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Fall 2020 BioBlitz for Russ Pitman Park (species count)

by Eric Duran, Head Naturalist

eduran@naturediscoverycenter.org

Twice a year, the Nature Discovery Center has a BioBlitz, one in the Spring, and one in the Fall.

A bioblitz is a chance for an organization to count as many species of living things as they possibly can in a given area.

This helps us keep an eye on how populations of plants, fungi, animals, and slime molds are doing in our park (Russ Pitman Park) from year to year, as well as how living things may be faring in the Houston area. We’ll be able to understand long term trends as the years go on, and we continue to do them, as well.

A bioblitz is also a chance for our staff to better understand what’s living here in the park, and keep a detailed list of everything that may be living here (and is observable). For our naturalists and staff, its also a lot of fun!

Asian Banded Snail with Trooping Crumblecaps

This year’s Fall 2020 BioBlitz, just ended, and we’re happy to report the count here.

The final list is compiled, and the numbers are counted. This year we set the dates to 10/9 – 10/26, giving us a little over 2 weeks, because we had very little help with observations this year (Covid-19 being the reason).

I did most of the species observations this year, but we got help from retired Senior Naturalist Mary Ann Beauchemin, Mary Spolyar from the Native Plant Society and the Gulf Coast Master Naturalists, Office Manager Pam Dunker, naturalist and teacher Debbie Lancaster, and our community of resident birdwatchers.

This year, we counted 340 species over all, which broke down like this…

ANIMALS: (139 species)

VERTEBRATES: (50 species)

INVERTEBRATES: (89 species)

FUNGI: (36 species)

SLIME MOLDS: (1 species)

PLANTS: (164 species)

There’s nothing new and exciting to report this year, but we had a very good bird list for a Fall Bioblitz, and we identified a few small insects that hadn’t been listed in the park before. We ended up having a good insect and invertebrate count, because of the warm weather. Overall, we were up from last year’s Fall Bioblitz (our first Fall Bioblitz, as a matter of fact). We had several people helping us last year, but we actually got a higher number of species! (Last year we only had 281 species.)

Let’s hope that covid is more under control for the Spring Bioblitz 2021, which will be sometime in mid-late April.

Common Green June Beetle

If you have any questions about the list, or our BioBlitzes, please contact me, Head Naturalist, Eric Duran at eduran@naturediscoverycenter.org.

Okay, so, here’s the list:

RUSS PITMAN PARK FALL 2020 BIOBLITZ (10/9 – 10/26)

ALL SPECIES: (340)

ANIMALS: (139)

VERTEBRATES: (50)

INVERTEBRATES: (89)

FUNGI: (36)

SLIME MOLDS: (1)

PLANTS: (164)

Rough Earth Snake

ANIMALS: 139 Species

Mammals: (3)

Gray Squirrel – Sciurus carolinensis

Fox Squirrel – Sciurus niger

Black Rat – Rattus rattus

Birds: (38)

Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens

Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii

Chimney Swift – Chaetura pelagica

Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis

Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata

Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus

Eastern Screech Owl – Megascops asio

White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica

Carolina Chickadee – Poecile carolinensis

American Robin – Turdus migratorius

Ovenbird – Seiurus aurocapilla

Black-bellied Whistling Duck – Dendrocygna autumnalis

Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus

American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos

Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus

Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Archilochus colibris

American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla

Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis

Empid flycatcher – family Empidae

Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottus

Eastern Wood-Peewee – Contopus virens

House Finch – Haemorhous mexicanus

Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis

Nashville Warbler – Leiothlypis ruficapilla

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea

White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius

Magnolia Warbler – Setophaga magnolia

Swainson’s Thrush – Catharus ustulatus

Black & White Warbler – Mniotilta varia

Wood Thrush – Hylocichla mustelina

Philadelphia Vireo – Vireo philadelphicus

Blue-headed Vireo – Vireo solitarius

Summer Tanager – Piranga rubra

Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata

Black-throated Green Warbler – Setophaga virens

Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus

Reptiles: (6)

Three-toed Box Turtle – Terrapene Carolina

Red-eared Slider – Trachemys scripta elegans

Green Anole – Anolis carolinensis

Cuban Brown Anole – Anolis sagrei

Ground Skink – Scincella lateralis

Rough Earth Snake – Haldea striulata

Amphibians: (2)

Gulf Coast Toad – Incilius nebulifer

Rio Grande Chirping Frog – Eleutherodactylus cystignathoides

Bony Fish: (1)

Mosquitofish – Gambusia affinis

INVERTEBRATES (Non-insects):  (17)

Mollusks: (3)

Asian Tramp Snail – Bradybaena similaris

Globular Drop – Oligyra orbiculata

Dome Snail – Ventridens sp.

