Green Lacewings: Eat, Prey, Love Biocontrol

September 24, 2013

We've added a new insect delicacy to the menu for the dwellers in our Spider Pavilion. That's right, usually the ladies (and few gents), that call the spider pavilion home, get fed butterflies, crickets, and flies, but as of this week we've added green lacewings!

Whitebanded Crab Spider, Misumenoides formosipes, getting ready to eat a Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris.

Green lacewings, belong to the insect order Neuroptera, also known as nerve-wings. Not only does this mean that most people have never heard of them, it also means they have complex designs, or "nerves" in their wings. Some might think that this translates into flying well, but alas, this group of insects are notoriously poor fliers. However, what they lack in flight, they make up for in mouthparts. Big scary-looking mouthparts! Especially, if you're a small soft-bodied garden pest. I mean, check out the green lacewing's cousin the dobsonfly. Those are some killer mouthparts!

Male Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus, photo by Dehaan

Immature green lacewings (aka aphidlions) are such good predators, they have to lay their eggs on stalks, or they'd get cannibalized!

Not a very good picture, but you get the idea!

Gardeners and farmers have learned to capitilize on the lacewing's voracious appetite, by using them as biological control agents. They eat, on average, 200 aphids a week, and can also be found eating other insect eggs, mealybugs, thrips, immature whiteflies, and even small caterpillars. So next time you have a pest infestation in your garden, hope you have some Green Lacewings out there making friends with those ladybugs!




(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


I Found a Huge Green Spider in My Garden!

September 20, 2013

Ever found a large green spider in your garden? Chances are, if you're in the Los Angeles area, the spider you've found is a Green Lynx Spider, Peucetia viridans.

Here's one that NHMLA staffer, Richard Smart, found in our Nature Gardens on Wednesday:

Photo taken by NHMLA's own Spider-Woman, Cat Urban.

This was perfect timing, as we desperately needed one for display in our Spider Pavilion, which opens to members today and to everyone on Sunday. As many of you know, this exhibit is a place to get up close and personal with spiders in a safe and garden-like setting.

To prime visitors for the experience of walking amongst hundreds of free, web-spinning spiders (that's right, the Spider Pavilion is an immersive experience), we display about 13 spiders in enclosures in an exhibit area. This helps most people acclimate, though many arachnophobes swear this doesn't make a lick of difference. For those who are brave, they can peruse the various spiders we have collected and reared, and learn a bit about their natural history.

So why did we pick this spider to display? Firstly, she's GREEN! There aren't many creatures here in Los Angeles, that can camouflage this well in our gardens. Secondly, she is a voracious and cat-like predator, hence the name. If you're lucky, you might get to see her being fed a cricket when you visit! Finally, although this spider looks fat, she is not. She is actually toting an almost fully developed egg case in her abdomen, which contains hundred of developing spiderlings! There really aren't many things cooler than coming to work and finding that a spider you've collected has laid an egg sac!

So why don't you come on down and visit her and all her other spidery friends?



(Posted by: Lila Higgins)



Q: What are Those Miniature Spiky Puffballs? A: Brown Widow Egg Sacs

September 22, 2012

Earlier this week, staff found some small circular egg cases on a gate in the North Campus. Upon closer inspection we realized they were brown widow, Latrodectus geometricus, egg sacs. But how did we know this?

Earlier this week, staff found some small circular egg cases on a gate in the North Campus. Upon closer inspection we realized they were brown widow, Latrodectus geometricus, egg sacs. But how did we know this?


Two egg sacs, each containing about 100 eggs,

notice the geometric design.


Differences between brown widows and western black widows:

Brown Widows

Egg sacs are pale yellow and spiky (BINGO)

Egg sacs contain upto 150 spiderlings (best word ever)

Can lay 20 sacs over their lifespan

Adult females are USUALLY tan with an orange hourglass design on the underside of the abdomen

Lower incidence of medically significant spider bites


Western Black Widows

Egg sacs are pale yellow and smooth

Egg sacs contain upto 300 spiderlings

Can lay 10 sacs over their lifespan

Adult females are black (duh!) with a red hourglass design on the underside of the abdomen

Higher incidence of medically significant spider bites


Visit UC Riverside's Center for Invasive Species Research site for more information on identifying Brown Widows.


Check out this video Sam Easterson made of a brown widow tending her egg cases:

If you want to meet a brown widow up close and personal, all you have to do is visit our Spider Pavilion. The pavilion opens to the general public Sunday September 23. We have both a brown widow and western black widown on display in tightly shut enclosures! Stop by and say hello.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)



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)