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Natural History Museum Entomologist Studies Insects Around the World - and in Bug-Rich Monrovia

Monrovian Brian V. Brown, Curator of Entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, took the picture above with a special microscope-camera. Several similar pictures, also by Brown, appeared in an April, 2021 National Geographic article describing his and other entomologists' work studying flies in the treetops of the Amazon rainforest. (The link is here, but you need a subscription to read it.)

In addition to studying insects in tropical regions, Brown has also been part of a project to study urban insects of Los Angeles. The BioSCAN project, he writes, "has uncovered surprising new knowledge about species living in local backyards," especially including Monrovia.


Brown said he has been studying insects since he was a child and stayed interested even into his teenage years, when so many abandon their interest in the topic - though he admits that he toyed with the idea of playing in a heavy metal band - but by college he was solidly back in the entomology camp.

Monrovia, he said, has a wide variety of insects, because it, and other foothills communities, are so near the mountains, where insects abound. Of the roughly 100  species of phorid flies (his specialty) found in the Los Angeles area, he said, about 90 occur in his own backyard in North Monrovia, including many that were new to science. His backyard is the most species-rich habitat that they have examined, and he even found a couple of varieties of flies that he's only seen in Florida and South and Central America previously. Before this project began, he said, scientists estimated there were about 3-4,000 species of insects in the LA area; but the study has raised the estimate to about 20,000.

The much higher estimate, he said, is because while bigger bugs have pretty much been accounted for, the flies he works with are in the itty-bitty range - 2 millimeters long and smaller. These smaller insects, he said, are "still a frontier everywhere." The world’s smallest fly was described by Brown several years ago and is only 0.4 mm long. He named it Megapropodiphora arnoldi after former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, based on its greatly enlarged forelegs.

Brown is a native of Toronto, Canada, did his undergraduate and masters work at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Under the tutelage of Steve Marshall he began studying the fly family Phoridae. In 1990, he obtained his doctorate at the University of Alberta in Canada, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution and University of Maryland. In 1993 he took up his current position in Los Angeles.

He said when he heard he got the job he called his wife, who was watching the Rodney King riots, so ..., he said, there were some mixed feelings about moving to the LA area.

But they did, initially renting in Burbank then buying a home in Monrovia in 1996. They like Monrovia's small town feeling.

Brown has also written two books, numerous scientific papers, and has conducted research in many parts of the world, but especially tropical rainforests. There, he studies phorid flies, especially parasitic species known as ant decapitating flies and bee killing flies. He is also interested in fossil phorid flies in amber, integrating them into phylogenetic knowledge based on morphology and molecular characters. Most recently, he led a National Science Foundation funded effort to completely inventory the Diptera (true fly) fauna of the mid-elevation tropical forest in Costa Rica.

You may see Brown and his wife walking their dogs in North Monrovia. If so, say hi.

- Brad Haugaard

2 comments:

  1. How in tarnation did you ever get this vocabulary straight within this article. Awesome writing and thanks for going back a little to his backstory... and.... still laughing at "based on its greatly enlarged forelegs."

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! Brown was very helpful in providing a bio and checking to make sure I got it right. - Brad Haugaard

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