Segmented Worms: (1)

Common Earthworm – Lumbricus terrestris

Flatworms: (1)

Chinese Hammerhead Planarian – Bipalium kewense

Arachnids: (8)

Wolf Spider – family Lycosidae

House Orbweaver – Metazygia sp.

Spinybacked Orbweaver – Gasteracantha cancriformis

Bifurcate Trashline Orbweaver – Allocyclosa bifurca

Tangleweb Spider – Theridion sp.

South American Hacklemesh Spider – Metaltella simony

Twin-flagged Jumping Spider – Anasaitis canosa

American House Spider – Parasteatoda tepidariorum

Crustaceans: (4)

Comm. Striped Woodlouse – Philoscia muscorum

Lawn Shrimp (Amphipod/hopper) – Talitridae

Common Pillbug – Armadillidium vulgare

Powder Blue Isopod – Porcellionides pruinosis

Horace’s Duskywing Skipper feeding on Rudbeckia hirta

INSECTS/Hexapods: (72)

Springtails: (1)

Elongate-bodied Springtail – Salina banksi

Dragonflies: (1)

Band-winged Dragonlet – Erythrodiplax umbrata

Butterflies and Moths: (19)

Monarch – Danaus plexipus

Spicebush Swallowtail – Papilio troilus

Gulf Fritillary – Agraulis vanilla

Horace’s Duskywing – Erynnis horatius

Cloudless Sulphur – Phoebis sennae

Tawny Emperor – Asterocampa clyton

Ocola Skipper – Panoquina ocola

Dun Skipper – Euphyes vestris

Clouded Skipper – Lerema accius

Common Buckeye – Junonia coenia

Painted Lady – Vanessa cardui

Bagworm moth – Psychidae

Southern Flannel Moth – Megalopyge opercularis

Fall Webworm Moth – Hyphantria cunea

Indian Meal Moth – Plodia interpunctella

Grass Moths – family Crambidae

Yellow-collared Scapemoth – Cisseps fulvicollis

Velvetbean Caterpillar Moth – Anticarsia gemmatalis

Southern Beet Webworm – Herpetogramma bipunctalis

Flies: (10)

Secondary Screwworm Fly – Cochliomyia macellaria

Goldenrod Gall Fly – Erosta solidaginis

Long-legged Fly – Condylostylus patibulatus

Long-legged fly – Condylostylus sp.

Asian Tiger Mosquito – Aedes albopicta

Oriental Latrine Fly – Chrysomya megacephala

Leaf-miner Fly – family Agromyzidae

Hoverfly – family Syrphidae

Dusky-winged Hoverfly – Ocyptamus fuscipennis

Grass Fly – Thaumatomyia sp.

Bees, Wasps, Sawflies, Ants: (20)

Eastern Carpenter Bee – ‎Xylocopa virginica

Southern Carpenter Bee – Xylocopa micans

Strand’s Carpenter bee – Xylocopa strandi

Western Honeybee – Apis mellifera

Carpenter Mimic Leafcutter Bee – Megachile xylocopoides

Carpenter Mimic Cuckoo Leafcutter Bee – Coelioxys dolichos

American Bumblebee – Bombus pensylvanicus

Carpenter Ant – Camponotus sp.

Black Crazy Ant – Paratrechina longicornis

Graceful Twig Ant – Pseudomyrmex gracilis

Paper wasp – Polistes dorsalis

Dark paper Wasp – Polistes fuscatus

Metric Paper Wasp – Polistes metricus

Yellow-legged Mud Duaber Wasp – Sceliphron caementarium

Four-toothed Mason Wasp – Monobia quadridens

Tarantual Hawk Wasp – Calopompilus maculipennis

Thread Wasted Sand Wasp – Ammophila sp.

Black Ichneumon Spiderhunter – subfamily Ichneumoninae

Gall Wasp – Andricus sp.

Southern Live Oak Stem Gall Wasp – Callirhytis quercusbatatoides

Beetles: (8)

Click Beetle – family Elateridae

Asian Ladybird Beetle – Harmonia axyridis

Ground Beetle – Carabidae

June Beetle – Phyllophaga sp.

