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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scat: Owls and Opossums Oh My!

Mystery abounds in the North Campus, for who's been leaving scat under the footbridge? I discovered a vast array (about 10 pieces) of scat while I was searching for fungi a few weeks ago, and of course I snapped some pictures to try and identify our most recent visitor.

Who does this scat belong to?

My gut told me the scat belonged to either a Virginia Opossum,  Didelphis virginiana, or a Raccoon, Procyon lotor. To get a definitive answer I did two things. Firstly, I sent this picture to Jim Dines, the Museum's Mammology Collections Manager. Secondly, I put Sam Easterson on the project to set up a camera trap.

Almost caught in the act!

The trap that Sam put up over the Thanksgiving Holiday recorded at least one, if not two Virginia Opossums under the bridge! Although, we didn't capture footage of an opossum in the act so to speak, I am pretty confident we've discovered our scat provider! In concurrence was Jim, "You're right that it's probably opossum. They can have such varied diet that their scat can be hard to identify."

On the subject of scat, I have one last thing to show you! Unlike the Virginia Opossum, the Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, we saw last week was caught in the act!


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Aside from an in-depth view of owl bowel evacuation, this footage shows how Burrowing Owls are adept at standing on one leg. This isn't a circus trick, it actually allows the bird to keep the other leg warm in the feathers and only allow precious warmth to be lost from one leg at a time!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving for Mushrooms!

We're never going to spot a Wild Turkey in the North Campus, but I still wanted to post something related to the Thanksgiving holiday this week. Ah ha! Mushrooms, I thought. Not the Campbell's soup kind, but real honest-to-goodness wild mushroomslike the ones that are popping up all over L.A. after our recent autumnal rains.

In preparation for this blog post I went out searching for mushrooms in the North Campus. What I found was this:

Unidentified little brown mushroom (LBM)

Not being a mycologist, I had no idea what this small non-descript brown mushroom was, so I took it to the experts. Last night, the L.A. Mycological Society (LAMS) held their monthly meeting at the Museum. The meeting is a place for all things fungithere's a lecture (last night's touched on the insect zombification powers of some fungi!), mushroom show and tell, and of course snacks.

During the mushroom show and tell, I politely asked a LAMS member to identify my mushroom. Not missing a beat he told me it was an LBM. A what? A little brown mushroom! He continued to explain that there are hundreds of species of small brown mushrooms, and it was impossible to identify my mushroom without  a much more in depth process. I almost left disappointed, but then I took a gander at the other mushrooms people had found throughout Los Angeles.

 An array of mushrooms found on a mushroom foray

 
Earthstar, Geastrum spp. and
Western Destroying Angel, Amanita ocreata (small white mushroom)

        
Jack O'lantern, Omphalotus olivascens
This musrhoom actually glows in the dark!

       
Massive puffball mushrooom

Wow, what diversity! In the coming months I am working with the LAMS to do a formal survey of fungi in the North Campus. This survey will generate a species list for the site. Apparently there are almost 400 species of mushrooms and other fungi in Southern California, I wonder how many we'll find in the Museum's backyard?

Friday, November 18, 2011

First Owl Recorded in North Campus


Yesterday ,we recorded the first owl in the North Campus. This adorable Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia, was observed perching on the footbridge surveying the patrons in the Museum Cafe. However, this is not the first time a Burrowing Owl has been recorded at the Museum. A few years ago, a Burrowing Owl actually roosted in a T. rex skull that was stored on our fourth floor patio. According to Kimball Garrett, the Museum's Ornithology Collections Manager, "these owls are migrants that are coming in from more northerly or interior breeding areas the breeding population in Los Angeles Basin is gone, or virtually so."  


Coincidentally, yesterday was also the date of Kimball's annual bird walk in Exposition Park. Between 8:10 and 9:45 am the group recorded 27 species of birds including the second ever record of a Wilson's Snipe, Gallinago delicata, for the park. Not that I registered that the brown blur flying away from me was a Snipe, let alone a bird, but I took Kimball's word for it!

Looking at American Goldfinches on the Museum Feeders
(photo courtesy of Brenda Rees)

Here's the entire list including numbers of individuals seen:
Merlin (Falco columbarius)  1
Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)  1
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)  6
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)  8
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  22
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet (Brotogeris chiriri)  4
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  3
Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)  4
Nuttall's Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)  1
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)  5
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  10
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)  20 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)  1
Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)  7
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)  6
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)  4
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  8
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)  20
Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)  20
Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)  1
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)  1
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)  10
Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)  1
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  20
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  10

Other notable sightings:
Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) 2
Eastern Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger) 5
Korean Air Airbus A380 1 (It seems Kimball is adept at identifying aircraft also!)


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Niña de la Tierra: Children of the Earth

No it's not the title of a horror film, Children of the Earth is actually one of the many common names for Stenopelmatus fuscus. Other names lovingly given to this insect are Jerusalem Cricket, Potato Bug, Skull Insect, and my personal favorite, Devil's Baby!

Earlier this week Sam Easterson found one in his front yard and captured this picture and footage.

Are you Looking at Me?


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These crickets are very common in Los Angeles. Consequently, my colleague Brian Brown, the Museum's Curator of Entomology, and I get calls about them all the time. I most often get calls after heavy rains, when these crickets come up from the depths of their soily abodes. They are stellar diggers (Check out their fossorial front legs, modified for digging) and live most of the summer months deep underground to escape the heat. Aside from their enlarged digging legs, their most obvious feature is their highly-domed head, which gives them an alien-like look. To continue the alien theme, these large heads contains multiple "brains!" To be scientifically correct they are actually cerebral ganglia, or masses of nerve tissue, which control the action of the chewing mouthparts, eyes, and antennae. Maybe I should propose a new name for this cricket, Alien's Devil Child?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Praying Mantis

Earlier this week I saw my first praying mantis in the North Campus! I was walking back from lunch at USC and there she was right in front of me on the path.

Female Mediterranean Mantid, Iris oratoria, running for cover

I knew she was a female because of her enlarged abdomen, males have much narrower abdomens and also longer wings. As I got really close to her to capture this picture, she went into her defensive posture. She reared up on her hind legs, extended her raptorial (modified for capturing prey) front legs, and flashed her brightly patterned black and yellow hind wings. She stayed in this posture for about 15 seconds and then ran for cover in the plantings. Hopefully she'll lay an egg case and we'll have baby mantids in the spring!

Mediterranean Mantid defensive posture
(image courtesy of What's That Bug website)