Nature Gardens at NHM: LA's Urban Nature

Showing posts with label : Blog

August 24, 2012

More L.A. Mushrooms

As I proclaimed in last week's blog, it's been hot! Not the sort of weather you would expect to be finding mushrooms in the arid Southwest. However, Carol Bornstein, Director of North Campus and  gardens found mushrooms on her way into work on Monday morning. As she parked her car, she noticed some yellow patches under a citrus tree. Upon closer investigation, Carol discovered they were clumps of emerging yellow mushrooms!

Needless to say, I was out there quick as a flash to snap some photos. This is what I found:
 
 
When I parked the next morning the mushrooms had completely changed!
 
 Picture taken by Patrick Tanaka, Museum outreach instructor
 ...

August 17, 2012

We've Got Flying Neon Toothpicks in Our Pond

I admit it! I totally stole the title of this week's blog from my Facebook friend John Acorn, aka The Nature Nut. To be specific, I gleaned this gem of a title from one of his books, Damselflies of Alberta: Flying Neon Toothpicks in the Grass.

Today, instead of taking lunch like a normal person, I went out to the pond with Kimball Garrett to survey for adult Odonates. Odo-what? I mean dragonflies and damselflies (the flying neon toothpicks), the jeweled predators of the sky.

Among other things, Kimball and I found damselflies for the first time. Yay! Here are some pictures of what we found:

The first ever damselfly to be found in the pond!
Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula

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August 11, 2012

Who are Those Ants in Our Homes and Gardens?

Lots of people in the L.A. area have been complaining about the heat. Over the last week, cities in our region have been experiencing temperatures well into the 90s. On Monday, Woodland Hills reached 108 degrees!

Whenever the temperature rises like this, I start to notice ants indoors. Only this morning during our Nature Lab meeting, I found a trail of ants leading to the sink, and another leading to the snack shelf.

The ants I found are Argentine Ants, Linepithema humile. They are an introduced species from South America (Argentina and Brazil) and are now considered the most common ant in our area. According to the Insects of the Los Angeles Basin book, these ants were "introduced to New Orleans before 1891 in coffee shipments from Brazil, and it has since spread rapidly over much of the United States."

This is what the same book has to say about their pest status:

"The species is one of the most persistent and troublesome of all our...

August 3, 2012

Bugging Out in Arizona

Hey folks, I'm out of town this week at the Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference in Tucson, Arizona. Forgive me for not providing you with your weekly dose of L.A. urban nature, hopefully the images I'll share of the insects we're finding here in Tucson will suffice!

The conference I'm attending with Shawna Joplin, our Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, is put on by the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute (SASI). SASI is a non-profit organization devoted to fostering awareness, knowledge and appreciation of all nature through the study and interpretation of the vital roles arthropods play in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

I go to this conference every year to meet up with other entomologists, invertebrate educators, and of course the USDA staff who give us permits to operate our Butterfly Pavilion, and Insect Zoo. The most fun part of the conference are the field...

July 24, 2012

Are you Ready for the ZomBee Apocalypse?

Today, we launched our latest Citizen Science project, ZomBee Watch, in partnership with San Francisco State University. Yes, that's right folks, we want you to become a real life ZomBee Hunter! To inspire you to do so, sit back and relax while I tell you this epic story of zombification!

Dead honey bee parasitized by the Zombie Fly.
Can you see the white maggot emerging from the neck region?

In the darkness of night zombified honey bees (ZomBees) abandon their hives and embark upon a flight of the living dead! These honey bees, Apis mellifera, have been infected by the Zombie Fly, Apocephalus borealis, brethren of the nefarious ant-decapitating flies. 

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July 20, 2012

Do Wasps Have Free Will?

 
We found a new wasp species in the North Campus. The Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneous, is an impressively large (approximately one inch long), and active solitary wasp. Although many see a wasp this large and brightly coloredthe orange and black combo usually tells us to "stay away"this wasp is not aggressive and is very rarely observed stinging. Solitary Hymenopterous insects (those in the order Hymenoptera, aka bees and wasps) are not prone to stinging the same way social species are. This is because they don't have a hive to protect.  
 
Great Golden Digger Wasp feeding on milkweed nectar
 
The Great Golden Digger Wasp is actually a beneficial insect in our gardens. Here's how:...

July 12, 2012

Bird's Nest Fungi, Exploding Eggs, and Mushroom Soup

Yay! Today I documented the first bird's nest fungus, Cyathus sp., in the North Campus. For months, I have been looking forward to finding these fascinating, weird, and wonderful fungi. When North Campus Director Carol Bornstein told me she had found some, I immediately knew I had to blog about them.

Bird's Nest Fungi with my finger for scale.

As you can see, this fungus looks like a miniature bird's nest with oddly flattened eggs in it. Mycologists refer to them fondly as BNFs, bird's nest fungi. The "eggs" (periodoles to be geeky and precise) are actually packages containing thousands and thousands of spores. When a raindrop, or some other drop of water, hits the periodole it causes a miniature explosion. The spores are released and propelled out of the cup (some spores can be projected over six feet in this manner),...

July 6, 2012

What Do Animals Think About Fireworks?

Last night many of us were enjoying the Fourth of July firework displays. Many of our pets were closed up indoors cowering under blankets, hiding under beds, or being generously shut up in bathrooms or garages. But what about the wild animals?

Up to this point in my life, I had never paused to consider how wildlife might react to fireworks. Maybe this is just me, but until I got into work this morning and saw some footage and stills from our camera traps, I had never even stopped to think about it.

Here are the images Sam Easterson sent me:

Did the opossums feel like they were under attack?

Or were they going out to enjoy the show?

Sam said, "The Opossums got really agitated by the sound of the fireworks last night. There were a lot of...

June 29, 2012

Edible Nature

Last week, I collected the first garbanzo bean out of the Erika J. Glazer Family Home Garden. After showing the seed to some of my colleagues, who exclaimed, "Wow, that’s a garbanzo bean," I realized what a profound thing I was holding in my hand. From this tiny package an entire plant can spring, the potential for new life was right there in my hand.
 
Garbanzo bean close-up
To tell you more about this tiny seed I'll pass you over to Vanessa Vobis, one of our Gallery Interpreters that works in the garden.

 
Vanessa stopped working for a quick photo opp.
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June 22, 2012

Charismatic Microfauna in the North Campus

I've been away all week in Yellowstone for work and wasn't sure how I'd manage the blog this week. While there, I was stunned by the awesome wildlife I encountered, including bison, elk, black bears, pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and even a pack of six gray wolves!

Bison jams are a common occurrence in Yellowstone!

For those in the know, these animals are called charismatic megafauna. They are beloved by most, and therefore it's easy to get people to care about them and the issues they face. In stark contrast, much of the fauna I work with, and a focus of both the North Campus and Nature Lab projects, are tiny, seemingly inconsequential, and many times a turn-off to visitors. For instance, it's hard to get people to care about insects that live in what looks like spit!

This morning I went out to see what charismatic...