Diaprepes Root Weevil – Diaprepes abbreviates

Metallic Flea Beetle – Altica sp.

Common Green June Beetle – Cotinis nitida

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle – Libidomera clivicollis

True Bugs: (3)

Aphids – family Aphididae

Hackberry Petiole Gall Psyllid – Pachypsylla venusta

Scissor-grinder Cicada – Neotibicen pruinosis

Cockroaches: (4)

Suriname Roach – Pycnoscelus surinamensis

American Cockroach – Periplaneta americana

Cockroach – Blatella sp.

Smoky Brown Cockroach – Periplaneta fuliginosa

Termites: (1)

Eastern Subterranean Termite – Reticulitermes flavipes

Earwigs: (1)

Yellow-legged earwig – Euborellia arcanum

Grasshoppers, Crickets, Katydids: (1)

Great Anglewing Katydid – Microcentrum rhombifolium

Lacewings: (2)

Brown Lacewing – family Hemerobiidae

Green Lacewing – Chrysopidae

Bark Lice: (1)

Tree Cattle – Cerastipsocus venosus

SLIME MOLD: (1)

Carnival Candy Slime Mold – Arcyria denudata

Perforated Ruffle Lichen (seen last year)

FUNGI: (36)

Hairy Hexagonia – Hexagonia hydnoides

False Turkey Tail – Stereum ostrea

Bracket Fungus – Ganoderma sessile

Bracket Fungus – Trametes lactinea

Hoof Fungus – Fomes fomentarius

Mustard Yellow Polypore – Fuscoparia gilva

Firerug Inkcap – Coprinellus domesticus

Turkey Tail Fungus – Trametes versicolor

Common Tarcrust – Diatrype stigma

Ceramic Parchment fungus – Xylobolus frustulatus

Splitgill Mushroom – Schizophyllum commune

Crowded Parchment Fungus – Stereum complicatum

Oak Bracket – Pseudoinonotus dryadeus

Honeycomb Bracket fungus – Favolus sp.

Trametes cubensis

Dyer’s Polypore – Phaeolus schweinitzii

Reddening Lepiota – Leucogaricus americanus

Bonnet Mushrooms – Mycena sp.

Pseudosperma rimosum

Trichoderma sp.

Red Russula – Russula sp.

Family Stophariaceae

Common Browncup – Phylloscypha phyllogena

Pore lichen – Pertusaria sp.

Rough-speckled Shield Lichen – Punctelia rudecta

Powdered Ruffle Lichen – Parmotrema hypotropum

Common Greenshield Lichen – Flavoparmelia caperata

Common Script Lichen – Graphis scripta

Whitewash Lichen – Phlyctis argena

Plyctis sp.

Sinewed Bushy Lichen – Ramalina americana

Viridothelium virens

Farinose Cartilage Lichen – Ramalina farinacea

Perforated Ruffle Lichen – Parmotrema perforatum

Mealy Rim Lichen – Lecanora strobilina

Hoary Rosete Lichen – Physcia aipolia

“Blue” Mistflower

PLANTS: (164)

There are of course way more than this number of plants in Russ Pitman Park.

The Nature Discovery Center, however, already has a rather voluminous and exhaustive plant list for the park. Thus, the naturalists who participate in our Bio-blitz do not attempt to document all or even most of the plants in the park. Participants simply noted plants they found interesting, observed fruiting or blooming, or thought may not already be on the official park list of plants.

Mosses: (2)

Unidentified moss sp.

Unidentified moss #2

Ferns: (3)

Resurrection Fern – Pleopeltis michauxiana

Japanese Climbing Fern – Lygodium japonicum

Southern Wood Fern – Dryopteris ludoviciana

Palms: (2)

Dwarf Palmetto – Sabal minor

Mexican Fan Palm –

Grasses/Sedges/Rushes: (16)

Indiangrass – Sorghastrum nutans

Eastern Gamagrass – Tripsacum dactyloides

Basketgrass – Oplismenus hirtellus

Virginia Wildrye – Elymus virginicus

Switchgrass – Panicum virgatum

Wood Oats (Inland Sea Oats) – Chasmanthium latifolium

Florida Paspalum – Paspalum floridanum

Bermuda Grass – Cynodon dactylon

Marsh Bristlegrass – Setaria parviflora

Big Bluestem – Andropogon gerardi

Hairy Crabgrass – Digitaria sanguinalis

Umbrella Papyrus – Cyperus involucratus

Cherokee Sedge – Carex cherokeensis

True sedge – Carex sp.

