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Nature Gardens at NHM: LA's Urban Nature

Showing posts with label : Blog

February 23, 2013

Ant Love From an Ant Nerd

A few weeks ago, this ant nerd traveled to the wilds of Arizona to pick up two ant colonies. Yes, myself and Leslie Gordon (the Museum's live animal queen), drove over 1000 miles in under two days to bring a few hundred ants back to the Museum. Why?
 

Our new harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex rugosus,
taking down a wax worm!
 

Well, these ants are for display in the Museum's new Nature Lab exhibit, which is opening this June. That's right, we're going to have a live colony of harvester ants, a.k.a. Pogos (the ultra cool, ant nerd way to refer to this ant genus), inside the Museum!

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Since the exhibit isn't opening for another four months, we're keeping the ants in our super secret insect quarantine space. Here's a photo...


January 18, 2013

Ladybugs Make Me Smile

A few weeks ago, I was having a terrible day at work. The next day, my friend and colleague, Kristina Lockaby,  brought me a card that said, "Ladybugs make me smile." This is so true.

A recent ladybug that made me smile REALLY big, was one that our Head Gardener, Richard Hayden, found. He was out in the urban wilderness and stopped a moment to take a closer look at one of the willow shrubs. He noticed lots of aphids and a few ladybugs too. One in particular stood out to him. It was all black with two red spots on it, something he had never seen before on a ladybug.

He put the little beetle in a snap top jar and brought it up to our shared office. "Lila, I have a present for you!" he exclaimed as he came in. I immediately stopped staring blankly at my computer screen and turned to see what booty he was bringing in from the garden. He silently handed me the jar, I took a look, and I smiled.

Richard had...


January 4, 2013

Twelve Days of Christmas 2012

Since tomorrow is the twelfth day of Christmas, I thought I'd give you your belated gifts. Of course they're all part of L.A.'s surprising biodiversity, yes even those turtle wasps!

Twelve weevils wandering
 


Eleven pepsis wasps piping

 

 


Ten spiders-a-leaping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...

December 24, 2012

New Fly Species Likes to Party It Up Poolside in Brentwood

I've been scratching my head for a story to tell in this week's blog. At 6:20 last night it hit me! I've never related our Curator of Entomology, Brian Brown's, story of how he discovered a brand new species of fly, right here in Los Angeles! That's right folks, undiscovered fly species are here right under your noses oh and don't forget that one that  flew into your eyeball, maybe that was new to science too, I guess next time you should try to save it!

All kidding aside, there are likely hundreds of new species scientists have never discovered before, right here in L.A.. Brian is famous here at the Museum for saying, "It's just as likely to find a new species to science in L.A., as it is in Costa Rica [where he does a lot of his research], 100%."

All you have to do is look at the numbers. Scientists have described almost a million different species of insects. However, they estimate that there may be anywhere between 9 and 29...

December 13, 2012

Weevil is as Weevil Does: Total Agave Meltdown

I don't know about you, but I'm not freaking out about the end of the world on December 21. Though, I can tell you "who" should be those agave plants, that's who! So much so, that if I was magically turned into an agave plant tomorrow, I'd totally start partying it up in preparation for total meltdown. Seriously though, agave meltdown is no joke. It's a very real disease that is highly lethal to agave plants and we've just discovered it in the Museum's garden!

It all came about last week. Richard Hayden and Daniel Feldman, the Museum's garden staff, noticed that some of our Agave americana plants weren't looking so hot. Some plants had a few leaves that were wrinkled and beginning to discolor, others were so bad they weren't able to stand up straight anymore. Experimentally, Daniel tugged on a leaf of one of the sick agaves, and surprisingly the entire plant came out of the ground in his hand! What they discovered beneath the surface was not pretty. The...

December 1, 2012

A Plague of Grasshoppers on Figueroa?

Recently, our garden staff has been finding LOADS of grasshoppers, but what are they all doing here? Are grasshoppers good for our gardens, or are they destructive like the plague of locusts (a swarming variety of grasshoppers in the family Acrididae) that appear in the Bible?

 

On November 14, I snapped a decent picture of a grasshopper hanging out on a pitcher sage plant, Lepechinia fragrans. I thought I'd have a crack at identifying it, and hoped that, through the process, I'd be able to figure out what exactly they're doing in the garden.

 

Not a bad picture for my camera phone!

 

Armed with a trusty book, the Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States, I began my quest. It was a long and arduous quest...


November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving for the Butter-butt (but not the Butterballs)!

Hold your horses...give me a moment to clarify this title, I'm talking about birds here! When I say "butter-butt" I'm actually referring to a small grey songbird that has a bright yellow patch on its derrière (yes, this really is what dorky birders like myself call this bird when we're out birding). In particular, I'm talking about the below pictured butter-butt, that narrowly escaped death hence the giving of thanks. In contrast, all those Butterball turkeys won't be giving much thanks. But hey, maybe you'll be inclined to give some on their behalf!
If this bird had a speech bubble, what would it be saying?

This is what Museum bird expert, Kimball Garrett, has to say about butter-butts, a.k.a. Yellow-rumped warblers:

...

November 16, 2012

Massive Black Fly aka Mexican Cactus Fly

Earlier this week I was outside being interviewed about Entomophagy, the practice of eating bugs. While they were setting up the camera and sound equipment I took a few moments to see what insects were visiting the bright yellow flowers on the bush I was standing next to. Among the usual honeybees, I saw a massive black fly. This fly was huge (3/4 of an inch in length) and really stood out against the yellow flowers.


It was a Mexican cactus fly, Copestylum mexicanum, feeding on nectar, and this was the first time I had seen them around the Museum!

Here's what Flower Flies of Los Angeles County book has to say about them:
"This is the largest flower fly in Southern California, with a body length of 18mm. It gets its name from the larvae that feed in wet decaying prickly pear...

November 7, 2012

The Hitchikers Guide to Los Angeles

Have you ever jumped in your car and realized there was a bug on your windshield? Not a gross squished one, I mean a living one, ready for a hitchiking adventure. When this happens, you might be like me, and decide to spark up the engine and see how long that sucker can stick around for (never speeding of course)! In my extensive experience, the bugs usually manage to "hang on" for much longer than one would expect. Case in point: This bright green katydida close relative to grasshopperstraveled with Nature Lab project manager, Jennifer Morgan, all the way from Palos Verdes to Pasadena, reaching speeds of up to 70 mph!   

Katy "done" did it right!

For a better idea of what a katydid looks like, here's an image courtesy of...

October 31, 2012

Psycho Spider Killer: What is It?

I've been waiting an entire month to write this post, and maybe my entire life to entomologically riff off a Talking Heads song title! On Monday, October 1, I found a large tarantula hawk wasp (a.k.a Pepsis wasp) on some flowering Baccharis in the North Campus. This blue wasp with orange wings was the first of its kind spotted in our new gardens, and is indeed a spider killer.
 
Tarantula Hawk on Baccharis
 
This is what Insects of the Los Angeles Basin has to say about tarantula hawks preying on spiders:
 
"When a female wasp finds a tarantula, she alights and engages it in battle. The wasp then stings the spider on the underside between the legs and usually succeeds in paralyzing but not killing it....