Category Archives: National Invasive Species Awareness Week

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, 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,

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

Commander Ben Receives 2013 Outstanding Invasive Species Volunteer Award

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reed invasive plants.

Commander Ben displays his 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award in front of admiring Giant Reeds

I have some wonderful news to share with you!  I recently received the 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award from the National Invasive Species Council (NISC).

The NISC was created in 1999 and is co-chaired by the U.S. Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce.  NISC provides coordination of federal invasive species actions and works with other federal and non-federal groups to address invasive species issues at the national level.

I am so honored to receive this award but it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of so many fantastic people:

  • First, I want to thank my Mom and Dad who always support me in everything I do.  They’re the best!
  • I would also like to thank the National Invasive Species Council; Ms. Lori Williams, NISC Executive Director; and the entire National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) team.  They were just great for inviting me to be a presenter at NISAW in 2012.
  • Next, I want to thank the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Dr. Damon Waitt, Wildflower Center’s senior director; and Ms. Jessica Strickland, Wildflower Center’s invasive species program manager.

    They taught me a lot about invasive species and have always been such a great support to me in my efforts to help educate others about invasives.  They have also been very kind to invite me to be a presenter at numerous events at the Wildflower Center, including to the 2011 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference.

    And congratulations to the Wildflower Center, Dr. Waitt, and Ms. Strickland too for receiving the 2013 Outstanding Achievement in Terrestrial Invasive Species Outreach and Education Award from the NISC.
  • Also, I would like to thank the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas; Dr. Jay Banner, Director; and Mr. Geoffrey Hensgen, Outreach Coordinator.

    I started attending their Hot Science – Cool Talks lectures when I was only about six years old!  They have been instrumental in developing my love of science, and they have been so supportive of giving me the amazing honor of being able to be part of the Hot Science – Cool Talks community by giving me the opportunity to interview many of the speakers and to also be a presenter at the pre-lecture activities, including bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Hot Science – Cool Talks
  • Additionally, I want to give many thanks to Science Under the Stars; Brackenridge Field Laboratory at the University of Texas; and Ms. Laura Dugan, doctoral researcher, who gave me a chance to help out with their research on the invasive Jewel Cichlid.

    My very first Commander Ben video, “Who will fell this titan?, won first prize at the Science Under the Stars 2011 Film Festival. In a way, that’s where my Commander Ben adventures first started!
  • And I could never forget to thank Master Chris Abramson, my Taekwondo instructor, who is such an amazing teacher and mentor.  Everything that I have learned from him has not only helped me battle invasives ;-), but has helped me in life.  He has taught me the five most important tenants of what it means to be a man: Courtesy, Integrity, Self-Control, Perseverance, and Indomitable Spirit!

Many thanks to everyone!

2013 National Invasive Species Awareness Week


Unfortunately, the budget problems in Washington DC and the government sequester, cancelled the formal awards banquet that was part of the 2013 National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) activities, but here’s what Ms. Lori Faeth, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at the Department of the Interior, was going to say about my 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer Award:

“The winner of the 2013 NISAW Award for Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer is Ben Shrader, founder of the Invasive Hunter Academy in Texas. Ben has given invasive species presentations at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas and at National Invasive Species Awareness Week in Washington, DC. ‘Commander Ben’ has led efforts to engage students in invasive species issues through his Invasive Hunter Academy, using interactive methods to teach about invasive species and their effect on native ecosystems. He has used a wide variety of media to create a public discussion on invasive species and has produced a series of video interviews with scientists to publicize invasive species issues and research. Ben has also focused his efforts on conducting invasive species research, helping in the studying of the effect of the Jeweled Cichlid on native ecosystems at the University of Texas at Austin.”

Thanks Ms. Faeth for your kind words!

What’s next in the fight against invasives?

As always, I will continue my battle against invasive species! If you would like to be part of the fight against invasives, join me and my Invasive Hunter Academy and learn how to become an Invasive Hunter at the following upcoming events:

Hope to see you there!

