October 2023
Congrats Conservation Canines

Humans and canines have worked side by side for ages. Historical ledgers dating back thousands of years show us utilizing their prowess as service dogs, companions in war and hunting, or as protectors. The concept of training dogs for police work dates to the 14th century, and the first record of using cadaver dogs is in the 1800s. However, the idea of using canines for conservation is a more resent occurrence. Other than a single attempt made by a man and his dog in 1895 (a great-sad story), most canine conservation training did not take off until 1975. These new trained and certified canines are called Detection Dogs.

If you combine the intelligence, eagerness to please, motivation to work, and amazingly sensitive canine olfactory sense, there is almost no end to what these amazing animals can do. Detection Dogs are being trained to not only sniff out drugs, or preform search and rescue, but also find leaking sewer or gas lines, search for endangered species, locate dead bat and bird bodies killed by wind turbines, find heavy metals underneath shorelines, and locate the prion disease that causes chronic wasting disease in deer, just to name a few examples.

A growing use for Detection Dogs is to locate invasive species, and this has proven quite successful. Working Dogs for Conservation, for example, has trained dogs to find Chinese bush clover (Lespedeza cuneata) in Iowa, yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) in Colorado, rosy wolf snails (Euglandina rosea) in Hawaii, brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis) in Guam, and logs infested emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) eggs throughout the U.S.

A little closer to home, there is a team of researchers working with dogs adopted from the Haven Animal Care Shelter, to explore the boundaries of the canine olfactory sense. They believe we have not fully recognized the limits of canine scent receptors and recognition capabilities. In part of the agricultural research complex at Texas Tech University, outside Lubbock, is the Canine Olfaction Research and Education Laboratory. Here is where the research happens. Experiments introduce the dogs to a wide variety of smells, such as ammonium nitrate (a bomb-making ingredient), amyl acetate (banana), and various invasive species odors. Every semester, eight dogs are adopted and housed at the lab where researchers study their physiology and participate in training exercises or scent experiments. These dogs will be trained to sniff out invasive species, environmental pests, and hazardous pollutants. At the end of each semester, most dogs are adopted out to families that are taught how to keep up their training. The Detection Dogs from this program have been trained to sniff out invasive zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), the egg masses of spotted lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula), powdery mildew, the fungal disease that attacks grape plants and decimates vineyards, and crude oil spills under Tx beaches. The success rate they have seen during training has been well received. For example, dogs found spotted lanternfly egg masses hidden in wooden pellets with a 95-99% success rate.

Through collaboration efforts with Virginia Tech University, researchers were also able to teach 150 volunteers how to replicate detection training. This allowed pet owners a chance for their own dogs to participate in the conservation effort. So far, half of the volunteer pups have completed their initial Detection Dog certification. Researchers and trainees stress that the dog’s health always comes before all else, and dogs are trained with positive reinforcement (i.e. lots of treats).

Read the Article. Visit the Canine Olfaction Lab.



 molossian-war-dogThe Molossian dog (Canis Molossus) was the primary war dog bred for combat by the Greeks and Romans. Credit: Famous dogs in history, Diana C. Cooper.

dog turning wheel for fire spitA turnspit dog at work in a wooden cooking wheel (against back wall) in an inn at Newcastle, Carmarthen, Wales, in 1869. Credit: Ann Ronan Pictures, Print Collector, Getty Images.

wd4c_detection dog sniffing out zebra musselsDetection Dog from Working Dogs for Conservation sniffing out zebra mussels. Credit: wd4c.

Detection-Dogs copyCharlie completing a detection trial for powdery mildew at Texas Tech’s Canine Olfaction Lab. Credit: Christopher Collins.


Think About Your Campfire Fuel

It’s that time of year again. The weather is finally cooling down, the Texas Renaissance Festival, fall festivals, and Halloween fairs are in full swing. With cool weather often comes campfires.

Forest authorities would like to kindly remind Texans against transporting firewood to prevent the spread of invasive insects and pests. Many tree-killing invasives live and breed in firewood. Many of these do not travel extreme distances alone, which has left authorities to believe they are receiving help from humans who transport them in wood without realizing it. Emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) and redbay ambrosia beetles (Xyleborus glabratus) are examples of invasive pests that have caused devastating damage to many forests throughout Texas, and who’s spread was aided by the movement of firewood.

