As weather warms, mosquitoes seemingly come out of the woodwork. How is it that they are always able to find you?
Mosquitoes use a highly tuned sensory system to zero in on their next blood meal. About 200 feet away, mosquitoes get the first whiffs of carbon dioxide we exhale as we enjoy a bit of gardening or a jog down the pathway. Following the plume – whether it is emitted by us, our furry companions, or a mockingbird up in the trees – brings them closer to the potential host.
Once the carbon dioxide has drawn her within sight, she is further attracted by dark colors and high-contrast patterns. Remember this the next time you reach for something to wear to the neighborhood picnic. Long, loose, light-colored clothing with a tight weave is a good first defense against the piercing mouthparts of the female mosquito. She seeks a blood meal, not to feed herself, but in pursuit of protein to make eggs. You might be surprised to know that mosquitoes drink plant nectar to fuel their bodies, and pollinate plants in the process.
When within three feet the mosquito can sense the heat signature of your body, differentiating you from say, a park bench. Investigating further, she hones in on a specific area to land using “smells” she picks up through her antennae. Lactic acid, uric acid, and ammonia in sweat, as well as the scent of fabric softeners, perfumes and colognes can all attract mosquitoes.
Mosquito repellants can employ a couple different mechanisms in your defense. One is to jam chemical signals from reaching a mosquito’s antennae. The other is to be offensive to the mosquito once she lands and can “taste” it with her feet. Repellents may use one or both mechanisms – termed primary and secondary repellency.
As we each have a unique chemical signature, try a few repellents to find the one that’s most effective for you. Look past the brand name on the front of the bottle to the bottom. There you’ll find one of the active ingredients the CDC recommends: Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, DEET, or IR3535. What works best for you might be different from your partner or kids.
The Mosquito Surveillance & Education Program of The Woodlands Township uses the mosquito’s keen sensory perception to our advantage. We use a variety of lures and baits to attract mosquitoes into traps for weekly monitoring throughout the Township. For example, the Biogents Sentinel trap uses a lure that smells a lot like stinky gym socks. It also has a high-contrast color pattern and can be made more appealing by the addition of dry ice to emit carbon dioxide. These three features mimic a human host, drawing the mosquitoes close enough to be sucked into a net by a battery-powered fan. The captured mosquitoes are collected the next morning and sent to a laboratory for identification and disease testing. Tracking changes in the number of mosquitoes caught, species present, and disease trends over time provides the foundation for mosquito control activities in The Woodlands.
Did you know a corps of knowledgeable volunteers provides education, outreach, and service to keep our local water bodies healthy through their efforts right here at home? They’re Texas Waters Specialists, certified through a unique program made possible by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in partnership with The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department. The program is open to adults as well as students in grades 9 – 12.
Classes are free and scheduled throughout the year, and the good news: you can obtain all the needed training hours right here in The Woodlands. You’ll be certified as a Texas Waters Specialist after completing just 8 hours of training based on the Texas Waters curriculum guide (provided by Environmental Services or acquired online). Adults 18 and older receive a certificate and an official pin directly from TPWD designating them as a certified waters specialist. Students under age 18, in grades 9 through 12, register with Environmental Services to report hours and receive your certificate and pin.
Sign up hereif you are interested. You will be notified of classes offered both in person and online, as well as volunteering opportunities. NOTE that Studentsshould onlyuse this link to enroll in the program administered by Environmental Services.
Adults get started by enrolling as TPWD volunteers here. Or find more detailed instructions on how to register with TPWD, by following along with this document.
There are two upcoming in-person Texas Waters Specialist (TWS) Water Labs at the Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park at 6464 Creekside Forest Drive:
Saturday, June 10 – 8:30 to 12:30pm.
Saturday, July 15 – 8:30 to 11:30am.
Additional or alternative training hours available at the Online Monthly Classes. The 2-Hour TWS Curriculum Class Sessions are on the fourth Monday of every month from 3:30-5:30pm.
Earn your certificate as a Texas Waters Specialist!
Want additional opportunities in water conservation? The Woodlands Township offers many free events, classes, and seminars for residents to learn tips on preserving our waterways like the storm drain marking program, litter cleanup with Keep Texas Beautiful, and more! Learn how to get involved on the Woodlands Township Water Conservation Page. Read all about water conservation in the Woodlands Township online library water conservation articles
Happy World Turtle Day! Help “shellebrate” this special day dedicated to raising awareness about the endangered status of turtles and tortoises by sharing the importance of these unique creatures and inspiring others help protect them.