Deep-rooted Sedge – Cyperus enterianus

Shortleaf Spike Sedge – Cyperus brevifolius

Broadleaf Plants: (141)

Mexican Plum – Prunus mexicanus

Boxelder Maple – Acer negundo

Red Maple – Acer rubrum

Black Willow – Salix nigra

Gum Bumelia – Sideroxylon langunosum

Coralberry – Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

River Birch – Betula nigra

Sweetbay Magnolia – Magnolia virginiana

False Indigo – Amorpha fruticose

Mulberry – Morus sp.

Senna sp.

Parsley Hawthorn – Crataegus marshallii

Shummard Red Oak – Quercus shumardii

Loblolly Pine – Pinus taeda

Yaupon Holly – Ilex vomitoria

American Black Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis

Southern Magnolia – Magnolia grandiflora

Sugarberry – Celtis laevigata

Green Ash – Fraxinus pennsylvanica

Southern Arrowwood – Viburnum dentatum

Southern Live Oak – Quercus virginiana

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis

Chinese Holly – Ilex cornuta

Roughleaf Dogwood – Cornus drummondii

Eastern Redbud – Cercis canadensis

Carolina Laurelcherry – Prunus caronliniana

Loquat-leaf Oak – Quercus rysophylla

Bur Oak – Quercus macrocarpa

Bald Cypress – Taxodium distichum

Common Lantana – Lantana camara

Texas Lantana – Lantana x urticoides

American Beautyberry – Callicarpa americana

American Hornbeam – Carpinus caroliniana

Mexican Buckeye – Ungnadia speciosa

Osage Orange – Maclura pomifera

Possumhaw – Ilex decidua

Orchid Tree – Bauhinia variegata

Shining Sumac – Rhus copallinum

Pecan – Carya illinoinensis

American Elm – Ulmus americana

Groundsel Bush – Baccharis halimifolia

Southern Sugar Maple – Acer floridanum

Swamp Chestnut Oak – Quercus michauxii

American Sycamore – Platanus occidentalis

American Sweetgum – Liquidambar occidentalis

Chinese Privet – Ligustrum sinense

Ornamental Pear – Pyrus sp.

Tree Privet – Ligustrum lucidum

Willow Oak – Quercus phellos

Common Gardenia – Gardenia jasminoides

Cedar Elm – Ulmus crassifolia

Water Oak – Quercus nigra

Northern Catalpa – Catalpa speciose

Chinese Raintree – Koelrueteria elegans

American Basswood – Tilia Americana

Camphor Tree – Cinnamomum camphora

Straggler Daisy – Calyptocarpus vialis

Frogfruit – Phyla sp.

Yard Aster – Symphotrichum divaricatum

Blue Mistflower – Conoclinium coelestinum

Climbing Hempvine – Mikania scandens

Tall Goldenrod – Solidago altissima

Seaside Goldenrod – Solidago sempervirens

Giant Goldenrod – Solidago canadensis

Tievine – Ipomoea cordatotriloba

Narrowleaf Sunflower – Helianthus angustifolius

Camphorweed – Pluchea camphorata

Opposite-leaf Spotflower – Acmella repens

Spiny Chloracantha – Chloracantha spinosa

Cuban Jute – Sida rhombifolia

Chamberbitter – Phyllanthus urinaria

Leafy Elephant’s-foot – Elephantopus carolinianus

Frostweed – Verbesina virginica

Missouri Ironweed – Vernonia missurica

Mexican Primrose-willow – Ludwigia octovalvis

Three-lobed False Mallow – Malvastrum coromandelianum

Three-seeded Mercury – Acalypha sp.

Lizard’s Tail – Saururus cernuus

Buttonweed – Diodia virginiana

Obedient Plant – Physostegia virginiana

Mustang Grape – Vitis mustangensis

Muscadine Grape – Vitis rotundifolia

Brazos Pensemon – Penstemon tenuis

American Trumpetvine – Campsis radicans

Carolina Snailseed – Cocculus carolinus

Catclaw Vine – Dolichandra unguis-cati

Hairy Crabweed – Fatoua villosa

Pickerelweed – Pontederia cordata

Rattlesnake Master – Eryngium yuccifolium

Cast Iron Plant – Aspidistra elatior

Monkey grass – Lirope sp.

