Nature in L.A.

Showing posts with label : Blog

December 2, 2014

Brainwashed Bees

By Brian Brown Some of you might have heard about the "ZomBee" project, both at our museum and perhaps at its source. It appears that honey bees parasitized by a phorid fly called Apocephalus borealis change their behavior and fly to lights in the evening. I witnessed this phenomenon myself in Pasadena a couple of nights ago, where dozens of bees were circling a porchlight and crawling on the side of a house at 8pm. Apocephalus borealis, the "zombie fly" Apocephalus borealis, the "zombie fly"This is just a reminder that if you see or hear about this type of abnormal bee behavior, please let us know so we can investigate....

November 12, 2014

The Real L.A. Noir: The True-life Insect Cannibals and Murderers in our Midst

The coffin fly. Image courtesy of Kelsey Bailey.

As you get into your car in the parking lot of the Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake in Los Angeles, you might just be within arm’s reach of cannibals. Not the human kind – but the insect variety.

Inside a wasp that is buzzing around a nearby bush dwells a bug known as the twisted wing parasite. These tiny insects are genetically close to flies and resemble nothing so much as a small black speck. But placing that speck under a microscope reveals huge, orb-like eyes that, as entomologist Emily Hartop puts it, look like sinister purple boysenberries.

Although the twisted wing parasite’s name comes from the seemingly malformed wings of the male of the species, the female has no wings. In fact, she has no legs, not even functional mouthparts – she is literally...

October 31, 2014

We Found a Western Red Bat in the Nature Gardens: A Small Visitor with Big Implications

Western red bat, Lasiurus blossevillii, photo by Ted Weller, US Forest Service.

Happy bat week everybody—we have bat-tastic news to share with you just in time for Halloween!  Over the month of September we recorded not just one, but TWO new species of bats that had never before been detected in the Museum’s Nature Gardens. Firstly we found the non-migratory and somewhat urban-adapted canyon bat, Parastrellus hesperus. This bat is common throughout the southwest and is strongly associated with rocky crevices found in canyons. Because they roost in these dark places and are able to remain in the same location year-round, this may mean they can adapt to roosting in urban spaces in L.A.—anything from cracks in concrete underpasses to crevices on hillsides that are...

October 9, 2014

We Found Bats Living at the La Brea Tar Pits!

If you’ve ever been to the La Brea Tar Pits you might have wondered if bats were around during the last Ice Age when saber-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis), Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi), and dire wolves (Canis dirus) roamed the land that is now our city. Well, we’re happy to tell you that the answer is yes, and we’ve recently discovered that bats are still flying over the tar pits on a regular basis!

Me hanging out with a pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) during field work—one of only two species of bats recovered from the prehistoric Tar Pits.

But how do we know that bats are still living in the Miracle Mile? It’s all thanks to bat detectors. Bat detectors are devices myself and other scientists use to record the ultrasonic calls—remember echolocation from...

September 13, 2014


Every once in a while, those of us here at BioSCAN actually venture beyond the borders of Los Angeles. Sometimes when we do, we come back with insects. I was particularly excited by a couple of common, yet beautiful, insects I picked up in the South-Eastern Sierras this summer, so I thought I'd share them with you! Photo of cicada by Kelsey Bailey.
Photo of cicada by Kelsey Bailey.[/caption] The beauty above is a cicada, family Cicadidae. Although they are not commonly found in Los Angeles (although we did hear, and then locate, one in the NHM Nature Garden not long ago), cicadas of many species are found throughout California. Most cicadas have a lifespan between 2 and 5 years, with the lifespan of some species as long as 13–17 years! I collected this beauty at my annual family campout in...

September 5, 2014

The Shrunken Headed Spider Stalking Fly!

Today’s parasitic fly marvel comes in the form of an absurdly cute group of round, woolly bodied insects known as the small-headed flies (family Acroceridae). A handful of specimens of Turbopsebius diligens, the only species known west of the Rocky Mountains, turned up in only two of our BioSCAN traps, in Hollywood and University Park, an area just north of the USC Campus. At first glance, T. diligens might look like an oddly shaped bee, but to my eye, it’s as if someone took two craft pom-poms to make a miniature snowman, stuck a small fly head with giant fly eyes on top, added 6 legs and voila! To add to this bizarre image, picture this little fuzzball in motion, as humorously described by entomologist F.R. Cole: “(T. diligens) has a floating sort of flight, rather undulating and uncertain. It has the habit of buzzing around in circles when it falls over on its back on a smooth surface, often doing this for some time before it can regain...

August 28, 2014

Collembollanesque Wasp

wasp_id (1)At first glance, you might think the BioSCAN specimen above is a collembolan, or springtail (Wikipedia on springtails here.). As is often the case in the insect world, however, we find that truth is stranger than fiction. The insect above is Neodusmetia sangwani, and it's actually a flightless wasp in the family Encyrtidae. These little critters were disseminated by aircraft in 1971 as part of one of the most massively successful biological control projects of all time. Introduced from India into the Southern United States in 1964 for the control of another insect, the Rhodes grass scale, they can now be found all the way from the U.S. to Brazil. Rhodes grass scales infect (guess what?) grasses and were a very problematic pest...

August 8, 2014

BioSCAN Blues

While insects from the tropics like the famous Morpho butterfly get most of the credit for their stunning iridescent colors,  insects from more Mediterranean climates such as Los Angeles can also exhibit striking metallic exoskeletons. One such dazzling discovery, pictured below in all its glimmering azure glory, is a mason bee that has turned up from only 2 sites: our Museum's Nature Garden and our LA River adjacent site in Atwater. Solitary mason bees, like their close cousin the leaf cutter bee, use materials from their environment such as mud, leaves, or flowers to line the cells where they provision and protect their young.  This specimen stands out like a beacon (or a bee-con?)  when surrounded by mostly dark to earth-toned specimens in the sample, which prompts the question about this little flying jewel: what's the purpose of all this showiness? [caption id="attachment_500" align="alignnone" width="572...

June 12, 2014

No, it's Not an Ant!

Photo by Kelsey Bailey. Photo by Kelsey Bailey.[/caption]At first glance, the gangly creature above looks remarkably like an ant, but it is actually a flightless wasp from the family Dryinidae. Unlike ants, these wasps are solitary. They are parasitoids of insects in the order Hemiptera, the order we call "true bugs". This order includes cicadas, leafhoppers, and all manner of other plant eaters. As parasitoids, the females use a sharp ovipositor (egg laying projection) to pierce into the host hemipteran. The larva begins to grow inside the host insect, but soon begins to protrude like a giant tumor from the host body. A tough, leathery covering develops to protect the growing larva. Eventually, the larva pupates and a new adult emerges to begin the cycle anew. As you might imagine, things do not go well for the host...

June 6, 2014

Mega-moths in the City

Have you see this moth flying around Los Angeles?

My friend Kat has. She got up-close and personal with one when it flew in through her balcony window a few months ago.

It was a sultry spring evening and Kat was minding her own business until something flew into her Mid-Wilshire apartment. At first she thought it was a hummingbird as they're always flying outside her window, but as she got closer she realized it wasn't a hummingbird at all, but rather a large moth. Being a fellow nature-lover, she captured the creature under a glass jar, snapped a picture, and helped it back outside.

Saving the moth. Photo courtesy of Kat Superfisky.

Then, she texted me the picture with this caption: "what is it?" Instead of trying to write a lengthy response, I called her and told her...