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Spiky, Hairy, Shiny: Insects of L.A.

Spiky Hairy Shiny Insects of LA header image

ONLINE EXHIBITION

Spiky, Hairy, Shiny: Insects of L.A.

If we want to understand how our decisions shape the world around us, we can start by simply paying attention to what insects are doing in our own neighborhoods.

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On any given day in L.A., count on running into thousands of insects, many of which are barely visible. Since 2012, volunteers and Museum scientists have been collecting and photographing samples of this diversity as part of the BioSCAN (Biodiversity Science: City and Nature) project—in the process documenting environmental change over time. Spiky, Hairy, Shiny, an online exhibition, zooms in on this hidden world: come meet these six-legged Angelenos and let their beauty surprise and delight!

Flower fly

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The soft fuzz and black-and-yellow stripes of this flower fly (Helophilus latifrons) help it mimic bees and wasps. Specimen length: 14 mm

Acorn Weevil microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

 Is it an insect, or a stuffed animal? The acorn weevil's (Curculio occidentis) "fur" provides important camouflage. Specimen length: 7 mm

Mason Bee microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The dazzling gems on the mason bee's (Osmia sp.) "crown" are actually three additional eyes called ocelli. Specimen length: 9 mm

Halloween ladybug microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The orange-on-black markings of the Halloween ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) say "Stay away! I taste terrible!" Specimen length: 5 mm

Eupelmid Wasp microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2020. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

 The female eupelmid wasp (Metapelma sp.) relies on her elbow-like antennae to "sniff" out other insects in which to lay her eggs. Specimen length: 7 mm

Mantisfly microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The mantisfly (Plega sp.) relies on its spine-covered forelimbs to catch its prey. Specimen length: 18 mm

Keeled Treehopper microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Do you think you could spot this keeled treehopper (Antianthe expansa, or thornbug) clinging to the side of a stem? Specimen length: 7 mm

Torymid wasp microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The torymid wasp's (Diomorus zabriskii) color is the result of light refracting through the many ridges and fissures of its exoskeleton. Specimen length: 5 mm

Eucharitid wasp microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

At 4 mm, the branching antennae and huge torso of the male eucharitid wasp (Pseudochalcura gibbosa) is barely visible to the human eye. Specimen length: 4 mm

Digger bee microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Being as fuzzy as a native California digger bee has advantages (Anthophora californica), including that pollen sticks to the bee's body. Specimen length: 13 mm

Soldier Fly microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2020. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The compound eyes of the male soldier fly (Euparyphus cinctus) give it an almost 360-degree view of its surroundings. Specimen length: 5 mm

Leafhopper microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN / Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Look for the leafhopper (Draeculacephala sp., a type of sharpshooter) among the plants of the L.A. Basin. Specimen length: 5 mm

Sharpshooter microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN / Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Sharpshooters (Graphocephala versuta) slurp up plant fluids and shoot the remaining liquid waste out their tail end. Specimen length: 6 mm

Snakefly microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The "tail" of the snakefly (Agulla sp.) is actually an ovipositor, a specialized body part used by females to lay eggs. Specimen length: 13 mm

Tachinid fly microscopic image with a life-size pinned specimen on the left

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The dense, spiky hairs of the tachinid fly (Archytas sp.) set it apart from its housefly relatives. Specimen length: 15 mm

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The soft fuzz and black-and-yellow stripes of this flower fly (Helophilus latifrons) help it mimic bees and wasps. Specimen length: 14 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

 Is it an insect, or a stuffed animal? The acorn weevil's (Curculio occidentis) "fur" provides important camouflage. Specimen length: 7 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The dazzling gems on the mason bee's (Osmia sp.) "crown" are actually three additional eyes called ocelli. Specimen length: 9 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The orange-on-black markings of the Halloween ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) say "Stay away! I taste terrible!" Specimen length: 5 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