Shrimp Plant – Justicia brandegeeana

Mexican Ruellia – Ruellia simplex

Heavenly Bamboo – Nandina domestica

Wedelia – Sphagneticola calendulacea

Turk’s Cap – Malvaviscus arboreus

Whitemouth Dayflower – Commelina erecta

Wild Petunia – Ruellia caerula

Poison Ivy – Toxicodendron redicans

Scarlet Sage – Salvia coccinea

Virginia Creeper – Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Ball Moss – Tillandsia recurvata

Japanese Honeysuckle – Lonicera japonica

Late Boneset – Eupatorium serotinum

Saw green Briar – Smilax bona-nox

Cross Vine – Bignonia capreolata

Eastern False Aloe – Manfreda virginica

Western Ragweed – Ambrosia psilostachya

Maximillian Sunflower – Helianthus maximiliani

Tickseed Beggar’s Ticks – Bidens aristosa

Downy Lobelia – Lobelia puberula

Pepper Vine – Ampelopsis arborea

Giant Ragweed – Ambrosia trifida

Scarlet Creeper – Ipomoea hederifolia

Crow Poison – Nothoscordum bivalve

White Clover – Trifolium repens

Bladder Pod – Sesbania vesicaria

Alligatorweed – Alternathera philoxeroides

Swamp Criunum – Crinum sp.

False Daisy – Eclipta prostrata

Carolina Crane’s-bill – Geranium carolinianum

Spotted Spurge – Euphorbia maculata

Graceful Spurge – Euphorbia hypericifolia

Painted Spurge – Euphorbia heterophylla

Wisteria – Wisteria sp.

Oriental False Hawk’sbeard – Youngia japonica

Sensitive Plants – Mimosa strigillosa.

American Hog Peanut – Amphicarpaea bracteata

Greater Plantain – Plantago major

Broad-leaved Dock – Rumex obtusifolius

Mock Strawberry – Potentilla indica

Carolina Ponysfoot – Dichondra carolinensis

Southern Dewberry – Rubus trivialis

Pennsylvania Blackberry – Rubus pensilvanicus

Largeleaf Pennywort – Hydrocotyle bonariensis

Goosefoot Plant – Syngonium podophyllum

Black Snakeroot – Sanicula canidensis

Peruvian Lily – Alstroemeria aurea

Tahitian Bridalveil – Gibasis pellucida

Blue Violet – Viola sororia

Shrubby Boneset – Ageratina havanensis

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Fall Planting Season is Coming

It’s almost fall planting season! Visit these two great native plant events hosted by our partners at the Native Plant Society and the Garden Club of Houston!

Wildscapes Workshop
Saturday, September 21
8 am – 3:30 pm
Anderson-Clarke Center at Rice University
https://npsot.org/wp/houston/event-overview/wildscapes-workshop/

Bulb & Plant Mart
Thursday – Saturday, October 3 – 5
The Church of St. John the Divine
https://www.gchouston.org/bulb-plant-mart/

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2019 Spring Fling!

Despite a dreary forecast, we had over 400 people attend our annual Spring Fling! A Big Thank You to the volunteers and families who came out to enjoy the beauty of spring with us! Including the April Showers!

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New Tween Summer Camp Offered!

We are pleased to announce that kids ages 11 to 12 will have a new option for summer fun this year at the Nature Discovery Center! Our new Survivor Camp (offered August 5 – 9) is going to be an incredible opportunity for tweens to learn and test new skills in outdoor survival, from shelter building, to filtering water, finding edible plants and insects, and starting a fire without a match or cooking with the sun. This camp is all about finding out if you have what it takes to survive alone in the woods and learning new strategies to ensure that you can! Advance registration is required. You can register your tween online here.

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Nature Discovery Center Welcomes Bethany Foshée as New Executive Director

Bethany Foshée, an avid birder and naturalist, a driven educator, and a devoted conservationist, has spent her entire adult life preparing to be the director of a nature center, a passion she hoped to eventually pursue. Today, Tuesday, January 29, 2019, the Nature Discovery Center will welcome her as their new Executive Director. Foshée brings with her 20 years of experience in animal care, environmental education, volunteer and community outreach programs, and project management. Foshée has spent the last 5.5 years as Edith L. Moore Sanctuary Manager for the Houston Audubon Society, and has spent the past 11 years as the Director of the Houston Audubon Docent Guild. Before her time with Houston Audubon, Foshée worked locally with YES Prep Public Schools, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Memorial Park Conservancy, and the Houston Zoo.

