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Showing posts with label : Blog

December 7, 2015

Backyard Bobcats of L.A.

“Miguel, I found a dead bobcat!” It was 8:30 in the morning when I received a call from my friend Jessie Jennewein. Jessie and I work together at the Natural History Museum and share a passion for urban carnivores, such as pumas and bobcats.  So you can imagine that this news got our day off to a bad start.

Bobcat repeatedly spotted using the same backyard near Griffith Park for over a year. Photo Credit: Susan Swan


Although Jessie’s news was sad, it didn’t surprise me.  I’ve lived on the edge of Griffith Park for many years and have studied bobcats and other carnivores from the park.  In this line of work I’ve seen a lot. I’ve set up camera traps and used radio-tracking to learn where...

December 1, 2015

Oothe-whata?

"What is that?” That was the question I asked my supervisor, Lila Higgins, back in the fall of 2012 when she brought in a strange looking object attached to a stick. “This is an ootheca, an egg case” she replied.

Ootheca seen on a Lion's Tail plant (Leonotis leonurus) Nov 3, 2015 in the Nature Gardens at NHM. Photo credit: Richard Smart

The ootheca was attached to a stick that Lila had brought inside to our office. Lila saw the stick lying on the ground in our Nature Gardens. Originally, she was going to place the stick into a nearby garden bed, but as she looked closer she noticed the ootheca. She recognized the shape of the ootheca to be that of a mantid egg case. Lila decided she would help the mantid babies by bringing...

November 23, 2015

Medfly Mayhem: The fly that shook L.A.


Photo by Kelsey Bailey.

Insects inspire wonder, curiosity, fear or disgust, but very few have caused the widespread panic, political controversy, and public outcry like the Mediterranean fruit fly.  Shortly after appearing in California in the early 1980s, the saga of the Medfly erupted into a battle between the Agricultural Industry and the residents of the affected counties, with local politicians wedged firmly in between. As an entomologist from L.A., the aerial spraying of pesticide over the city to combat the Medfly that happened so long ago is still one of the topics I am most often asked about. It is firmly etched in many Angelenos’ memories, but most are unaware of what became of this notorious little fly.
 
The Mediterranean...

November 17, 2015

Insects Steal the Show at Riverside Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park BioBlitz!

Riverside Citizen Science BioBlitz participants heading into the field.

On October 17, scientists and volunteers brought their equipment, expertise, and enthusiasm for biodiversity to Riverside Citizen Science’s first-ever BioBlitz. Starting at dawn and “nature-partying” into the night, Riverside residents explored Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park in search of floral and faunal diversity.

There are a variety of reasons why the intense sampling of plants and animals that defines a BioBlitz is important: to foster a community committed to environmental stewardship, to unite amateur and professional scientists to learn from one another, to document the astounding diversity of life that exists – even in urban environments...

November 10, 2015

Red Fox Sighted in San Pedro: From Fox Farms to Coyote Food

On a recent visit to San Pedro, the Natural History Museum’s Kimball Garrett crossed paths with a nonnative red fox (Vulpes vulpes) near the 22nd Street Landing . Although unusual now, red fox sightings were commonplace in many parts of coastal Southern California just a few decades ago.


Photo courtesy of Kimball Garrett
 
If red foxes aren’t native, how did they get to Southern California in the first place? Not surprisingly, their introduction was anthropogenic, the result of human activities. From 1905 to 1919, red foxes from the eastern US were imported into Orange County specifically for the sport of fox hunting. Simultaneously, the farming of imported foxes for the fur industry was becoming widespread throughout California. More than 100 fox farms existed across the state by the 1940s. Escapees and deliberate releases from...

November 2, 2015

Land Snails: The Key to Beauty?

Snail slime has many names-snail mucin, snail secretion filtrate, or just plain snail mucus. But is it going to save your skin? 

Snail slime has hit the beauty market in spectacular fashion, enhancing face creams, moisturizers, gel masks, and skin repair serums. South Korean cosmetics companies have been at the forefront of this trend with claims that these snail slime products reduce wrinkles, repair damaged skin, improve acne scars, and lighten dark spots. So, from what magnificent snail comes this “miracle” beauty product? 

The common garden snail. 


Tonymoly Intense Care Snail Hydro-gel Mask with its “creator,”...

October 22, 2015

Sea snakes, blind snakes, and the most extraordinary month of snake discoveries in Southern California’s history

Over the past month, Southern Californians have observed two species of snakes that will forever change our understanding of the region’s snake fauna. One of the species is already a media darling, a beautiful but venomous sea snake recently showcased in dozens of media outlets. The other is small, brown, and cryptic, but in many ways has an even more remarkable story to tell. Let’s meet the two players in this story.
 

The Yellow-bellied Sea Snake, Pelamis platura (often listed incorrectly as P. platurus)


The Yellow-bellied sea snake that washed up on Silver Strand Beach, Oxnard, Ventura County on Oct 15 and 16, 2015. Photographed shortly after it died by Ashley Spratt/USFWS.
 
This sea snake ranges from...

October 7, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities

Los Angeles (top) and Warsaw (bottom), two cities on the urban biodiversity frontier (both images from Wikimedia Commons).

The NHM Superproject, a collaboration of the BioSCAN, RASCals, S.L.I.M.E. and Southern California Squirrel Survey projects, is beginning data collection in less than a month (we are still recruiting eager naturalists here). Our study is certainly the largest urban biodiversity study to be undertaken, but urban biodiversity studies of any sort are often considered to be new, innovative research programs. Recently, however, I found an older model...

October 5, 2015

L.A. Bats Fight On!

Happy (American) football season everybody! Yes, some scientists enjoy playing and watching sports in addition to searching for wild animals and staring at tiny things under a microscope. This is true for me. Growing up in a Nicaraguan family, playing and watching sports was a big part of my life. Nicaraguans are known to be baseball fanatics, but my mother and I, both being USC alumni, are also serious Trojan football fans.  I’ve been watching the Trojans play at the L.A. Coliseum since I was a young boy and now I take my little brothers to games. But, even when a game is playing out below, I can't completely turn my scientist-self off–particularly when there are bats involved. Let me tell you about the bats that Fight On!


Mexican free-tailed bat (aka Brazilian free-tailed bat) from NHMLA's mammalogy collection. ...

September 25, 2015

Introducing Your Los Angeles Snails!

There is a new citizen science project in town and we need your help to document the snails and slugs that call Los Angeles home. SLIME (Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments) kicked off earlier this year, and we are already making some interesting discoveries about life in L.A.'s slow lane. 

White Italian snails on a sprinkler at the White Point Nature Center, San Pedro, Los Angeles County. Notice the variation in color and pattern. Photo by Austin Hendy.

There are about a dozen common land snails in Los Angeles County. If you’ve hiked within the Palos...