August 2020
It's Probably Not a Murder Hornet

There's been a lot of buzz in the news about the Asian giant hornet (AGH), Vespa mandarinia, popularly dubbed the 'Murder Hornet'. The AGH are voracious hunters that preferring medium to large insects, and are a predator of the European honeybee, which could be devastating to the already-threatened western honeybee population.
See: Varroa mite, pesticide, environmental changes.

The AGH is a large bodied hornet that can grow to be 1.5 to 2 inches long. It has a large orange or yellow head, prominent eyes, and a yellow and black to brown striped abdomen, similar to a honeybee. The first confirmed U.S. report of AGH was in Washington state, December 2019.

There have been no confirmed reports of AGH in Texas. However, it does resemble some of our native Hymenopterans (wasps), including Cicada Killers, Pigeon Horntails, and Yellow Jacket Queens:

Cicada Killers can grow from 0.5 to 2 inches long; have a dull brown head with yellow patching, and a brown to black abdomen with incomplete yellow stripes. Pigeon Horntails can grow to be 1 to 1.25 inches long and have a narrow, elongated body and abdomen compared to that of the AGH. Yellow Jacket Queens can grow from 0.75 to 1 inch and have a predominantly orange abdomen with some black incomplete banding. Patterns vary by species but the bands on the abdomen will always be discontinuous compared to the AGH.

Entomologists in Washington are working with USDA APHIS in hopes to eradicate the invaders while the populations are small. Survey work is currently underway this season, with any positively identified wasp being tracked back to the hive and eradicated. The only confirmed populations of AGH thus far are in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.

Sphecius speciosus (left) and Vespa mandarinia (right). 3
Cicada Killer (Left) and Asian Giant Hornet (Right). 
Tremex columba (left) and Vespa mandarinia (right)
Pigeon Horntail (Left) and Asian Giant Hornet (Right). 
Vespula squamosa (left) and Vespa mandarinia (right).
Yellow Jacket Queen (Left) and Asian Giant Hornet (Right). 

Credit for all images: Hanna Royals, Museum Collections: Hymenoptera, USDA APHIS PPQ,

USDA Investigates Packages of Unsolicited Seeds

About two months ago, mystery seed packets started showing up in mail all over the U.S. Since then, thousands of Americans have reported receiving unsolicited seed packets from China. The USDA has been working diligently with the Chinese postal service and E-commerce companies to determine the origin of the packets and stop the shipments. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials are working with the USDA to intercept any future packages being shipped to the United States. Official USDA APHIS Reports

Seeds from two noxious weeds, water spinach and a dodder, were identified from two separate seed packages. Another single seed package contained larvae from a common leaf beetle pest. Other tests have concluded that packets contain a fairly common mixture of ornamentals, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and weeds. Officials continue to monitor the situation, as they remain concerned about the possible accidental introduction of invasive agricultural pests or diseases that could cause irrevocable damage to American crops.

At this point is believed that the mystery seeds were sent as part of a "bushing" campaign or scam, where a company ships cheap unsolicited packages and uses fake sales to improve rating in the marketplace.

Recipients are asked to not plant the seed or throw them away but to instead File a Report with USDA officials. After completing the report, you will then receive instructions on how to mail the seeds to the USDA. The USDA APHIS has collected over 900 seed packets, but this is only a fraction of the thousands of packets reported.

mystery seeds- KNK image
 Credit: Kylee N Kleiner, TRIES

Beauty or the Beast: Spotting the Native from the Invasive

The Yellow Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), nicknamed the Poor Man's Rope, is a beautiful evergreen vine and familiar Texas native that decorates many homes and gardens with its twisting limbs, dark-green foliage and fragrant yellow trumpet flowers. The Cat's Claw Vine (Dolichandra unguis-cati) is an invasive look-a-like and a rampant climber. The vine has bright yellow tubular flowers similar to those of the Yellow Jessamine and large glossy leaves. Cat's Claw vine can grow very large, and the stems can ultimately become tough and woody. Cat's Claw grows quickly, and if left unchecked it can grow to form a dense mat and smother native vegetation.

