Nature in L.A.

Showing posts with label : Blog

May 20, 2015

The Flight of Monarch Butterfly 64365

Somewhere in L.A. a monarch egg hatched and out popped a tiny girl caterpillar. That caterpillar ate, and ate, and ate. She ate milkweed, the only plant she could, until she molted her skin. All told, she molted four times until she was a big, fat, stripy caterpillar with black tentacles. She made one last molt and formed a bright green chrysalis with shining golden spots. Two weeks later she emerged from that chrysalis as an adult, and then she flew. On November 17, 2014 she was spotted in the Museum’s Nature Gardens. She was caught in a net, and gently removed by skilled hands. A small, circular, paper sticker was affixed to her hind wing with the numbers 64365 printed on it. She was released and flew off into the distance. We knew there was a good chance that we’d never see her again.

Monarch caterpillar by Courtney Celley/USFWS.

If you...

April 20, 2015

It's a bird? It's a plane? It's a White-Lined Sphinx Moth!

At the end of every work day, before I head home into that lovely L.A. rush hour traffic, I walk through the Nature Garden at one of my favorite times of the day, the magic hour as the sun sets, the diurnal animals hunker down, and the nocturnal ones get ready for action. Even though spring time may blend into what feels like an endless L.A. summer, I see evidence of insects that have been on the down low for many months, now suddenly appearing out of hiding, full of vigor and looking for love.  One such example is the glorious White-Lined Sphinx Moth, a crepuscular creature which feeds on the nectar of a  variety of flowers. Silhouetted in the twilight with wings 3 inches wide, this insect is often mistaken for a hummingbird as it hovers in the garden....

April 10, 2015

Ankle Bracelets for House Sparrows

Last week, husband and wife ornithologist team Kimball Garrett (Museum ornithology collections manager) and Kathy Molina (Museum Research Associate) partnered with citizen science staff to band house sparrows (Passer domesticus). We hope that by banding these birds, we'll be able to understand how they use our urban environment. These little brown birds are literally everywhere, yet not much is known about their local behavior.  What we do know is that they are originally from Europe and were purposefully introduced to North America starting in the 1850s. Because they are very adaptable in both urban and rural areas, their numbers have since exploded. You might recognize them as the bird that once stole your French fries!

Kimball wants to know more, "do they spend all day feeding and socializing in our Nature Gardens or do some have lunch at the...

April 1, 2015

Purple Pollen Eaters: A Honey bee's Love Affair with Phacelia

Spring is here and everyone is totally digging the wildflower display in our Nature Gardens. Casey Schreiner from Modern Hiker even gave us a shoutout on Instagram

It's a good day for #wildflowers at the @nhmla!

The two flowers vying for your attention in this photo are, according to Carol Bornstein Nature Gardens Director and native plant guru, "the white-tipped yellow blossoms of tidy tips, Layia platyglossa, and tansy leaf phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia." Carol goes on to explain, "the nectar-rich, sweetly scented purple flowers of this taller annual are attracting droves of bees."  Boy is this true.


March 19, 2015

How I Discovered 30 New Species of Flies in Los Angeles

By Emily Hartop

When I came to work at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, I had no idea exactly what was in store for me. The NHM had recently initiated a massive study to search for biodiversity, or the variety of life forms in a particular area. This study wasn’t taking place in some lush tropical jungle, though; in fact, far from it. This fabulous study was (and is) taking place in the backyards of Los Angeles. I got hired to be part of the entomological team for this urban project called BioSCAN (Biodiversity Science: City and Nature) and before I knew it, I was describing 30 new species of flies collected right here in the City of Angels. Before I explain how this all happened, let...

March 18, 2015

Kid Citizen Scientist Finds First Snail for Project S.L.I.M.E.

A few weekends ago, citizen scientists from all over L.A. came to the Museum to see what they could find hiding in the damp and cool shadows of our Nature Gardens. Twenty people joined Museum experts (Lindsey Groves and Florence Nishida) to search for slugs, snails, and fungi—those often overlooked decomposers that break down dead and decaying material. They were also the first people to test out our latest and greatest citizen science project, S.L.I.M.E. (Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments). Within ten minutes, one of our youngest citizen scientists made the first S.L.I.M.E. discovery - a glass snail (Oxychilus draparnaudi) in the Pollinator Garden.

Check out what else we found:

A bunch of turkey tail fungus on a dead log:

March 6, 2015

Why Bother With Urban Biodiversity?

By Dean Pentcheff
On one day in the past decade, someone who never lived an urban life came to a city. Perhaps it was a man in China looking for work in Beijing, a hungry woman from a rural farming family in India moving to Hyderabad, or perhaps a baby born in a Los Angeles hospital. That unheralded, unnoticed arrival delineated a turning point in human history. That person was the one who tipped the scale from rural to urban. For the first time, more than half of us live in cities.

Urban vs. rural population trends (United Nations. 2014. World Urbanization Prospects. ST/ESA/SER.A/352)

Urban vs. rural population trends (United Nations. 2014. World Urbanization Prospects. ST/ESA/SER.A/352)[/caption]That trend is expected to continue, as world population expands and farming necessarily becomes ever more...

February 20, 2015

Introducing: ButterflySCAN!

By Elizabeth Long How lucky are you, Dear Reader? Two posts within a month about butterflies! We’re excited to announce the launch of a new study in conjunction with BioSCAN: ButterflySCAN!


By Elizabeth Long How lucky are you, Dear Reader? Two posts within a month about butterflies! We’re excited to announce the launch of a new study in conjunction with BioSCAN: ButterflySCAN! As mentioned in our last butterfly post, the sampling method that we use in BioSCAN, the Malaise trap, is an unusual way to study butterflies and not much has been written about how effective it is. Outside of the tropics the most common way to study butterfly diversity is via a method called the Pollard Walk . This is a fairly simple method...

February 10, 2015

Faces of BioSCAN: The Heinzelmännchen

Heinzelmännchenbrunnen (© Raimond Spekking, via Wikimedia Commons)

Who are the Heinzelmännchen who sort all those BioSCAN samples? — a peek into our lab and behind the scenes. Our BioSCAN project collects 30 samples per week, 52 weeks per year, for 3 years. That will be a staggering 4,680 samples. In order to describe the biodiversity of Los Angeles, we need to figure out what is in each jar. How can this possibly get done? The short answer is a small army of undergraduates. The longer answer is — young, bright, energetic minds looking for petri dish safaris under microscopes. [caption id="attachment_621" align="alignleft" width="242...