April 2023
Weed Could Ward off Wrinkles

Scientists believe compounds found in cocklebur plant (Xanthium) could have anti-aging potential. Cocklebur plants are spiky fruited plants which now grow worldwide. Some species have reached invasive species status and are often considered a noxious weed. They can invade agricultural lands and poison livestock, including horses, cattle, and sheep. Livestock that consume seedlings and seeds will become weak, nauseous, sick, and eventually die. Xanthium has also been used in traditional herbal medicine to treat nasal and sinus congestion, headache, and arthritis due to active bio-compounds such as glycosides, phytosterols, and phenolic acids found in the plant. Most research surrounding the weed's compounds have focused on anti-cancer and anti-arthritis effects.

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components found in cocklebur fruit suggests it would be useful as a skin protectant and could be used to reduce damage from UVB exposure. Recent studies have found that the fruit produces hyaluronic acid, which plays an important role in wound healing and skin recovery. Xanthium fruit also appears to enhance the production of collagen. These findings suggest these compounds would be a promising additive to cosmetic creams or would produce synergistic effects if mixed with anti-aging compounds, such as other hyaluronic acid or retinoic acid. This research is still in its infancy and compares the compounds produced by the fruit of Xanthium strumarium, or common cocklebur, from Korea and China. The research was presented at Discover BMB during the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Conference earlier this year. Early results suggest that fruit from this invasive plant could have potential in the cosmetical and pharmaceutical industries because it demonstrates wound recovery in human dermal cells, helps protect against UVB, and helps regulate collagen. The fruit also has toxic constituents, such as carboxyatractyloside which can cause liver damage. However, with further research and if the proper concentration can be determined, the fruit extracts and compounds are worth investigating.

Read the abstract: Song (Poster Presentation)



 pestle-and-mortarPestle and mortar Credit: elkfish.

Common cocklebur plant. Jan Samanek. Phytosanitary Administration. Bugwood.org 3Common cocklebur plant (Xanthium stumarium). Credit: Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Common cocklebur fruit. Jan Samanek. Phytosanitary Administration. Bugwood.org 3Common cocklebur fruit. Credit: Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration, Bugwood.org

Double Up the Double Helix

Introduced species populations can start out small and isolated which can can make finding a mate difficult, resulting in inbreeding or genetic bottlenecking. Successful invaders have overcome these reproductive challenges through some pretty incredible biological innovations, such as asexual reproduction, cloning, or rapid propagation. Invasive ants are quite successful at overcoming reproductive challenges. Typically, ants are haplodiploid, with diploid females (having two sets of chromosomes) and haploid males (having one set of chromosomes) that develop from unfertilized eggs. They have a eusocial cast system, with females that develop into either large queens that specialize in egg-laying, or small workers that forgo reproduction and care for the queen’s offspring. There are over fifteen thousand known species of ants, and over three hundred of those have established themselves outside their native habitat. With that much diversity, it is not surprising to learn that not all ants fit neatly inside the description above.

Yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) have multiple reproductive queens and create massive supercolonies, where ants travel freely between nests. Up until recently, it was believed that male yellow crazy ants were almost identical to that of the workers, who were heterozygous, meaning they had to be diploid. Diploid male ants were sterile and would impose a fitness drain on the colony. The occurrence of diploid males usually only occurred in times of inbreeding, but since this was not the case, researchers were not sure why the colony would waste resources producing diploid males. Recent research has revealed that the males were not diploid at all, but instead had two haploid cells with different compositions (dubbed R and W cells). These finding suggest that the males are actually hybrids between two separate genetic lineages, or genetic chimeras of the same two genetic stocks. This means the males have two sets of DNA that remain active. This is the first time the regular production of chimeras has been reported from a single fertilization event. Researchers suggest chimerism in these ants helps to prevent inbreeding depression and genetic bottlenecking because the hybrids are non-reproductive workers and preserve the genetic material.