There are two simple ways to separate the Beauty from the Beast:
Leaves: Yellow Jessamine has simple leaves, with only a single blade. Cat's Claw vine has two compound leaves that are attached opposite each other on the stem with two leaflets, and a third middle tendril with three "toes" at the end that give the plant its "cat's claw" name.

Seed pods: The Yellow Jessamine seed pods grow no more than 1.5 inches long, while Cat's Claw vine pods grow between 9 to 30 inches. The pods are flat capsules similar to those of the trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans, which is in the same family.

If you think you have Cat's Claw vine growing in your yard, please see Management and Treatment Information.

Cat Claw Vine
Cat's Claw Vine (Dolichandra unguis-cati). Credit: Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental,
Cats claw leaves with clawed tendrils
Cat's Claw leaves with clawed tendrils. Credit: Photo: Sheldon Navie

Nutria Make Headlines in Fort Worth and San Antonio

Nutria, or Myocastor coypus, are large, semi-aquatic beaver-like rodents that are dark- to yellowish-brown and about 2 feet long. They have large yellow-orange incisors and a long rat-like tail. Females can have two or three litters a year with up to 15 offspring per litter. They can eat up to 3 pounds per day and feed on various types of vegetation, causing significant ecological damage. Native to South America, this species was introduced to the US by fur traders.

In Fort Worth, groups of 20+ nutria were seen running through Krauss Baker Park. It is relatively uncommon to see so many nutria out in the open. By feeding the ducks, park visitors have kept the rodents well fed and have allowed them to thrive. TPWD officials reported seeing approximately 50 nutria in the park last year. The Parks Department have captured and euthanized 31 nutria so far. Officials hope the media coverage will spread the word about the nutria problem and how feeding wildlife can cause populations to increase artificially and casue further ecosystem damage.

In San Antonio, officials continue to receive reports of nutria in Mission County Park and around Padre Park. It seems nutria have been trapped along multiple segments of the River Walk, including the Mission Reach segment, the low water crossing at Padre Park, areas near the VFW, and close to Lonestar Blvd. The San Antonio River Authority hire specialists to place traps off the trails along the banks of the San Antonio River to catch nutria. Once trapped, they are euthanized. This year fewer than 10 have been trapped in the San Antonio River; 10 in 2019, 60 in 2018, and 32 in 2017.

Nutria are euthanized according to TPWD protocol. It may seem an extreme response, but relocation is not an option and without natural predators nutria can quickly overpopulate and destabilize the ecosystem. See: Nutria

Nutria-Bugwood image
Nutria (Myocastor coypus). Credit: Royal Tyler, Pro Pest and Lawn Store,
WFAA-TV Nutria in FW Report
Nutria and ducks eating pet food left by park visitors in Fort Worth. Credit: WFAA-TV

Behind the Scenes but Never Forgotten, Special Thanks to Our Funders has received funding for 2020-2021 to keep this amazing program and website available for users like you! We would like to thank the USDA-APHIS-PPA for their grant opportunity. Their funding is helping us update, maintain the reporting database, and allow for the program to transition from the Lady bird Johnson Wildflower Center to the Texas Invasive Species Institute, located at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. We would also like to thank The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Aquatic Invasive Species section for their funding to support our Aquatic Invasive Species detection program in the Texas aquaria industry and further our Apple snail detection work. Funding from both of these departments also allows us to continue providing Invasive Species training, management and educational resources to citizens across Texas. Special Thanks!!



Apple Snail Work Day

The Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI) is working with the LaPorte Parks System to host an Apple Snail Work Day on September 10 at 9:00am, in LaPorte, TX. This day will focus on destroying Apple snail (genus Pomacea) and eggs invading their water bodies. Following TPWD Apple Snail regulations, TISI will be responsible for the removal of destroyed adult snails.

TISI logo

North American Invasive Species Management Association Training Webinars

The 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:

  • September 16 – Leaps and Bounds – How to jump over the barriers to preventing the spread of invasive species – REGISTER


Invasive Spotlight:
Asian "Jumping Worms"
Amynthas spp.)
Other names: Alabama jumpers, Asian crazy worms, snake worms

Most North American earthworms were wiped out over 10,000 years ago during a Pleistocene ice age. Forests evolved to rely on bacteria and fungi for leaf litter decomposition. Earthworm invaders arrived with the European settlers and thrived in the upper soil levels. Any surviving native earthworms remained in the deeper soil levels.

