Category Archives: Battles with Invasive Species

Ghosts of Invasive Species Past, Present, and Future in A Christmas Carol

This Christmas Carol tale begins on Christmas Eve with Ebenezer Scrooge, a man with a stingy heart, a disdain of native plants, and a phobia of dirty feet. His former business partner, Jacob Marley warns Scrooge of visits by three spirits.

Overnight, the ghosts lead Scrooge through his innocent past, misguided present, and possible dire future overrun by invasive species. They help to transform him into a man of joy and compassion, both with the family of his impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his diverse ecosystem.

I hope you enjoy my video from last year based on Charles Dickens’ classic tale of redemption!

Merry Christmas and happy new year everyone! I look forward to more adventures with you as we learn more about invasive species, science, and dyslexia in 2013!

Your friend,

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Filed under A Christmas Carol, An Invasive Species Carol, Battles with Invasive Species, Bob Cratchit, Charles Dickens, Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge, Giant Reed, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, Jacob Marley, Redtip Photinia, Texas Live Oak

Invasive Species Hunter Teams Up: Commander Ben and Science Weekly

Commander Ben battles invasive species on the cover of Science Weekly
Image credit: Science Weekly

I was so excited to get the latest issue of Science Weekly in the mail today!

This issue is extra special to me because it’s about invasive species, and it talks about my adventures as Commander Ben, the Invasive Hunter, to help kids learn more about invasive species.

Science Weekly included a special section about me, and I especially like the cartoon action figure they made of me battling different invasives, including the Zebra Mussel and Bamboo. That’s really cool!

Fun learning about science and math

Science Weekly is a great publication for K-6 students to learn more about math and science in a fun way with pictures, informative text, labs, puzzles, and games. Each grade level has a customized issue of Science Weekly with the younger grades getting more pictures and the older grades more text with in-depth information.

This issue is fantastic. You’ll get to read about invasives, practice your vocabulary, polish your math skills, conduct a fun lab, and complete a puzzle—all while learning about invasive species.

Commander Ben battling different invasive species in Science Weekly
Image credit: Science Weekly

If you’re looking for my invasive species videos that Science Weekly talks about, check out my Battles with Invasive Species playlist on YouTube, including my Invasive Species Carol—Special Christmas edition!

If you’re a teacher, you won’t want to miss getting Science Weekly for your classroom, and if you’re a parent, and you’re interested in getting issues for your own budding scientist, you can order issues online.

Thanks Science Weekly for featuring me and for helping to teach kids about invasive species. I can’t wait to see more Invasive Hunter Academy graduates!

Your friend,

P.S. If you have a fun adventure with invasive species, let me know. I would love to hear from you!


Filed under A Christmas Carol, An Invasive Species Carol, Battles with Invasive Species, Golden Bamboo, Heavenly Bamboo, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, K-6 math, K-6 science, Parents, Science Weekly, students, Teachers, Zebra Mussel

Invasive Hunter Academy Thrives at UT Austin’s Hot Science – Cool Talks

Commander Ben talks with high school students about invasive species at Hot Science – Cool Talks
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

The UT Austin Environmental Science Institute (ESI) has a great Hot Science – Cool Talks series that brings scientists from UT Austin and across the country to talk about their neat science research. Kids of all ages are invited to attend.

Mr. Geoff Hensgen, ESI Outreach Coordinator, invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to their most recent event with Dr. Jay Famiglietti, “Last Call at the Oasis: Will There be Enough Water for the 21st Century?

