Bugging Out in Arizona

August 3, 2012

Hey folks, I'm out of town this week at the Invertebrates in Education and Conservation Conference in Tucson, Arizona. Forgive me for not providing you with your weekly dose of L.A. urban nature, hopefully the images I'll share of the insects we're finding here in Tucson will suffice!The conference I'm attending with Shawna Joplin, our Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, is put on by the Sonoran Arthropod Studies Institute (SASI). SASI is a non-profit organization devoted to fostering awareness, knowledge and appreciation of all nature through the study and interpretation of the vital roles arthropods play in the Sonoran Desert ecosystem.I go to this conference every year to meet up with other entomologists, invertebrate educators, and of course the USDA staff who give us permits to operate our Butterfly Pavilion, and Insect Zoo. The most fun part of the conference are the field trips. Last night Shawna and I both went on one of the night lighting trips. Here are some images from our trip.

Mercury vapor night light set-up, look at all those insects! 

Male ox beetle, Strategus aloeus 

 Your author with poplar sphinx moth,Pachysphinx occidentalis

Yes I admit it, I Instagrammed this glorious scarab beetle!Chrysina gloriosa


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Rotting Fruit and Puddle Parties: Check out the Butterfly Pavilion!

April 6, 2012

It is that time of year again! Sunday is the opening of our Butterfly Pavilion, and although we still have hundreds of free-flying butterflies there's a lot that has changed out there. We have replanted the entire space, adding many more nectar and host plants for adults and caterpillars. We have also added new food sources for some of the adult butterflies that aren't quite so partial to sipping nectar!The Mourning Cloak butterfly, Nymphalis antiopa, is one of the California native butterflies we put in our pavilion. Although these butterflies are not common to our area, they can be found in areas where their host plants thrive. Caterpillars of this species feed on various willow (Salix species), cottonwood (Populus species), and ornamental elms (Ulnus species). Unlike many of the other species of butterflies in our pavilion, the Mourning Cloak butterfly prefers to feed on rotting fruit  rather than plant nectar. In an effort to appeal to the tastes of this epicurean butterfly, we've put out platters of rotting banana, mango, and plum.

Mourning Cloak butterfly sucking up liquefied rotten fruittasty!

Shawna Joplin and Lydia Gotcher working in the Butterfly PavilionWe've also installed two mud puddles in the pavilion. These puddles will hopefully be places for butterflies to get the other nutrients they need beside sugarnutrients like salt, amino acids, and nitrogen. In nature, male butterflies are often seen gathering on the edges of puddles. Sometimes large numbers of males gather at the same puddle, which entomologists have termed, puddle parties! Males more often exhibit this behavior because they need salts and other nutrients for their spermatophores. Spermatophores are small capsules containing sperm and nutrients that are passed from the male to the female during mating.

Puddle party pads! Look very closely in the yellow circle and you can see a Buckeye, Junonia coenia, feeding.One of the questions I get asked most frequently is how we get all the butterflies for our pavilion. The short answer is, we buy 'em. This makes the process sound easy and non-time consuming, it is anything but! Months ago, Shawna Joplin, the Museum's Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, started placing orders for butterfly pupae. She works with vendors all over the United States, to ensure that we will have the numbers and diversity we need to achieve a magical butterfly experience. Last week we received our first pupae shipment. Each vendor sends us about one shipment a week, and each shipment can contain anywhere from 25 to 250 pupae! Every time we get a shipment, the Live Animal Program staff have to inspect each individual pupa and then prepare it for emergence. Some pupae get pinned and hung in our emergence case, whereas others can rest on the bottom of case. Twice a day this case is inspected and all healthy adult butterflies are removed and then released in the pavilion.

Emergence case with emerging sulphurs and monarchs

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, pupa. Look at those colors!Come by and check out the Butterfly Pavilion! For ticketing information visit our website.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Flesh Flies and CSI!

October 20, 2011

Since it's October I decided to focus the rest of this month's posts on Halloween inspired themes. Wracking my brains for topics, I realized something I saw last week in the basement would fit the bill nicely. Flesh flies!Generally the Live Animal Program doesn't keep flesh flies but Shawna Joplin, Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, brought them in as a new food source for our spiders in the Spider Pavilion (open through November 6). The species we are keeping are grey flesh flies, Sarcaphaga bullata, which get shipped to us a pupa. After about a week and a half the adult flies emerge from the puparium and are ready for us to release into the pavilion.

Grey flesh fly pupae

Our adult flesh flies feeding on bananaFlesh fly emerging from its pupariumContrary to their common name, adult flesh flies don't feed solely on flesh. In fact they just as often eat nectar and other sugary items such as rotting fruit. All flesh flies in the family Sarcophagidae are larviparous, which means they incubate eggs internally and then seemingly give birth to live young, or maggots. It is the place of "birth" that gives these flies their common namethey are deposited on any available dead flesh! In fact these flies are some of the first visitors to roadkill, discarded innards, and even murder victims. Putting these flies to work, forensic entomologists have painstakingly studied their lifecycle, so they can assist Crime Scene Investigators in determining time of death. Because they rapidly discover a body and their development times are predictable under particular environmental conditions, the time of death can be calculated by counting back the days from the life stage of the flies found living on the body.Next time you feel like seeing these maggots in person, just do what some of our Adventures in Nature campers have doneput out a piece of store-bought liver and wait for the maggots to show up! WARNING: This is smelly, messy work! Lots of other species of flies, beetles, and other creatures are likely to show up too. Are you prepared? Happy Early Halloween!


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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Men's Restroom in Long Beach is Voted Best Spider Collecting Site

September 29, 2011

Over the past few weeks myself and Shawna Joplin, Museum Coordinator of Animal Care and Education, have been madly working to get the Spider Pavilion ready by collecting hundreds of spiders for display. This involved a trip to the swamps of New Orleans to collect the largest orb weavers in North America and also multiple collecting trips around Los Angeles for our local spider species.

 

Cajun Swamp Adventure

The spiders Shawna and I collected in New Orleans are golden silk spiders, Nephila clavipes, also known as banana spiders because of their banana-ish abdomen. These spiders are common in and around swampy areas and are easy to spot on their largeup to 3 feed in diameter!golden webs (especially if you flash a bright light on them at night). Collecting them was a breeze after Zack Lemann (aka the Bug Chef from Audubon Insectarium) showed us how. All you need are small Tupperware containers, an ice pick, paper towels, a spray bottle filled with water, and a geeky headlamp! Armed with our paper towel lined containers and our trusty headlamps we set off  towards the alligator infested waters looking for spiders. We didn't have to go far, the place was teeming with orb weavers. In one tree I counted 20 spiders on their webs! Thankfully, it only took us an hour and a half to collect 60 spiders. Here are some pictures of the collecting trip.

 



 

Nephila clavipes in her web on a shipping container

 

 

Me carefully collecting spiders, you don't want to squash their legs!

 



After collecting we got to catch frogs in the swamp!

 

Loitering in Parks

Although collecting spiders in our local area isn't nearly as fun as a trip to the Bayou, it inevitably still ends up being an adventure! There are lots of locations for good spider collecting around L.A., but so far we have found the best collecting site to be a men's restroom in Long Beach. Yes it's true, Shawna and I were loitering outside of a park restroom armed with a really long stick. Why the stick? No it is not for protection, it is actually a spider collecting device for those hard-to-reach web-builders. Here are some pictures from our collecting trips around Los Angeles.

 

 



 

 

Shawna collecting spiders at park restrooms

 



Unidentified Neoscona orb weaver at Long Beach site

 



Silver garden orb weaver, Argiope argentata, at Bolsa Chica

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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