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Bug traps capture ant-decapitating fly, insects

Natural History Museum erects bug-catching tents throughout area.

February 01, 2014|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • Assistant Collections Manager Lisa Gonzalez of the Entomology Department for the Natural History Museum Bioscan Project points out where spiders set up to easily catch meals inside an insect collection station at a home in Glendale on Thursday, January 30, 2014. There are 30 other sites set up in the Los Angeles area to study insects in the urban environment.
Assistant Collections Manager Lisa Gonzalez of the Entomology… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

Lisa Gonzalez ducked under a tent used to catch bugs in a Glendale backyard and reached her arm into a small bottle at the tip of the trap. She pulled out what looked like a clump of dirt. As the insect expert began to unravel the bundle, dozens of bug carcasses spewed into her hand as she picked through a crumpled-up spider web.

Spiders often set up camp in the 30 bug-catching tents the Natural History Museum has erected throughout Los Angeles, Glendale and Burbank for a three-year project studying insects in the urban environment.

PHOTOS: The Natural History Museum's Bioscan Project

Those spiders that successfully spin a web without falling into a pool of ethanol used to preserve the captured insects hit the jackpot as thousands of bugs fit for their dinner are caught weekly in the traps.

Gonzalez is assistant collections manager for the museum project called “Biodiversity Science: City and Nature.” She was showing the spider web off to Celeste and Tim Armstrong and their three children this week as she retrieved several bug-filled bottles that the family had collected from the roughly 6-foot by 4-foot tent that’s been in their backyard for about four months.

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“I like seeing all the different kinds of bugs, like the four moths that are in there now,” 9-year-old Lilly Armstrong said as her twin brother, Daniel, teased that she usually detests insects.

“They’re OK,” Lilly said. “As long as they’re in the bottle.”

For her mother, participating in the Los Angeles museum’s research project on insects is a way to get her children interested in science since she believes the subject is taught inadequately in schools.

On top of that, Celeste Armstrong isn’t afraid of insects — she keeps an empty wasp nest in her freezer so one day her children can bring it to school for show-and-tell — so she’s the one who replaces the bug-catching bottles attached to the tent each week.

“It takes a special person to put a bug trap in their backyard,” Gonzalez said.

In addition to the Armstrongs, another Glendale family, the Hoffmans, has erected a bug-catching tent in their backyard adjacent to the Verdugo Mountains. That one has already caught ant-decapitating flies, a special find for the researchers. The flies inject eggs into certain ants and eventually the ant’s head is severed by the developing maggot, Gonzalez said.

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