September 2020
The Tick, The Ant, and The Allergy

A recently published research paper investigating the epidemiology of a meat allergy called Alpha-Gal Syndrome in the United States sought additional evidence for how the allergy was connected to tick bites when they noticed an interesting. While mapping the geographic scope of the meat allergy, experts from the University of Virginia (UV) noticed the occurrence of alpha-gal cases were uncommon in areas of the gulf coast states and Texas compared to the mid-west, mid-Atlantic, and east coast. Experts surveyed 152 allergy clinics in the Lonestar tick distribution area across 44 states. Alpha-gal allergy symptoms are often severe, and sufferers will seek an allergist specialist. In an effort to investigate whether the presence of imported fire ants (IFA or Solenopsis ssp) could explain the low prevalence on alpha-gal in the south, UV researchers revisited allergy clinics in relevant IFA areas with additional questions. Individuals that suffer from IFA anaphylaxis will also seek out an allergist specialist. Focusing mainly on the southeast, they recorded an inverse relationship between IFA anaphylaxis and alpha-gal allergy cases: areas with a high number of IFA anaphylaxis cases reported a lower number of meat allergy cases. Upon further review, researches noted that the alpha-gal cases seemed to be more common in areas that had never been quarantined for imported fire ants or had been quarantined before 1975.

Correlation does not equal causation: These findings are in their infancy and it may be too early for a cause - effect relationship between the Lonestar tick and IFA. Experts are not sure why we see this inverse relationship, however, there is some speculation that IFA may prey on Lonestar ticks or are driving off/diminishing the source of the Lonestar ticks blood meals (i.e. small mammals). Since many of the examined survey sites have been established as IFA territory since 1930-1970s, there might be another explanation for what is going on.

If you would like to read the to research paper mentioned in this article: Wilson et al (2020).

lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum)
Lonestar Tick (Amblyomma americanum), Top: Ovipositing females. Credit: Jim Occi, BugPics. Bottom: Adult male. Credit: Susan Ellis, USDA-APHIS PPQ.
Wilson et al (2020) Southeast geographic distribution of alpha-gal cases vs fire ant cases 3
Southeast geographic distribution of alpha-gal cases, where the red bars indicate alpha-gal cases and the stripped bars represent the IFA anaphylaxis cases. Credit: A partial image capture of Figure 3 from Wilson et al (2020). 

What is Alpha-Gal Syndrome?

Alpha-Gal Syndrome is a rare food allergy acquired in adulthood to red meat (most commonly beef, pork, and lamb) and other mammal products that contain the oligosaccharide galactose-α-1,3-galactose. This carbohydrate is found in most mammal cells, except primates. It all starts with the bite of the Lonestar Tick (Amblyomma americanum). When the tick bites, saliva that contains alpha-gal enters the blood stream. The immune system sees the carbohydrate as a foreign body and releases IgE antibodies to fight it off. After this reaction, future introduction of alpha-gal to your body, such as the consumption of red meat, will cause an allergic reaction. There is currently no treatment other than food avoidance. The allergic reaction usually occurs 3-6 hours after reintroduction of alpha-gal and can cause hives, difficulty breathing, itching, rash, stomach cramps, and anaphylaxis.

Other hosts besides the Lonestar Tick are suspected to causing Alpha-Gal Syndrome, such as Chiggers or harvester mites. There have been documented cases of Alpha-Gal Syndrome outside the Lonestar tick distribution area in the United States as well as other parts of the world spanning 5 continents. Many of these case records go back 2 decades. Further research is being conducted to determine alternative hosts.

Click here to learn more about Alpha-Gal Syndrome.

*Experts recommend if you find a tick on you- save it in the freezer in case symptoms occur. Helpful link: CDC Tick ID.

Example of rash and hives common to Alpha-Gal Ayndrome. Credit:

Imported Fire Ants in the U.S.