All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. The term tortoise specifically refers to terrestrial turtles or tortoises, not aquatic turtles.
Turtles have been in existence since dinosaurs roamed the Earth about 200 million years ago.
In Finding Nemo, Crush the sea turtle says “Hundred and fifty, dude, and still young. Rock on!” It’s true, the record for oldest turtle is 190 years old! Large land tortoises and sea turtles can live to be 150 years or more.
Contrary to popular belief, only some turtles can retract their heads and tails into their shells.
What do they look like?
Aquatic turtles and tortoises have distinct characteristics to tell them apart. Tortoise’s feet are short and rounded so they can walk on land; their shells are more of a dome shape. On the contrary, aquatic turtles have webbed feet with claws, and their shells are flat. Colors and patterns vary depending on the species.
There are 356 species of turtles in the world and about 34 different species in Texas. Ones common to our area are the aquatic red-eared slider, box turtle, and common snapping turtle.
What do they eat?
Turtles eat a wide range of foods and diets differ between tortoises and sea turtles. Generally, most turtles are omnivores, eating both smaller animals and plants. Some can be fully herbivores or carnivores. Tortoises prefer small insects including caterpillars, earthworms, and snails. They also eat fruits, nuts, flowers, grasses, berries, and mushrooms. Sea turtles are usually carnivores. Sea turtles have a diet rich in jellyfish, sponges, crabs, and other small sea creatures. Some species also eat algae, coral, and seaweed.
What eats them?
Depending on where turtles live, they have many different predators. Tortoises get eaten by birds, reptiles like snakes and lizards, and mammals including dogs, raccoons, and coyotes. Some may get eaten by other turtles! Sea turtle predators include whales, dolphins, sharks, and some carnivorous fish.
Why do we need them?
Turtles are keystone species, which means that they are critical to the stability of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, many species of turtles are endangered and at risk of extinction. Worldwide, human actions drive down turtle populations due to water pollution, habitat destruction, pet trading, commercial fishing, and poaching.
Here at home you can make a difference by helping to keep existing turtle habitats free from litter. Environmental Services offers numerous waterway clean-ups and litter audits – lend a hand at our next event!
Single-use plastics like bags, water bottles, and soda caps end up in waterways and are a hazard to all aquatic life. Switching to reusable alternatives helps stop these problems at the source. There are many organizations dedicated to saving turtles that provide valuable information on what you can do to help.
Whether you’re an avid turtle lover or “turtly” on the fence, Turtle Day is a reminder that what we do matters, and we can all do something to protect these incredible creatures and their habitats.
National “Start Seeing Monarchs Day” is celebrated every year on the first Saturday in May. In 2023, May 6th is a day to educate and celebrate the Monarch Butterfly.
The Monarch was adopted as the Texas state insect in 1995, for its beauty and spectacular migration patterns. Texas is an important state for Monarch migration because of its location on this arduous journey. Texas is situated between the Monarch’s breeding grounds in the northern US and Mexico, where they spend the winter.
Here in Texas, we see monarchs on the flyway in the fall and the spring, but they are not the same individuals. To put it into perspective, a flight from Canada to Mexico would take people 8 hours; for the monarch that flight takes 2 months to complete. Monarchs have managed for millennia to navigate their way across the continent, drawn by an unseen force to migrate en masse. Nearly 500,00 monarch butterflies will undertake this journey every year – the longest repeat migration in the insect world.
Unfortunately, since the 1990s the population of Monarchs has declined by more than 85%, landing them on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list of threatened species. The number one reason – habitat loss. Breeding grounds throughout the US and Canada have been lost to urbanization, shrinking their habitat by 20% to 70% in the past decade. The situation is just as dire in their overwintering grounds, where deforestation to make space for urban development has destroyed vital areas of shelter. Throughout the monarch’s extensive range, pesticides and herbicides have killed butterflies and their host plant, milkweed.
