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Nature Gardens at NHM: LA's Urban Nature

Showing posts with label : Blog

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...

June 15, 2012

I Have a Cockroach in My Office!

Last week, Tania Perez, who is on our Museum education staff, found a cockroach crawling on our office wall! Said roach was quickly trapped and contained and was waiting for me when I got back to my office. 

Here in North America we have 55 species of cockroach (there are 3500 total in the world)! Of these 55 species, six in California are considered pests. The American Cockroach is the largest of these six roaches, with individuals reaching a maximum of 2 inches in length. Surprisingly, this roach isn't from America at all. It actually native to Africa. The species is also known as the ship cockroach and has hitched rides on ships traveling from Africa to the U.S. A likely apocryphal story,  it paints the picture in such a way as to imply it was slave ships during the 1600s that inadvertently transported these insects to our shores.

Although this roach is sometimes found in...

June 8, 2012

Another New Bird for Our Bird List

170 and Counting...

Late last week, Kimball Garrett, NHM's Ornithology Collections Manager, spotted a new species for our Exposition Park bird list...drum roll please!

It was an Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea. Although Kimball had his camera with him, he was unfortunatley unable to snap a picture. Here is an image of a male Indigo Bunting, so you can at least get a sense of what they look like.

Wow, those are some seriously blue feathers!

 

You can also check out what they sound like from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

If your browser does not support HTML5 audio, you should upgrade. In the meantime, you could listen to it here instead.
 

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May 31, 2012

Black Rats, Brown Rats, and the Plague

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about rats. Thankfully, it is not because I have a problem in my apartment! Unfortunately, for many people in L.A., rats are a serious pest, and it's not just one type of rat. The most serious rodent offenders in our cities are the brown (aka Norway) rat, Rattus norvegicus, and the black rat, Rattus rattus.
 

What species of rat is this?


Here on the North Campus we have camera trap images and footage of rats hanging out underneath the bridge. But what type of rat is this? Since Jim Dines, our Mammalogy Collections Manager, wasn't available, I decided to try and figure it out myself. Doing a Wikipedia search for brown rats, I came across a nice diagram that helped me to make an identification. What species do you think it is?

 

 

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