Nature in L.A.

Showing posts with label : Blog

July 26, 2016

Phytotelmata: Miniature Breeding Grounds for Mosquitoes and Rat-tailed Maggots

The author, Emily Hartop, investigating a phytotelma formed by exposed tree roots. Photo by Brian Brown.

One of the many benefits of doing research in urban environments is the ability to spend a day in "the field" by simply walking out your door. Brian Brown (Curator of Entomology at NHM) and I did just that on a recent morning, and found ourselves investigating some unexpected phytotelmata in the exposed roots of large Ficus trees growing in front of the Exposition Park Rose Garden next door to the NHM.

Phytotelma (plural phytotelmata) is a fancy word that translates as "plant pond" and refers to any captured water environments created by plants. Some plants have evolved specifically for this purpose, like...

July 19, 2016

350 Million Mourning Doves and Counting

Allison (Allie) Balthazor, a Gallery Interpreter at NHM, recently had a new family move in next to her apartment. Instead of a U-Haul, all they brought were a few sticks and twigs. Allie lives in an apartment complex in Burbank and not off the grid in a local wilderness, so of course her new neighbors were not humans. They were a mated pair of Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura)!

Footage of female Mourning Dove guarding her nestling in the nest, seemingly unfazed by the urban sirens passing by. Video by Allison Balthazor.

Twigs and branches being set up by Allison’s new neighbor. Photo by Allison Balthazor.


July 12, 2016

Finding Nature in an Urban Playground

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’...

July 5, 2016

A Microscopic Look at Snail Jaws

Have you ever wondered what the inside of a snail's mouth looks like? 

The anatomy involved in land snail and slug feeding is fascinating. Well, I’d like to guess that it is more fascinating than you’d expect, if you’ve ever thought about snail and slug feeding in the first place. Snails and slugs have evolved to eat just about everything; they are herbivorous, carnivorous, omnivorous, and detritivorous (eating decaying waste from plants and other animals). There are specialist and generalist species that eat worms, vegetation, rotting vegetation, animal waste, fungus, and other snails.

Brazilian snail eating lettuce.

Thousands of Microsopic Teeth!

Snails and slugs eat with a jaw and a flexible band of thousands of microscopic teeth, called a radula...

June 28, 2016

Stink Beetle Hits the Trails

The following is a sneak peek at @NHMLA's upcoming L.A. Nature Guide. This is one of 100 species accounts that will be in the book:

Stink beetles can be seen bumbling across almost any hiking trail in our local mountains and other natural areas. Hikers in Griffith Park often spot them. What are they doing? Since they can not fly—their shield-like front wings are fused together—they have to walk everywhere. Scientists have followed them and found out they are usually in search of food. They are so good at living in dry climates, they can get all the water they need from the plants they eat.

Stink beetle wanders across a dry wash in Lytle Creek, California. Photo taken by Lila Higgins.

Chemical Defense = Not Dinner

If a stink beetle is disturbed, it has a few ways to escape...

June 22, 2016

Smells Like Baby Skunk Spirit!

What’s that smell?! It’s baby skunk season!

Mother striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis) are on high alert and especially territorial between mid-May and mid-June because they are protecting their kits (another, more adorable word for baby skunks). After all, their scientific name, Mephitis, is Latin for "bad odor" and also the name of the Roman goddess of noxious vapors (a.k.a. bad gas) and illness, which makes sense since most people and animals don’t feel their best after getting sprayed, especially in the face and eyes.

Photo 1: A couple of skunk kits discovered in the Atwater neighborhood near the L.A. River.  Photo Credit: Stephanie Stein

Mephitis mephitis...

June 14, 2016

Summer of Chub

Just in time for summer, baby Arroyo chub have hatched in our Nature Garden pond!  Sharp-eyed Will Hausler from live animal programs spotted dozens of tiny black fish darting around in the shallows at one end of the pond.  He shared his discovery with Leslie Gordon, our live animal programs manager, who arranged the chub introduction and has been keeping tabs on them.  

baby chub in pond

The tiny chub in the pond (left) and darting out of the photo (right).  Chub have a black stripe on the side which is very obvious in the juveniles.  Photo credit: Will Hausler, Chris Thacker.

Her first thought was that they must be the offspring of the chub we released in March, but she wasn’t sure. It’s hard to tell what kind of...

June 2, 2016

Scavenging Sarcophagid Flies!

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....

May 31, 2016

More Bees, Please: A Bee Sanctuary in the Heart of Urban L.A.

Metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon texanus) (Left) and Mason bee (Osmia sp.) (Right). Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey

Backyards are not what they used to be. As an urban biologist who has spent countless hours exploring yards in L.A., I have seen lawns and rose gardens replaced by succulents and sages, bug zappers exchanged for hummingbird feeders, and swing sets coupled with bee hotels. More and more Angelenos are seeing their personal green space as not just a place to rest and play, but as integral habitat to share with local wildlife. Our Museum’s Nature Gardens are living proof that even in the core of the city, planting with purpose can have a profound beneficial effect. The area that was predominantly a concrete parking lot less than ten years ago is now home to 10 mammal species, 168 bird species, and heaps of insect species that we...

May 24, 2016

War of the Larvae: Ladybug Grub Eats Flower Fly Maggot!

Immature ladybug eating flower fly larva, photo by Brian Brown.

Urban Nature Research Center (UNRC) co-director Dr. Brian Brown recently wandered out of his home into his Monrovia backyard and caught sight of something unexpected on the outside of his insect trap: an immature ladybug (also known as a larva or grub) consuming the larva of a flower fly (also known as a maggot).  The large, tent-like Malaise trap—used in the UNRC's BioSCAN project to collect and study flying insects from multiple sites across Los Angeles—has a sloped, white mesh cover that serves as a perfect backdrop to capture an image of a bristly black and orange ladybug larva mid-meal....