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Discovering L.A.'s Local Spiders through the Natural History Museum's Citizen Scientist Project

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Brent "The Bug Guy" Karner holds a Mexican redknee tarantula at the Natural History Museum's First Fridays event in January 2010 | Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

Brent "The Bug Guy" Karner holds a Mexican redknee tarantula at the Natural History Museum's First Fridays event in January 2010 | Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
Below the collections of artifacts from around the world, dinosaur bones and historical displays that make up most of the Natural History Museum is a room full of living things. You can still find bones, rocks and artifacts in the Discovery Center, found tucked in the museum's basement, but it's in this interactive room where living animals make their home. From exotic reptiles to turtles and snakes, it's where the public can learn about, not just animals from around the world, but local wildlife.

One of the best locally-based projects the museum has going is the Spider Survey, now in it's eighth year. It's a citizen science project where residents can bring or send in spiders they find around town for scientists to study (added bonus: you'll get a call-back from a scientist who will identify your spider and tell you all about it).

"We are doing a good job now of getting a baseline, that we've never had in Los Angeles, of what spiders are here, where they live and how common are they," explained Brent "The Bug Guy" Karner, who manages the museum's invertebrate collections. "This is the kind of baseline that is an absolute necessity if we want to answer questions in the future about how things are changing--thanks to our urban development--what's moving in and what are we transporting. These questions we can't answer because we've never had the baseline so it's been really important."

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Since the survey's inception, numerous discoveries have been made, the most surprising of which, was the first documented record of brown widows in California. "Since then we've found brown widows everywhere," Karner said of the arachnid, which ancestrally is from Africa. "Now we've been able to track how they are moving."

Another important discovery was documenting a type of orbweaver that should be only found in tropical areas. Global warming? Brought over via someone's vacation? That's yet to be seen, but knowing what's here is the first big step.

To take part in the spider survey, you just need to be a good observer in your home, neighborhood or park, says Karner. Bring it in, dead or alive--just not smashed all up by your shoe--to the any of the museum's entrances (you can also send it via mail). You'll be given a form to fill out and if you choose to leave your contact information, you'll get a call back.

If you fear spiders--you shouldn't, more people die of staplers than spider bites in the U.S.--it's best to not to participate, but if this is your thing, you are encourages to do so. Just don't pick one up with your hands. Rather, shuffle it into a cup.

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