Read the research: Darras et al., 2023

Anoplolepis gracilipes.Yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes). Credit: Erin Prado, AntWeb.org/CC-BY-SA-3.0

Darras et al 2023Example of how a yellow crazy ant queen produces males with two haploid cells with different compositions (R and W cells). Credit: Darras et al., 2023


Plant alternative to Plastic

Plastic waste is becoming a problem. We see it everywhere, on the side of the street, floating in water systems, in rain and snow, and now it’s in our blood and lungs (no joke). With consumerism on the rise and this being a time of production and consumption, what can we do about it? Luckily, there are hardworking scientists and researchers all over the world tirelessly trying to develop environmentally friendly alternative packaging materials.

One example is a researcher who is working to create biodegradable food packaging film out of kudzu (Pueraria sps.) vines, pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) starch, and clove bud oil. This alternative to plastic would be a welcomed help to reduce the approximant 400 million tons of plastic waste produced worldwide on a yearly basis. The food packaging, called Biopack, is designed to be used once and then biodegrade within 3-4 weeks after disposal. It is created with a bio-polymer-based film from the pearl millet starch reinforced with kudzu weed cellulose nanocrystals.

Kudzu is invasive in many parts of the world, including much of North America. The vines climb and grow quickly over just about everything, from native plants, trees, cars, houses, mailboxes, etc., and become dense thickets that smother and block out light. Pearl millet also grows throughout much of the U.S., but it has a much lower potential for ‘weediness’ and can be found as an invasive in a few places. These plants are a plentiful and renewable resource. Adding to that, Kudzu control can be difficult and expensive, therefore, it would be beneficial to utilize these plants as alternative packaging materials. Cellulose in the kudzu is an abundant natural polymer and cellulose nanocrystals have been found to reinforce starch and improve the functionality of starch-based biofilms. Experimentation of Biopack is currently ongoing. Current data reveals that after 15 days in a cold setting stored inside packaging film, food maintained its firmness and quality. According to the researcher, these findings suggest that starch-based films reinforced with kudzu cellulosic fibers and clove bud oil have the potential for commercial packaging of foods during short storage periods without affecting food quality and sensory attributes.

Read the article: Turning kudzu into biodegradable food packaging

producing food packaging film as an alternative to plastic.
Researcher may have produced food packaging film as an alternative to plastic. Credit: Clemson University.

Kudzu chocking out vegetation.
Kudzu (Pueraria sps.) chocking out native vegetation and trees. Credit: Kerry Britton, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum).
Pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum). Credit: Jeffrey Wilson, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Free Screening For Your TX Citrus

The Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri) and the Citrus Greening pathogen (Candidatus liberibacter asiaticus) are threatening citrus in multiple Texas counties, and we need your help to collect samples to monitor the spread to ensure that you and your neighbors are not affected. This pest and pathogen are extremely detrimental to Texas citrus, both economically and agriculturally. The presence of either can greatly affect citrus yield.

TISI is offering FREE diagnostic services! If you suspect your citrus has either the psyllid pest or the Citrus Greening pathogen, or you would like your citrus plants to be part of our screening survey, contact invasives@shsu.edu.

We will send you all the instruction you will need. If you are located within 200 miles of our headquarters, we can collect samples, and/or provide traps and monitoring services ourselves. Not only will we share the results and management strategies (where applicable), but you will become part of a multi-county monitoring survey that is striving to improve the health of Texas citrus!

Also Available: TISI offers educational workshops that highlight information about the Asian citrus psyllid, the pathogen Citrus Greening, and what you need to look out for in your own backyard. If you are interested in this, TISI will provide trapping materials, assist with management strategies, and more. Don’t waste another second.
Help us stop the spread!

symptoms of citrus greening. Jeffrey W. Lotz. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Bugwood.org
Symptoms of citrus greening bacterium. Credit: Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, bugwood.org

citrus greening
Leaf mottle on grapefruit, a characteristic symptom caused by citrus greening bacterium but also seen on trees infected by Spiroplasma citri. Credit: J.M. Bove.

