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Showing posts with label : Blog

March 26, 2016

Creatures from the Murky Lagoon: Who Lives in Your Pond?

Pond life in motion. Video by Kelsey Bailey.

When we planned the Nature Gardens, there was never really any doubt that we would include a pond. Water sources are highly attractive to wildlife, so even while the concrete was being scraped off the work site, we began to imagine the creatures that might use ours. We were particularly interested to see what types of microscopic animals might arrive, as when they are properly displayed (and magnified), they present to the public a stunning and unfamiliar fauna.
 
In 2012 the pond was established as an essentially barren pool of rock with a few planters. Over the years the garden team has carefully added additional substrate on the bottom, more planters, and balanced the flow of the pumps and waterfall to make for quiet areas of micro...


March 22, 2016

Meet Some of Your L.A. Native Snails and Slugs

As I write this in mid March, Southern California is still in the grips of a historic draught. By the end of February, typically the rainiest month in Los Angeles, the city was nearly its hottest and driest on record and during what was predicted as a Godzilla El Niño winter. In contrast to our paltry 0.78 inches of rain this February, El Niño of February 1998 brought 13.68 inches of rain to Southern California!
 
A rare and native Los Angeles snail, Helminthoglpyta tudiculata, found by Museum citizen scientists. 

How does the rain, or lack of it, influence our region’s snails and slugs? NHM’s El Niño #SnailBlitz was created to record this fauna during our...

March 15, 2016

City Nature Challenge: L.A. vs S.F.


The Dodgers or the Giants? The Hollywood sign or the Golden Gate Bridge? Palm trees or redwood trees? The City of Angels or the City by the Bay? Where will your allegiance lie on the first ever National Citizen Science Day?

Centered around National Citizen Science Day and Earth Day, two of California’s leading natural history museums are asking residents of and visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County to explore nature all around them and document the species they find.

Friendly Foes with Much in Common
Despite–or possibly because of–being in the same state, Los Angeles and San Francisco have a long-standing rivalry. You can find an almost infinite number of debates on which city is...

March 8, 2016

Why care about phorid flies?



Phorid flies are 1 to 3 mm long insects that most people probably never see. They are busily at work in your backyard, decomposing, parasitizing, pollinating, and doing all the other things that small insects do. But people don’t care about them...how could they? They don’t even know they exist!

In the Urban Nature Research Center, I get comments all the time, or even looks from some of my colleagues that say “they are only flies”, or “there is more to the world than phorid flies”. Why, it is insinuated, can’t we just base conservation decisions on things people care about, like birds and mammals?



The problem with this idea is that birds and mammals are large,...


March 1, 2016

Deep L.A. History at the Tar Pits

Today let's reflect on the biodiversity of Los Angeles from a deep time perspective.

Los Angeles has a unique resource for tracing the legacy of many of the animals that we still see around in this region: the celebrated Tar Pits. Mired in sticky asphalt seeping up to the surface through cracks deep underground, the remains of countless creatures are found at this site in the heart of our city. The gruesome deaths endured by saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and giant ground sloths as they starved fighting to free themselves from their gooey trap are nearly unimaginable. However, such carnage has left us with the most vivid image of Ice Age L.A., a fossil record that, in addition to various large mammals, includes a myriad of tiny animals. There are also plant remains—branches of all sizes, seeds, and even pollen—which, together with the spectacular record of the animals that once lived in and around what’s today Hancock Park, provide us with...

February 23, 2016

Studying Lizard Love Through Citizen Science

Regular readers of this blog know that we are very passionate about studying Southern California’s urban biodiversity. Because this region is so big and so much of it is private property where we can’t easily do surveys, we enlist people (aka citizen scientists) all across the region to help us study the local biodiversity.
 
Alligator lizard courtship observed February 17, 2014 by citizen scientist mothernaturesdaughter and submitted to iNaturalist.

Much of this citizen science research focuses on understanding where species can be found. But photographs can also document interesting and unusual behaviors. For example, photographs from a few lucky citizen scientists documented some incredible predation fails. In science jargon “predation fails” is termed antipredator...

February 16, 2016

Ladybug Love Fest on Top of the World

Valentine’s Day came early this year for these amorous Convergent ladybugs. Photo credit: Lila Higgins.

Last weekend on a hike to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica mountains, fellow bug enthusiast Lila Higgins came across a brazen beetle Bacchanalia in full midday swing. Hundreds of ladybugs had gathered on a rotting log where they had previously been “chilling out” for several months. Hippodamia convergens, known as the Convergent ladybug, exhibits this adaptive behavior; these ladybugs will migrate in the fall to higher elevations to overwinter in large aggregations consisting of thousands of individuals. Just as the unseasonably sunny weather inspired Lila to go for a hike, the ladybugs awoke from their rest feeling frisky and ready for...

February 4, 2016

Bird Counts and Mobile Apps—For Science!

 “Raise your hand if you think it is a Bushtit.”

“There are four by this feeder and five at that one, so that’s nine altogether.”

“I think it’s sparrow-sized or smaller”

“Are you sure that isn’t a fake bird?”


These are questions and statements made during the Nature Navigator program on Saturday, January 23. Jeff Chapman, Manager of Interpretation and Training, and Richard Smart, Coordinator of Citizen Science, were leading a group of kids, ages 10-12 years old, on a bird walk through the NHM Nature Gardens. The bird walk was a training to help the kids gain more experience looking for birds, identifying them, and reporting their observations. By...


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...

January 26, 2016

L.A.’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider Woman (and the Spiders from Mars?)

I have an incurable case of arachnophilia. Ever since early childhood, even before reading “Charlotte’s Web,” my mother constantly scolded me to stop picking up spiders (good advice if you don’t know what kind it is) and to just observe them instead. Where others scream, “Kill it with fire!” I said, “Let’s feed her crickets.” To me they are delicate long-legged ballerinas, caring mothers, industrious homebuilders, and astonishingly clever predators.  Alas, arachnophilia is very rare. Fear of spiders, on the other hand, is so prevalent, it made every “top ten” list of phobias I could find, and one study showed that arachnophobia even affects many entomologists (6 legs good, 8 legs bad?)!
 
 
The author unabashedly, unapologetically in love with an orb-weaving spider from the...