Category Archives: Invasive Species

National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2015

National Invasive Species Awareness Week logo (image credit: NISAW)

National Invasive Species Awareness Week logo (image credit: NISAW)

National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) 2015 starts today (February 22) and continues through February 28! After being absent from Washington D.C. since 2012, NISAW 2015 returns with lots of activities, including a invasive species fair and congressional reception on February 25. There are also many state activities too.

In Texas, Mr. Justin Bush, Invasive Species Coordinator for Texasinvasives.org, has special Invaders of Texas Citizen Scientist Workshops that you can join to learn how to report invasive plants and use the new Texas Invasives mobile app. (Here’s a video I made with an earlier version of the Texas Invaders iPhone App.)

Kids’ Day at National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2012

I was happy to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to Kid’s Day at NISAW 2012 that was held at the US Botanic Garden. Here are some of my adventures teaching kids about invasive species during my 2012 trip:

What happened to National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2013 and 2014?

Sadly, the events for NISAW 2013 were cancelled because of the government sequester and the event was not rescheduled until 2015.

NISAW 2013 was special for me because the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) gave me the 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award. What a great honor! But I was disappointed that I couldn’t go to Washington DC that year to accept the award.

Kids’ Day at National Invasive Species Awareness Week 2015

This year’s Kid’s Day at NISAW 2015 is being held on February 28, 2015, during National Invasive Species Awareness Day at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

If you’re in Washington D.C., you’ll learn about invasive species from the presenters with lots of interactive activities for kids. Afterwards, be sure to visit the top five Washington DC museums for Invasive Species Hunters. (Don’t forget the International Spy Museum. It’s great! Sometimes hunting invasive species requires stealth.)

Invasive Hunter Academy at Nature Nights 2015

I have some great news to share with you! I’m excited to announce that I’ll be bringing the Invasive Hunter Academy back to Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

The Nature Nights plants special event on June 11 has a special theme this year. I can’t wait to share it with you in an upcoming blog post. 😉

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Species, Justin Bush, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, National Invasive Species Council, NISAW

Austin Kids Learn about Invasive Species at the Camp Fire Nature Festival

Thumbs up to Austin kids practicing their invasive hunter moves!

Thumbs up to Austin kids practicing their invasive hunter moves!

Happy New Year!

I had a great Christmas break and started my sophomore spring semester this month. I’ve been studying the Renaissance in World History, listening to the audiobook of All Quiet on the Western Front in English, performing Chemistry labs to measure reactants and products, and having a lot of fun times in high school.

Invasive Hunter Academy at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Getting ready for young Austin naturalists before the event.

Getting ready for young Austin naturalists before the event.

In November, I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Camp Fire Nature Celebration at Mueller Park in Austin, Texas.

As part of the academy, kids learn about invasive species through fun activities, including playing a flashcard game, practicing action moves, and creating a diorama where their character battles an invasive species.

The action diorama craft was very popular. I helped some of the younger kids glue cut out pictures of their invasive species to their action diorama backgrounds. It was a sticky situation!

When I gave one boy his “I’m an invasive hunter” sticker, he gave me a salute and said, “Thanks, Commander!” I had a good laugh. He was a very nice young man!

I was also teaching a group of kids who came up to my table about the environmental and economic harm that invasive species do to our wonderful native plants. I pointed out Elephant Ear plants that were growing nearby, and one boy turned to me with a face of shock and awe and said, “Wow! The stuff you’re talking about is really a problem!”

Here are some pictures from the event. (And here’s my Texas Invasive Species and the Camp Fire Nature Celebration blog post that originally announced the event.)

Austin kids having fun practicing action moves and creating dioramas to learn about invasive species

Austin kids having fun practicing action moves and creating dioramas to learn about invasive species

Future graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Future graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Flashcards help kids learn about the difference between invasive and native Texas plant species

Flashcards help kids learn about the difference between invasive and native Texas plant species

Practicing invasive hunter moves as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy

Practicing invasive hunter moves as part of the Invasive Hunter Academy

The nearby concrete wall made a nice platform for kids to create their invasive hunter diorama

The nearby concrete wall made a nice platform for kids to create their invasive hunter diorama

One of the fun parts about the academy is choosing the invasive species to battle for your action diorama

One of the fun parts about the academy is choosing the invasive species to battle for your action diorama

Graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy get goodies, including an "I'm an Invasive Hunter" sticker

Graduates of the Invasive Hunter Academy get goodies, including an “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker

Creating your invasive species action diorama was a popular craft all morning!