Goats Are Back in Town

The Houston Arboretum will be bringing goats back to help mow down the overgrown vegetation and invasive species growing along a 2.5-acre area around the Wildflower Trail. The grazing goats have been brought back many times over the years because they provide a wonderful eco-friendly alternative to commercial mowing and herbicide. This agricultural alternative reduces carbon emissions from landscaping equipment and poisons added to the environment.

Starting May 4th, members of the public can come to the Arboretum to watch 150 goats in action as they interact with the ecosystem and help naturally manage the landscape. The plan is to have them tackle the tangles of vegetation and invasive species for 7 to 10 days, or until the desired acreage is cleared. The best place to get a glimpse of the goats is at the Woodway Entrance to the Arboretum, where the goats will congregate. The goats will be brought to the Arboretum by Rent-a-Ruminant Texas, a Brownwood, TX-based company that uses animals to provide landscaping services. The staff asks that visitors do not touch or feed the animals while visiting. Read the full article.

 goat eating veg
Goats eat overgrown vegetation at Houston Arboretum. Credit: Houston Chronicle Archives

Report Highlights Aquatic Invasive Species Solutions

Recommendations focus on modernizing marine fisheries laws, making strategic investments, and improving collaboration among multiple agencies.

The Aquatic Invasive Species Commission has released a new report titled, “Improving the Prevention, Eradication, Control and Mitigation of Aquatic Invasive Species.” In the report, the commission calls on Congress to modernize laws, increase spending, and improve coordination at federal, state, local, and tribal levels to combat harmful aquatic invasive species.

Founded in 2022, scientists, conservationists, anglers, boaters, business leaders, and policy experts work to assess existing mitigation efforts and identify more effective eradication solutions for invasive species in our nation’s waters. Information sharing and the development of data-driven solutions would enable the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force to spread costs and eradicate invasive species. Empowering this task force with autonomy, staff, and resources was another focus of the report. FULL ANNOUCEMENT.

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North American Invasive Species Management Association Training Webinars

This program is designed to provide the education needed for professionals and students who are managing or learning to manage invasive species. The courses include the most current invasive species identification, control, and management techniques, and how to comply with local and federal regulations.

Participants may register and enroll at any time, and will receive a certificate of invasive species management from NAISMA upon completion of the program.

All live webinars are open to the public. Recorded webinars are available to members of NAISMA.

NAISMA 2020 Webinar Schedule:

  • May 17, 1 pm- Chemical Control of Invasive Weeds: Herbicide Selectivity, Modes of Action, and the Use of Herbicides. REGISTER.
  • June 21, 1pm- Advancing International Invasive Species Prevention Efforts and Developing a Model Legal Framework for Noxious Weed Programs. REGISTER.
  • July 19, pm- Using People Powered Restoration to Manage Invasive Species in an Urban National Park. REGISTER.


A-to-Z Animals Offer Invasive Species Article

A-to-Z-Animals.com is a website with an expansive catalogue full of different fun facts and information about the world’s creatures. They have several interesting articles available that neatly categorizing invasive species found in Texas, as well as the effects they each play on native species and the ecosystem. See some of these articles below:

AZ-Animals logo 2


Invasive Spotlight:

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
(Halyomorha halys)

The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorha halys) was accidentally imported from Asia into the United States in the late 1990s, and first identified in 2001. It has the same shield shaped body characteristic as all stink bugs. The adults are approximately 15-17 mm long with a mottled brownish-grey color. The brown marmorated stink bug or BMSB has white bands on dark antennae, smooth “shoulders” (or upper thorax), and a distinct black and white banded pattern around the abdominal segments that protrude from beneath the wings. The underside of the body is white, sometimes with grey or black markings, and the legs are brown with faint white banding.

BMSB feeds on Eucommia elmoides, a small tree threatened in the wild in China, commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine. Here, however, this pest attacks a variety of fruit and ornamental trees, including peach, pear, apple, plum and mulberry. Similar to other stink bugs, the nymphs and adults have a piercing-sucking mouthpart. Stink bugs use these mouthparts in a straw-like fashion by piercing the fruit. Small necrotic spots on the fruit and leaf surfaces often result from feeding damage. Secondary infections and scarring can occur as the fruit matures.