“We are thrilled to have Bethany join the Nature Discovery Center team,” said Nature Discovery Center Board President Jennifer Nelsen. “Her breadth of experience, from grant writing to maintenance of facilities and grounds, from direction of environmental education programs to volunteer coordination and the development of community partnerships, make her uniquely qualified to lead and support the team in igniting lifelong curiosity, understanding, and respect for nature through education.”

As our world becomes increasingly urbanized and our climate increasingly imperiled, reconnecting people with nature is more imperative than ever. Foshée believes that by delivering meaningful outdoor recreation and interpretive opportunities, and by reminding people of the joy that can only be found in nature, we can engage our community in ways that foster a true appreciation for protecting our natural spaces.

Foshée’s passion for providing all people with the opportunity to connect with nature grew from her own childhood discoveries. “Growing up in the urban complex of Houston, my earliest experiences in nature included exploring our city’s channeled bayous, vacant lots and utility easements. While these settings might not sound picturesque or even truly ‘natural,’ they informed me of one powerful lesson: we are part of nature. ” When asked about her new role as Executive Director of the Nature Discovery Center, Foshée said “The Center offers families and children a chance to be present… present to nature around them and to each other… vital joys in life that are often lacking in our modern, urban lives. I am humbled and excited to join the NDC team to continue our great work together.”

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Worms working at the Nature Discovery Center

Under my desk at the Nature Discovery Center, I keep a tub full of thousands of red wiggler earthworms. The worms are fun and they are also hard at work eating our food scraps like coffee grounds and banana peels.

Worm Composting (Vermicomposting) is easy, good for the Earth, good for your plants, and fun. Worm composting allows you to responsibly dispose of your vegetable food scraps while at the same time creating a nutrient-rich compost that you can use on your indoor or outdoor plants to make them healthier.

Overview of Worm Composting

Worm composting is a form of composting in which you feed your veggie kitchen waste to a specific type of earthworm known as red wigglers (scientific name is Eisenia Fetida). Vermicompost (worm poop) is better for plants than almost any other type of compost. Composting worms have three jobs: eat, poop, and make babies.

Worm Composting Container

Almost any container can be used as a worm bin. Worms breathe air through their skin, so air holes are very important. The simplest bin to use when getting started is a plastic storage tote or tub. You will need to drill holes in the sides so that the worms can get air. The composting worms won’t go out the holes because they don’t want to leave the nice comfy home that you have made for them. In fact, if they do leave, they will die without moisturebedding, and food.

What Type of Worms are Used in Worm Composting?

Red Wigglers are the most widely used composting worms. These worms are used because they eat A LOT (up to half their weight every day!), tolerate being dug through, and are easy to keep contained indoors or out. Red wigglers can be purchased online and mailed to you. Red Wigglers can be found in nature in leaf litter or under logs but gathering your own to start a worm composting bin is very difficult.

Bedding for your Worm Compost Bin

Your red wiggler worms need bedding to live in. Think of the worm bedding as their furniture. Any carbon source can be used as worm bin bedding. For example, leaves, shredded office paper, shredded cardboard, and shredded newsprint (no glossy paper) all work well. The bedding must be moist at all times.

Moisture Level of your Worm Bin

Red Wigglers need a moist environment to live. The easiest way to provide moisture is to soak the bedding material in water before adding it to the bin during the set-up process. The ideal moisture level is like a damp sponge. The bedding should feel moist, but when you squeeze it, no water should drip out. You should never have standing water in the bottom of your bin.

Feeding Your Composting Worms

You can feed your worms any vegetable scraps including egg shells and coffee grounds (if you use a paper coffee filter, throw that in too!). You can also feed your worms lint from your clothes dryer and paper towels (use only paper towels that were used to clean up drink spills and do not have cleaning solution on them). Don’t feed them meet, eggs, butter, or oil. They also don’t do well with bread or cheese. Be careful not to overfeed your red wigglers as this can attract fruit flies and other pests because the red worms won’t be able to eat the food scraps fast enough. Here at the Nature Discovery Center, we feed our composting worms coffee grounds from the kitchen and Mr. Eric’s banana peel from his breakfast.

Harvesting the Worm Compost

You won’t harvest for the first time for at least 6 months, after that you can harvest more frequently. When it is time to harvest, simply dig down to the bottom of the worm bin and pull out a handful of worm castings (poop). This can be added directly to your soil with the worms included or you can pick out the worms and add them back to your bin.