Creating your invasive species action diorama was a popular craft all morning!

Watch out for the Elephant Ear!

Watch out for the Elephant Ear!

Commander Ben has a great day with the kids at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Commander Ben has a great day with the kids at the Austin Camp Fire Nature Celebration

More pictures from the event

Austin Camp Fire sign welcoming kids to the event

Austin Camp Fire sign welcoming kids to the event

Landon McNeely and Commander Ben at the Austin Camp Fire information booth

Landon McNeely and Commander Ben at the Austin Camp Fire information booth

Kids learned about the ecological food chain with the Texas Parks and Wildlife activity

Kids learned about the ecological food chain with the Texas Parks and Wildlife activity

Getting to know some of the critters at the Austin Nature and Science Center insect petting zoo

Getting to know some of the critters at the Austin Nature and Science Center insect petting zoo

I put up a poster about Zebra Mussels from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

I put up a poster about Zebra Mussels from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

More resources for kids to learn about invasive species

My thanks to Dominic Martinez, AmeriCorps VISTA Programs coordinator, and Landon McNeely, Americorps VISTA Policy and Volunteer coordinator, for inviting me to the event!

My thanks also to Justin Bush, invasive species coordinator for Texasinvasives.org, for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center handouts and for mentioning my event in the iWire newsletter.

I look forward to my next adventure helping to teach kids about invasive species!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Camp Fire Nature Celebration, Elephant Ear, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species

Can Invasive Species Hide from Drones?

The Giant Reed can run, but it can't hide from drones (Photo credit: InView Unmanned Aircraft by Fasicle Wikipedia)

The Giant Reed can run, but it can’t hide from drones (Photo credit: InView Unmanned Aircraft by Fasicle Wikipedia)

Many researchers are using drones to help find and identify invasive species in those hard to reach places. Here are just a few recent articles about where they are using drones to hunt invasive species:

Learn more about drones with Hot Science – Cool Talks

You can learn more about drones this Friday, November 21, 2014, with the latest Hot Science – Cool Talks presentation, Drones: Myths, Facts, Hacks, and The Future, by Dr. Todd Humphreys, Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics with the University of Texas at Austin.

The presentation starts at 7 pm in Welch Hall, but be sure to arrive early, since fun science activities will start at 5:45 pm!

Dr. Humphreys will talk about how we can use drones in the future and how that may be different from how movies portray drones. He and his team were the first to show how GPS hacking can take over a drone.

The invasive plant Giant Reed (Arundo donax) better be on the lookout!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Drones, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Species

Texas Invasive Species and the Camp Fire Nature Celebration

Kids learn how to battle Texas Invasive Plant Species with the Invasive Hunter Academy

Kids learn how to battle Texas Invasive Plant Species with the Invasive Hunter Academy

The impact of invasive species in Texas has been in the news lately!

Invasive species are not native to our environment, and when they are brought to our native ecosystems, whether by accident or on purpose, they can cause both economic and environmental damage. Invasive species come in all types, including insects and animals.

Insects, such as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, can, yes, stink, but more importantly they can attack our fruits and vegetables.

Animals, such as the Eurasian collared dove, can crowd out our native dove populations, such as the mourning dove and white-winged dove.

Zebra mussels are a big concern. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with great partners like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, are trying to stop their spread through Texas lakes and waterways. Their larva are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, but they grow rapidly into a tremendous problem, hurt aquatic life, and can threaten our water supply.

Invasive plants are also a big problem to our native plant species and crops.

Camp Fire Nature Celebration in Austin

To help kids learn more about plant invasive species, I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Camp Fire Nature Celebration on Saturday, November 8, 2014, at Mueller Park in Austin, Texas. The event is free and lasts from 9:00-11:00 a.m.

Not only will you have fun creating your own battles with invasive species action diorama, you’ll also get a chance to have fun with nature with many activities, including:

It’ll be lots of fun for Central Texas kids and families. This Saturday morning will be a perfect time for young naturalists to learn about nature and invasive species. I hope to see you there!

