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Even our four-legged friends are curious about critters and nature. Animals have an exploratory nature, also, to discover and make new friends. Animals know by instinct which other animals are friend or foe. As you can see Sullivan (dog photographed above) doesn’t hear the howl of a wolf or coyote (their known predators in the Texas Hill Country) from the turtle. The turtle doesn’t smell like a bobcat or mountain lion (feline predators of the Texas Hill Country). Therefore, his instinct tells him it is okay to be curious and discover. Just as the fawn pictured below doesn’t receive any tell-tale signs of danger from the dove she is investigating.


Help! We’re being invaded!

Author: Minnie Eaton

Chinaberry tree. (Courtesy of Texas Forest Service @ Texas A&M)
Chinaberry tree.
(Courtesy of Texas Forest Service @ Texas A&M)

On our website, in our projects and nature bytes, we usually focus on native plants and species.  These are plants and animals that occur naturally in our ecosystem here in the Texas Hill Country.  They are well adjusted to our soils, weather, and fit in nicely within our self-sustaining ecosystem, our Texas flavoured biodiversity.

asian longhorned beetle
Asian Longhorned Beetle. (Courtesy of Michael Bohne,

Unfortunately, invaders can sneak into the mix and overwhelm our natives to a point where they cause significant damage to our ecosystem.  They can be introduced into our environment by birds carrying seeds, by strong winds, but most often it is people who bring these invaders to our shores.   They can cause damage by (example species):

  • Introducing diseases or new predators our native species are not equipped to handle (feral pigs, ash borer and longhorned beetle)
  • Competing with natives for scarce resources such as water and food, or even soil in which to put down roots, often providing no or little nutritional value to our native creatures (chinaberry tree, star-thistle and grass carp)
  • Causing changes to native habitat (giant reed and zebra mussel)
  • Causing damage through loss of crops and trees, damage to electrical systems and other economic impact (Asian long horned beetles, gypsy moths, and crazy ants)
Gypsy moth. (Courtesy of
Gypsy moth.
(Courtesy of

To learn more and to find out what each of us can do to help, we met with Justin Bush, the Plant Conservation Invasive Species Coordinator from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.    The official definition of an invasive species is one that is a non-native introduced into an ecosystem that causes economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

  • Invasive species are a form of biological pollution, that change and decrease biodiversity by threatening the survival of native plants and animals.
  • They may be introduced accidentally or on purpose, from produce, nursery stock, ships, recreational vehicles, and packing materials, pets/aquariums, and agriculture, to name a few.
  • They are spread by the elements, wildlife, flight, or by humans using ornamental plantings, erosion control, mowing, vehicles, firewood, and boats.
  • Invasive species can even damage the environment by hybridizing with native species to the point where native species are threatened with extinction.
Bastard Cabbage. (Courtesy of Mark Simmons, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)
Bastard Cabbage.
(Courtesy of Mark Simmons, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Of all the invaders, Mr. Bush named  “The Dirty Dozen”, the nine most unwanted plants and three most unwanted pests.

  1. Glossy privet
  2. Chinese tallow tree
  3. Johnson grass
  4. Tree of heaven
  5. Chinaberry tree
  6. Giant reed
  7. Malta star-thistle
  8. Common water hyacinth
  9. Bastard cabbage
  10. Cactus moth
  11. Emerald ash borer
  12. Asian longhorned beetle

With the help of the Wildflower Center, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and  other similar organizations across Texas and in cooperation with other states, they are trying to educate the public to control and even stop these invasions.  A first stop for more information about these invaders, their economic and environmental impact, and what is being done is the website for Texas Invasives.

Giant Reed. (Courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service)
Giant Reed.
(Courtesy of James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service)

Everyone can do their part, even if it’s just cleaning your sneakers or hiking boots to make sure you’re not carrying invasive seeds home from your hike or camping trip, washing down your boat or jet ski after a fun trip in a lake or river, and double checking those nursery plants before you plant them — do they really belong in Texas?

Zebra mussels. (Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife)
Zebra mussels.
(Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife)

To really roll up your sleeves and get involved, the Citizen Scientists Program provides training for those who want to actively participate.  You will learn how to detect and report invasive species, and how to collect and submit data about the what, when, where and how many to the official tracking sites.

A special thanks to Justin Bush for a most interesting conversation and a call to action for all of us!


Nature Center welcomes a new resident

prerelease owl
Ready to take flight!
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

A new member of the nature center family arrived via cardboard box and was released at dusk to fly off into the trees and establish his new home.  The screech owl is one of the smallest owls.  Its call can sound like the whinny of a horse or a deep trill.   Like other owls, they eat primarily birds and small mammals.   They live mostly in wooded areas and nest in tree cavities.    This screech owl has only one working eye.  It had been hit by a car and suffered damage to both his eye and ear on the left side of his head.

Arlene and our new owl. (Courtesy of Billy Huston)
Arlene and our new owl.
(Courtesy of Billy Hutson)

This particular screech owl came to us courtesy of Arlene Pearce and her rehabilitation work with wild birds.  Some have been hit by cars, found abandoned in their nests, attacked by family pets or even electrocuted from outdated electrical wiring.  Most come to the center thanks to concerned citizens such as yourselves.  Since 1999, she has mended countless wings, hand-fed fledglings and even raises mealworms to feed her patients.  Working closely with local Texas Parks and Wildlife rangers, veterinarians and local ranchers, she treats and releases over 100 birds each year.   In 2013, she rehabilitated and released 20 screech owls like ours.

Owl fledglings. (Courtesy of Arlene and Richard Pearce)
Owl fledglings.
(Courtesy of Arlene and Richard Pearce)

Stay tuned as we will be releasing another screech owl when the girl scouts visit next month.  We are looking forward to making Arlene and Richard’s rehabilitation work an on-going part of the nature center activities.