These invasive insects can be unknowingly transported in healthy-looking wood, or seasoned, old wood. New wood can also contain insect eggs or fungal spores, which could start a new infestation when brought to a new area. For example, redbay ambrosia beetles are a known vector for a fungus called Raffaelea lauricola, also known as laurel wilt. This fungus can cause a tree to wilt and die in a matter of weeks or months. Oak wilt is another fungus that can spread this way and be detrimental to forests.

The best way to prevent accidental spread is to burn wood near where it came from, buy it near where you burn it, or pick it up instead of transporting it. Do not transport firewood across county lines. Some counties have quarantines in effect to assist with this, others are relying on each of us to do our part. If you have extra wood when you’re packing up, leave it for the next person. They will be grateful. Don’t transport it back home. Maybe next time you go camping, there will be firewood waiting for you.

For more information, visit: dontmovefirewood.org

campingDMF2-768x644 copy
Dear camper, protect the places you love when you go camping. Credit: dontmovefirewood.org

dont move firewood
Texas A&M Forest Service urges Texans against transporting firewood to prevent the spread of invasive insects that threaten our forests and ecosystems. Credit: KAUZ Digital Media Team.

Bubble, Bubble, Poison, and Trouble

There are over 3 million feral hogs (Sus serofa) in Texas that cause $500 million in property and crop damage every year. People are trapping them and hunting them with dogs and guns, and now people are charging for helicopter hunting executions. It’s like chipping away at a very frustrating iceberg that keeps spreading and breeding. However, a rather controversial toxicant is back in Texas and up for review by Texas authorities as a poison control for feral hogs.

The ‘new’ tool that has all the buzz on the boar battle fields is a warfarin-based toxicant. In 2017, a company that produced the only EPA approved pesticide, called Kaput (whose active ingredient is warfarin), was going to request approval for use in Texas. Before the Texas Department of Agriculture could vote, the company withdrew their request because they were under threat of many legal battles (I will not go into this whole story). To summarize the events, regardless of the withdrawal, the Ag. Department continued with the public hearing and voted that additional state agency or university research would be required before any lethal pesticides would be considered on wild pigs. At this time there was quite a lot that remained unknown about warfarin-based products and the public was worried about both the environmental and human effects it could have.

Fast forward many years. Various testing since then has been done on warfarin-based toxicants, including a two-year study conducted by the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management and Texas Wildlife Services. Through-out the study, researchers found that when mixed with food, a very low warfarin dose (0.0005%) was quite successful at culling wild hogs. However, in order for this toxicant to be efficient, the researchers found it was absolutely crucial of two things: A) the protocol was followed, B) the hogs were not scared away during the process (through shooting, etc.). To use the warfarin, hog-specific feeders are necessary to ensure non-targets are not poisoned and to train the hogs to return regularly to the feeders. To habitualise the hogs, non-poisoned feed needs to be offered over several weeks before the toxicant is offered. Warfarin-based products interfere with blood clotting by inhibiting vitamin K dependent clotting factors, essentially causing the feral pigs that consume it to die of internal bleeding. Research has shown this takes an average of 7 or 8 days. At varying concentrations, warfarin is also used as a pesticide, most commonly as a rat-poison, and as a blood thinner in humans. Once the hogs are dead, it is best to bury them so carrion cannot get access to them. Research suggests that the risk to birds and other carrion feeders is limited because of warfarin’s short half-life, but depending on the studies and the EPA reports, results very.

Failing to follow the protocol or the failure to keep feeders functioning properly can result in the increase risk to non-target animals, increase risk of over poisoning or increased risk to human health. Researchers have also noted that regardless of protocol diligence, there is an increased risk to javelins, bears, and other large vertebrates that could gain access to feeders. Additional research has beed recommended concluding studies to insure the safest methods. Warfarin requires a very small amount and can be quite toxic if not handled carefully.

Other population control methods or health options that have been presented by researchers are infertility or birthcontrol injections that would help curb the population, and vaccinations against the diseases that feral pigs carry. Some researchers believe the best option is a combination tactics; using poisons/feed mix administered by a professional on small populations, and vaccines and infertility injections on larger populations, while putting a stop to helicopter shooting with the belief it is causing populations to scatter farther, faster. Who knows whose method is the best. As for the warfarin-based toxicant, Texas authorities will decide and let us know.

Read the ArticleEPA release for Feral Hog Bait, 
or the research: Poche et al., 2019

hog feeder
Hog Stopper™ feeder with 7.7 kg guillotine doors. Credit: Poche et al., 2018.

hog feeder 2
Brower®commercial feeders with 4.5-kg steel bars attached to doors. Credit: Poche et al., 2018.

internal organs blue due to warferin 2
Internal fat and organs stained bright blue due to a fat-soluble dye in the warfarin-based toxicant called Keystone Blue. Dye is used to indicate the hog has ingested poison to deter human consumption. Credit: Poche et al., 2019

Raccoons opening commercial feeder doors with 4.5 kg weights attached. Credit: Poche et al., 2018.