Currently 2 species of invasive fire ants are established in the United States: the red imported fire ant (RIFA); Solenopsis invicta, and the black imported fire ant (BIFA); Solenopsis richteri. RIFA is the most widespread, reaching from Texas to Florida, up to Virginia, and as far as the northern Tennessee boarder. The distribution of BIFA continues to shrink as it is displaced by the RIFA in most places but has been recorded in northeast Mississippi, northwest Alabama, and some areas of southern Tennessee. In some areas of Tennessee, hybrid colonies of S. richteri and S. invicta have been reported.

The red imported fire ant is by far the more problematic of the two species, especially in Texas. RIFAs costs the United States billions of dollars annually in RIFA management expenses, medical expenses, loss due to damaged crops, veterinary bills, and loss of livestock. RIFAs can displace wildlife populations and can kill people (allergic reaction to the fire ant sting that causes anaphylaxis). RIFAs are not easily eradicated, and their biology and spread make them extremely difficult to completely eradicated in large areas using available methods. The surface mound is not the soul indicator of a thriving colony and is not necessary for the survival of the colony. The ant mound is a matrix of interconnective tunnels that can go as deep as 25 feet below ground. RIFAs have “social chromosomes” that controls whether the colony has a multi-queen or single queen colony. Experts believe this may explain why S. invicta is so easily adaptable to different environments and continues to spread north, south, and west.

Not all fire ants are invasive: Solenopsis geminata, S. xyloni, S. aurea and S. ambylchila were also introduced to the United States in the early 1930-1950s but are considered native species and are found in Texas. Solenopsis ambylchila territory is restricted to a small area in the Davis Mountains. The species most commonly mistaken for the RIFA is Solenopsis geminata. Minor workers of these two species are very difficult to tell apart without a microscope, however S. geminata has major workers with large almost square heads.

Extra Way You Can Help - If you live outside the Texas quarantine zone (See RIFA quarantine map on Right), and you believe you may have RIFA on your property, please email Kylee Kleiner at Species identifications usually cannot be made with certainty with a photograph but can be determined in the laboratory. A collected specimen is necessary and further instructions will be provided.

BIFA S. richteri lateral view
Black imported fire ant (BIFA); Solenopsis richteri. Credit:Eli Sarnat, Antkey, USDA APHIS PPQ,
 S. geminata small workers and big headed workers-  3 
Solenopsis geminata small minor workers and large square-headed major workers carrying pupa. Credit: Sanford Porter

RIFA Texas Quarantine Map- from the texas department of agriculture 4
The RIFA Texas Quarantine Map. Credit: Texas Department of Agriculture.

Fire Ants: Sting or Bite?

Fire ants (Solenopsis spp.) do a little of one and alot of the other. They hold on to your skin with their mandibles while they pierce with their stinger. They can sting multiple times, and the stinging action can be performed very slow. A small amount of venom is injected with every sting event. Fire ant venom is made up of alkaloids and toxic proteins. The type of venom and reaction to the venom is different depending on the species of Solenopsis. The sting site will swell and become painful almost immediately. A blister or pustule will form at the site of a sting over a 12-24 hour period. The pustule formation is caused by the body’s immune response to the water-insoluble piperidine alkaloids, or oily alkaloids, that makes up the majority of the venom. A sting from a native Solenopsis species will only occasionally cause a pustule as the alkaloids in their venom are less potent compared to imported or South American fire ants. Allergic reaction and anaphylaxis is caused by the immune system response to the toxic proteins in fire ant venom. All fire ant venom contains at least some toxic proteins but S. invicta venom contains more major allergic protein components compared to the native fire ant species. The primary allergen in S. invicta venom is manno-sylated N-glycan.

RIFA sting and bite- Alex Wild
Red imported fire ant (RIFA); Solenopsis invicta worker holding skin with her mandibles while performing a stinging action. Credit: Alex Wild

New Guinea Flat Worms Saddle up

The invasive New Guinea flatworm (Platydemus manokwari) continues to make headlines in Texas, most recently in San Antonio, because of its predatory threat to snails and earthworms and recently discovered wide-spread distribution. It is also known for its ability to transmit Angiostrongylus nematodes to mammals, including humans. As the name suggests, this small (1.5-2.5 inch) dark-brown flatworm was first discovered in New Guinea. This flatworm is often mistaken for a leech due to its coloration, but it does not have the segmentation or oral sucker that leeches possess. The New Guinea flatworm possesses faint striping down the back, which leeches lack.

