Twelve Days of Los Angeles Nature: 2013

December 23, 2013

Let's celebrate another year of L.A.'s AMAZING BIODIVERSITY. The benevolent blogger that I am, here are your gifts:

Twelve Rattlers Rattling

Eleven Potter Wasps Piping

Ten Flies Decapitating (decapitating ants that is)

Nine Dragons Dancing (in the L.A. River)

Eight Mantids a Milking

Seven Planarians a Swimming

Six Lizards a Laying

Five Foxes Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!

Four Glowing Worms (yes, they're glowworm beetles)

Three French Opossums

Two Turtle Newts

and P-22 in the Hollywood Hills

Here's to another year full of amazing Los Angeles nature discoveries!

*P-22 image courtesy of the Griffith Park Connectivity Study

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Oh My, What Lovely Saddlebags You Have!

September 12, 2012

Quick Dragonfly Update!

I've documented another dragonfly visiting our pond. It was a Black Saddlebags, Tramea lacerata. My phone's camera couldn't capture a picture of this fast-flying critter, but I was able to send myself an e-mail documenting the find. Here's the e-mail:

"Saw a saddlebags by pond

August 22, 2012

3:00pm"

This brings our total number of dragonflies and damselflies to six species! Check out this recent post to see the the other five.

 



Black Saddlebags perching

Photo courtesy of JerryFriedman


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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We've Got Flying Neon Toothpicks in Our Pond

August 17, 2012

I admit it! I totally stole the title of this week's blog from my Facebook friend John Acorn, aka The Nature Nut. To be specific, I gleaned this gem of a title from one of his books, Damselflies of Alberta: Flying Neon Toothpicks in the Grass. Today, instead of taking lunch like a normal person, I went out to the pond with Kimball Garrett to survey for adult Odonates. Odo-what? I mean dragonflies and damselflies (the flying neon toothpicks), the jeweled predators of the sky.Among other things, Kimball and I found damselflies for the first time. Yay! Here are some pictures of what we found:

The first ever damselfly to be found in the pond!Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula

Flame Skimmer, Libellula saturata, in Kimball's handKimball also thought he saw a Wandering Glider, Pantala flavascens. Thankfully, Sam Easterson had snapped this picture earlier in the morning, confirming the presence of this impressive dragonfly.

Sam's shot of a Wandering GliderSo the list of Odonates in the pond has grown to 5 species:Green Darner, Anax juniusFlame Skimmer, Libellula saturataWandering Glider, Pantala flavascensVariegated Meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptumPacific Forktail, Ischnura cervulaIn other Odonate news, Black Phoebes love them! Here's the proof, from one of Sam's camera traps:

Tasty dragonfly lunch for a hungry Black Phoebe


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Pond Babies: Dragonflies and Diving Beetles

May 17, 2012

Two weeks ago I told you I'd fill you in when I found dragonfly nymphs in our pond. I wasn't expecting to be able to give you this update so quickly, but SURPRISE, nature moves fast, people! In the last few weeks, I've found more than 50 dragonfly exuviae (the papery exoskeletons shed between molts) attached to the rocks of the pond. Of course, this prompted me to take out my dip net and look for nymphs in the water.Here's a picture of one I found:

Variegated Meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum, nymphFound May 5, 2012While I was dipping for the dragonfly nymphs, I found a lot of other macro-invertebrates. The list isn't very long, yet, but includes immature mosquitoes, chironomid midges, mayflies, and predacious diving beetles!

Mayfly nymph found May 5, 2012

 Predacious diving beetle larva found in pondMay 4, 2012

I also found an adult predacious diving beetleonMay 5, 2012


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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InSEX: Mating's Risqué Business in the Insect World

May 3, 2012

Last night I hosted an InSEX dinner at an undisclosed and secret location. No, we weren't eating insects (in fact, we had a lovely vegetarian meal). Instead, we were discussing their weird, wonderful, and various reproductive strategies!

 

 

 



 

 

 

Vietnamese Walking Stick, Baculum extradentatum

A great example of asexual reproduction

 

 



 

 

I also took some impressive beetles to show off

 

Here's an excerpt:

 

 

 

Sperm Wars-Unlike honeybees, dragonflies don't have exploding penises. Instead, they have an equally impressive mode of sperm competition. When a male dragonfly grabs a mateclasping her roughly behind the headhe carries her away for a nuptial flight. After some brief struggling, the male bends his abdomen around and inserts his aedeagus (that's insect for penis) into her reproductive tract. With his impressively spiked member he scoops out the sperm left over from a previous mating, thus ensuring it is his sperm and no other's that will fertilize the eggs she is about to lay...

 

But how does this all relate to the North Campus and L.A.'s urban nature? Simplewe found our first dragonfly at the pond! According to Museum Ornithologist, Kimball Garrett (yes, he does dragonfly identification too), this is a male Variegated Meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum. He was sunning himself on a rock, possibly waiting for a female dragonfly to make an appearance. Unfortunately for him, none showed up while I was there.

 

Over the next few months, the pond will attract more and more adult dragonflies and, soon enough, we'll have them mating. In tandem, the coupled dragonflies will approach the water's surface and the female will lay her eggs. Unbeknownst to many, the immature form of dragonflies actually live underwater! After the eggs hatch, the dragonfly nymphs will find a cozy spot to hide in the reeds. It's a dangerous and murky life down there, I mean who would want to get eaten by a fish? One way that dragonflies can evade predators is through jet propulsion. They pull water into their rectal chamber and eject it at high speed, thereby propelling themselves in a forward direction, and hopefully out of harm's way.

 

When they're not trying to evade their own predators, dragonfly nymphs are voracious predators themselves! They have extendable mouthparts that can be "shot" out of their heads in less than three one-hundredths of a second. This is very fast indeed, and allows the nymphs to sit and wait until something comes within mouth's reach. As you can tell, dragonflies are much more than just pretty insects good for putting on greeting cards and tattooing onto various bodyparts. I mean, what other creature can you think of that has jaws of death, rectal propulsion, and a highly modified penis for sperm removal?

 



Male Variegated Meadowhawk basking in the sun

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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