Come to NHM’s
Summer Movie Series
which features movies made in and about
Los Angeles, August 2 in the new Nature
Gardens. Visit
Becoming Los Angeles
a special Gallery Exploration Tour.
See a gecko (above) and a Red-eared
Slider (right) in our New Nature Lab.
Written by Jessica Portner
Lee Jaszlics
August/September 2013 
Dr. Greg Pauly, NHM’s indefatigable herpetology
curator, hunts for geckos on summer nights, collects
lizard specimens on weekend hikes, and, if he’s
lucky, discovers scientifically interesting reptilian
roadkill on his morning jogs. In all these activities,
he invites you to join him.
NHM has just launched two new citizen science
projects, GeckoWatch and Reptiles and Amphibians
of Southern California (RASCals)—cool ways for
visitors to join Museum scientists in discovering the
homes and habits of L.A.’s wild creatures. RASCals
help teach us how native and non-native populations
have shrunk or expanded and how they’re interacting
in homes, backyards, and schools. We want to know
why urban development is pushing some animals
out while others flourish, and why new species
continually pop up here. To enlist in the projects,
all that’s needed is curiosity and a camera.
Already, hundreds have. Since Dr. Pauly
launched RASCals, more than 500 snapshots of
reptiles and amphibians across Southern California
(as well as weather reports and habitat descriptions)
have been submitted to the iNaturalist website.
Visitors can see their own discoveries, along with
their neighbors’ shots, on an interactive L.A. Nature
Map in our new Nature Lab. They can come face-to-
tail with live animals swimming and lounging in chic,
modern habitats.
Gecko Hunts
One particular critter has sparked NHM’s other
new citizen science project: GeckoWatch. In 2010,
Will Bernstein and his son Reese snapped a photo
of a Mediterranean House Gecko in Chatsworth
and dispatched it to our Lost Lizards of Los Angeles
(LLOLA) project. NHM scientists identified it as the
first record of the species in L.A. County. In April,
another gecko watcher found an Indo-Pacific gecko
in Torrance, a state record. Realizing that citizen
scientists can help document and track species
introduced here, Dr. Pauly and partners from
CSU Northridge, Villanova University, and Adelphi
University launched GeckoWatch, a citizen science
arm of a nationwide collaboration with 22 regional
sponsors—and counting. Gecko hunters are helping
to map where nonnative geckos have been putting
their sticky, Spider-Man-style feet. These observations
are the crucial first step to studying what impact
the out-of-towners might have on natives. A hint
for the hunters: look outside around lampposts,
downspouts, and wall cracks. Then come inside to
observe a pink-hued trio of geckos as they scoot
around their Nature Lab digs, equipped with a
custom-built street lamp, every day of the week.
at You
RASCals Partnerships: La Kretz Center
for California Conservation Science,
San Diego Natural History Museum
Above: The Mediterranean House Gecko may have arrived
in L.A. as a stowaway on cargo or in travelers’ luggage.
“Millions of people in Southern California have the technology
they need in their pockets and can easily record important
data,” said Dr. Pauly. “That’s what’s exciting about citizen
science right now—anybody can do it!”
Fast-Talkers, Wheelers
and Dealers
The fast-talking marketing and
commerce types behind the Gold
Rush, the railroads, and the booster
campaigns contributed to L.A.’s
transformation into an agricultural
empire. Thirsty for resources for the
growing American city, L.A.’s advocates
helped engineer the construction
of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
The water company superinten-
dent William Mulholland—another
of the exhibition’s featured players— 
declared to the crowd at an opening
ceremony on November 5, 1913:
“There it is. Take it.” With irrigated
lands, citrus groves spread, and the
population boomed. The day after the
aqueduct opened nearly 100 years ago,
so did the Museum of History, Science,
and Art—what is now NHM. “For the
people promoting L.A.’s growth,
the Museum represented culture,
education, and science,” said Dr.
William Estrada, NHM’s Curator of
California and American History.
“Now, in this exhibit, we offer a profile
of Los Angeles through the centuries
as it is becoming an American city,
a city of the future.”
An Interactive Journey
The exhibit also flashes and rings
with interactive multi-media surprises
that draw visitors into the story
of Los Angeles. Travelers through
the exhibit may rest on a bench, for
example, near a cross from the 1774
Anza Expedition, the first overland
exploration of California. Then music
from the Mission Era starts to play
melodies that those early Angelenos
might have hummed. Visitors who
venture into the Mexican Rancho Era
will see a sword from the Mexican
War of Independence and a full-sized
taxidermy cow, both symbolizing a new
period of free trade. The grass-eating
bovine ate nonnative European
grasses which killed indigenous ones
and altered agriculture. (Peer into the
nearby “cow poop” media display for
a, well, graphic explanation.) Nearby
a case featuring taxidermy vultures
“and a cow skeleton continues the
tale. Touching a grasshopper-shaped
plaque activates a dynamic video,
illustrating years of floods, then
drought, then plagues of locusts.
Fast-forward into the 20th
century to see a 1930’s-era city model
of downtown L.A., built as a Works
Progress Administration project.
It’s been outfitted with touch screens,
so you can tap on areas like Pershing
Square and Old Chinatown and hear
well-told tidbits about each place.
Dynamic videos and wall installations
react to motion, and present a riveting
visual journey through time of L.A.
landmarks, iconic broadcasts and
historical footage, marking the
intersection of nature and
human activity.
Becoming Los Angeles
us on a journey from the realm of
history into the domain of the news
cycle and present day L.A., ending
with a media display that features
news footage from about the past
70 years on one screen and a looping
seven-minute flyover of L.A. today
on another. It invites Angelenos
and visitors from around the world
to share what they think L.A. is
in the process of becoming today.
As preeminent L.A. writer D.J. Waldie
said, “
Becoming Los Angeles
an exhibition that is informative,
entertaining, and stylishly
imaginative. But it has a more
ambitious reason to claim our
interest: ‘
Becoming Los Angeles
will help us find ourselves.”
Parked in the exhibit is a studio process auto body
used to film actors driving in a particular locale.
Becoming Los Angeles
is an exhibition that is informative,
entertaining, and stylishly imaginative. But it has a more
ambitious reason to claim our interest:
Becoming Los Angeles
will help us find ourselves.
—D.J. Waldie
August/September 2013 
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