NHM.org


Nature in L.A.

Showing posts with label : Blog

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...

July 29, 2011

Feral Parrots

Have you ever seen a wild parrot in L.A.? Like many other North American cities, Los Angeles has a healthy population of many species of parrots, the most commonly seen of these species in Exposition Park is the Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Brotogeris chirri.

Yellow-chevroned Parakeets feeding on coral tree nectar

Jail Break!
People like to keep parrots as pets. To satisfy this demand, literally hundreds of thousands of parrots have been imported legally (and untold numbers illegally) into the United States over the past 50 plus years. In some...

July 20, 2011

Is This Your Dog?

Sam moved the camera trap last week. We wanted to see what else we might find in the North Campus. Here's what we found.


I guess the Opossum was like the rest of us totally unaffected by Carmageddon!


How did this dog get into the North Campus at 9:02 on a Sunday morning, when all the gates are locked until 9:30?

July 14, 2011

Dinosaurs Open Part of North Campus!

Unless you're living in a cave somewhere (no offense to the troglobites out there), you've heard that we're opening a new Dinosaur Hall next week. In anticipation of this meteoric occassion all Museum staff were invited to preview the hall, which began with a jaunt through the soon to be open sections of the North Campus (car park, transition garden, entrance plaza, and footbridge). Even though these areas of the North Campus were only recently planted, we're already noticing wildlife visiting, including a ladybug that landed on me during the preview and another cat caught on camera trap!

Lost Ladybugs?
The ladybug that landed on me during the staff preview was a Multicolored Asian Ladybug, Harmonia axyridis. It's an introduced species from Japan, which has become very common in our area. This is the first ladybug of its kind that I've found in...