By 2004, the stink bug was widely identified on farms and forests throughout the mid-Atlantic states, with some growers of sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, apples, and peach reporting total losses that year. The BMSB is a strong flier and highly mobile, often moving from host to host during the growing season. Over long distances, the pest can be disseminated by trade of host plants, but also by the movement of goods or vehicles. Since its introduction, this pest has rapidly spread across the United States and has been detected in Texas on multiple occasions. Pesticide is the most-commonly used method of management for the BMSB. However, a newly described species, Trissolcus halyomorphae Yang (Hymenoptera: Scelionidae) is an egg parasitoid wasp identified as the primary biological control agent responsible for the management of BMSB in northern China, but is currently not known to occur in the U.S.

For more information about the brown marmorated stink bug, see the TexasInvasives species page. If you believe you have identified a suspected BMSB, please take a picture and REPORT IT!

Halymorpha_halys__Brown_marmorated_stink_bug_helpful_diagram 2 
Brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys). Credit: Jeff Wildonger, USDA-ARS-BIIR, IDtools.org
Halymorpha halys distribution by State. Credit: Stop BMSB, stopbmsb.org


Get Involved Today!!

The Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI) and The Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies (TRIES) have many surveys and projects underway. These facilities strive to provide yearly invasive species presence and absence data to the authorities. Pre-screening is one of the first lines of defense in the war against invasives. However, sometimes it is hard to do it alone.

With the aid of the public and citizen scientists, we could cover a much wider area, and gather a more substantial amount of data. When it comes to protecting our environment, there is an opportunity for everyone! Together we can make a difference, one research project at a time.

See how you can get involved by reading the projects listed below or see all the available projects on the Texas Invasives website HERE.

Aquarium Watch: Looking for Prohibited Invasive Aquatic Species

Please help texasinvasives.org and natural habitats by looking for 14 prohibited or invasive aquatic species that might be for sale in your local aquarium store(s). With just one photo you can assist us in finding and documenting which stores are selling prohibited or invasive species. Texasinvasives.org will use this information to contact the appropriate Texas institutions to ensure the appropriate steps are taken for each case.

If you would like more information please email invasives@shsu.edu, and mention you want to assist with our Aquarium Watch.

Air Potato Survey

Help Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies conduct an air potato survey by actively reporting any infestations seen in your area. The air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is a fast growing, high climbing vine. Potato-like tubers are the primary means of reproduction for this vine. They can be as small as a marble or as large as a softball. Native yams are often confused for air potatoes. To avoid this confusion, please refer to the key below:

- Plants rhizomatous; bulbils never produced in leaf axils; petiole base never clasping the stem; Native D. villosa
- Plants tuberous; bulbils produced in leaf axils; petiole base sometimes clasping the stem; Invasive D. bulbifera

For additional information, please refer to the TexasInvasives information page.

If you believe you have identified an air potato vine, please email invasives@shsu.edu and include the following information: an image, an approximate number of vines present, the location (including whether it is on public or private land), and if bulbils are present (the potato-like tubers that emerge from the stem).

Participation opportunities
Participation Opportunities. Credit: KNKleiner, TRIES.

Armorded catfish. Photographer United States Geological Survey
Armored catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus). Credit: United States Geological Survey.

air-potato (Dioscorea bulbifera)2 bulbil. credit Karen Brown
Air-potato (Dioscorea bulbifera), bulbil emerging from leaf axil. Credit: Karen Brown.