Citrus In Your Backyard!

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 instructions 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.

Texas Oyster Season Opens Nov. 1

In an effort to protect and restore oyster reefs showing signs of environmental stress, many shellfish harvest areas will be closed to fishing at the beginning of this season. Texas commercial and recreational public oyster harvest season opens Nov. 1 and closes April 30, 2024. Oyster season will allow commercial oystering to work some reefs, while allowing others reefs and natural oyster beds time to recover. Some areas will remain open, but will be monitored throughout the season to insure the oyster beds maintain a relatively high abundance of legal-sized oysters. Natural oyster beds provide both a beneficial purpose both commercially and economically. To read TPWD press release and see closed and open waterways, click here.


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:

  • November 15, 1pm CDT- Decades-Long Partnership Successfully Eradicates Destructive Nutria Rodents from Maryland. REGISTER.
  • December 20, 1pm CDT- The Dilemma for Control of Invasive Species: Incorrect Terms Limit Our Capacity to Respond. REGISTER.




Favorite Season for Fire Ants

Red imported fire ants (RIFA, Solenopsis invicta) love the fall. They love the cool weather, the and rain, and how nice it all makes your yard green, grassy, and lush. But why do RIFA seem impossible to get rid of?

To successfully eliminate all RIFAs in your yard you must kill the queen. That is easier said than done. RIFA mounds can be up to 3 feet deep and branch for several feet in either direction. There is a lot of activity underground that we can’t see, with workers of various sizes and a mature colony growing to a count of 500,000 individuals. Also, RIFA has the unique ability to be either polygyny (many queens) or monogyny (one queen). When a polygyny mound is disturbed, budding can occur, which is when one or more queens take some workers and relocate to form one or many colonies nearby (these make up a supercolony). Now you are trying to hit a moving target. Targeting workers is only temporarily effective, as a queen can rebuild a colony in a few weeks. And what happens if part of the relocated colony is on someone else’s property? To make things even more frustrating, successfully treated RIFA colonies can be re-infested by colonies or queens migrating in from other areas. Fortunately, there are some management options.

A few tricks to reduce RIFA infestations:

-Pour boiling hot water into fire ant mounds.
-Spray mounds with citrus oil: water solution.
-Eliminate leaky pipes or faucets.
-Clean up trash or clutter outside the house.
-Clean animal feces in and around your yard.
*Many spray repellents result in colony dispersal; fire ant bait seems to work better.

Read more here.



pouring boiling water on RIFA 2Pouring hot water into a fire ant colony that has been opened by piercing subterranean chambers with a stick. Credit: Tschinkel and King, 2007.

Invasive Spotlight:

Ghost Ant
(Tapinoma melanocephalum)

Ghost ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum), also known as corpse ants, are extremely small, measuring between 1.3 to 1.5 mm long. Where other ant species have a variety of worker sizes, the ghost ant is monomorphic (one-sized). The head and thorax are a deep brown with an opaque or milky white gaster (large part of abdomen) and legs. The petiole (skinny ant waist) is extremely reduced and can only be seen under the microscope. Ghost ants lack a stinger. Their small size and pale color can make workers difficult to see. These ants can be mistaken for other small invertebrates on casual inspection, especially when they run in quick, erratic movements. Workers can emit an acrid, coconut-like odor when crushed. This pungent odor resulted in one of their names, corpse ant.

Ghost ants are highly adaptable and like many other invasives, they can re-distribute themselves quickly and easily. These ants establish polygyny (multiple queen) colonies that become so large that they overlap with each other, which lead to enormous nest sites consisting of thousands to millions of individuals. These invasives compete with native ant species for resources. Ghost ants are so good at out competing local species and explosive expansion that it can lead to not only a reduction in local ant diversity, but also a reduction in other local fauna.

The pupal, larvae, and eggs are white and typical to those of other ants. These ants feed on honeydew, as well as dead and living insects. Workers are known to tend honeydew-excreting insects. They can nest indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, they prefer disturbed areas, tufts of dead grass that occasionally gets water, plant stem, and cavities beneath detritus or debris. Indoors, ants like to build colonies in-between wall void spaces, between cabinets and baseboards, which can make them common house pests.