Your friend,

Ben

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Filed under Camp Fire Nature Celebration, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Zebra Mussel

Austin School Kids Learn about Invasive Species at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben and Austin school kids practice the moves to take down invasive species during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

Commander Ben and Austin school kids practice the moves to take down invasive species during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

I was honored to be invited back to St. Edward’s University to celebrate Earth Day 2014 with them this spring. I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy along with me and entertained 200 kids on a field trip from Travis Heights Elementary School.

As always, the kids enjoyed going through the Academy and graduating as official Invasive Hunters. Upon graduation, the kids loved picking out a nature prize along with some candy to fill their field trip goodie bags! And of course they each received their official “I’m an Invasive Hunter” sticker. Who doesn’t love stickers?!?

Here are some fun pictures from the event:

Knife hand attack is superb for taking down invasive plants like the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)

Knife hand attack is superb for taking down invasive plants like the Giant Reed (Arundo donax)

And let's not forget about swallow hand stalk strike! I see an invasive plant going down!

And let’s not forget about swallow hand stalk strike! I see an invasive plant going down!

Austin school kids eager to work on their invasive hunter dioramas

Austin school kids eager to work on their invasive hunter dioramas

Future invasive hunters thinking about which invasive species to battle

Future invasive hunters thinking about which invasive species to battle

Young Austin naturalists working on their Invasive Hunter Academy action dioramas

Young Austin naturalists working on their Invasive Hunter Academy action dioramas

HEBuddy joined in the fun on Earth Day too

HEBuddy joined in the fun on Earth Day too

National Wildlife Federation booth during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

National Wildlife Federation booth during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

Commander Ben trying out Car2Go's electric car at St. Edwards University

Commander Ben trying out Car2Go’s electric car at St. Edward’s University

On a quick break, I visited the Car2Go booth and decided to sit in the car and get a feel for what it’s like to be behind the driver’s wheel…especially since I’ll be getting my driver’s license soon!

Wild Basin Creative Research Center booth during Earth Day at St. Edward's University

Wild Basin Creative Research Center booth during Earth Day at St. Edward’s University

I enjoyed talking with the representative at the Wild Basin Creative Research Center table. The center’s also called the Wild Basin Preserve, and St. Edward’s University acquired the preserve that’s along Austin’s loop 360 in 2009. Here are some of my previous posts about Wild Basin:

Now is the time for all invasive hunters to dance!

Now is the time for all invasive hunters to dance!

And just when I thought Earth Day was winding down, the music cranked up, thanks to Topper Radio, and I led a dance party with all the elementary kids. It was so much fun and a great way to end the day. I think we’ll have to add a new move to the Academy to take out invasives. Maybe a dance move…and we’ll call it the invasive stomp!

Commander Ben and Phoebe Anne Romero meet in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy before Earth Day festivities

Commander Ben and Phoebe Anne Romero meet in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy before Earth Day festivities

Thanks to Phoebe Anne Romero for inviting me to bring the Invasive Hunter Academy back to St. Edward’s for this year’s Earth Day celebrations! I had a lot of fun with Austin’s young naturalists!

Ready for action during Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward's University

Ready for action during Earth Week 2014 at St. Edward’s University

Previous Earth Day celebrations at St. Edward’s

It’s been a summer of adventure for me! I hope you’re having a great one too!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Earth Day, Earth Week, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Phoebe Anne Romero, St Edward's University, Wild Basin Preserve

Which invasive species will you battle at the Wildflower Center?

Wanted: Invasive species - Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

Wanted: Invasive species – Needed: Invasive Hunters to protect our native ecosystems!

This week starts a summer of fun at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. On Thursday, June 12, from 5-8 p.m. the Wildflower Center kicks off the first Nature Nights of 2014 with a focus on plants and play in the new Luci and Ian Family Garden. (The garden is new to the Wildflower Center this year, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it with all the kids.)

There will be lots of free kids activities, including habitat hikes, a scavenger hunt, big bubbles (oooh! I’m liking this!), ring toss, and lots more. You’ll even meet local nature celebrities, including Bill Oliver and The Otter Space Band. (I first met Mr. Oliver at this spring’s Milam County Nature Festival.)

Invasive species at the Wildflower Center?

There are a few plants that I’m sure will not be part of the plant petting zoo during Nature Nights, and they’re all invasives!

You can do your part to help stop the spread of these non-native plant species from overrunning our native ecosystem.