In late 2018, TISI Expert Dr. Matthew McClure documented the flatworm on the Lamar State College-Orange campus in Orange, TX. This led to a statewide request for specimens and sighting information. Through citizen reporting and expert collections, TISI has documented the New Guinea flatworm in 23 counties from Gulf Coastal, North and Central Texas. Since the discovery of the New Guinea flatworm in Texas, TISI researchers have implemented nematode testing and increased Angiostrongylus awareness through their website,, and educational presentations.

To complete its lifecycle, Angiostrongylus nematodes requires one mammal host (primary) and one mollusk or flatworm host (secondary). When a nematode reaches their larval stage (called L3) within the secondary host, they are excreted in the host slime trails. At this stage they are infective to mammalian hosts. Due to this, TISI has focused their testing on flatworms. While not native to the United States, Rat Lungworm (Angiostrongylus cantonensis) has been found in Alabama, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Thankfully, the prevention of human-nematode transmission is very easy. Washing your hands, especially after gardening, yard work or handling mollusks, and washing garden fruits or vegetables can significantly reduce any exposure to Angiostrongylus. TISI is still actively accepting sighting information and flatworm specimens. Please email a photo and your location to Ashley Morgan-Olvera at if you believe you have found a New Guinea flatworm.

New Guinea flatworm
New Guinea flatworm (Platydemus manokwari). Credit: Estrus Tucker, TISI Citizen Reporter.
Angio-cost_LifeCycle- CDC 4
Example of an Angiostrongylus nematodes life cycle. Credit:

Goats for Hire in Houston

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center has hired a herd of 120 goats to clear 1.5 acres of overgrown vegetation around the North and South Woodway ponds this October in an effort to replace commercial mowing and herbicide use. This piolet program will test the efficacy of goats as a natural method to reduce overgrown vegetation while simultaneously removing undesirable and invasive plant species. The herd can access areas that are unsafe for workers and can’t be accessed by machines, such as the steep hillsides or the muddy, overgrown pond areas. The Houston Arboretum is looking forward to this natural management project for the Nature Center. If the piolet program is a success, they plan to invite to goats back next spring for more work in the Arboretum’s meadow and savanna ecosystems.

The goats will be brought in by Rent-A-Ruminant Texas. Most of their goats come from animal rescues or private adoptions and include several different breeds: Boer, Kiko, Savanna, Nigerian Dwarf, and Nubian.

The public is welcome to view the goats at work between October 4-10, but visitors cannot interact, touch or feed the animals. The goats will be designated to predetermined areas and contained by an electric fence and goat rangers.

Multiple Goats for Hire- Rent-A-Ruminant 2
Multiple goats eating overgrown vegetation on steep slope. Credit:

Sailboat or Floating Billboard

The Lake Champlain Basin Program in Burlington, Vermont, initiated an innovative and novel approach to inform lake visitors about aquatic invasive species. Early last year, there was a call to rtists to submit a proposal for a “Floating Art Sail” that would incorporate a message regarding aquatic invasive species in Lake Champlain. After much deliberation, a selection was made.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program will be raising public awareness every time they raise the new sail on a 420-sailing dinghy that will be sailing across the lake every season for the next three years. The sail design was created by local artist, Nikki Laxar, and incorporates multiple aquatic invasive species into a dazzling, swirling configuration, while boosting a clear message along the bottom: “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!”. The hope is the floating billboard will casue curiosity and get people to start asking questions. It will also serve as a beautiful, eye-catching reminder to stop at inspection stations and stay vigilant for aquatic hitchhikers.

Remeber to Clean, Drain, and Dry all your aqua gear: life vests, tackle box, etc. as well as your watercrafts.

