Category Archives: U.S. Botanic Garden

Secrets of the Invasive Hunter Academy

I wanted to film a video to thank Action for Nature for honoring me with their International Young Eco-hero Award for my work on educating kids about invasive species and for creating the Invasive Hunter Academy.

As part of the video, I share a bit about my background with invasive species and the secrets as to why the Academy is so popular with kids. I also talk about my experiences training young invasive hunters and bringing my Academy to the United States Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C., and to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

Thank you Action for Nature for your International Young Eco-Hero Award!  I will put it to great use to help educate kids of all ages learn about invasive species.

Your friend,

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Filed under Action for Nature, Eco-Hero, Invasive Hunter, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, U.S. Botanic Garden, 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

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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Commander Ben Joins Earth Week Activities at St. Edward’s University

At last year’s Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Mitch Robinson, Education and Land Management Coordinator for Wild Basin Preserve.

He talked with me about how Wild Basin Preserve fends off invasive species, and I was very impressed by his passion for protecting the preserve’s native ecosystem.

We’ve kept in touch since then, and he was so nice to invite me to be part of the Earth Week activities at St. Edward’s University, which were also broadcast on Google+ Hangouts. He was giving a presentation about invasive species on April 19, and he asked me to join him to talk about my experiences battling invasives and teaching others about them.

On the guard against invasives

Mr. Robinson started the event by giving an excellent presentation about invasives including several examples and how they affect our environment. I was especially intrigued by the Giant African Land Snail. Why? Because it’s giant and eats houses!

Actually, it eats the stucco off houses, but that’s close enough. They can grow up to 8 inches, and eat other snails and over 500 species of plants. They were brought into Florida as pets, but were released in the late 1960s, and Florida State University had to spend millions of dollars to battle them back.

It’s a menace to Western Civilization!

Native Plant Avengers movie trailer shown at St. Edwards

Afterwards, Mr. Robertson introduced me by first playing my latest video, Native Plant Avengers. When I saw my video played on a big screen in front of an audience, I had a great feeling of happiness because that’s why I make the videos–to help educate people about invasives and for my audience to have fun at the same time.

After my video, I talked about how I got started learning about invasives and teaching others. I also took questions from the audience and talked about my Invasive Hunter Academy as part of Kid’s Day during National Invasive Species Awareness Week at the US Botanic Garden.

Thank you so much Mr. Robinson and St. Edwards for inviting me to be part of your Earth Day events! It was a lot of fun! Down with invasives!

Your friend,

Update: Invasive Hunter Academy Returns to St. Edward’s University for Earth Day 2013

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Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Earth Day, Environmental, Giant African Land Snail, Googe+ Hangouts, Invasive Hunter Academy, Invasive Species, Mitch Robinson, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Native Plant Avengers, St Edward's University, U.S. Botanic Garden, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

USDA Celebrates Commander Ben and His Invasive Hunter Academy

Thanks, Ms. Kelsey Branch, APHIS Biologist, for the fantastic blog post, “Meet USDA’s Youngest Ally in the Fight against Invasive Species: Ben Shrader, Invasive Hunter”

I had a great time with Ms. Branch in Washington D.C. during National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW) from February 26 to March 2, 2012, and during NISAW Kids’ day at the U.S. Botanic Garden, I enjoyed teaching kids about invasive species as part of my Invasive Hunter Academy.

It’ll take more than a day or week to take down these invasive species, so the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has declared April as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month.

Learn more about invasive species:


Filed under 2011 Texas Invasive Plant Conference, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, Hungry Pests, Invasive Hunter Academy, Ms. Kelsey Branch, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, NISAW, Texas Invasives, U.S. Botanic Garden, United States Department of Agriculture, USDA