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Nature in LA

Showing posts with label : Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

October 13, 2011

North Campus Monarchs

Yesterday afternoon myself and number of other staff members braved the heat to continue our survey of North Campus insects. On the heels of last week's Gulf Fritillary discovery, I found the site's first Monarch butterfly caterpillar, Danaus plexippus!
 
Monarch butterfly caterpillar
 
As soon as I saw the caterpillar I knew it was a Monarch: There isn't another caterpillar in our area with such yellow, black, and white banding. Also, the caterpillar was found on a narrow-leaved milkweed plant, Asclepias fascicularis, which is one of the food plants of this well-known species.
 
Based on its size, this caterpillar is in the second to last caterpillar stage (4th instar). Over the coming weeks it will molt to the last and...

October 5, 2011

First Caterpillar Record for North Campus!

The last few weeks I have been spoiled with bloggable stories, but this week I needed inspiration. I took a stroll out to the North Campus to see what I could find, and was excited to happen upon the first North Campus caterpillar.

The caterpillar I found was in the last and final "J stage" of its larval lifecycle, just about to pupate. 

Easily recognizable, Gulf Fritillary caterpillars are striped and spiny.

24 hours later the caterpillar had metamorphosed into the pupal stage, aka chrysalis.

If you look close, you can see the developing wings.

This pupa is a...

September 29, 2011

Men's Restroom in Long Beach is Voted Best Spider Collecting Site

Over the past few weeks myself and Shawna Joplin, Museum Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, have been madly working to get the Spider Pavilion ready by collecting hundreds of spiders for display. This involved a trip to the swamps of New Orleans to collect the largest orb weavers in North America and also multiple collecting trips around Los Angeles for our local spider species.
 
Cajun Swamp Adventure
The spiders Shawna and I collected in New Orleans are golden silk spiders, Nephila clavipes, also known as banana spiders because of their banana-ish abdomen. These spiders are common in and around swampy areas and are easy to spot on their largeup to 3 feed in diameter!golden webs (...

September 29, 2011

Bird Crashes into Museum Building and Dies For Science

Soras, Porzana carolina, seem to be really poor fliers. So much so that last week one flew into the side of the Museum and killed itself. This brings the Exposition Park Bird List, maintained by Kimball Garrett, our Ornithology Collection Manager, up to 167 species. "But wait," I hear you crying, "what about bird number 166?" In my previous post New Bird For North Campus List, it clearly stated that the Rufous Hummingbird was species 165. No I didn't forget to tell you about bird 166, and no Kimball didn't miscount, funnily enough bird 166 was documented the same exact day the Sora died. Bird 166 is in fact a Swainson's Hawk, Buteo swainsoni, that Kimball saw migrating overhead.
 

Sora,...

September 23, 2011

Vaux's Swifts and Ghetto Birds

This past Monday a few of us embarked on a real urban nature adventure. We traversed the city streets of Los Angeles to witness one of the coolest nature spectacles I have ever seen in downtown Los Angeles, 6,500 Vaux's Swifts, Chaetura vauxi, spiraling into an old building shaft!

Ghetto bird and swifts share L.A.'s skyline alike!

According to Kimball Garrett, NHM's Ornithology Collections Manager, these swifts stop in L.A. during their spring and fall migrations to and from their breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest and their overwintering sites in Mexico and Central America. While in L.A. they gorge themselves during the day on flying insects found in areas such as the L.A. river and Griffith Park, and roost at night in various shafts and chimneys around the city.

...

September 12, 2011

Paper Wasps Sting Museum Taxidermist!

When Tim Bovard, the Museum's taxidermist, told me about getting stung by wasps on the fourth floor patio, I had to investigate, especially since I sometimes eat lunch up there. During a much needed afternoon break from my computer, I went in search of the offenders.

What I found on my afternoon foray were some large and impressive nests, definitely worthy of a blog entry. So of course I asked Sam if he would take pictures for me, and I went to work identifying them. 

Common paper wasp nest, Polistes exclamans

The species living on our patio are Common Paper Wasps, Polistes exclamans, which have a widespread distribution through much of the southern United States. These insects construct a papery nest from fibers they gather off dead wood or plant stems. Next time...

September 1, 2011

Dog's Vomit in the North Campus!

Why would I write about finding dog's vomit in the North Campus? Because it is, contrary to what you might think, an awesome type of fungus, a slime mold!

Slime molds are a type of non-gilled fungi that often appear on mulch. What I find really interesting about them is their unique lifecycle! Most of their lives, slime molds are hidden in rotten logs or buried in leaf litter. However, when it's time to reproduce, they have to move to an appropriate site for spore dispersal. To do this they propel themselves over considerable distances (well considerable for a fungus), up to three feet for Fulgio septica, aka dog's vomit. Unfortunately, this usually happens at night when it is cool and moist, so I've never seen it happen in person. Watch out for a time-lapse video if I can convince Sam Easterson to spend a night in the North Campus.

Here are some images of the...


August 25, 2011

Bug Wars: Spider Attacks Grasshopper and Disappears Down Black Hole

This week I have renamed Sam (NHM's media producer for Nature Lab) Spider-Man! He's been out and about carefully sticking a mechanic's device into spider homes, so visitors to our Spider Pavilion can get a view into spider lives, like never before.

Funnel web spider, family Agelenidae

Why you may ask? It's all in an effort to offer something new and interesting to Spider Pavilion visitors, and to test out ideas we have for media content in our upcoming Nature Lab exhibit. So Sam has been trekking around hillsides in the Santa Monica Mountains trying to find inhabited funnel webs.

...

August 16, 2011

Gecko Hunting!

Instead of spending a cozy night in, reading Biology of Spiders (did I mention we're opening our Spider Pavilion at the end of September?), I went to Chatsworth on a gecko hunt!

At 8:30pm I parked on a dark street to meet up with a bunch of other lizard geeks (or Herpers, as they much prefer to be called). Among the party was my Museum colleague, Leslie Gordon (a self-proclaimed lizard lady and manager of our live vertebrate program), and Dr. Bobby Espinoza, Cal State Northridge's professor and researcher in the Laboratory of Integrative and Comparative Herpetology.  

Mediterranean House Gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus, trying to hide in a crack

We were here in deepest, darkest suburbia, looking for...

August 5, 2011

Waiter There's a Wasp in my Fig!

A couple weeks ago we had the second round of our North Campus insect survey. Fifteen Museum staff tromped around the North Campus to see what insectuous wonders we could collect. Although we found some notably large specimens, the largest being a 3-inch bird grasshopper (Schistocerca sp.), the most interesting find was actually something a lot smaller. Much, much smaller in fact: a minute fig wasp about 2 millimeters in length!
 

Female Fig Wasp, Pleistodontes sp.
 
Fig wasps belong to the wasp family Agaonidae and as their name implies, they have a life history intricately linked with fig trees, family Moraceae. In fact fig trees can not produce figs without the wasps, and the wasps can't reproduce without the figs! The way this mutually beneficial...