Charismatic Microfauna in the North Campus

June 22, 2012

I've been away all week in Yellowstone for work and wasn't sure how I'd manage the blog this week. While there, I was stunned by the awesome wildlife I encountered, including bison, elk, black bears, pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and even a pack of six gray wolves!

Bison jams are a common occurrence in Yellowstone!For those in the know, these animals are called charismatic megafauna. They are beloved by most, and therefore it's easy to get people to care about them and the issues they face. In stark contrast, much of the fauna I work with, and a focus of both the North Campus and Nature Lab projects, are tiny, seemingly inconsequential, and many times a turn-off to visitors. For instance, it's hard to get people to care about insects that live in what looks like spit! This morning I went out to see what charismatic microfauna I could find in the North Campus.

A pill bug seemingly doing a break dance move!(It was actually caught in a spider's web.)

Aphids eating and ladybugs mating! (Note the soft focus on the ladybugs...I didn't want it to be too explicit.)

Immature Dusky Ladybug(Look at that body gear)

Spittlebug retreats on our rosemary plants.

Spittlebug that lives inside the frothy retreat.Have you seen these insects in your garden? They are a fairly common sight in L.A., and I most often find them on rosemary plants. Although these spittlebugs, a.k.a Froghoppers in the Cercopid family,  can be considered pestsby some gardeners, they don't actually do much damage to the plants. I was actually very excited when spittlebugs showed up in the North Campus, as I get a huge kick out of showing them to kids and adults alike.Visitors are fascinated when I point out the white frothy homes on the plants and then gently remove an immature insect so they can see it up close. Through these moments of wonder and discovery, I hope I can inspire people to care, at least a little bit, about these creatures. They make our outdoor spaces more diverse, interesting, and also play a part in the intricate web of life that exists in each of our backyards.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Aphid Eating Flower Fly Found in North Campus

January 20, 2012

There are over 150,000 species of flies in the world! Most visitors who come to the Museum can name only a few of these flies (house fly, horse fly, or mosquito for examples) and many hold the belief that we would be better off without flies in our world. On Wednesday, January 18, we found a fly that I am sure will help you realize that all flies can't be cast as "bad" characters I introduce the humble aphid eating flower fly, Eupeodes volucris.

Female Eupeodes volucrisPhoto taken by Jerry FriedmanWhy do people like these flies and not others? This isn't an easy question to answer, but I'll have a go... First of all, these flies eat aphids and as any gardener will tell you, aphids are a serious garden pest. Secondly, they belong to a family of flies known as flower flies so called for their proclivity to visit flowers and suck down nectar. Thereby they play a role in pollination. Finally, if you look closely at these small flies you'll see why a lot of geeky people, like myself, think they are quite beautiful. Not only are they brightly colored and highly patterned, when their eyes catch the sunlight just right they have an iridescent sheen! Although I might add that E. volucris isn't as flashy as its close relative, the aptly named stripe-eyed flower fly, Eristalinus taeniops, also a native to the Los Angeles area.

Stripe-eyed flower flyPhoto courtesy of What's That Bug websiteHow does a fly eat an aphid? It is actually the larval stage of the fly, or maggot that chows down on aphids. Much like immature ladybugs they trawl through a sea of aphids on a plant and chomp any that get in their way!  Though they don't have quite the same look as a ladybug! 

Flower fly maggots eating oleander aphidsPhoto courtesy of What's That Bug websiteTo find out more our local flower flies, swing by the Museum gift shop to get a copy of our latest entomological publication, Flower Flies of Los Angeles County.

Flower Flies of Los Angeles County

Thanks to Brian Brown and Jim Hogue for supplying fly information and identifying the fly specimen.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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L.A.'s Super Bloom

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