Meanwhile, the museum
is encouraging anyone with a smartphone to snap a photo of interesting
bugs, reptiles or plants and send it along.
The environmental group Conservation International has placed Southern California on its list of 35 biodiversity
hotspots — places with a hugely diverse ecosystem that includes
numerous plants, insects, lizards and the like along with large numbers
of threatened flora and fauna.
In Southern California, for
example, museum scientists have discovered 43 species of phorid flies in
recent years that they never knew existed in the region.
nothing super-special about phorid flies, except to us of course,
because we're experts on them," Brian Brown, the museum's entomology
curator, said with a smile Wednesday as a bunch of the flies were being
meticulously examined in a ground-floor exhibit hall while a group of
schoolchildren looked on google-eyed.
"But they are indicators of
what might also be here, and it just points out how little known this
city is," Brown said. "Even though there are scientific institutions
that have been here over a hundred years, we still don't know what
species live here."
And of those that are known, it isn't clear how many of them got here.
of the most common species of fruit fly — those teeny tiny bugs with a
taste for rotten bananas and an annoying dive-bombing maneuverability —
in Southern California was recently discovered to have come from a
species native to El Salvador. Its ancestors likely arrived here the
same way as an Australian gecko discovered by the museum — hitching a
ride on a plane or ship filled with plants or food.
Brown says keeping track of such transplanted insects and reptiles helps keep the ecology in balance.
"If there are 5,000 species and a nasty invasive species gets in, it's much harder for it to get established," he said.