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Friday, June 7, 2013

Moving Blog and Bomb Fly

Hi ya'll! The blog is moving to our new website at

Here's a parting picture of an awesome bee fly I found in the gardens last week:

This fly is the BOMB
(in the family BOMByliidae that is)!

p.s. I am having anxiety about leaving blogspot, wish me luck!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rattlesnakes Like the Los Angeles Times

There are only ten days left until our new exhibit, Nature Lab, opens. Last week, I introduced you to some babies that are moving in, and this week I want to introduce you to rescued contraband!

This is Obsidian, our new Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus helleri.

Obsidian chilling with his morning paper!

Snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, are often maligned and misunderstood. But hold on a minute, any creature that is cultured enough to enjoy the Los Angeles Times should be given a second chance surely.
Let me give you the back story first; Obsidian is a rescued pet from a drug bust that took place in Riverside. Although, his previous owners were purported drug dealers, he was extremely well cared for. So much so, that when the police gave the owner the option of having the rattlesnake put down or being adopted, he chose adoption. Okay, so maybe the fact that an alleged drug dealer cared about rattlesnakes isn't convincing you to have a change of heart. Here are some other reasons to give Obsidian, and all other rattlers, a second chance:
1) We feed Obsidian 1-2 rats every two weeks. He is currently 5 years old and will likely live for another 20 years. That means he has the potential to eat 1,300 rats in his lifetime. Imagine a world where rat populations were not kept in check by natural predators?
2) Although Obsidian isn't part of the National Institute of Health's funded Natural Toxins Research Center some of his cousins are! Scientists at this institution milk venom from snakes reared on site and send them to researchers who are developing medicines to fight medical conditions such as cancers, strokes, and  high blood pressure. Who knows what health benefits Southern Pacific Rattlesnake venom might have.
3) Rattlesnakes were one of this Nations first symbols! They appear on Gadsden's flag, with the moniker "Don't Tread on Me." As a Brit, I saw this flag and thought it was an environmental statement. Oh dear Lila, how wrong you can be sometimes!
4) Last but not least, they are just plain cool –  I mean how many other animals can grow their own rattle! Most people think that this rattle is only used as a warning device, but this isn't always the case. Leslie Gordon, our Vertebrate Live Animal Program Manager, related a nice little story to me. As she was heading out for the evening a few weeks ago, she stopped to check on Obi (that's what she calls him for short). He was curled up sleeping. He opened his mouth in a yawning gesture and seemed to stretch. As he did this he gently rattled his rattle and then settled down to sleep. Now if that doesn't seem cute to you, I don't know what will.
Maybe picturing him doing the Times' Sunday crossword puzzle?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spring Babies in the Nature Lab

There are only 17 days left until our Nature Gardens and Nature Lab exhibits open! This makes me extremely excited and a little bit nauseous. To cope with the craziness, all I have to do is go and visit  our new Nature Lab babies. Just in case you're feeling stressed out too, here's some baby love for you:

This is our new program opossum, Didelphis virginiana. She is a rescue animal that we were lucky enough to get from a local rehabber. She is blind in one eye (from a dog attack) which makes her unreleasable, and therefore our newest and cutest ambassador for L.A. wildlife.

Look she smiles, even though she's blind in one eye!
We also have 14 baby Norway rats, Rattus norvigicus! They are currently in training to move into their new home which will be decked out with lots of toys including ladders, wheels, tubes, and a see-saw or two.

Our baby rats snuggle up for a nap

You've already met our harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex spp., but here is a much better close up of the babies, aka larvae. You'll be able to visit them in the Nature Lab and watch their older sisters caring for them.

Antlings are cute too!
Recently one of our crayfish, Procambarus clarkii, had about 100 babies hatch. The fry (that's what you call a baby crayfish...not because they're good eating though) are about the size of a quarter and they zip around tank town like anything. This is mostly because they are looking for food, and trying to escape being eaten by the adults. What can I say, it's a hard life!  
Biggy-baby and not-so-biggy-baby hanging out together.