I was excited to, but I wanted to add more information for high school students, since I knew they enjoyed coming to the Hot Science presentations. So I researched about some of the water problems caused by invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy Grows

I really liked the new info that I added to the Invasive Hunter Academy. I still have the three fun original steps to becoming an invasive hunter:

  • Know your enemy – Match up pictures of native and invasive plants
  • Know your action moves – Practice the three cool taekwondo moves to take down invasive plants
  • Create your action scene – Build a great diorama to take home

For Dr. Famiglietti’s Cool Talks event, I created a new presentation for young adults with some great information about my nemesis, the Giant Reed. I talked about:

Recorded locations of the Giant Reed around Austin
Source: Texas Invasives website

(1) What invasive species are and specifically the problems of the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). I showed how easy it is to find sightings of the Giant Reed and other invasive species that citizen scientists reported around the state by using the Texas Invasives database.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River near Big Bend National Park
Credit: Mr. John Goolsby, USDA

(2) The EPA is considering using the Giant Reed for biofuel because it grows fast and doesn’t impact the food industry. That’s great for a biofuel plant, but the Giant Reed can easily escape into the native ecosystem and take over as an invasive species.

Scientists are concerned that the spread of the Giant Reed to could create an economic and environmental disaster, and for that reason it should not be used as a biofuel.

Giant Reed along the Rio Grande River
Photo Credit: Center for Invasive Species Research

(3) Especially for Dr. Famiglietti’s freshwater talk, I added information about how the Giant Reed is a threat to the survival of the Rio Grande River because it:

  • Reduces the available water supply
  • Chokes waterways
  • Inhibits with power generation
  • Interferes with agricultural irrigation
  • Degrades water quality
  • Threatens the of health of native plants and animals by creating a dense monoculture and crowding out native plants

QR Codes Help Presentations Jump to the Web

I added QR codes to make it easier for people to access the websites that I talk about in my poster presentation. I first added QR codes when I brought the academy to the Wildflower Center as part of Nature Nights this summer.

I saw people use their iPhones and Android phones to scan the QR codes to access my website, so I wanted to add more codes for my Hot Science presentation to help bring people to where they could get more information on the web, like to learn more about the Giant Reed.

High School Students Graduate to the Academy

One of the Invasive Hunter Academy tables before the start of Hot Science – Cool Talks at UT Austin

The audience was older than my other academy presentations. There were many students from eighth graders to high school and college students. That was neat!

I enjoy bringing the original academy activities to kids all ages, but now I especially enjoy talking to the older students and teaching them about invasive species. (In these pictures, I still have my hand in a cast from when it got broken during a taekwondo sparring match. :-()

Commander Ben motions to how high (and higher!) the Giant Reed invasive plant can grow
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They found my posters very helpful, because a lot of students were there with their science classes, and they had notebooks that they were writing in for extra credit. I talked with them about the problems with the Giant Reed, and they took copious notes. I hope they all got great grades! 🙂

Invasive Hunter graduate shows off her “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker and Wildflower Center brochure
Photo credit: UT Austin Environmental Science Institute

They really liked my “I’m an invasive hunter'” stickers and went to my website on their phones to watch my videos too. They put the stickers on their shirts and books, and one of the high school freshman put it on his forehead. (Not recommended.)

Battles with Invasive Species Videos

Commander Ben before the start of the Hot Science – Cool Talks prelecture fun with the Native Plant Avengers video playing in the background

Mr. Hensgen is just the best! I want to thank him for inviting me to be part of the prelecture fun and the interview with Dr. Famiglietti. He gave me the best table because it was near the entrance to the auditorium, and he gave me a projector to play my Battles with Invasive Species videos on the wall during the event.

During the event, I played two videos:

One Freshman high school girl came back another time for two reasons: she was interested to learn more about invasive species and she had also left her iPod. 🙂

It was also great to talk again with Dr. Jay Banner, Director of the UT Austin Environmental Science Institute. I saw him being filmed for the Longhorn Network during the event. Thanks, Dr. Banner, for mentioning me during your prelecture slides!

Last Call at the Oasis

Dr. Jay Famiglietti’s Last Call at the Oasis presentation at Hot Science – Cool Talks

I also had a great time chatting with Dr. Famiglietti before his talk. I wished him good luck, but he didn’t need it because he did a great job!