Your friend,


Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, 2013 Outstanding Terrestrial Invasive Species Volunteer of the Year Award, Brackenridge Field Lab, Damon Waitt, Department of the Interior, Environmental Science Institute, Geoff Hensgen, Hot Science - Cool Talks, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Award, Jay Banner, Jessica Strickland, Jewel Cichlid, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Laura Dugan, Lori Faeth, Lori Williams, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, National Invasive Species Council, NISAW, NISC, Science Under the Stars, Taekwondo, University of Texas, UT Austin, Wildflower Center

Top 5 Washington DC Museums for Invasive Species Hunters

Commander Ben Goes to Washington

Commander Ben Goes to Washington

Are you a budding invasive hunter who’s planning a trip to Washington DC this year? If so, I’ve got the list for you!

I had a great time last year bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Kids’ day during National Invasive Species Awareness Week at the US Botanic Gardens. While I was there, my family and I visited many of the museum in our nation’s capital, and I made notes on what I liked and what would be neat for invasive hunters in training.

Here are my top five museums for invasive species hunters and for everyone who loves adventure and nature too!

  1. United States Botanic Gardens
    • Liked: Fantastic place with lots of wonderful plants! And so close to the United States Capitol! The special “Orchid Mystic: Nature’s Triumph” display they had was very cool and was related to the Japanese, a culture that I admire.
    • Invasive Hunters: Learn a lot about plants! See what potential invasive species look like because some plants native to one area are not native in another area.
  2. International Spy Museum
    • Liked: You have to go on the Operation Spy action adventure, as well as see the James Bond exhibit. It’s also great learning about the carrier pigeons and Benjamin Franklin’s role as a spy. Cool gift shop! The deadbolt drop and survival tools are must haves.
    • Invasive Hunters: Teaches you the art of espionage so you can spy on invasives and hone your skills.
  3. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
    • Liked: The water beetles in the bug zoo were cool. Great fossil, rock, and mineral collection. The Hope diamond was much smaller than I expected. They had a bigger diamond there that dwarfed it. Great rock gift shop.
    • Invasive Hunters: Learn about invasive pests, and learn about rocks and minerals that you may encounter while hunting for invasives.
  4. United States Capitol
    • Liked: Loved meeting my US Congressman to talk about the problems with invasive species. Be sure to visit the House Gallery if they’re in session. The House chambers look smaller than on TV. The statues and tunnels were great too! Each state got to have two statues and I saw the two that were from Texas. A statue from Hawaii was great with the “big guy” in golden armor…King Kamehameha!
    • Invasive Hunters: Learn how laws are made that may help to keep invasive species from invading our ecosystems. Be sure to get the quill and ink from the gift shop to write “Down with Invasives!” in the old fashion style.
  5. National Cryptologic Museum
    • Liked: Great information on how to decipher codes, and learned about the Hobo code from the depression era. Also learned about the German Enigma machine and how the Allies cracked the code in WWII. Nice gift shop, but the Spy museum was better. 😉
    • Invasive Hunters: Create codes for native plants that invasive species can’t read. 🙂

Let me know if you have any favorites too!

2013 National Invasives Species Week

National Invasives Species Week (NISAW) is back this year from March 3-8, 2013, in Washington, DC.

My thanks to Sheriff Al and the NISAW team for inviting me back this year. I’ve been preparing for high school (tests, homework, augh!), and won’t be able to make it back 😦 , but if you live near or are visiting Washington DC during this time, don’t miss going to NISAW Kids’ Day on March 3. 🙂 There will be lots of fun activities for the entire family to learn more about invasive species! Plus, you can visit all the great museums in our nations capital. Yea!

Your friend,

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Filed under International Spy Museum, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Microbes, Invasive Species, National Cryptologic Museum, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, U.S. Botanic Garden, United States Capitol, US Capitol, Washington DC

Hummingbirds hover into the Wildflower Center during Nature Nights

Black-chinned hummingbird (female)
Photo credit: User Mdf on Wikipedia

At the next Nature Nights at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on June 28, learn more about hummingbirds, especially two that nest here in Central Texas:

  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird

As part of the free evening’s activities, you can:

  • Participate in interactive hummingbird storytelling from the Austin Public Library
  • Talk with Jeanette Larson, who will be signing her book, “Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas”
  • Listen to Shelia Hargis’ presentation on Austin’s Amazing Hummingbirds
  • Walk the gardens to learn about hummingbirds and the nectar plants they love with experts from Travis Audubon
  • Have fun with hummingbird scavenger hunts and arts and crafts

Invasive Hunter Academy charges up the Power of Plants next week

On July 5, I’m bringing my Invasive Hunter Academy to Nature Nights. This the same academy that was a big hit during Kids’ Day at the U.S. Botanic Garden during National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) in Washington D.C.

