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Nature in L.A.

Showing posts with label : Blog

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. ...


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.

Allie...


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...