Tallest building in the West now features tallest insect study

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Entomologists have set what is likely the highest ever perch in California to study flying urban insects.

Scientists with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County installed an insect Malaise trap on the roof of the U.S. Bank Tower in Downtown Los Angeles Thursday morning. It's the tallest building in the West.

The month-long study will give researchers a better idea of the types of insects that utilize the man-made structure. It’s part of an ongoing effort to improve the knowledge of the insect biodiversity in and around Los Angeles.

Researchers said they know little about how or why insects would visit an unnatural space, 1,000 feet in the air.

“It’s like being on a giant mountain, and yet it’s just this big chunk of metal and concrete, so we don’t really know what the insects think of it,” said Emily Hartop, an entomologist with the Biodiversity Science: City and Nature project at the Natural History Museum. "Are they living up here? Are they coming up here thinking there might be something interesting up here, or is it an obstacle as they’re flying around."

The project, called BioSCAN for short, was launched in 2012 and has placed dozens of traps around the city. It led to the identification of 30 new insect species earlier this year.

Before Thursday, the most high profile location for the traps had been atop City Hall. Hartop said the effort to place a trap on the U.S. Bank Tower has been ongoing since she first began scouting for locations.

“I looked at the skyline and said, ‘Well, we really need to get one on top of the U.S. Bank Building,’" she said. "It took me a few months of very persistent email communication, but we’re here.”

Hartop and her colleague Estella Hernandez set up the trap, which resembles a pup tent in size and shape but with fine mesh walls. They’ll check its contents weekly for the next month.

The evidence of insect life on the roof was already obvious Thursday morning, as the scientists finished their work.

“You’ll see there are some moths around the lights, so we know they get up here. As we started to put up the trap, a fly landed on my arm, so I know there are flies up here. Whether we get very, very little up here or whether we get an interesting subset of things up here, we don’t know. So we’re really fascinated,” Hartop said.

“I mean, this is really high,” she added. “As you can see, the view is incredible.”

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