Learn about invasive species, practice your Invasive Hunter moves, and create a fun action diorama with you battling an invasive plant. Bring home your action scene, a Plant Hero pin, and other goodies too!

Learn more about the Invasive Hunter Academy:

I look forward to seeing you at Nature Nights!

Your friend,


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Filed under Austin Public Library, Hummingbirds, Invasive Hunter Academy, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Nature Nights, NISAW, Travis Audubon, Wildflower center

Citizen scientists band together with the Invaders of Texas Program

Commander Ben with a Giant Reed at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Last weekend, I attended the Invasive Species Workshop at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Ms. Jessica Strickland, the center’s invasive species program coordinator, led the event, teaching us about invasives, especially how to map and combat them.

She talked about the Invaders of Texas program, which helps to educate citizen scientists about invasive species and how to report them to agencies that can research their locations and do something about their spread.

There were over 80 people in attendance, including many master naturalists who were very enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge about invasives with me and the other attendees. We had a full agenda!

How to become a citizen scientist

Ms. Jessica Strickland’s invasive species workshop presentation

It’s easy to become a citizen scientist for the Invaders of Texas program. You just need the knowledge and desire to take action against invasives.

To become a citizen scientist, you can join a satellite group, such as a group of master naturalists, and attend an educational workshop. The group will then report their sightings in the invasive species database.

Or you can learn about invasive species online, take a short test, and be on your way to finding and recording invasives as part of the Voyager group. I’m a Voyager, and I hope that you’ll join me too.

Equipment to record your invasive species sighting

Ms. Strickland gave us a demo of how to make an observation and enter the sighting into the Invaders of Texas database.

To record a sighting, all you need are:

  • A digital camera – Very important because Ms. Strickland will need a picture of the suspect verify your sighting. Tip: put a white piece of paper behind the leaves or distinguishing feature of the plant that you’re taking a picture of. This will help to make details visible for identification.
  • GPS device – This will help pinpoint the exact location of your find. If you don’t have one, you can use Google maps with the reporting database to get as close as you can to the area where you were.
  • Reporting form – Helps you record all the data about your sighting for entering on your computer later. You can’t fill out the web form on your smartphone now because you have to be able to upload a picture from your computer. (That will be changing soon!)
  • Knowledge about the invasive species that you’re looking for – You don’t want to report the wrong species!

Here’s a picture of my invasive hunter suit, but you don’t have to dress up for the occasion. 🙂

Commander Ben unfazed by the looming stand of Giant Reeds sneaking up on him.

Report your invasive species observation into the database

Once you have your sighting, just go to your computer, enter your data, and upload your picture. Once your species is verified, you’ll be part of a vast and powerful database that will help other citizen scientist and scientists take action against invasives.

There’s a space on the reporting form to ask for volunteer hours, and that’s important in case the Invaders of Texas program needs to apply for matching grants to help maintain or grow the program.

Android and iPhone app for Invasive Species coming soon!

Invaders of Texas Android and iPhone mobile app to report invasive species coming soon

I’m looking forward to when their Texas Invasives mobile app will come out that will allow citizen scientists to record their sightings instantly with their mobile phone. This will really help to increase sightings! They’re coming out with the Android version first. I’m really looking forward to the iPhone version.

Sentinel Pest Network

During the workshop, we learned about the Sentinel Pest Network that was created to help us watch out for deadly invasives that are in the United States, but have not been found in our state yet…but they may be marching our way.

Learning about the Emerald Ash Borer

We learned more about these other invasives, including the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis). It’s amazing that an insect that’s smaller than a penny could do so much damage to the native ash tree population of the United States.

We also learned more about the Asian Longhorn Beetle and the Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar), which I didn’t know much about before this workshop.

Invasives at the Wildflower Center!