Stop Aquatic Hitchhickers Sailboat-
Sailing dinghy with aquatic invasive species art sail raised. Credit:


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:

  • October 28 - North American Weed Biocontrol Summit - Biocontrol research and implementation programs from various regions across the U.S. and Canada, as well as other international collaborators– REGISTER
  • November 18 - The ABCs of Invasive Species Organizations and How They Work Together – REGISTER



Invasive Spotlight:
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
(Halyomorpha halys)

The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha 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 district 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 moveing 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. It 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 is an egg parasitoid identified as the primary biological control agent responsible for the management of BMSB in northern China, but it is currently not known to occur in the U.S.

Click to learn more: brown marmorated stink bug. If you believe you have identified a suspected BMSB, please REPORT IT.

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

BatWeek is Coming!

Bat Week, October 24-31, is an annual, international celebration of the role of bats in nature, designed to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation. I know bats are not invasive species, so why add them to an invasive species newsletter? Because Texas is chock-full of bats. Texas is not only home of the largest number of bats in the country, (32 out of 47 species) but that largest bat colony in the world (Bracken Cave Preserve near San Antonio) and the largest urban bat colony (Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin). is celebrating with virtual events for kids, teens and adults, as well as providing the public with an assortment of bat related ‘Teach and Learn’ printable materials for all ages, such as 'natural history of bats', 'batweek cookbook', 'Bat Brigade comic for kids, and more.

More Bat info-links:
Bat watching sites and Texas species. 2. TPWD Bat-Watching Sites of Texas (PDF). 3. White-nose syndrome. 4. Bat conservation

Changes on the horizon
  • As merges with Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI) there will be some changes to the appearance and overall design of the monthly iWires and website. Although the newsletter is getting a facelift, it will still be emailed and posted monthly, it will provide information on workshops, and it will report on the Texas invasive species news that you have all come to rely on and enjoy. The website will have an updated aesthetic but will still be located at and will provide you all the Invasive Species reporting functions, workshops and resources you need to successfully report and manage invasive species.

    There are many exciting changes on the horizon that will make all of the past work of Texas Invasive and future work of TISI unforgettable, like a streamlined “report it” function, virtual Citizen Scientists trainings and certifications, and a searchable iWire article database with a ‘related articles’ tag function. We will continue to alert you of changes until the site is fully launched.

    **Stay tuned for the date of the "New" website launch.**

More News

Barrasso-Sponsored Conservation Bill Passes Senate, Will Now Move to the House
The U.S. Senate advanced legislation sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso last week that would help states protect livestock from predators, create new sources of funding for addressing invasive species and establish an interstate effort to fight emerging wildlife diseases.

Invasive Tegu Lizard Spotted in Berkeley County, DNR Monitoring
An invasive Tegu lizard (Salvator merianae) has been spotted in South Carolina near Berkeley County. Environmental experts fear the reptiles could pose a threat to local habitats.

Odors Produced by Soil Microbes Attract Red Fire Ants to Safer Nest Sites
Newly mated queens of the red fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) select nest sites with a relatively low pathogen risk by detecting odors produced by soil bacteria that inhibit the growth of ant-infecting fungi, according to a new study.

Scientists Predict Potential Spread- Habitat of Invasive Asian Giant Hornet
Researchers have predicted how and where the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia), dubbed the 'murder hornet', could spread and find ideal habitat throughout the United States and globally.

Hitchhiking Seeds Pose Substantial Risk of Nonnative Plant Invasions
A team of researchers from the USDA Forest Service conducted a study to inventory nonnative plant seeds that entered the U.S. on refrigerated shipping containers to determine their viability as potential invasive species.

Monitoring River Health Using a Robotic Water Sampler
MBARI's Environmental Sample Processors used essentially robotic laboratories to monitor the health of rivers. They analyze "environmental DNA" form water samples collected and preserved from the Yellowstone and Snake Rivers. This allowed researchers to detect introduced and invasive animals as well as microbes that can cause disease in humans and fish.