Asian jumping worms have invaded multiple states across the eastern and southeastern U.S. since the 1900s and are antive to Asia. Jumping worms prefer to live in the top few inches of soil and consume leaf litter. Most earthworms introduced from Europe are deep dwellers, that churn the soil while they move and feed.

Jumping worms are a type of earthworm in the genus Amynthas, named for the "jumping" or thrashing movement exhibited when disturbed. They have a milky or light-colored ring, or clitellum, that extends around the body. The color of the clitellum varies slightly by species, but it is always located toward the front-end of the worm. However, European earthworm (genus Lumbricus) bodies are pinkish and the clitellum is more "saddle-like", located farther back on the body. Jumping worms are 6 - 20 cm long, smooth, glossy but not slimy, and gray to brown. Jumping worms leave behind a loose, granular waste product that resembles coffee-grounds.

Jumping worms have an annual life cycle. Juveniles grow rapidly to sexual mature adults (60–90 days), then reproduce and die in the fall. They overwinter in cocoons and hatch the following spring. Jumping worms can live in densities 10x that of European earthworms. They exhibit a greater dietary flexibility, consume and process leaf litter quickly, and can outcompete other soil organisms, like millipedes. They can cover 17 acres in a single season, while the European worms grow slowly, live longer and typically only travel 30 feet per year.

Traits that make earthworms great in the garden are the same that make them detrimental to forest ecology. Experts are concerned about the high number of jumping worms and their swift consumption of leaf litter. The rapid alteration of topsoil can cause erosion and reduce the ability of the soil to absorb and hold water. Native plant germination and soil fungi ecosystems are disturbed by the pebble-like residue from Jumping worms, and leave ecosystems more susceptible to nutrient losses. Leaf litter has declined as much as 95% in some forest study areas. This could be detrimental to the insects, birds and other animals that rely on leaf litter.

Currently no viable control methods exist. The best way to "stop the spread" is preventative care:
• Be careful when moving and purchasing plants. Always check for worms.
• Only use compost or mulch that has been Heat Treated.
• Do not purchase jumping worms for fishing bait or composting.
• Clean soil and debris from tools and equipment, clothing and shoes, automobiles, etc. between use.
See: Stop the Spread, Helpful video

Jumping vs European KK vertical
 Credit: Kylee N Kleiner, TRIES
Jumping worm- granular waste KNK
 Credit: Kylee N Kleiner, TRIES
Jumping worm cocoons
 Cocoons of Amynthas agrestis (Left) and Amynthas tokioensis (Right). Credit: Marie Johnston

Zebra Mussel Watch

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has upgraded Grapevine Lake and O.H. Ivie Lake, near San Angelo, from "positive" to fully "infested". At O.H. Ivie lake, zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) were widespread and relatively abundant. An average of one invasive mussel was found per shoreline rock checked, and a fair number of larvae were found in the plankton samples taken. Zebra mussel numbers at Grapevine Lake were low and seemed localized but there is evidence of reproduction.

Park authorities remind everyone to Clean, Drain, and Dry their boat, trailer and gear to prevent spreading aquatic invasives from lake to lake. Here is how you can help Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers by appropriately cleaning your recreational gear.

mussel signal KNK
 Credit: Kylee N Kleiner, TRIES

More News

August is Open Season for Hunting Invasive Insects
Texas A&M Forest Service gets ready for a busy season. This is the time of year when many highly destructive pests are emerging in their adult form to reproduce and lay eggs. One such pest on the Forest Service's most wanted list is the emerald ash borer, or Agrilus planipennis.

Invasive Lionfish May Be a Selective Predator
The invasive lionfish, genus Pterois, has become a growing threat to the ecological balance as it has the capacity to dramatically alter marine ecosystems. To gather insight regarding its impact on reef communities, scientists evaluated the predatory behaviors and diet choices of lionfish. Their experiments revealed that most of them actively selected their prey species.