I love teaching people worm composting so much that I started a website about it. Check it out if you are ready to begin your wiggly journey (www.wormcompostinghq.com) and soon you will proudly say “I’ve got worms!”.

By Henry Owen, Executive Director

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Leadership Change at the Nature Discovery Center

November will be my last month serving as Executive Director of the Nature Discovery Center. I have accepted the position of Executive Director of John Knox Ranch, a summer camp and retreat center near Wimberley, TX.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have served the Nature Discovery Center over the last four years. I am immensely proud of the great work that our team accomplished and the thousands of lives we helped connect to nature. Success is not possible without a community of people pulling in the same direction. Thank you to the staff and board of the Nature Discovery Center; our members, supporters, and visitors; the City of Bellaire residents and staff; and all our partner organizations across greater Houston.

The Nature Discovery Center is a unique place where kids and adults have a much-needed place to see migratory birds, watch butterflies, enjoy native wildflowers, and catch tadpoles. The mission: to ignite lifelong curiosity, understanding, and respect for nature through education is as relevant today as it has ever been.

The future of the organization is bright. I look forward to following the story as it unfolds. I am so grateful for the impact the Nature Discovery Center and its people have had on my life and that of my family. It was a pleasure to serve with you.

Go play outside!

Henry Owen
Executive Director
Nature Discovery Center

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Back to School Calendars: Scheduling Time for Nature

It’s that time again, time to update your calendars with your child’s schoolyear commitments, whether they be music lessons, sports practices, afterschool art or robotics programs. Our children are busier than ever! As you work on penciling it all in, consider scheduling time for nature. Exposure to the natural world plays a critical role in child development and acts as an important de-stressor (www.texaschildreninnature.org/resources/research) but yet is often overlooked as we commit our children to other activities.

What does scheduling time for nature look like? What does it mean to commit to nature for an hour or so once or twice a week? For every family and every child this commitment may look different. The specifics may change from week to week as you and your children dabble and explore abundant opportunities to get outdoors around Houston and learn what catches your interest. What is important is that spending time in nature or appreciating the natural world becomes a priority as we fill our children’s (and family) calendars. Penciling in time for nature and treating it as a commitment just as we would soccer or drama or coding classes will not only benefit our children’s development, and reduce their stress, but it will also ensure that they grow up understanding, respecting, valuing, and hopefully protecting the natural world.

So, what are the possibilities? Here are some ways we suggest your child, or even your whole family together, might commit to nature:

  • Signing up for structured classes or scheduled programs at a local nature center. The Nature Discovery Center offers Curious Kids for preschoolers and Junior Scientists for elementary aged students.
  • Spending time outside at a nature park – playing, exploring, observing. Russ Pitman Park offers shady trails, ponds, a nature play area, interpretive signage and has abundant local wildlife. Try taking informal “field trips” to other area nature parks like Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, the Houston Arboretum, Jesse Jones Park and Nature Center, or Brazos Bend State Park and the George Observatory.
  • Volunteering for neighborhood or park clean-up with an organization or simply picking up trash as a family.
  • Participating in citizen science and making valuable contributions to science by observing and recording local bees, butterflies, birds, or plants via a free SciStarter.com account.
  • Gardening together in your own yard or in a community garden.
  • Getting a little dirty with messy outdoor nature play. The sandbox and loose parts play materials in the Nature Play Area in Russ Pitman Park offer great opportunities to get a little dirty!
  • Hiking or bike riding on local trails. The Newcastle Trail is a nice, wide trail for family bike rides. With the new bike pump and repair station and bike racks, Russ Pitman Park makes a great pitstop for bike riders of all ages. The Bayou Greenways trail projects along Brays Bayou and White Oak Bayou are also worth exploring and may provide glimpses of our urban wildlife.
  • Trying out geocaching (geocaching.com) as a family. It’s like a scavenger hunt that the whole world is always playing (in secret).
  • Requesting a behind the scenes tour of a local recycling center or wildlife rehabilitation facility. The Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Wildlife Center of Texas have a wealth of experience caring for orphaned and injured animals and can offer great advice about what you can do if you encounter wildlife that may be in distress.
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Venomous Snakes in Houston

First of all, there’s really nothing to be afraid of. Venomous snakes in the Houston area are not as dangerous as people think they are. Keep calm. Now, I’m not saying you should go pick up a venomous snake, and kiss it on the lips, but they’re really not that aggressive. Venomous snakes get a bad rap. Very few people actually die in the U.S. from snakebite. The best ways to deal with venomous snakes, is to give them their distance (when you can) and to educate yourself about the common species of local venomous snake.