I found one of the reserved chairs in the auditorium. (Thanks Mr. Hensgen!) and I noticed that they were much, much more comfortable than the regular chairs. (They were the same as the other chairs, but since they were reserved, they were extra comfy!)

Dr. Famiglietti talked about the making of his video, Last Call at the Oasis. It was released on DVD on November 8th, so be sure to check it out!

At the end of his talk, he showed a funny video with Jack Black about their drinkable, treated sewage water, porcelain springs.

Learn More about Invasive Species

Ms. Jessica Strickland and Commander Ben mapping invasive species at SXSWEco

My thanks to Ms. Jessica Strickland for all her help teaching me more about invasive species on the Texas Invasives website and at SXSW Eco. (I learned about the EPA considering to use the Giant Reed as biofuel from the Texas Invasives iWire newsletter. If you don’t already receive this monthly email newsletter, be sure to subscribe to iWire today.) I also learned about the Rio Grande River’s problem with the Giant Reed from presentations during the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

I also want to thank Ms. Alice Nance, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Education Manager. She gave me a lot of goodies to pass out during the prelecture fun. I had Wildflower Center brochures with discount coupons and Plant Hero badges and certificates. (Kids had a lot of fun with Plant Heroes too when I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center this summer.)

Next Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti at Hot Science - Cool Talks

Commander Ben and Dr. Jay Famiglietti wrap up Hot Science – Cool Talks on a humorous note

Thank you again Dr. Banner, Mr. Hensgen, and Dr. Famiglietti for everything! 🙂 If you missed the event, watch my video interview series with Dr. Famiglietti and check out the webcast replay of Dr Famiglietti’s presentation. (It was ESI’s 80th Hot Science – Cool Talks event!)

I had a fantastic time, and I can’t wait until the next Hot Science – Cool Talks event on November 30, “The War on Cancer: 41 Years after Nixon’s Declaration“, with Dr. Mark Clanton.

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Android, Arundo donax, Bastard Cabbage, Battles with Invasive Species, Big Bend National Park, Biofuel, Center for Invasive Species Research, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, Environmental, Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Science Institute, EPA, ESI, Extra credit, Geoff Hensgen, Giant Reed, High school, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Plants, Invasive Species, iPhone, iWire Texas Invasives Newsletter, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Last Call at the Oasis, Lights. Camera. Help., Monoculture, Ms. Alice Nance, Native ecosystem, Native Plant Avengers, Nature Nights, Plant Heroes, Porcelain springs, QR codes, Rio Grande River, Science class, Tae Kwon Do, Taekwondo, Texas, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, University of Texas, UT Austin, water, water conservation, water hydrology, water supply, Wildflower Center

“Lights. Camera. Help.” Film Festival Selects “Native Plant Avengers” Video

A few months ago, I submitted one of my “Battles with Invasive Species” videos to the “Lights. Camera. Help.” Focus on Good film festival for their consideration. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to encouraging other nonprofit and cause-driven organizations to use film and video to tell their stories. One of the ways they do this is through their annual film festival.

I am so happy to share with you that my Native Plant Avengers – Ecosystem’s Mightiest Heroes video was selected to be part of the “Lights. Camera. Help.” 4th Annual Film Festival.  It will be screened to a live audience on Wednesday, September 12, 2012, at 7:00pm in the Spirit of Texas Theater at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.  The winner of the film festival will be announced at 7:30pm on Friday, September 14, 2012, at their awards party at the Scottish Rite Theater.

Winners of the film festival will receive prize money to donate to the charity of their choosing.  If I win, I’ve asked to donate my proceeds to one of my favorite organizations whose hard work fighting invasive species everyday keeps native plants going strong in central Texas…The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center!

If you’d like to join me at the “Lights. Camera. Help.” Film Festival, you can view the three day schedule and buy tickets here.  Hope you’ll come out and support a great cause!

