson for the species identification, and a shout out to my homie Eric R. Eaton for helping too! This is a female Melanoplus yarrowii grasshopper, a.k.a. Yarrow's spur-throated grasshopper.

 

Okay, so now I had an identification. "So what," you may ask? Well, first and foremost, I felt vindicated. This species wasn't even in the field guide I was using, no wonder I couldn't ID it! Secondly, now that I knew the name, I could find out what this bug was all about.

 

What I discovered is that this grasshopper is indeed very closely related to the plaguing locusts of yore. I also found out that, in the late 1860s, we had our very own plague of grasshoppers right here in Los Angeles, and it lasted on and off for almost three years. According to Brian Brown, Curator of Entomology, the grasshoppers responsible for the plague was most likely Melanoplus devastator, though there aren't any actual specimens for us to examine to be sure. Whatever the exact species, these grasshoppers were apparently pretty devastating.

 

"When they had devoured all vegetation where they originated, they took flight and, flying with the wind moved in great clouds towards the east like the locusts of Egypt, devouring everything in their course. When the destroying hosts reached the Calle de Las Chapules, the vinatero knew his grape crop for that season was doomed. The voracious hopper would not leave a green leaf on his vines, and the vineyardist considered himself fortunate if the destroying host did not devour the bark as well as the leaves." That's JM Guinn, author of The Plan of Old Los Angeles and the Story of its Highways and Byways.¹ The Calle de Las Chapules he is referring to is the former name of part of what is today Figueroa Street. That's right, it was called Grasshopper Street. Next time you're stuck in traffic on Fig, just imagine a massive swarm of grasshoppers descending on your car, I assure you, it will take away any road rage you might have!

 

Thankfully, the Yarrow's grasshopper I found is not of the swarming locust variety. It does feed on plants, and is likely chowing down on various shoots and leaves out there in our garden. As far as the gardeners can tell me though, they're not causing much damage. So we're leaving them there to live another day, eat some more leaves, lay a few eggs, pose for a few more pictures, and maybe a few of them will become lunch for a hungry bird!

 

¹ From the Historical Society of Southern California's Annual Publication Volume 3, 1893-96.

 

*Special thanks to Margaret Hardin, Curator of Anthropology for information on our Los Angeles grasshopper plague; Brian Brown, Curator of Entomology for identification of said grasshopper, and to Jonathan Gillet, Gallery Interpreter, for giving me the lead to the L.A. plague story!

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Massive Black Fly aka Mexican Cactus Fly

November 16, 2012

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 cactus. Adults are commonly seen feeding on flowers. Although it resembles some carpenter bees this species looks more like a large horse fly. The Mexican cactus fly is found from the southern USA to Central America, but related cactus-feeding flower flies are found in Mexico and South America. Many other species of the large genus Copestylum are found in our area. None of them resemble the cactus fly; instead they mimic bees and other stinging insects. All feed on decaying organic matter."*Thanks to Museum Curator of Entomology, Brian Brown, for identifying the fly!


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Kinky Bug Found in Museum's Gardens

September 26, 2012

 

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 all! Brian left Museum staff with this interesting tidbit:

 

"One interesting thing about these bugs is that they have traumatic insemination, like bed bugs. I won't broadcast the details, but yes it is as kinky as it sounds!"

 

Although Brian won't broadcast the details, I will! Traumatic insemination, aka hypodermic insemination, is a mating practice employed by some kinky invertebrates, bed bugs being the most notable. The male insect pierces the female's abdomen with his sword-like penis and injects sperm into the abdominal cavity. The sperm diffuses through the hemolymph (insect blood) and eventually reaches the ovaries. Hey presto, we've got fertilization! As you can imagine this process is no cake walk for the female insect in question. It creates open wounds which often lead to infection, thus shortening life expectancy. There we have it folks, another post about kinky InSEX.

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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