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)


North Campus Pill Bugs

April 22, 2011

Finding Pill BugsI always knew we'd find pill bugs in the North Campus, but until recently I didn't know what species, or that they'd have such an interesting story.In the North Campus there are two species of terrestrial isopods, what we at the Museum call pill bugs and their relatives. The Common Pill Bug (aka roly poly), Armadillidium vulgare, rolls up into a tight little ball when disturbed. We also find a closely related species, the Common Rough Woodlouse, Porcellio scaber, a more agile creature. In North America most of the people I've talked to refer to both as pill bugs, whereas in England, where I grew up, we called them all woodlice! Regardless of what one calls them, they both share a similar story of how they come to live in North America.

Common Pill Bug, Armadillidium vulgare

Common Rough Woodlouse, Porcellio scaberAn IntroductionBoth the Common Pill Bug and the Common Rough Woodlouse are originally from Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Before Europeans arrived on this continent neither of them lived here. Both species are associates of plants, living in soil and leaf litter and have hitched rides from Europe to the U.S. with a little help from us. One possible explanation is the imporation of plants and associated soil, that began steadily streaming into ports-of-call as the continent was settled. A more interesting, and might I say apocryphal story, unfolds if we look to the high seas.

Image courtesy of the Library of CongressTwo if by SeaIn the days of wayfaring seamen and wooden ships, soil and boulders were used as ballast, to ensure a properly balanced vessel. This earthen ballast would be discarded when it was time to fill the holds with precious cargo and booty. It is not so much of a stretch to think that in some instances surviving creatures, eggs, seeds, and more managed to colonize the shores of these new lands. Whatever the mode of their introduction, it is clear that they were introduced more than once and in multiple locations. Today these creatures are widespread throughout the world and are a very common site in L.A.'s parks, backyards, and Museum grounds alike!Special thanks to Dr. Regina Wetzer, Director of the Marine Biodiversity Center, for identification.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)