Nature in L.A.

Showing posts with label : Blog

August 30, 2016

Moth Flies Living in Your Drain?

Is this guy in your drains, too? Moth fly larva. Photo by: Kelsey Bailey

Have you ever gone into your bathroom and noticed tiny, dark, gnat-like bugs flitting around your sink? If you try to drown one with a spray of the faucet, it miraculously rises from the deluge like a minuscule, winged Lazarus. You may regularly find the gnats hanging out on the bathroom wall, and because they are relatively sedentary and witless, unlike your wily common house fly, you can leisurely grab a square of toilet paper and smush them, which leaves a dark smudge on your wall. It is the kind of bug for which you instinctively have disaffection. More so when you know the reason for their presence in your bathroom: their larvae are living...

August 25, 2016

Monarch Chrysalis Gets a Hotel Upgrade

Many people know that camera traps capture photos of mammals, but few people know that they are also good at detecting the presence of other animals. Camera traps are motion-activated cameras used mainly to target terrestrial mammals.  Surprisingly, I regularly detect insects and other arthropods as well. Not in the pictures but inside the actual camera trap—because they make homes out of the camera trap housing! When checking cameras, I've been surprised to find everything from large black widows to hundreds of earwigs flowing from the camera trap case. In fact, a select few of the spiders even become data points for the NHM Spider Survey!


August 23, 2016

A Campus Trek, Wildlife Camera In Hand

Esparanza elementary school students wrote about another one of their urban wildlife explorations on campus with the help of their renaissance principal, Brad Rumble. Once again, they knocked it out of the park! I spent an afternoon with some students to talk about the ins and outs of camera trap research. From finding an optimal location, the technology, why camera traps are handy tools for assessing the health of an ecosystem, to cool local discoveries already made with camera traps (obviously I talked about P-22 our Griffith Park Mountain Lion).

Miguel introduces students to camera trap technology....

August 18, 2016

Did You Know There are Wasp-mimicking Beetles in Los Angeles!

Wasp-mimicking beetle in the genus Necydalis found in Monrovia, CA. Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

If you spot a brightly colored, slender, 1 inch-long insect in your yard, you might hesitate to get too close. It is not uncommon for residents of L.A. to come into contact with large wasps that have bright orange or yellow warning coloration, letting you know that they can sting if threatened. Colors can be misleading however, as you can see with this impressive longhorned beetle that was recently collected in Monrovia as part of the BioSCAN Project. The insect may have the same general shape (that characteristic thin wasp "waist") and bright orange body that screams out "I'm a wasp! Don't touch me!," but in reality it is completely incapable of stinging. This form of...

August 16, 2016

Was Hancock Park Beachfront Property 120,000 Years Ago?

Pacific Gaper Clam: A large, common bivalve that inhabits sandy areas of bays along an open coast, often buried a foot or more. Today it ranges from Humboldt Bay northern California to Punta Rompiente, Baja California Sur.

Metro Fossils

Asphalt soaked fossils are not new to the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles and most residents are already familiar with the iconic mammoths, saber-tooth cats, and dire wolves on exhibit at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum that are between 11,000 and 40,000 years old. However, in 2014 during test excavations for a future Metro...

August 12, 2016

#Parasiteweek: Fly Attacks Caterpillar

Despite being the type of vegetable gardener who studies tomes on best practices, I have a hippy family that nurtures the welfare of tobacco hornworms (Manduca sexta). The big green caterpillars—considered major garden pests—feast and fatten like Henry VIII on the leaves, stems and fruit of the tomato plant. The caterpillars are masters of camouflage, blending into the dense, green foliage while clinging to the underside of leaves, and you often don't know that they're there until you spot their sizable dark droppings, the swift defoliation of your plant, or the mauled flesh of ripening tomatoes.

Caught in the act. Tobacco hornworm enjoying a black cherry tomato. Photo by: Candice Kim

You might consider the caterpillars...

August 11, 2016

#Parasiteweek: A Close Look at Gecko Foot Mites

Moorish Wall Gecko, with foot mites.

The orange spots on this Moorish Wall Gecko foot are not gecko bling. They are tiny parasitic mites that wedge between the gecko's scales to suck blood. Lizards often have mites, but rarely do I see infestations like this. These geckos are native to the western Mediterranean Region (southern Europe and North Africa), but I recently found an established population here in Southern California. Some of the geckos had as many as 286 mites, most of which were wedged between toes or on the soft skin around the eye (up to 52 mites around one eye!). 

Do they impede the geckos from walking on walls and ceilings? This has not been well studied, but probably not. The incredible grip that allows geckos to walk on walls is caused by tiny hair-like structures called setae on the...

August 10, 2016

#Parasiteweek: Bird Blood-suckers

Ventral (underside) viewDorsal (top) view


We have written before about bird louse flies (hippoboscids), but I never get tired of their flat, creepy look. Recently, our ornithology collections manager, Kimball Garrett, contacted me and said "Hey, Brian, are you interested in some hippoboscids from a least bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) from Malibu",- of course I was, what an unusual host from which to get hippos (what us entomologists endearingly call them)!

Let me note here that although they are called "bird louse flies, they are actually more like fleas,...

August 9, 2016

The Birds and the Bees of Ladybug STDs

Mulitcolored Asian ladybug, Harmonia axyridis, collected from the roof of Angel City Brewery in Downtown LA. Ladybug date night? Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey


A Curious Growth on a Ladybug

Sometimes I feel like I have seen it all when it comes to the bizarre happenings of the bug world.  Like some sort of insect inception (insection?), there are insects that live on insects, insects that live inside other insects as parasites, and even parasites on the parasites of those insects! I see evidence of these strange phenonmena regularly as I sort samples of insects from Los Angeles, but recently I came across a...

August 2, 2016

The Urban Wild: L.A.'s Next Frontier

Out in "the field" in Los Angeles: installing insect traps at the L.A. River for NHM research. Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

Los Angeles is a stunningly metamorphic place. A vast, industry- and people-dense metropolis, L.A. lives in the global psyche as the frontier of opportunity and personal transformation. Everything about L.A.—its geographic boundaries, the contours of its built environment, the languages and culture and impulses of its residents—is in a permanent state of flux. The city becomes nearly unrecognizable from one generation to the next.

Our planet is in a state of equally dramatic transformation.

The Earth is rapidly being reconfigured into sprawling urban centers, like L.A. ...