 The female eupelmid wasp (Metapelma sp.) relies on her elbow-like antennae to "sniff" out other insects in which to lay her eggs. Specimen length: 7 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2020. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The mantisfly (Plega sp.) relies on its spine-covered forelimbs to catch its prey. Specimen length: 18 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Do you think you could spot this keeled treehopper (Antianthe expansa, or thornbug) clinging to the side of a stem? Specimen length: 7 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The torymid wasp's (Diomorus zabriskii) color is the result of light refracting through the many ridges and fissures of its exoskeleton. Specimen length: 5 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

At 4 mm, the branching antennae and huge torso of the male eucharitid wasp (Pseudochalcura gibbosa) is barely visible to the human eye. Specimen length: 4 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Being as fuzzy as a native California digger bee has advantages (Anthophora californica), including that pollen sticks to the bee's body. Specimen length: 13 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The compound eyes of the male soldier fly (Euparyphus cinctus) give it an almost 360-degree view of its surroundings. Specimen length: 5 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2020. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Look for the leafhopper (Draeculacephala sp., a type of sharpshooter) among the plants of the L.A. Basin. Specimen length: 5 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN / Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Sharpshooters (Graphocephala versuta) slurp up plant fluids and shoot the remaining liquid waste out their tail end. Specimen length: 6 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN / Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The "tail" of the snakefly (Agulla sp.) is actually an ovipositor, a specialized body part used by females to lay eggs. Specimen length: 13 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

The dense, spiky hairs of the tachinid fly (Archytas sp.) set it apart from its housefly relatives. Specimen length: 15 mm

Photo: Lisa Gonzalez, 2019. © BioSCAN/Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

Soothing Sounds

We're all missing the outdoors just about now. When you have a quiet moment, put on your headphones and be transported via the sounds of Los Angeles insects, from dawn to dusk.

Sound recordings courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Cole, as well as the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (ML124737, ML22874, ML50544, ML118628, ML109521621, ML193751751, and ML213298021).

BioSCAN: The World's Largest Urban Biodiversity Study

What makes BioSCAN the biggest survey of its kind? First of all, the number of insect traps (80) placed by Museum staff and volunteers. Second, the urban setting: the BioSCAN project is discovering new species and examining insect distributions in the core of the Los Angeles Basin and out to the coast, mountains, and nearby deserts. Through biodiversity studies like these, scientists can track which species are in an area and how common they are. To date, we have identified 800 species, including 47 species new to science. For more results, see here.

Malaise trap in garden for BioSCAN community project

We set up Malaise traps at sites across the L.A. Basin. Site hosts monitor the traps and remove the sample once a month.

Petri dishes with malaise trap samples

We bring the samples back to the Museum, where we process them and record the data.

Work-study student looking through microscope

Work-study students and volunteers sort the insects.

Entomologist looking at insect sample

After preliminary sorting, our entomologists identify the species.

Jars of insect specimens

We dry and label specimens; some go to collaborators at other institutions, but most stay in our collection.

Ecologist on laptop analyzing data

Our ecologists analyze the data.

two children looking at specimen samples in Nature Lab

We publish and share our findings.

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We set up Malaise traps at sites across the L.A. Basin. Site hosts monitor the traps and remove the sample once a month.

We bring the samples back to the Museum, where we process them and record the data.

Work-study students and volunteers sort the insects.

After preliminary sorting, our entomologists identify the species.

We dry and label specimens; some go to collaborators at other institutions, but most stay in our collection.

Our ecologists analyze the data.

We publish and share our findings.


Finding Insects in Your Neighborhood

No matter where you live in Los Angeles, you can find—and support—native insect communities. Roll over a few of our BioSCAN collection sites on the map below to see examples.

Activities

Here are some things you can do at home (or just about anywhere) to observe and learn more about the insects around you.

Acknowledgements

The BioSCAN project was made possible in part through the generous support of Esther S.M. Chui-Chao and The Seaver Institute. The project also would not have happened without the collaboration of our BioSCAN site hosts, who provided access to their yards, community gardens, local green spaces, and schools. We are grateful for their cooperation and dedication.