As part of my Invasive Hunter Academy during Nature Nights, kids will get the chance to learn about invasive species and their impact on our environment through these fun activities:

  • Visual activities (Is that an invasive or native plant that I see?)
  • Action moves (I attended my taekwondo class last night to brush up on the moves that I’ll teach you!)
  • Creating an action diorama featuring you battling an invasive species (You can take this home along with some other surprises!)

Graduates from the academy become Invasive Hunters, ready to protect their native ecosystems. We need young naturalists (like you and kids you know!) to become guardians of our central Texas galaxy!

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Nature Nights, Wildflower Center

Young Naturalists, Buffalo Grass, and the Milam County Nature Festival

Commander Ben talks about invasive species at Milano Elementary School

Commander Ben talks about invasive species at Milano Elementary School

This spring, I was honored to be invited back to the Milam County Nature Festival by Dr. John Pruett, a Texas Master Naturalist and a wonderful friend. I was happy to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to the festival to help train more kids to become protectors of our native ecosystem.

A visit to talk with young naturalists at Milano Elementary School

Young naturalists ask questions at Milano Elementary School

Young naturalists ask questions at Milano Elementary School

On Friday, April 11, I talked with students from the Milano Elementary School prior to the nature festival on Saturday. With help from the school’s Apple tech guru, I hooked up my iPad to the school’s projector and readied my Keynote presentation as the kids filled the gymnasium.

Principal Ruth Davenport gave me a wonderful introduction, and I talked to the students about invasive species and how I learned about them, especially in the field. I also showed videos from my Battles with Invasive Species series. At the end of my presentation, the kids had a lot of questions. (A few of them reminded me of the fun questions that kids asked during my invasive species talk last year at the Rockdale Intermediate School.)

Principal Ruth Davenport, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett

Principal Ruth Davenport, Commander Ben, and Dr. John Pruett

Thanks, Principal Davenport and Dr. Pruett, for inviting me to talk to the kids at the Milano Elementary School. I had an enjoyable time and I hope the kids did too.

What are good native grasses for Central Texas?

Buffalo grass: A great native Texas grass (Photo credit: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Buffalo grass: A great native Texas grass (Photo credit: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

One of the student’s parents asked me if there were any good native grasses that could replace St. Augustine.

Buffalo grass is an excellent replacement for the water loving St. Augustine, and there are two varieties: 609 or Stampede. Both need full sun, and they don’t require much water. That’s good news, because we’re still in a drought in Texas!

Learn more about native plants:

5th Annual Milam County Nature Festival

Young invasive hunters working on their battle diorama

Young invasive hunters working on their battle diorama

On Saturday, April 12th, I brought my Invasive Hunter Academy to the Milam County Nature Festival at Rockdale Fair Park. I had another great time like last year and saw the crayfish exhibit again too!

Learn how to build a butterfly garden

Learn how to build a butterfly garden

There were many exhibits at the festival where you could learn about nature. As part of this year’s habitat conservation theme, you could learn about building a butterfly garden and another where you could match up birds on an electronic board.

Bill Oliver, his catfish, and Commander Ben

Bill Oliver, his catfish, and Commander Ben

I met “Mr. Habitat” Bill Oliver with his Otter Space Band. They entertained the crowd with their music and gave warm shout outs to people at the festival.

Lions Clubs of Milam County provided eye screening for children

Lions Clubs of Milam County provided eye screening for children

During the festival, Dr. Pruett worked with the Lions Clubs of Milam County to perform free eye screenings, called Spot Vision, for children ranging in ages from 9 months to 5 years. Their eye device would provide a printout that parents could take to eye doctors for more review or action.

Read more about my 2013 visit to the nature festival:

Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center

Speaking of the Wildflower Center, if you didn’t get a chance to attend nature festivals earlier this year and want to learn more about plants and invasive species, join me on Thursday, June 12, at the Wildflower Center.

I’ll be bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights, and the first night of the free summer long series focuses on plants and play in the new Luci and Ian Family Garden. There will be lots of fun activities for kids of all ages, and kids under 12 will want to stop by the gift shop to receive something special during each event.

I had a great time with the kids at Nature Nights last year, and I hope to see you there next week!

Your friend,
Ben

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Filed under Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, John Pruett, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Milam County Master Naturalists, Milam County Nature Festival, Milano Elementary School, Nature Nights, Rockdale Fair Park, Uncategorized