The most potently venomous snake in our area is the Texas Coral Snake, which is in the cobra family. Sounds scary, right? You definitely shouldn’t touch one, but they are shy snakes, that prefer to hide out under rocks and logs, in rodent burrows, and will flee, rather than hiss or strike, when surprised. Texas coral snakes have a distinctive red-yellow-black color pattern, which could also be described as alternating red and black sections separated by “gold rings.” They are thin snakes, that are usually only 2 – 2.5 feet long. These beautiful little reptiles eat mostly other snakes and small lizards, and they spend most of their time underground.

Southern Copperheads are most likely to be found in areas with trees. They can be very well camouflaged on forest floors covered in leaf litter. They are also rather shy snakes, have relatively milder venom than other area venomous snakes, and are not usually likely to bite. As with all venomous snakes though, give them some distance. Compared to other venomous snakes, they have an unusually wide variety of prey items, including: rodents, frogs, fish, lizards, birds, and large insects. Unlike coral snakes and most non-venomous snakes, Copperheads have elliptical “cat-like” pupils and heat sensing pits located between the eye and the nostril on each side of the head.

The aquatic Cottonmouth, which is also a pit-viper, also has the heat pit and slit-like pupils. The Cottonmouth is strongly venomous, and has a bad reputation for being aggressive, but recent scientific studies into their behavior has shown that they are actually not that likely to bite when encountered. Their fearsome hissing gaping mouth display, and occasional habit of fleeing in the direction of someone who has cornered them, have led many to believe that they are more aggressive than they actually are. Cottonmouths are almost always found in or near water. They sometimes climb onto low branches to sun themselves and keep an eye out for prey in the water below.  They prefer to feed on frogs and fish, but they are one of the few snakes that will scavenge various dead animals, as well.

Venomous snakes are rightfully a source of fear and fascination. They’re helpful predators that keep rodent populations in check, and are therefore an integral part of local eco-systems. Also, they’re not usually that dangerous if given a respectful distance. However, if you should be bitten by a venomous snake, don’t attempt any home treatments, just get to a hospital as quickly and calmly as possible. Do not kill the snake. If you’d like to learn more about them, visit the nature center and talk to one of our naturalists.

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Frogs in Your Backyard

The warm weather of summer brings out all kinds of creatures that had remained hidden during the cooler months. One such group of animals, that has recently become active, are frogs. A lot of people think that you need to visit a pond or a stream or a marsh to see frogs, but they are right here, all around Houston. We can see many species of frog right in our own backyards. Let’s have a look at a few species that are most commonly encountered.

The Gulf Coast Toad is the most common frog found in yards around the Houston area. As with most toads, they are primarily terrestrial, only heading to bodies of water and rain puddles to drink, mate, and lay eggs. They have bumpy skin, but those bumps aren’t warts, not like the kind that we get on our hands or feet (those are caused by a virus passed between people). Toads do have, however, poison glands on the sides of the head which produce a milky toxin, that helps protect them from predators. After heavy rains, listen for a loud trill call from ditches, ponds, and wetlands.

The Green Treefrog, despite its name, is found in wet areas away from trees, even in gardens on the sides of houses. This large bright green, waxy looking tree frog, is active on warm summer nights, when it can sometimes be heard making a loud nasal KWAK KWAK KWAK call. In wetlands, the chorus of dozens and dozens of males may be deafening. As with that vast majority of frogs, it is the males that call, to attract females to mate. Also, as with most frogs, they require standing water to lay their eggs. There is a similar small treefrog that can be either green or brown, called the squirrel treefrog, that you may encounter around your house as well.

Rio Grande Valley Chirping Frogs were introduced into the Houston area accidentally in potted plants brought up from the Valley. The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is the Northernmost extent of their native range, the area around Brownsville and Harlingen. Chirping frogs do not require standing water to lay their eggs, so they lay them in moist soil.  Their offspring go through the tadpole stage inside of the egg. Basically, the conditions in the soil of a potted plant, and in the leaf litter of your garden are ideal. Though you may not see these tiny frogs often, you will hear them squeaking and chirping after rains, next to your home.

If you want to encourage some of these frogs to live in your yard, you need to make your yard and garden a good habitat for them. Try not to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Make sure to leave leaf litter under bushes and other plants. Try to have a variety of native plants that will attract tasty insects. If you have space for it, try to have a small pond that frogs can soak in.

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