First Record of Invasive Shell-Boring Worm in the Wadden Sea Means Trouble for Oyster
In 2014, suspicions arose that the parasite worm Polydora websteri had found its way to the Wadden Sea. Researchers confirm that they have found the shell-borer in oysters near Sylt and Texel and that it has arrived in European waters.

Biodiversity May Limit Invasions: Lessons from Lizards on Panama Canal Islands
Introduced species can become invasive, damaging ecosystems and disrupting economies through unchecked population growth. Researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), are studying invading lizards on the tiny islands that dot Gatun lake. They discovered that islands with native lizard's act as another kind of reservoir, harboring the parasites that control invaders. The study provides evidence that biodiversity is better at making ecosystems more resistant to invasion.

Invasive South American Fish Known as the 'Vegetarian Piranha' Found in Tennessee
A Tennessee fisherman was quite surprised to reel in an unusual fish with human-like teeth. State officials later determined the fish was a South American pacu, Myloplus zorroi, a species related to the famously vicious piranha.

How Maths Modelling Helps Efforts to Eradicate Banana Bunchy Top Virus
Modelling the predicted movements of pervasive sap-sucking insects before they infest banana crops has the potential to become a key tactic in the fight against a devastating virus, according to new research. Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) is an aphid-transmitted banana disease that has been in Australia since 1913. Researchers have designed a model that tracked the probability of a banana plant being infected by aphids that carried the disease.

Native Hawaiian Tiger Cowries Eat Alien Invasive Species
Researchers have discovered the Hawaiian tiger cowrie, Cypraea tigris, is a voracious predator of sponges. Among preferred sponge prey is the invasive Orange Keyhole sponge (Mycale grandis) which can overgrow native coral.

Making the Most of a Tree Epidemic
A large portion of North America's 8.7 billion ash trees are now infested the emerald ash borer beetle, Agrilus planipennis. Cornel devised a plan for all the "worthless" wood.

Invasive Shrubs in Northeast US Forests Grow Leaves Earlier and Keep Them Longer
The rapid pace at which invasive shrubs infiltrate forests in the Northeastern United States makes scientists suspect they have an advantage over native shrubs. The first region-wide study of leaf timing, conducted by Penn State researchers with the help of citizen scientists, supports those suspicions.

New Study Shows Evolutionary Breakdown of 'Social' Chromosome in Fire Ants
Scientists from Queen Mary University of London have found that harmful mutations accumulating in the fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, social chromosome are causing its breakdown. The result has allowed them to become a highly invasive pest all over the world.

Plant Size and Habitat Traits Influence Cycad Susceptibility to Invasive Species
A long-term study on cycads in Guam has revealed how rapidly non-native invasive species devastated the native Cycas micronesica species and the key factors that have influenced the plant's mortality.


If you would like to highlight a successful invasive species project or nominate a special person to be highlighted in an upcoming iWire, please send the details to

Citizen Scientists Spotlight
Fond Farewell to Dr. Hans Landel

Our Citizen Spotlight for the August is Dr. Hans Landel. We would like to honor Dr. Landel for all of the hard work, care and devotion he has put into the website and citizen scientist program for the past 5 years. It is with a bittersweet tone that we must announce he will be moving on from in September. Starting as a volunteer and Citizen Scientist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Dr. Landel became the Webmaster and Director of including their Invaders of Texas Citizen Scientist Training, Sentinel Pest Network and the author of the monthly iWires we all appreciate receiving. This program has been extremely fortunate to have had the leadership and guidance of Dr. Landel from informing the public about invasive species management through workshops and presentations statewide, to coordinating invasive species removal Workdays with local, state and federal entities, and managing the ever-important reporting features on the website. His continued efforts have had a significant impact on the conservation and stewardship of Texas' natural habitats. Words cannot accurately express how truly grateful we are for all that you have done for the great state of Texas in the fight against Invasive Species. Working with you over these 5 years has been our honor, and you will be missed.



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, and teach identification of local invasive plants, and to 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:

--None scheduled--

For more information or to register to attend a free workshop, please visit the Workshop Page.