Last but not least, here is one of our California Newts, Taricha torosa. Did you know that baby newts are called efts? If you are an avid L.A. Times crossworder, then you already know this, I swear eft is in the puzzle, like every other week!

Who could say no to one of our baby newts?
Want to meet our new babies? Come by the Nature Lab after it opens on June 9!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sea Monsters or Beaked Whales

What you are about to look at is gross! Also, this post is not about L.A. urban nature, it is about  Orange County marine nature. But, I contend that some beaches are pretty dang urban and Orange County isn't that different from L.A.right? 
Plus, this is sort of sea monster-ish and therefore awesome, I couldn't resist!

This is not the rotting carcass of a sea monster!  
*Note the ribs still covered with rotting flesh, and the exposed vertebrae. Jim said it smelled pretty awfull.
So, what is that mass of rotting flesh? According to Jim Dines, our excellent Mammalogy Collection's Manager, it is a beached beaked whale.
Here's the account Jim wrote up for our Research & Collections newsletter:
"On April 30th, Dave Janiger and Jim Dines retrieved the decomposed carcass of a Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) from Crystal Cove State Beach in south Orange County. Beaked whales are uncommon in museum collections and much about these unusual cetaceans remains unknown, making this new specimen an important acquisition for the marine mammal collection. As recently as 2002, a new species of whale, Perrin’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon perrini), was described using specimens from our collection."
Before this week, I had never even heard of a beaked whale. Apparently, this isn't that surprising as they are fairly rare and elusive. They, like dolphins and sperm whales, belong to the Odontoceti group, aka the toothed whales. But, there are only 21 known species in the world, some of which have only been described from their washed-up remains! Wild encounters with some of these species are considered a rare treat, even so for the scientists that spend their lives studying them. This is because they are amazing divers and spend extended periods of time diving to great depths in the open ocean. One way scientists distinguish between the species is through an interesting adaptation male whales have on their head. As a male beaked whale becomes an adult, teeth erupt out of their lower jaws and seemingly jut out of their heads, sort of like horns or antlers in terrestrial mammals. Just like male deer or moose use their antlers to fight over mating rights, beaked whales use their erupted head teeth (fyi, that is not the scientific term) to do the same. If I'm ever lucky enough to encounter live beaked whales, I hope beyond hope that I'll get to witness two males battling it out with their awesome teeth. Just imagine!

Arnoux's beaked whale
Photo courtesy of Soler97


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Do you have Museum Malaise?

You better not! However, just in case you do I have a line of curative agents perfect for any and all afflicted with such exhibit ennui. The elixirs I speak of are our new L.A. nature exhibits, Nature Lab and Nature Gardens, and they're about to open on June 9!

I've written loads of posts about both exhibits, so I thought it might be interesting to have a guest writer this week (I swear it's not because I'm too busy)! Dean Pentcheff from our Research and Collections staff is going to answer the question that everyone will be asking when the Nature Gardens open, who's camping in that tent out there?

"Peek between the bushes in the Nature Garden and you’ll see what looks like someone’s overnight camping spot. We do host overnight sleepovers at NHM but we don’t do it in the garden (at least not yet). What’s going on here?

Photo by Phyllis Sun
The “tent,” as it turns out, is actually an insect trap. It is no coincidence that it looks like a tent. Its inventor, RenĂ© Malaise, was inspired by watching insects in his own tent while he was on tropical collecting trips. Insects bumping into an obstruction, like a tent wall (or the vertical mesh of the Malaise trap), tend to fly up to escape. The conical top deflects them up further to the topmost part of the cone. There, our arthropod guests find a hole to a plastic jar full of ethanol — their last drink, and a preservative that lets us keep them for the Museum’s collection in good physical condition and with their DNA available for genetic research.

