St. Andrews Square resident Lila Higgins loves walking around the neighborhood. Through the lens of her training as an entomologist, with an advanced degree in environmental education, Higgins sees our front yards as habitat, and she’s found the perfect job combining her science and education skill set with her passion to engage Angelenos in observing and nurturing the wildlife around us.
As manager of the LA County Natural History Museum’s Citizen Science Program, you can see her at work this weekend at NHM’s L.A. Nature Fest, the third annual festival celebrating Los Angeles’s very own wildlife. Yes, there’s lots of nature and wildlife around us and that’s the point of Higgins’ work; to teach us to see it and appreciate how we are all connected.
Higgins grew up in England then moved to Upland in 1994.
“My grandparents were farmers so it was a huge shock to leave this very green place and come here where the nature is vastly different,” said Higgins.
She started her career as a docent and realized she loved working with people and teaching. Working at NHM with its vast collection of specimens allows Higgins and her colleagues to place their current environmental observations in a historical context. As manager of the museum’s Citizen Science program, her job is to engage the public to be helpers, like an army of scientists out there observing and cataloging LA’s urban nature.
We couldn’t help but ask if there were any hyper-local species that only live in our neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, there’s nothing unique to just us, but our neighborhoods are amazingly abundant because we have relatively large yards with lots of well established plants and trees.
“There’s lots of snails because of all the ivy,” said Higgins, who loves identifying particular species of snails as part of the museum’s SLIME project (which stands for Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments). SLIME aims to catalog the biodiversity of terrestrial gastropods (land snails and slugs) in Los Angeles County and throughout Southern California. If you spot one and want to know more about it, you can snap a photo and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or text it to 213-663-6632.
You may be interested to know about Dog Vomit Slime mold, or Fuligo septica, which is a species of plasmodial slime mold, commonly
called Dog Vomit because of its bright yellow, scrambled egg appearance, another common name for it. The mold appears on wood mulches or along the sides of untreated wood, and sometimes in lawn grass, popping up quickly after periods of rain or in wet areas. It’s not harmful to plants.
Turns out mold is really pretty fascinating, which led to an extensive conversation about mushrooms. Higgins is very interesting in what’s growing following the recent rains. At her suggestion, I sent her a photo and learned there is a Candy Cap, an oddly scented, fragrant common mushroom, growing under my oak trees.
This weekend you will find Higgins training for volunteers who have signed up for NHM’s Citizen Science program to use the smart phone app inaturalist to document a range of species including butterflies, reptiles, snails, squirrels, insects, etc. as part of a long-term biodiversity study of urban habitats and surrounding natural areas of Los Angeles county.
L.A. Nature Fest starts in the NHM’s 3 1/2 acre garden, which boasts 600-plus species of native and nonnative plants that grow well in Southern California’s Mediterranean climate. Not to mention the re-designed and re-built outdoor Butterfly Pavilion exhibit, which opens to the public Sunday, March 19, as part of L.A. Nature Fest. Located on the south side of the Museum, the new and permanent structure has enhanced design features for its hundreds of butterfly residents: more vertical fly space, and a rounded structure that provides more light (which is better for flight) and more space for them to perch.
At the Nature Fest, Museum scientists join forces with dozens of Southern California nature organizations and wildlife experts for a weekend filled with hands-on activities. In the LADWP Green House, a fun, educational, and interactive home, kids can explore and learn about ways to save energy. At the “Nature Nook,” visitors can learn about taxidermy from NHMLA’s taxidermist Tim Bovard, and get the inside scoop on topics like local bees and L.A.’s famous mountain lion, P-22 (originally discovered by a mammologist who’s now on the Museum staff!). Casey Schreiner, author of Day Hiking Los Angeles: City Parks, Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, will share his best tips on day hikes in the L.A. area.
Visitors can also participate in hands-on workshops and experience local nature first hand with a range of activities for all ages. Each day will include:
- Workshops and Tours
- Bird Life in Urban L.A.: Bird expert Kimball Garrett will lead a birding exploration through Exposition Park.
- Snake feeding demonstration
- L.A. Day Hike Tips with Casey Schreiner
- Native California Bees with Lisa Gonzalez
- Taxidermy Demonstration with Tim Bovard, NHMLA Taxidermist
- Expert tips on Wildlife Attracting Plants with Carol Bornstein, NHMLA Nature Gardens director
- Storytelling puppet show with NHMLA Performing Arts
- Coffee roasting demonstration with Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne
- California Tuna Salad Lunch cooking demonstration and sampling with Ernest Miller
- Ongoing Activities
- “Keeper Chats” with Live Animal Keepers
- Slug and Insect Painting + Citizen Science with NHMLA Urban Nature Research Center
- Nature Crafts: Nature Crowns, Nature Bracelets, Sun Prints
- LADWP interactive Green House and Water Trailer
- National Park Service’s La Troca Interpretive Truck
- Food Trucks and Resting Areas
- Interactive Booths from Museum Partner Organizations
Nature Gardens at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007
Saturday, March 18 and Sunday, March 19, 2017
9:30 am – 5 pm (members get in early admission at 9 am this year)
Tickets: Admission to L.A. Nature Fest is included with regular Museum admission, and is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and students with valid I.D., and $5 for children (3-12). Museum Members and children under 2 are free. For tickets and more information, visit nhm.org/naturefest.
Butterfly Pavilion: Museum Members and children age 2 and under are admitted to Butterfly Pavilion for free. Prices for general admission plus the Pavilion are as follows: Adults, $17; College students and seniors, $14; Children ages (3-12), $10. Regular Museum admission is: Adults, $12; Students and Seniors, $9; Children (3-12), $5. Museum Members and children age 2 and under are admitted for free. Because of the Pavilion’s popularity, the museum recommends purchasing tickets in advance at nhm.org.