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Valley Bugs and City Lizards

From the San Gabriel Mountains to the beaches, L.A. is home to plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth.

Kathy and John Dean in backyard
Kathy and John Dean in their backyard in South L.A.

Seven-year-old Ravenna Cadieux likes to look for teeny creatures on the hilly backyard of her West Valley home. The second grader has happened upon earthworms, tropical house crickets, and a band-eyed drone fly (“cool because it’s like a bee, but not.”) But Ravenna squeals with glee every time she spots her favorite 14-legged crustacean.

“Once I saw a bunch of roly polys on a peach, and they were a family. They are so tiny when they’re babies!”

Bug hunting is not just a summer pastime for Ravenna and her mother, Jane. The pair are methodically recording every creature they observe as participants in the Museum’s SuperProject, the world’s biggest urban biodiversity inventory, currently in full swing across L.A.

From the San Gabriel Mountains to the beaches and alongside every freeway in between, L.A. is home to plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth. And the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is increasingly focused on studying it.

In this super-charged collaborative study, operated by NHM's Urban Nature Research Center and alongside our Community Science Program staff, SuperProject volunteers tally their everyday observations of insects, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, squirrels, snails, and slugs. They go into their backyards, neighborhoods, schoolyards, and open spaces and submit photos, detailed observations, and habitat descriptions to the iNaturalist website. That constant stream of data is helping museum scientists answer questions about each creature’s habitat, which native and non-native species are thriving (or not) in an urban environment, and what steps could be taken to promote conservation.

In 2016, the SuperProject’s first year, the area of focus was from the coast to the Inland Empire. Then it was the San Fernando Valley and South L.A. The museum has enlisted participants in 85 sites, who dedicate time and attention each month to capturing on camera the crawling, scampering, buzzing, and slimy creatures in their midst.