International News

Invasive Shrimp-Sucking Parasite Continues Northward Pacific Expansion
Researchers have identified an invasive blood-sucking parasite, Orthione griffenis, on mud shrimp in the waters of British Columbia's Calvert Island. The discovery represents the northern-most record of the parasite on the West Coast and is likely an indication of its ability to spread without human transport.

New monitoring and reporting Framework Aim to Better Protect World Heritage Sites from Invasive Alien Species
Scientists have devised a new monitoring and reporting framework to help protect World Heritage Sites from future threats of almost 300 different invasive alien species globally, including rats (Rattus spp.), cats (Felis catus), lantana (Lantana camara) and Argentine ants (Linepithema humile).

Natural Pest Control Saving Billions
Biological control of invasive pests is saving farmers in Asia and the Pacific billions of dollars, according to new research. Biological control involved the careful release of an exotic natural enemy from a pest's native habitat.

Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Makes Unexpected 'Host Shift' to Guam's Cycad Trees
Researchers have documented a 'host shift' of the coconut rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros) in Guam. The beetle, first documented as an invasive species in Guam in 2007, has been devastating the island's ubiquitous coconut palms and is now also burrowing into Guam's endangered native cycad tree (Cycas micronesica).

Millions of Rotting Fish – Can Turtles and Crays Save Us from Carpageddon?
The Australian government plans to target invasive European carp (Cyprinus carpio) with a virus, leaving hundreds of thousands of tons of dead carp rotting on the riverbanks. Freshwater turtles (Chelidae) and crayfish (Parastacidae) may play a role in regulating water quality by scavenging fish carcasses, but are there enough scavengers to keep up?


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
Texasinvasives and TISI Welcomes Familiar Faces to New Positions

Texasinvasives and Texas Invasive Species Institute (TISI) team are joining forces. TISI focuses on early detection, rapid assessment, and rapid response to multiple invasive species that impact, or have the potential to impact, ecosystems and that produce major economic effects. TISI currently draws from the expertise of over 40 researchers across 10 campuses throughout the Texas State University System. Both teams are pleased to introduce this month’s duel Citizen Scientist Spotlight: Ashley Morgan-Olvera and Kylee Kleiner.

Ashley Morgan-Olvera has been working closely with Dr. Hans Landel for years and is very excited to take over the website and Citizen Scientist program to continue citizen stewardship and protection of our natural resources in Texas. She is the Director of the TISI located at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville, TX. She received her M.S. in Parasitology from SHSU in December 2011 and joined TISI shortly thereafter. Starting as the Survey Grant Coordinator, she has extensive experience in invasive species reporting and removal. Her position expanded to include Education and Outreach, and she developed invasive species workshops and programs for TISI to engage students and citizens of all ages over various topics including species identification and management, pollinator protection initiatives, and invasive mollusks of human health concern.

Kylee Kleiner is excited to be taking over the iWire and assisting with Citizen Scientist programs. She is a Research Scientist and Field Biologist at the Texas Research Institute for Environmental Studies (TRIES) located at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) in Huntsville, TX. TRIES is an institute that supports researchers in environmental science and provides expertise and awareness of current environmental issues to serve both the public and scientific communities. Kylee received her M.S. in Entomology from SHSU in 2018, and immediately started work in the TRIES Invertebrate lab. She has over six years of involvement in scientific field research, both inside and outside of the U.S. She has experience in invasive species survey work and invertebrate identification, histology, SEM, GIS, and museum curation. She is on year three of a collaborative research effort with DiscoveLife, and she is the graphic editor for Comparative Parasitology.

  Ashley Morgan-Olvera 3

Kylee Kleiner

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:

Thursday, October 1, 2020 (6:30-8pm)
Sentinel Pest Network workshop
Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists
Contact: Michael Petitt
(Registration Closed)

Saturday, October 31, 2020 (10am-1pm)
Sentinel Pest Network workshop
East Texas Chapter Master Naturalists
Contact: Paul Wick
(Registration Opened -Limited availability)

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