Why such an elaborate insect trap in the Nature Gardens? This trap is one of about thirty that we’re setting up between downtown L.A. and the Griffith Park area as part of our BioSCAN project (BioSCAN stands for Biodiversity Science: City and Nature). Our goals are to develop a good inventory of L.A. insect diversity and to see how insect diversity differs between inner urban areas and outer less-urbanized areas. That’s the reason for the mini-weather station next to every trap. Measuring physical parameters like temperature, humidity, soil temperature, and moistness will help us develop explanations for the diversity differences we will see.

Dean explaining BioSCAN
The beauty of the Malaise trap, as RenĂ© Malaise put it in his original publication, is that they can “… catch all the time, by night as well as by day, and never be forced to quit catching when it was best because dinner-time was at hand.” That also means that we’ll have thousands of samples to sort. You can come watch us do it (and volunteer to help, if you want) in the Nature Lab when that opens in June."

Thanks Dean

So if you're interested in finding out what a robber fly really looks like, and how many of them we've caught in our Malaise trap, stop by the Museum on or after June 9 and ask never know Dean might actually be the scientist you get to talk too.

p.s. he's awesome!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sink Bugs, Bathtub Bugs, Eyelash Bugs, or House Centipedes?

Ever seen a weird creature stranded in your bathtub, that could easily be mistaken for a discarded fake eyelash? Two of my friends, Matt and Kristi, have (p.s. they're Museum members too). In fact, they often find them in their bathroom. However, this week they had an unusual sighting. Matt was sleepily making breakfast and pulled out a package of oatmeallo and behold an eyelash bug darted out from the cupboard! Seriously, these bugs are FAST, so it's not surprising that it startled him. Quick to recover, he grabbed the nearest empty jar (only a bit of pickle juice was left), and captured the bug. Kristi kindly brought the bug to the Museum, so it could pose for a photo shoot and I could write this blog.

Thanks guys!

Captive Eyelash Bug
Love the gloves Kristi! 

So what is it? This bug is a House Centipede, Scutigera coleoptrata. It is another one of those creatures that calls our homes their homes. However, unlike some of the other arthropods that live with us, this guy is a predator that eats other household pests. Case in pointafter we received Matt and Kristi's eyelash bug, we made it a little habitat and gave it some food. We popped a dermestid beetle larva in with it and it made quick business devouring it. You can see the remains of the beetle in the lower left of the picture below. FYIdermestid beetles are pests that can eat wool, silk, leather, fur, pet hair, feathers and sometimes spices and grains too!

Seriously, this centipede knows how to work the camera!

Here's what Insects of the L.A. Basin has to say about them:
"This centipede is about an inch (25mm) long and distinctive because of its very long slender legs; there are only fifteen pairs of legs in adults, and the last pair is much longer than the rest (in the female they are twice as long as the body). The entire body is exceedingly frail and pale translucent-bluish in general color.

The species is very active and moves rapidly in attempts to escape capture and to snatch the small insects it requires as food. Individuals are commonly found indoors, darting across the floor or clinging to a wall. They are particularly attracted to bathtubs, washbasins, and damp basements. Outdoors they are active in the summer and fall; most summer evenings, a certain House Centipede visits my porch light to catch insects that it attracts.

It is doubtful that this species of centipede can even inflict a wound to human skin, so it should not be considered dangerous. It is actually beneficial in that it preys on many insect housepests, such as silverfish."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Glowworms in LA

On Monday night, I found a glowworm while I was up in Griffith Park! That's right people, glowworms really do exist, and they're right here in our city.

No it wasn't a discarded 80s toy, like these (though I might have been equally excited if it was):

Photo taken by Astronit
It was like this:

Check out those sexy pectinate antennae!
This beauty of a specimen is a male Western Banded Glowworm, Zarhipis integripennis. I know it's a male because it doesn't glow and it isn't wormy. That's right, only the grubs and adult females (which resemble the grubs) can glow. I find it intensely odd and fascinating that these insects have evolved, such that the adult females look and behave similarly to the immature forms. Imagine what our lives would be like if humans did that! Okay, maybe not.
Want more information about this awesome family of beetles? Check out the University of Florida's page about them.