Calling All Educators! Plant Heroes Educational Resources

Help protect trees from diseases and invasive pests, become a plant hero! Recently, the American Public Gardens Association launched a new online curriculum hub as part of it's Plant Heroes youth education program. 

The hub contains over fifty lesson plans related to forest health, invasive species and environmental stewardship. Lesson plans can be sorted by age, subject, skills and learning standards to assist in finding curriculum to fit the educator's needs. Plant Heroes also offers interactive learning activities, comic strips and a wide variety of field guides and activity books. 

Visit Plant Heroes lesson hub for great ideas to engage youth in the fight against invasive pests. 


Tawny Crazy Ants Found in Weslaco, Texas

The tawny crazy ant (Nylanderia fulva) was first detected in Texas in Pasadena (Harris County) in 2002.  Since then it has been positively identified in 20 Texas counties.  In 2014 the ants were found at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco, TX (Hidalgo County).

This species is originally from tropical South America and experts believe that it came to North America through the shipping industry. This invasive species is prolific and can cause damage to infrastructure by infesting and shorting out electrical units. This omnivorous ant can negatively impact wildlife by displacing native ant species and disturbing nesting birds and other small animals.

To survey the park, staff at Estero Llano Grande State Park have been placing ant baits – consisting of a hot dog slice and dollop of mint-apple jelly – in different areas within the park so that they may collect specimens and have them properly identified by the professionals at the Center for Urban & Structural Entomology at Texas A&M University. The staff at Estero Llano Grande State Park has been taking measures to reduce habitat preferred by tawny crazy ants by reducing vegetation within 10 feet of all buildings and removing and burning leaf litter and woody debris surrounding the infested buildings. Certified pest control specialists have been applying pesticides to infested buildings and there has been some reduction in abundance.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is working with biologists at University of Texas, Texas A&M University, and Sam Houston State University to develop specific measures that can be implemented on TPWD properties to combat infestations and reduce the potential for spreading. For more information on tawny crazy ants, please visit

Photo Credits: Stephanie Galla, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Invasive Spotlight:
Emerald Ash Borer
(Agrilus planipennis)

First discovered in 2002, the emerald ash borer has killed millions of ash (Fraxinus sp.) trees throughout North America. Recently, this species was found in Louisiana. Emerald ash borer was detected in Webster Parish, making Louisiana the 25th state to be affected by this notorious pest. Read more at MyArkLaMis

To prevent the spread of this beetle and other pests, do not transport firewood from one location to another. When traveling, buy local firewood where you burn it and spread the word in your community. For more information on preventing movement of pests, visit

Signs and symptoms of an emerald ash borer infestation include die back from the top of a tree, splitting bark, increased woodpecker activity and epicormic growth from the bark.  

Follow the link to learn more about emerald ash borer. If you find a suspected infestation please Report It.

More News is True to Texas!
Teaming With Wildlife: True To Texas is filling an important niche as the voice for wildlife conservation in Texas by building support for the Texas Conservation Action Plan. The coalition and the plan promotes collaboration among scientists, businesses, organizations, and land owners to create local solutions addressing the many conservation issues here in Texas.
Consider joining Teaming With Wildlife: True To Texas and add your group’s voice to the chorus of wildlife conservation support at

Wasps Help Scientists Control Carrizo Cane
Carrizo cane (Arundo donax) is goes by the nickname of water thief. It creates a thick stand that crowds out native plants can impact water levels. Scientists are studying the effects a wasp has had on invasive carrizo cane along the Rio Grande. The wasps were released in 2007 and have had a considerable impact on the carrizo cane population, giving hope to researchers that the wasp is an effective control agent. Learn more about the wasp biocontrol at KRGV.

Days Are Numbered For The Tumbleweed
The Russian thistle, or tumbleweed, has become synonymous with the Old West of Hollywood. The tumbleweed’s reign over the Southwest could be coming to an end though. The USDA is working to release a fungus that has been shown to eliminate Russian thistle in other countries. Read more tumbleweed biocontrol at KXWT.

Giant African Snails Seized in Houston
Six Giant African snails were seized by US Customs agents after a Nigerian passenger declared them. The seizure happened on February 2, at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.  The snails are a voracious invasive species and prohibited in the US. Learn more at KHOU.

Citrus Greening Quarantine Area Expanded in Texas
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has announced that, effective immediately, the citrus greening quarantine area has been expanded to include all of Willacy County. Tree tissues from the area tested positive for the disease.  Necessary safeguard measures are being implemented to ensure that this disease does not spread.  Read more about this bulletin at APHIS.

Lake Waco: Possible New Method for Battling Zebra Mussels
After finding a zebra mussel colony in September, Lake Waco officials installed a football field- sized tarp on the lake bottom in an effort to control the spread of the colony. Water samples from December 4 have tested negative for zebra mussel DNA and larvae. The tarp remains in place for now. Learn more at The Waco Tribune.

New Aphid Species Found in New Mexico
A new invasive cereal aphid was discovered in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The aphid, Sipha maydis, has shown to be a highly invasive species in Argentina. The aphid currently has no common name and was intercepted in California 2007, Georgia in 2012 and on produce entering Florida in 2011 and 2012 from California. Read more at Entomolgy Today.