More News

Stephenville Beauty
Members of the public in Stephenville, Tx, have facilitated an organization called ‘Keep Texas Beautiful’ (also known as ‘Keep Stephenville Beautiful’) to improve and preserve the beauty of the town. One of their missions is to reduce the introduction of invasives plants so that native species have a chance to thrive. jtacnews.com

Researchers Reveal Dynamics and Potential Mechanisms of Secondary Invasion After Control of Invasive Plant
Secondary invasion refers to the proliferation of non-target invaders following efforts to suppress or control dominant invasive targets. Phylogenetic relatedness and functional traits were used to investigate secondary invasiveness. phys.org

New Insect Released to Help Tackle Invasive Forest Species in Finger Lakes Region
The Leucotaraxis Silver Flies (Leucotaraxis argenticollis and Leucotaraxis piniperda) will be released as a biocontrol solution to combat the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), an invasive aphid-like insect that is negatively impacting North American hemlock trees. democratandchronicle.com

Saving Oranges and Lemons in Europe from Devastating Pests
A blight called citrus greening is killing oranges, lemons, and other citrus trees worldwide. Decades of research have been dedicated to management of this disease that can be spread by different invasive pests. Progress may be within reach. phys.org

The Surprising Link Between Deer, Invasive Earthworms and Tree Harvesting
Research has shown that invasive earthworm populations seem to increase with deer presence and decrease with tree harvesting. Understanding invasive earthworm populations could allow for a better understanding of their negative economic impact. twin-cities.umn.edu

Study Offers Insights into Movement of Wild Pigs
Research highlights the potential for problems that occur when invasive pigs (a.k.a. feral hogs) are relocated, often illegally for hunting. phys.org

USDA Asks Americans to Protect Plants By Looking For Invasive Pests In April
April 2023 is declared Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month (IPPDAM). IPPDAM aims to raise public awareness about the threat and how U.S. residents can help reduce the spread of invasive plant pests and diseases. usda.gov

Asian Swamp Eels Spread in The Everglades: 'Potentially the Worst Species We've Had Yet'
The presence of the invasive Asian swamp eels (Monopterus albus) have caused dangerous declines in the populations of many native Everglade species due to their voracious appetite. phys.org

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is So Big, Invasive Species Are Now Thriving on It
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is creating an opportunity for coastal species to expand beyond their native habitat. Coastal species are utilizing plastic trash as buoyant rafts which is aiding in the spread and distribution of invasive species. sciencealert.com

Biological Invasions as Costly as Natural Disasters, Study Finds
Financial losses due to invasive species amounts to losses in the billions and can be disastrous for local species, ecosystems, and human activities such as crop fortifications and infrastructure. phys.org

Sentinel Pest Network and Invaders of Texas Workshops

Invaders of Texas workshops train volunteers to detect and report invasive species as citizen scientists. Workshops, which are free, are designed to introduce participants to invasive species and the problems they cause, cover aspects of invasive species management, teach identification of local invasive plants, and train participants to report invasive plants using the TX Invaders mobile application. The workshop is 7 hours long (usually on a Saturday, but scheduling is arranged with each individual host group). The workshop satisfies Master Naturalist training requirements.

Sentinel Pest Network workshops serve to increase the awareness and early detection of a set of particularly important invasive species to help prevent their spread into Texas or their further spread within Texas. Participants learn to identify species such as the Emerald Ash Borer, Cactus Moth, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and other pests of regulatory significance, and to report them. The workshop is 3.5 hours long. The workshop satisfies Master Naturalist training requirements.

Upcoming Workshops:

May 2nd- Invasive worms are here! How to identify, report and remove with Texas Invasives.
Master Gardener Virtual Conference
registration link

May 10th- How you can prevent the spread of invasive species by Keeping Texas Beautiful
Keep Texas Beautiful webinar
registration link

May 11th- Reporting and Identifying Invasive Species in Texas
Upper Highland Lakes Nature Center
Burnet Agrilife Extension Office
Contact: Billy Hutson at theoatmealcowboy@yahoo.com

June 6th- Invasive Pests & Plant Pathogens in your area Harris County Master Gardeners
1414 Wirt Rd, Houston, TX 77055
Contact: Brandi Keller at Brandi.Keller@ag.tamu.edu

June 27th- Stop the spread of invasive species!
Keep Texas Beautiful state conference (in-person)
Galleria Westin in Houston, TX.
Registration link

CITRUS WORKSHOPS: Stay tuned for upcoming 2023 virtual weekend presentations about Citrus diseases and FREE testing we offer at Texas Invasive Species Institute.