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?
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!
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
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!
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, René 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
Dean explaining BioSCAN
The beauty of the Malaise trap, as René 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."
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 us...you never know Dean might actually be the scientist you get to talk too.
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 oatmeal–lo 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.
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 point–after 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. FYI–dermestid 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."
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.
Hey Angelenos, did you know you live in a biodiversity hotspot? That's right, our city is home to a MASSIVE amount of awesome, and sometimes rare, life. Life that is under threat and needs to be studied.
We here at the Museum have been studying the life in our hotspot for a hundred years. To continue this tradition and to take it to the next level, we are inviting you to join us. Today we are launching a new initiative that will do this, NHM Urban Safari.
We are going to map the wildlife that lives all over our city. From places like Griffith Park and the L.A. River, to your backyards and school yards. To help us do this we have applied for a $100,000 grant through the LA 2050 competition. This is a huge project that involves all of us, and you can start helping today by voting for NHM.
Take a moment to imagine what L.A. could be like in 2050 if everyone in our city helped to study the AMAZING and AWESOME wildlife that lives here! School children would be studying wildlife in their own school yards, which would also be safe places to play. Families all over the city would have planted habitat and documented the return of all 500 native bees. Hikers would have trekked all over Griffith Park and discovered and documented rare species which we thought were lost. Kayakers would be floating down our beautiful river and snapping pictures of the birds, dragonflies, and frogs they see. Finally, visitors to our fine city won’t just be coming for a Hollywood starlet sighting, they’ll also be coming to experience nature in this biodiversity hotspot. Wow!
Watch our video to learn more about the project and to cast your vote. All you need to do is click the blue button marked "vote" and follow the instruction.
California newt, Taricha torosa
Tell all your friends! Our nature is in your hands.
Lately, I've been so busy working on our new Nature Lab exhibit (OPENING THIS JUNE PEOPLE) that I rarely make it into my office anymore. Earlier this week, I popped in to check some e-mails (fun I know) and what do you think I found?
An explosion of praying mantids!
They were on my #2 pencils:
They were on my scissors:
They hatched out of this ootheca (nerdy word for egg case):
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, do not fret! All you need to do, is collect them in a jar and release them into the closest garden!
Live long and prosper my tiny predatory friends, eat lots of pests and keep laying those oothecas!
A few weeks ago, this ant nerd traveled to the wilds of Arizona to pick up two ant colonies. Yes, myself and Leslie Gordon (the Museum's live animal queen), drove over 1000 miles in under two days to bring a few hundred ants back to the Museum. Why?
Our new harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex rugosus,
taking down a wax worm!
Well, these ants are for display in the Museum's new Nature Lab exhibit, which is opening this June. That's right, we're going to have a live colony of harvester ants, a.k.a. Pogos (the ultra cool, ant nerd way to refer to this ant genus), inside the Museum!
Since the exhibit isn't opening for another four months, we're keeping the ants in our super secret insect quarantine space. Here's a photo of our set-up, check out those sexy, glass nest chambers. The ants seem to really like them, they've been laying lots of eggs.
It's true people, these ants pack a mean
punch, uh I mean sting!
Leslie and our animal keepers have become an expert ant housekeepers. Here she is, diligently sweeping up the ant's trash pile which includes uneaten grain, dead ants, and the odd cricket leg that wasn't so juicy.
Leslie is an ant queen.
Well, not the one laying all the eggs!
Inspired to visit the ants? Come visit the Nature Lab this June!
A few weeks ago, I was having a terrible day at work. The next day, my friend and colleague, Kristina Lockaby, brought me a card that said, "Ladybugs make me smile." This is so true.
A recent ladybug that made me smile REALLY big, was one that our Head Gardener, Richard Hayden, found. He was out in the urban wilderness and stopped a moment to take a closer look at one of the willow shrubs. He noticed lots of aphids and a few ladybugs too. One in particular stood out to him. It was all black with two red spots on it, something he had never seen before on a ladybug.
He put the little beetle in a snap top jar and brought it up to our shared office. "Lila, I have a present for you!" he exclaimed as he came in. I immediately stopped staring blankly at my computer screen and turned to see what booty he was bringing in from the garden. He silently handed me the jar, I took a look, and I smiled.
Richard had collected a twice-stabbed ladybug. These ladybugs are so named for their color and pattern. Unlike most ladybugs, they are black with red spots. Two red spots to be precise, and that according to some, look like the poor little beastie had been stabbed by some sadistic Homo sapiens.
I'd previously found one of these ladybugs in a similar location, but before the garden had even been planted. However, taking a close look at the specimen Richard had handed me, I realized it was a little bit different. The spots were much larger, of a slightly different shape, and overall there was just something that made me think, "Mmmmmm, maybe this is a different type of twice-stabbed ladybug."
And it was!
Twice-stabbed Ladybug, Chilocorus cacti
This brings the total number of ladybugs in the garden to eight! Check out one of our previous ladybug blogs to see what other species we have found, or how about this one?