Ms. Strickland asked us to bring samples of different kinds of invasives species. I brought my nemesis, the Giant Reed (arundo donax). It was so tall that I had to be careful making my way through doorways and not knocking things over along the way.

Pressed sample of a Japanese Climbing Fern

It was great that so many people brought land and aquatic invasive species to share, some of which I had not seen in person before, like the Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum). This invasive spreads in the woods of East Texas, suffocating native trees and plants on the ground.

Other topics

Turtle in the pond at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

During our breaks, I enjoyed talking with my fellow citizen scientists and watching the magnificent turtles in the Wildflower Center’s pond. They were very friendly. I also saw a lot of cool damselflies and lots of flowers and plants.

At the workshop, we also learned about the Great Texas Tree Roundup from the “Tree Folks” and the Eradication Calculator that helps to publish and report volunteer efforts to get rid of invasive species.

Invasive Hunter Academy

Invasive Hunter Academy video screening at the workshop

Many workshop attendees had asked for educational resources and ways to help teach kids about about invasive species and the problems that they’re causing in our ecosystem.

Ms. Strickland invited me to bring my Invasive Hunter Academy to the workshops to show teachers and master naturalists about a fun way to help educate kids about invasives. This is the same academy that I created for the National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) in Washington D.C. earlier this year.

When I first arrived in the morning, Ms. Strickland and Ms. Karen Clary provided me with a wonderful table to set up my academy, and right before the youth education session, Ms. Strickland showed my Invasive Hunter Academy preview video to the entire audience.

It was wonderful. I was so happy to hear everyone’s reactions to the video, especially all their laughter during the funny scenes. It was awesome to know that people really do enjoy my battles with invasive species videos, and they can help educate everyone about invasive species.

How to become an Invasive Hunter

Commander Ben standing at the ready in front of the Invasive Hunter Academy

During the youth education session, I talked with a group of teachers and master naturalists about the wonderful educational activities that are part of the Invasive Hunter Academy.

I described the steps for students to graduate from the academy. A few of the attendees wanted to go through the experience themselves identifying the invasives, and of course, they all succeeded!

Next, they enjoyed the action moves to take down the different invasives with a lot of laughter. Once they started showing me their their moves, I got an inkling that there may be a budding invasive hunter in them.

But they had to pass the final test, perhaps the most difficult challenge, creating their action scene. One lady picked the Giant Reed to fight against in her diorama. I asked her why, and she said that it was a big problem where she lived, and wanted to wage a battle against it.

Once they were done, I graduated them as full fledged invasive hunters, giving them a sticker, and certifying them as an official Invasive Hunter.

The master naturalists from the El Camino Real Chapter invited me to be part of their nature festival next year. It sounds like fun!

Invasive Hunter Academy at the Wildflower Center

You too can be an invasive hunter, especially if you’re in Austin, by enrolling in the Invasive Hunter Academy at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center during the Power of Plants at Nature Nights on July 5. It’s free and you’re guaranteed to have fun! You’ll have a great time becoming an invasive hunter, and you’ll make and bring home an action diorama of you protecting your native ecosystem against the invading invasives.

Fantastic invasive species workshop!

Jessica Strickland, Commander Ben, and Dr. Damon Waitt at the Invasive Hunter Academy

Ms. Strickland made me feel very welcome, and I learned so much. Thank you for inviting me to be part of your event, and thank you Dr. Damon Waitt for all your kind words and encouragement.

This was a great workshop! Ms. Strickland is giving these these workshops around the state, and you won’t want to miss attending one of these events!

Your friend,

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Filed under Android, Asian Longhorn Beetle, Battles with Invasive Species, Citizen Scientist, Damon Waitt, El Camino Real Chapter, Emerald Ash Borer, Eradication Calculator, Giant Reed, Great Texas Tree Roundup, Gypsy Moth, Invaders of Texas, Invaders of Texas Citizen Science Program, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Invasive Species Workshop, iPhone, Japanese Climbing Fern, Jessica Strickland, Karen Clary, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Master naturalist, Mobile app, Nature Nights, NISAW, Power of Plants, Sentinel Pest Network, Texas Invasives, Tree folks, Turtle, Wildflower center