Ghost ants are a warm weather species, with breeding populations established in Texas. Due to its small size, an expert and a microscope will be required for official identification. For more information about the ghost ant, click here. If you believe you have an infestation of ghost ants, please take a picture and REPORT IT! to invasives@shsu.edu.

ghost ant. Sarnat. PIAkey. Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands. USDA APHIS PPQ. Bugwood.org 
Ghost ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum). Credit: Sarnat, PIAkey, Invasive Ants of the Pacific Islands, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org
size of ghost ant. Forest and Kim Starr. Starr Environmental. Bugwood.org
Size of ghost ant. Credit: Forest and Kim Starr, Starr Environmental, Bugwood.org

ghost ant tending mealybug. Gary Alpert. Harvard University. Bugwood.org
Ghost ant tending mealybug. Credit: Gary Alpert, Harvard University, Bugwood.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.

Video Invasion

Monthly video picks about invasive species or the people that want to tell us more about them. There are some amazing citizens and professionals around the world that poke, prod, chase, dive, and investigate everything they can about these alien invaders. Jump into this cinematic rabbit hole. You never know what you may learn.

How An Invasive Snail May Save An Endangered Bird. Bizarre Beasts

The endangered snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) is one of natures pickiest eaters. However, the introduction of the invasive island, or giant, apple snail (Pomacea maculate) may allow these birds to bounce back. This might be the start of evolution in action.

Varroa Mites Are a Honeybee's 8-Legged Nightmare. Deep Look
Every year, up to half the honeybee colonies in the U.S. die. Varroa mites, an invasive bee parasite, are one of the main causes. Dive into the hive to see where the mites hiding in honeycomb cells, where they feed on a growing bee and reproduce.

3 Introduced and Invasive Species That Benefit Non-Native Ecosystems. Tsuki
Some people tend to villainize introduced and invasive species. This is often unfair as these species are merely trying to survive and it is usually our fault that they have been moved outside their native range in the first place. Here are some examples of non-native species that can benefit non-native ecosystems.

More News

Climate Catastrophe Produced Instantaneous Evolutionary Change
A form of evolution called ‘spatial sorting’ is used to describe what many invasive and native insects do after climate catastrophes, such as Hurricane Harvey. news.rice.edu

Bumble Bees Drop to Shake Off Asian Hornets
Bufftailed bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) display a remarkable behavior to shake off attacking Asian hornets (aka. yellow-legged hornets, Vespa velutina). With Asian hornets reported in the U.S. for the first time, is this behavior enough for bees to stave off hornets, and at what cost? phys.org

In Search of Butterflies, I Learned to Battle Invasive Species
A single homeowner’s journey to remove invasive species from her yard in the hopes to encourage butterflies to return. shondaland.com

Genomics Detective Work Reveals Pest Moth Travels
The fall army worm moth (Spodoptera frugiperda) is an invasive pest to agricultural crops. Analyzing the genetic markers and gene flow could provide vital information about pesticide resistance or how to slow/stop spread. phys.org

Soil Carried on Sea Freight Loaded with Dangerous Pests and Diseases
Live microorganisms, worms, seeds, insects, and various regulated biosecurity organisms were found in soil collected from the external surfaces of sea freight. blog.pensoft.net

Invasive Species Aren’t Always the Bad Guys
The disappearance of native seed dispersers has led to a 60% decline in some plants struggling to keep up with climate change. In some cases, invasive species may be the lifeline native plants need to adapt. sierraclub.org

Navy Works With Local Partners to Eradicate Invasive Species
Military and contractual divers are working together to protect the marine ecosystem in and around Pearl Harbor to stop the spread on aquatic invasive species. cpf.navy.mil

Study Combines Drones with GPS Tracking to Survey Feral Pig Abundance and Density
Aerial drone surveying was combined with GPS tracking to account for variations between data collection and environmental factors that would influence detection and population estimates of feral pigs (Sus scrofa). phys.com

Missing Shipwreck Found After 128 Years Thanks to Invasive Species of Mussels
In the process of producing a documentary about mussel species, including zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), two filmmakers accidently stumbled upon a missing shipwreck. nypost.com

Operation Launched to Halt Introduction of Invasive Species
China General Administration of Customs launched a special operation to combat the illegal introduction of invasive species after an international report highlighted the threat of spread through trade and travel. chinadaily.com

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:

Dallas County Master Gardeners Workshop
November 16th
Time: 11am
Contact: Sue Smith (suesmith261@btinternet.com)

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