Your friend,

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Filed under Battles with Invasive Species, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Lights Camera Help Annual Nonprofit Film Festival, Lights. Camera. Help., Native Plant Avengers, Nonprofit Organization, Scottish Rite Theater, Spirit of Texas Theater, Texas State History Museum

Kids Learn about Invasive Species and Become Invasive Hunters at the Wildflower Center

Commander Ben with future Invasive Hunters during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

On July 5, I brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Power of Plants event during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Here are some great pictures of the night’s event.

Pictures from the Invasive Hunter Academy

Commander Ben and Ms. Alice Nance with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I am before the start of the Nature Nights event with Ms. Alice Nance, Wildflower Center Education Manager. She and Ms. Julie Graham made me feel very welcome. They gave me a great location to set up with lots of room for the future Invasive Hunters to practice their moves to take down invasives.

After the event started, there were so many kids enrolled in the academy that they had to get me another table so the kids could have room to create their action diorama.

Kids learning about Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta), an invasive species, with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I am teaching kids about invasive species. The first part of the academy is learning about your enemy, and I’m showing a picture of Elephant Ear to this future Invasive Hunter.

Learn more about Elephant Ear with my In an Ecesis Far, Far Away video, part of the Battles with Invasive Species video series.

Kids learning how to take down the Giant Reed, an invasive species, with the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Here I’m teaching future Invasive Hunters the swallow hand stalk strike move. It’s to take down the Giant Reed (Arundo donax). As the Giant Reed attacks, block with one hand above your head and strike with the other.

Learn more about the Giant Reed with my Invasive Hunter Academy launches during National Invasive Species Awareness Week video, part of the Battles with Invasive Species video series.

Example of an action diorama that kids can create with the Invasive Hunter Academy

Here’s an example one of the action dioramas that the kids can make as part of the academy. This is a great craft 🙂 because it really gets the kids thinking about invasives as they make their action scene. They got to pick one of three invasives species to battle: Elephant Ear, English Ivy, or Giant Reed.

I noticed that when the boys made their action scene, it really looked like a real battle was going on…very messy, like my own diorama! When the girls created their dioramas, they were perfectly done. There were no scissor marks, no glue smears, and the people were perfectly drawn, but I’m sure there was a great battle against invasives going on there too!

Window on a Texas Wildscape with Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Commander Ben and Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers and her husband James, during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I met Mrs. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers and her husband James at Nature Nights. They are very nice people, and they love nature. Mrs. Smith-Rodgers is a wonderful writer. Thanks for mentioning me on your great blog, Window on a Texas Wildscape.

Nature crafts with the Teenage Ecowarriors

Commander Ben and the Teenage Ecowarriors during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I finally got the chance to meet the Teenage Ecowarriors. They help kids create art treasures from recyclables. At the Butterflies event, they helped kids make a butterfly sock puppet. At the Power of Plants event, they helped kids make a newspaper flower. They’ll be coming back to the Bats event on July 19, so be sure to go see them when you’re there.

Wood shingles with JC Pollard

Commander Ben and Mr. JC Pollard during Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

I was happy to meet Mr. JC Pollard again at Nature Nights. I met Mr. Pollard last year for Flintknapping and Great Nature Activities at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve.

Mr. Pollard was helping kids make wood shingles by breaking off pieces of wood from a tree ring. I didn’t get a chance to create a shingle, but it looked really fun. I saw the shingles that kids made when they came to the Invasive Hunter Academy, and one boy gave me one.

Thanks Future Invasive Hunters!

Thanks to all the enthusiastic kids who enrolled in the Invasive Hunter Academy! Together, we’re helping to stop the spread of invasives. Education and awareness is very important. I really enjoy these events, because I feel that I’m helping to give back to our community by educating people about invasive species.

I look forward to bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy to more events in the future!

Your friend,


Filed under Battles with Invasive Species, Elephant Ear, English Ivy, Giant Reed, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Mr. JC Pollard, Ms. Alice Nance, Ms. Julie Graham, Ms. Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, Nature Nights, Power of Plants, Teenage Ecowarriors, Wildflower center