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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Opossums Love Tin Foil!

A few weeks ago, Sam Easterson followed a trail of tin foil and discovered the den of a Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginiana, underneath one of the Museum's storage sheds. Since then he set up camera traps around the den to see what was going on. This is what we found...

A night of tin foil escapades.
What on Earth are they doing with all the tin foil? Tin foil hats to ward off alien thought control maybe?

All kidding aside, it seems that this opossum has extracted a tasty morsel from inside the shiny package and is taking it down into the den.

Afternoon stroll?
The next day, one of the opossums emerges for a late afternoon jaunt in the park, and takes a peek at the camera trap!

Running away from Museum security!
Can you see the flash light?

Doing the Chores 
Finally, we caught lots of images of the opossums collecting leaves with their tails! Their prehensile tails are a great tool for grasping small objects and are sometimes used for hanging upside down in trees. Though the notion that they sleep hanging upside down is a myth, their tails are not strong enough to hold them upside down for an entire night.

Wait, there's more tin foil!

What is in store for 2012? Sam's got a few tricks up his sleeve, which I'm not willing to reveal just yet. Suffice it to say that we're all hoping there will be babies in the spring!

Happy 2012!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas the North Campus gave to me...

Twelve skippers skipping

Eleven pill bugs pillaging

Ten fritillaries a-feeding

 Nine gulls a-diving (dumpster diving that is)

Eight mantids a-milking

Seven caterpillars a-crawling

Six ladybugs a-laying

Five phorid (fly) wings

Four calling crows

Three French hummingbirds

Two turtle fox squirrels

 And an oak gall in an oak tree!

Wishing you a happy holiday season!

Friday, December 16, 2011

First Raccoon Recorded in North Campus

Last week, while I was away in Costa Rica finding amazing bugs of all varieties, Sam's camera trap discovered a new species of mammal for our North Campus list!

Raccoon found under bridge in North Campus

Opossums, squirrels, dogs, and cats have all been spotted in the North Campus since we planted the space, but until recently we had only suspected that raccoons were part of that mix too. Raccoons, Procyon lotor, are common urban mammals often found in the urban core. These nocturnal mammals are notorious for destroying new lawns as they try to reach the tasty grubs and other insects that come to the surface after heavy watering. They are clever little creatures and will neatly roll up the new turf to get to the tasty invertebrate morsels they are craving. Another pestiferous trait is their proclivity for dumpster diving. They can often be heard in the middle of the night knocking over trash cans and tearing into trash bags, looking for leftovers and other edible waste. Of course, the raccoons are not dumb; they want an easy meal! They'll bypass all the aforementioned nonsense if there's easily available free fooda.k.a. Fido's pet chow!
Raccoon stealing Amy's pet chow!

About a month ago, I met Amy at the Green Festival at the Los Angeles Convention Center. I had a raccoon pelt with me which prompted her to tell me about the raccoons that vist her front yard every night in downtown Long Beach to eat her pet's food. One night Amy decided she would try and foil the raccoons and put the pet chow in a sealed rolling container. However, the raccoons weren't having their free dinner taken away. They actually figured out how to open the container (even rolling it down the stairs) and gorged on the hidden food!

Something's been searching for bugs!

Luckily there's no pet chow to be had in the North Campus, but they're obviously finding plenty of food here. I'm pretty sure the raccoons are responsible for the many small divets I've seen in the mulch, as this is where the grubs and other insects are hiding. Mmmmmm tasty!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Piranhas Found in L.A.!

Piranhas are the stuff of B-movies, sensationalized nature television, and the tropical rainforest. Most would think they have little bearing on life here in L.A., however as I learned last week, this is not the case.

Taxidermied Red Piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri 
"lips" removed to accentuate teeth

Piranhas are here in L.A.! They are sometimes confiscated from pet stores and, on occasion, they are even found in our waterways. The Museum's Ichthyology collection houses over 30 confiscated piranha, and at least one that was caught in the "wild." According to the collections record, this Red Piranha (see below) was netted from "Simi Valley Public Golf Course, Lake B." It was collected on April 28, 1988 and measured 275mm (almost 10 1/2 inches)! Most interestingly the capture method box of the record states that that the "fish was in distress." I wonder if the piranha would ever have been discovered had it not been in distress?

Before any of us decide to never go fishing for our wayward golf balls with our bare hands again, I have some happy news. Even in the Amazon basin, where Red Piranhas are native, humans are extremely unlikely to be injured by them, let alone die. The image of a school of piranha stripping all flesh from a whole cow or indeed a whole human, isn't much more than a sensationalized Hollywood gimmick (think James Bond's You Only Live Twice). This is because Red Piranha are actually scavengers preferring to eat dead, not living flesh. So next time you're fishing for your golf ball in the water trap, be safe in the knowledge that you're much more likely to get bitten by your neighbor's dog!

The Simi Valley Golf course piranha

Other piranha collected in L.A. come to the Museum directly from the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). CDFG staff often patrol pet stores and upon finding illegal creatures will confiscate them under California Law Title 14 Section 671. The fish are promptly brought to the Museum for identification and sometimes for permanent storage, though they may be taken briefly into a court of law as evidence! In May 2002, the Museum received 16 Red Piranha specimens confiscated from one pet store alone!

Red Piranha confiscated from pet store

I wonder if we'll ever find a piranha in the North Campus pond?