Tag Archives: Science Under the Stars

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

West Nile Virus Swatted at Science Under the Stars

Photo credit: User Salvadorjo on Wikipedia

Don’t miss the Science Under the Stars lecture series on Thursday evenings once a month this Fall 2012:

  • September 13 – Stavana Strutz, West Nile Virus
  • October 11 – Patrick Stinson, Frog Calls and Response to Noise
  • November 8 – Chintan Modi, Vaccine Development and Fluorescence
  • December 13 – Michael Gully-Santiago, Astronomy

Science Under the Stars lectures are held at the Brackenridge Field Laboratory at 7:30 p.m. They serve great refreshments and have fun activities for kids.

West Nile Virus

This Thursday’s lecture on West Nile Virus is very timely. Travis County and all of Texas has been hit hard by this virus carried by mosquitoes.

Ms. Stavana Strutz will talk about why this year has been so terrible with hundreds of infections across the state. In addition to West Nile virus, she will also talk about Chagas disease, another illness transmitted by insect carriers.

Here are some ways to combat mosquitoes and the virus:

  • Drain standing water.
  • Put fish that eat mosquitoes in your ponds.
  • Wear insect repellent.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants.
  • Avoid going outside at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are active.

Brackenridge Field Laboratory

Science Under the Stars is held at the Brackenridge Field Lab, where they also hold the fun Insecta Fiesta in the Spring.

In the Austin American Statesman, I saw that Mr. John Crutchfield retired as resident manager of the Brackenridge Field Lab. I only met Mr. Crutchfield a few times but each time he was very kind and I knew he had a love of nature. I hope that I will see him again.

I had a great time over the summer at the lab volunteering for Ms. Laura Dugan’s graduate research on the Jeweled Cichlid, an invasive species invading the waterways of Northern Mexico. Learn more about this invasive fish:

Science Under the Stars will always be special to me, because I won my first video contest with them for my first video, “Who will fell this titan?”, in May 2011.

Your friend,

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Filed under Brackenridge Field Lab, Jewel Cichlid, John Crutchfield, Laura Dugan, Mosquitoes, Ms. Stavana Strutz, Science Under the Stars, West Nile Virus

Research Brings Invasive Jewel Cichlid to the End of the Line at the Brackenridge Field Lab

Ms. Laura Dugan and Commander Ben with captured invasive species

Earlier this year, I met Ms. Laura Dugan during a Science Under the Stars event at the University of Texas at Austin Brackenridge Field Laboratory, and she talked with me about how the invasive Jewel Cichlid shatters native ecosystems.

Ms. Dugan is pursing a doctoral degree in biology, and she is studying the effects that the invasive species, Jewel Cichlid (Hemichromis guttatus), is having on the native species, Minckley’s Cichlid (Herichthys minckleyi), found in Northern Mexico.

She invited me to help her with her research.  I was a little nervous, since I had not worked on a university science project before, but I was looking forward to it because I thought that I could learn a lot and it could help in the fight against invasive species.  Plus it sounded like fun too!

Rounding up the usual suspects

Commander Ben hunting Jewel Cichlid at the Brackenridge Field Lab to help with invasive species research

For two days last week, I worked with Ms. Dugan to collect both the invasive Jewel Cichlid and the native Cichlid from the field lab’s outdoor circular water tanks.  These tanks were so big that I couldn’t put my arms around them even if I tried.  Some tanks just had invasives, just natives, or a mixture of both.  The tanks were covered with a net to keep fish from jumping out.

First, we put down the pipes for all the tanks so they could drain, and we turned off the inflow of water.  We gave the tanks a few minutes to drain about 3/4 of the way down.

With the water drained, it was easier to catch the fish.  We used larger nets for the adults and smaller ones for the babies, the “fry”.  Both types of fish liked to hide in the algae, but they were no match for us. We caught a lot!

We put the fish in pickle buckets with water, and we wrote the tank number on blue tape that we stuck to the side of the buckets so we knew where the fish came from.

After we collected all the samples, we took the buckets back up to the lab building where Ms. Dugan started using them as part of her doctoral studies.

Ms. Laura Dugan, Ms. Jeanine Abrams McLean, and Commander Ben examining the Jewel Cichlid, an invasive species

Ms. Jeanine Abrams McLean also volunteered to help Ms. Dugan.  I met Ms. McLean earlier this year during her presentation at the Brackenridge Field Lab entitled, “Contagion: How Emerging Infectious Diseases Impact Amphibian Population Declines”.

Thanks, Ms. Dugan, for the wonderful opportunity to work with you and learn more about invasive species.  I can’t wait to see the results of your research and to see you again at the next Science Under the Stars!

Your friend,

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Filed under Brackenridge Field Lab, Invasive Species, Jewel Cichlid, Laura Dugan, Minckley’s Cichlid, Ms. Jeanine Abrams McLean, Science Under the Stars, University of Texas, UT Austin

Invasive Jewel Cichlid Shatters Native Ecosystems

Although an attractive fish for aquariums, when West African Jewel Cichlids invade the ecosystems in Northern Mexico, they can cause havoc. Ms. Laura Dugan describes her research on this invasive fish, and how she is trying to determine the impacts of the species’ competition with natives and factors for their distribution and spread.

Ms. Dugan, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin, also talked about her lab experiments into the temperature profile of the fish, including their:

  • Thermal range (determined as 14-40 degrees Celsius)
  • Temperature preference (reviewing the results now)
  • Optimal temperature for growth (will be researching soon)

She is also researching the competition between this invasive fish and native fish that live in northern Mexico too. She will weigh the fish before and after the experiments to see if they grew.

Thanks for talking with me Ms. Dugan and for helping me make my first video about invasive fish. I also found your blog talking about your past research.

Science Under the Stars

I had a chance to talk with Ms. Dugan about her research when I attended this month’s Science Under the Stars talk at the UT Austin Brackenridge Field Laboratory.

I learned about Science Under the Stars in May 2011 when I entered my very first science video as part of their video contest. I won first place (yea!), and they gave me a fantastic navy blue shirt (thanks!) with their logo and a fire ant (invasive!) carrying off the state of Texas.

Before this month’s talk, they had a neat activity to help you learn about Charles Darwin’s Finches. They showed plates with different foods, such as rice, beans, and chocolate covered walnuts, and they also had different tweezers and tongs. They showed how the finches developed very specialized beaks (the utensils) to pick up the different sized food.

Conflict Avoidance: How NOT Competing Can Be The Ticket to Success

For the March 2012 Science Under the Stars talk, Ms. Genevieve Smith, a graduate student with UT Austin-Integrative Biology, gave a great presentation.

She gave a lot of examples and talked about many scientists, including one who observed a lot of different species of birds that lived in a tree. He found that the different species lived in different parts of the tree and avoided conflict with each other.


Filed under College of Natural Sciences, Darwin’s Finches, Jewel Cichlid, Laura Dugan, Ms. Genevieve Smith, Science Under the Stars, University of Texas

Science Under the Stars – Movie Debut

Last night I attended the Science Under the Stars event, hosted by the University of Texas Brackenridge Field Laboratory, where my new movie, Who Will Fell This Titan?, was debuted along with numerous other fantastic science videos.

Research scientist, Dr. Heineman, Ph.D, was the master of ceremonies. He did a great job and was both funny and entertaining!

I am pleased to announce that my movie won First Prize! I was – and am – so happy and humbled. 🙂 All the videos were great! I worked really hard on my movie and will be working hard again this weekend making my follow-up film. I’ll keep you posted.

Commander Ben signing off…

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Filed under Giant Reed, Movie Premiere, Science Under the Stars, Video