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Friday, April 27, 2012

Lizards, Snakes, and Frogs Oh My!

This last Saturday we held the second annual Lizard Hunt at Malibu Creek State Park! Dr. Greg Pauly, Museum Herpetologist, and Dr. Bobby Espinoza, CSUN Herpetologist, took a group of 25 lucky people out to observe, catch, and identify local herps.

Are you looking at me?
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentatlis

Here is a list of all the herps we encountered:

Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis
Common Side-blotched Lizard, Uta stansburiana
Tiger Whiptail, Aspidoscelis tigris
Western Skink, Plestiodon skiltonianus
Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus helleri
Gophersnake, Pituophis catenifer
Striped Racer, Masticophis lateralis
Pacific Treefrog, Pseudacris regilla (heard calling)
American Bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana (heard calling)

Dr. Greg Pauly lets an aspiring herpetologist
touch a Western Fence Lizard

Dr. Bobby Espinoza shows off a striped racer,
Masticophis lateralis

One of the primary goals of this field trip is to increase participation in our Lost Lizards of Los Angeles (LLOLA) project. Currently we have about 250 submissions, but for us to be able to do anything interesting with the data, we need at least 2,000 submissions. Hopefully we were able to inspire at least 25 more people to participate at this field trip. Are you inspired?

One last thing for all you ultra herp-nerdsyou can now get your daily herp dose by visiting the Museum's new herpetology section facebook page. Go get 'em Tiger Whiptail!

Friday, April 20, 2012

North Campus Unveiled with a Bang and a Bug!

Yesterday, we unveiled the North Campus at a press preview! We wowed the press with our amazing scientists, Poppy the pond turtle from our Live Animal Program, and a gaggle of school children planting in the Home Garden.

Dr. Greg Pauly, Museum Herpetology Curator with
Poppy the Pond Turtle

Student from the Ambassador School of Global Education
inspecting the Home Garden

Although there was a lot going on, there were a few distractions. Firstly, in the middle of Poppy's debut performance, there was a loud bangyes people, that was a collision between a motorist and the new Exposition light rail. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured! Secondly, I found a Green Fruit Beetle grub! In my mind, both of these distractions are equally diverting.

Big bangs aren't always theoretical!

Green Fruit Beetles, Cotinis mutabilis (or GFBs as I fondly refer to them), are a well-known scarab beetle here in the L.A. basin. Many people regale me with stories of their dealings with these insects. It's either, "Oh yeah, I used to tie dental floss to their legs and let them fly around my head." Or, "that's what has been eating the fruit in my garden, they are Japanese beetles right?" These beetles do indeed feed on a wide variety of fruits including tomatoes, peaches, plums, figs, apricots, nectarines, grapes, and even cactus fruit! However, they are not Japanese Beetles, Popilla japonica, which is an East coast species. To make matters more confusing, these insects are commonly referred to by many names including "junebugs", "fig eating beetles", and even "crawlybacks" when speaking of the grubs!

Finding a picture of the adult in my

Green Fruit Beetle grub

I usually find GFB grubs in compost piles. These c-shaped larvae are, like caterpillars, tube-shaped eating machines. They hang out in decomposing plant material and move around on their backs. According to Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, "they obtain purchase on the substratum with transverse rows of stiff short stout bristles on the back of the thorax." Next time you find one of these grubs, pick it up and rub the top of the thoraxthe area right behind the grub's headand you can actually feel the bristles (I just tried it, they are really there). 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hey People We've Got Baby Opossums

Remember back in December, when I said I'd let you all know if we had baby Virginia opossums, Didelphis virginiana? Well it's spring, and right on cue they're here! Sam Easterson's camera traps have caught the babies (we think there are three) on video over the last week, and although many people don't find opossum babies cute, there are a few of us here at the Museum that do. Check them out and make your own assessment.

Out for ride on Mom's back!

Here are some interesting facts about opossum babies.
  • The opossum gestation period is only 11-13 days.
  • When they are born, the babies are the size of a lima bean!
  • Female opossums can give birth to more than 20 babies in one litter.
  • After they are born the babies crawl up into the mother's marsupium (aka pouchremember opossums are the only North American marsupials) and attach to one of her teats.
  • There are only 13 teats in the marsupium, and its first come first serve. 
  • Babies are carried in the marsupium for between two and three months
  • When they are large enough, the babies venture out of the marsupium and are carried around on the mother's back when they are out of the den.
  • The average lifespan for an opossum is only two to three years!
Check out this video Sam's camera trap caught. It puts me in mind of all those fight scenes I've seen where outlaws are fighting on top of moving train that is about to go into a tunnel. Admittedly the mother opossum moves quite a bit slower than a train and the baby is not as nimble as a knife-throwing outlaw, but hey, you get the picture!

Carting all those babies around must be pretty tiring!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rotting Fruit and Puddle Parties: Check out the Butterfly Pavilion!

It is that time of year again! Sunday is the opening of our Butterfly Pavilion, and although we still have hundreds of free-flying butterflies there's a lot that has changed out there. We have replanted the entire space, adding many more nectar and host plants for adults and caterpillars. We have also added new food sources for some of the adult butterflies that aren't quite so partial to sipping nectar!

The Mourning Cloak butterfly, Nymphalis antiopa, is one of the California native butterflies we put in our pavilion. Although these butterflies are not common to our area, they can be found in areas where their host plants thrive. Caterpillars of this species feed on various willow (Salix species), cottonwood (Populus species), and ornamental elms (Ulnus species). Unlike many of the other species of butterflies in our pavilion, the Mourning Cloak butterfly prefers to feed on rotting fruit  rather than plant nectar. In an effort to appeal to the tastes of this epicurean butterfly, we've put out platters of rotting banana, mango, and plum.

Mourning Cloak butterfly sucking up
liquefied rotten fruittasty!

Shawna Joplin and Lydia Gotcher working
in the Butterfly Pavilion

We've also installed two mud puddles in the pavilion. These puddles will hopefully be places for butterflies to get the other nutrients they need beside sugarnutrients like salt, amino acids, and nitrogen. In nature, male butterflies are often seen gathering on the edges of puddles. Sometimes large numbers of males gather at the same puddle, which entomologists have termed, puddle parties! Males more often exhibit this behavior because they need salts and other nutrients for their spermatophores. Spermatophores are small capsules containing sperm and nutrients that are passed from the male to the female during mating.

Puddle party pads! Look very closely in the yellow circle
and you can see a Buckeye, Junonia coenia, feeding.

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how we get all the butterflies for our pavilion. The short answer is, we buy 'em. This makes the process sound easy and non-time consuming, it is anything but! Months ago, Shawna Joplin, the Museum's Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, started placing orders for butterfly pupae. She works with vendors all over the United States, to ensure that we will have the numbers and diversity we need to achieve a magical butterfly experience.

Last week we received our first pupae shipment. Each vendor sends us about one shipment a week, and each shipment can contain anywhere from 25 to 250 pupae! Every time we get a shipment, the Live Animal Program staff have to inspect each individual pupa and then prepare it for emergence. Some pupae get pinned and hung in our emergence case, whereas others can rest on the bottom of case. Twice a day this case is inspected and all healthy adult butterflies are removed and then released in the pavilion.

Emergence case with emerging sulphurs and monarchs

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, pupa.
Look at those colors!

Come by and check out the Butterfly Pavilion! For ticketing information visit our website.