Eating Invasive Species Not Necessarily the Answer
Agencies are pushing for more public participation in the control and eradication of invasive species like the lionfish. Recipes and tutorials for cleaning lionfish are not just a fad but are touted as a conservation measure, but can we cook our way out of an invasive species problem? Learn more at The Guardian.

Khapra Beetles Intercepted At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
One of the world’s most invasive insects has been found in undeclared food items brought by five different passengers. These beetles have earned their bad reputation by infecting stored foods and destroying cereals and grains. Read more about the “world’s worst invasive species” at CBS Local.

Invasive Species Education at Camp Fire Nature Festival
Commander Ben brought the Invasive Hunter Academy to the Camp Fire Nature Festival in Mueller Park. Through fun activities, Commander Ben teaches children about invasive species and the negative impact they have on ecosystems. Learn more about the Invasive Hunter Academy at Commander Ben.

Finding a Species with DNA
Timing is critical in the search for an elusive animal, whether it’s endangered or invasive. The hellbender, a giant salamander found in the Eastern US, is getting harder to find.  It’s difficult to stop zebra mussels from infesting lakes and streams before it’s too late. Often conventional methods can take a team time and yield limited results.  Tracking environmental DNA could be a promising survey method. Learn more about environmental DNA at NY Times.

The Separation of The Great Lakes and The Mighty Mississippi
On September 3, 1892, construction on the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal began and with it the Great Divide that separated the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River disappeared. Constructed to rid Chicago of its sewage, the canal now threatens to act as a highway for invasive species. With attitudes towards the Sanitary and Shipping Canal changing, can engineers stop the spread of invasive species? Read more at Reverse Engineering

White-nose Syndrome and the Disappearance of North American Bat Colonies
Roughly 5 million North American bats have died since white-nose syndrome appeared in 2006. The often overlooked insectivore is the focus of a new study. The populations of six colonies were tracked over 40 years and compared with European colonies. The results indicate that some North American colonies saw a 98% decrease in populations with some local extinction. Read more at Science Mag.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and its invasive species program, Invaders of Texas, and its online resource hub,, receive recognition this month for their dedication to defending Texas from invasive species. Read the full profile and learn more about this blog at BudgetDumpster.

Invasive Species Threaten Monarch Butterfly
Invasive swallow-worts plants, related to the common milkweed have spread across the Eastern and Midwestern United States over the last 100 years. Studies are showing that confused female monarchs are depositing eggs on these “dead end” hosts, further jeopardizing the butterfly population.  Learn more about the dangers these swallow-worts pose to the butterfly and other biological communities and how to identify these invasive plants at Monarch Joint Venture.

If you would like your invasive species event or news listed in the next iWire, please send the details to


Scientist of the Month
Damon Waitt

The team would like to announce that the Invaders of Texas project director, Dr. Damon Waitt will be leaving the University of Texas at Austin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in April. 

Damon played a pivotal role in creating the statewide partnership and citizen science program. In addition to this work, Damon serves on the Invasive Species Advisory Committee for the National Invasive Species Council and is founder of the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council. Damon's leadership earned the Wildflower Center the 2013 Outstanding Achievement in Invasive Species Outreach and Education award presented by the National Invasive Species Council. 

When asked for his favorite moments, Damon mentioned his favorites were all firsts--the first time he met Commander Ben, the first Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Conference, the first meeting of the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council, the first time the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council successfully added a new regulated species to the state noxious weed list and the first Cooperative Weed Management Area meeting in Port Aransas. 

We asked Damon for advice for new citizen scientists joining this statewide program, he stated "It is easy to get discouraged when you first learn about invasive species and start to see them everywhere. Stick with it even though the problem seems insurmountable at best. In the immortal words of Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Damon will now be the Director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, a botanical garden that is a conservation-focused garden, like the Wildflower Center. Learn more by visiting the News Observer.

We wish you the best, Damon and are excited to see you leading the botanical garden!

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

Damon Waitt and Commander Ben at the 2014 Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council Conference. Photo Credit:

Damon removing Brazilian peppertree in Port Aransas. Photo Credit: Ron Billings, Texas A&M Forest Service

Damon and high-country team members during the Guadalupe Mountains National Park vegetation accuracy assessment project in 2014. Photo Credit: Karen Clary, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Sentinel Pest Network and Invaders of Texas Species Workshops

Invaders of Texas workshops train volunteers to become citizen scientists to detect and report invasive species. Workshops include information on the Sentinel Pest Network which serves to increase the awareness of early detection of Emerald Ash Borer, Cactus Moth, Asian Longhorned Beetle and other pests of regulatory significance.

Workshops are tailored to meet the interests of your volunteer group and supplementary session examples include an introduction to the TX Invaders mobile application and the Eradicator Calculator, a feature on designed to help organize and track volunteer-based eradication efforts.

We have funding from USDA APHIS and the Texas A&M Forest Service for more workshops in the upcoming months, so schedule your free workshop, today!

Upcoming Workshops:

Saturday, February 28, 2015
Location: Texas Invasive Species Institute (Huntsville, TX)
Contact: Ashley Morgan

Saturday, March 13, 2015
Location: Jesse H Jones Park & Nature Center (Humble, TX)
Contact: Rose Holmes

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