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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Camera Trapping

Last week Sam got an awesome package in the mail, our new camera trap! On Monday afternoon he set it up behind the Butterfly Pavilion to see if it worked. We were also curious to see if we'd capture any interesting images. Boy were we in for a surprise!

Night 1: Monday pm-Tuesday am


Our first cat tail caught on camera! We've known for a long time about the feral cats, Felis catus, that live in Exposition Park, but we weren't expecting to capture one of them on camera so quickly.


Just over an hour later this Opossum, Didelphis virginiana, sidled into view. Again we knew they were around as we'd seen their tracks in the mud.

Night 2: Wednesday pm-Thursday am


When Sam showed me this picture, I was blown away! I definitely wasn't expecting the trap to capture a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii, in this space. I am very curious to know why it landed here, was it chasing a rat or a mouse, or did it just feel like posing?


I'm pretty sure this is the same cat as in the first image. If it is the same cat, it obviously goes on the prowl after dark. Maybe we'll have to move the camera trap to the bird feeders next time. 


Here's another view of an Opossum. We can't be sure if it is the same one, or if there's a family that lives in the park. There's a possibility that there's a den under the shed. I think we'll have to investigate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Squirrel Stew

What's For Dinner (and the Unintended Consequences of Every Introduction)?

The Eastern fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, was imported to Southern California in 1904 by veterans of the Civil War and Spanish American War, at the time living at the Veterans Home in West Los Angeles.  The war veterans mostly came from the southern US (e.g., Tennessee, Kentucky) and kept as caged pets tree squirrel native to their home states. Perhaps it is apocryphal, but I've heard that the squirrels weren't just pets, they were also used in that old-time favoritesquirrel stew!


Whatever the reason for keeping the squirrels, eventually an overzealous hospital administrator noticed that they were being fed table scraps and, deeming this illicit provisioning a misuse of government support, turned the squirrels loose.  The fox squirrels did quite well in their new habitat and it wasn’t long before they spread throughout the region.


Today we find Eastern fox squirrels from Oxnard to Ontario and from Santa Clarita to south Orange County.  As their range has expanded, the fox squirrel has increasingly come into contact with the Western gray squirrel, the native tree squirrel that lives in the foothills and mountains of Los Angeles.  Biologists are very interested in studying the ecological effects of these two species as they come into contact, including possible displacement or hybridization.


Here in Exposition Park we have a large and feisty population of these squirrels. At lunchtime they can often be seen wrestling French fries and sandwiches out of field trippers' hands. Here's some footage Sam Easterson captured of one of them eating lunch crumbs off the sidewalk.


video


In addition to this footage Sam is trying to capture some non-traditional footage for our new Nature Lab exhibit. We're hoping to show you nature like you've never seen it before, and Sam thinks this peanut cam might help! He says, "I like the idea of the squirrel shooting footage. Maybe he/she will take the peanut up a tree or even bury it underground." Whatever happens, I'll be sure to keep you all in the loop as we try out the peanut cam.

Sam's prototype peanut cam!



Thanks Jim Dines, Mammalogy Collections Manager, for all the Eastern fox squirrel facts! 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

We're Building a Pond

This morning I got to work and did my usual cursory look out of the office window. This is what I saw:
 
Breaking ground on the pond
 
I know a hole in the ground doesn't get many people excited, but it definitely made my day. Working with the North Campus design team, we spent many months designing a pond that could increase the biodiversity of the North Campus and be a fun and engaging place for visitors. The pond will be teeming with wildlife such as fish, freshwater invertebrates, visiting birds, and hopefully a colony of Western Pond Turtles, Actinemys marmota. Here is a rendering created by Mia Lehrer + Associates, so you can get a sense of what the pond might look like.
 
View of pond facing the Age of Mammals exhibit

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bee Hotel California

Bee Hotels

We here at the Museum really like bees, so much so that we are building them a hotel! This hotel will contain over 200 deluxe suites for native bees. We've specifically designed the hotel to accomodate various solitary bees found in L.A. We'll keep you posted as we see what moves in. Thanks to exhibit fabricator, Jerome Brown, the hotels are nearly ready to be put out in the Butterfly Pavilion yard.

Cedar log with pre-drilled bee holes
Swarm!

It seems that other bees have heard how luxurious our accomodations are and stopped by to check them out! Last Friday we got reports of a European honey bee, Apis mellifera, mass in one of the Magnolia trees on the west side of the Museum. Brent "the Bug Guy" Karner, went to check it out and took this picture below, thanks Brent!

Honey bees, Apis mellifera

This mass of bees is called a swarm and likely contains over 1,000 bees! Swarming is a natural part of a honey bee colony lifecycle and provides the colony with a means of reproducing. This is the season for seeing swarms, as colonies have increased in size and no longer comfortably fit in their nests. In preparation for this big move, the old queen lays eggs that will turn into new queens and she takes off with about half of the colony to find new a new home. If you come across a honey bee swarm, don't worry, since they are all adults with no nest to defend, they are not quick to sting.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Love My Job

So I get back to work yesterday morning after the long weekend, and this is what I find on my desk!


Yes, that is indeed a dead lizard and a peanut can full of mushrooms! To be more precise it is an Alligator Lizard, Elgaria multicarinata, and shaggy parasol mushrooms, Chlorophyllum rhacodes. I am not sure exactly how they turned up on my desk, but in this line of work it's pretty common for people to drop off interesting things for you to identify. 

This is especially true when you start to survey urban biodiversity through citizen science projects like Lost Lizards of Los Angeles (LLOLA). Myself and a number of other Museum staffers frequently return to our desks to discover dead lizard specimens. However, don't be compelled to follow suit. It is much more valuable to the project to follow the instructions and submit only your lizard photographs. Check out the LLOLA website for instructions on how to participate.