Protecting the monarch isn’t just about conserving a species, it’s about conserving a unique migratory phenomenon and ourselves. The term “butterfly effect” refers to the notion that small actions can have larger effects. Even the smallest changes to your yard can help preserve this threatened species. Here are some ways that YOU can help save the monarch.
1. Plant native milkweed
Population decline for the monarch is inextricably linked to a decline in milkweed, the monarch’s only host plant. If monarchs don’t have milkweed they can’t complete their life cycle, forcing populations to plummet. Fortunately, there are over 100 species of milkweed in the US and over 30 species native to Texas. Some species native to our area include Antelope Horns (Asclepias asperula), Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis), Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Planting native milkweed is the best option to help the monarch as it is adapted to our climate. By going dormant in the winter, it preserves the natural cycle for monarch migration.
One species to avoid is tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), which is native to Mexico. While this species has risen in popularity to fill demand for milkweed, the downfall of tropical milkweed is that due to its hardiness, it doesn’t readily die back in the winter. This can confuse monarchs, signaling they have reached their destination and don’t continue to migrate to Mexico for winter. This becomes problematic if we have a hard freeze because the monarch and its caterpillars won’t survive the winter.
The other issue with tropical milkweed is Ophryocytis elektroscirrha (OE) which is a parasite whose primary host is the monarch. If tropical milkweed is not cut back in the winter, monarchs infected with OE can leave behind spores of the parasite on the plant. Then concentrations of OE can build, infecting monarchs that subsequently visit the plant. For these reasons, the Xerces Society has named tropical milkweed a “no-grow” species. The best way to support monarchs is to find native milkweed species to plant in your landscape.
2. Plant native plants
While monarchs will need milkweed to lay their eggs on, during migration, they require an abundance of nectar plants to provide energy for adults as they continue their journey. While picking up your milkweed, be sure to add native nectar plants into your landscape design too. Loss of nectar-rich habitats and widespread insecticide use are also contributing to the decline of the monarch. Adult monarchs depend on diverse nectar sources for food and energy through all seasons of the year. Be sure to have a range of bloom times to ensure native nectar plants a providing a 3-season buffet for visiting monarchs.
3. Avoid using pesticides
Broad-spectrum insecticides and herbicides harm not only target pests, but pollinators and other beneficial insects as well. Systemic pesticides are particularly toxic as plants absorb these chemicals, toxifying their leaves and nectar which will poison visiting pollinators. If using pesticides is unavoidable for your landscape, choose the least toxic option that targets the specific problem pest and follow the label to put out no more than the recommended rate. To avoid unnecessary exposure to pollinators, avoid spraying plants in bloom, apply pesticides in the evening or at night when pollinators are not actively foraging, and don’t apply on windy days to minimize drift.
There are many alternatives to chemical pest control that can be just as effective in your landscape without harming these beneficial pollinators. Many insects are the “good guys” providing biological pest control for free! Find out how to encourage them in your own yard to reap the rewards of lady beetles, lacewings, spiders and more. Even the U.S Capital Grounds are maintained through the addition of beneficial insects to fight pests like scale. Learn to recognize these garden heroes and help prevent pests by designing your garden to work with nature.
By planting native milkweeds, a variety of nectar plants, and avoiding the use of pesticides, you can join the growing movement of those making small changes to protect migrating monarchs and the local ecosystem. Like Doug Tallamy, author of Nature’s Best Hope has stated: “Chances are you never thought of your garden–indeed, all of your property–as a wildlife preserve that presents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are playing.”
For great resources on how to create a pollinator garden, visit the Plant for Pollinators page or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Earth Day is an annual celebration on April 22nd to promote environmental awareness. The first Earth Day was in 1970 which started the modern environmental movement. A long-lasting tradition of The Woodlands Township is the annual celebration of Earth Day. This celebration includes the GreenUp litter cleanup event back this past March. This year 611 community volunteers removed over 1,100 lbs of litter!
Coming up on Saturday, May 13th, 2023, from 10 am – 1 pm is the Woodlands Township Earth Day Festival at Northshore Park. Bring your family and friends to celebrate mother earth with fun and educational activities. Enjoy live entertainment, face painting, games, educational displays, and meet organizations that celebrate earth day every day.
Whether you’re outside participating in the Iron Man this weekend or prefer to stay home, The Woodlands Township has many programs and resources to help you celebrate Earth Day. Here are 8 ways to celebrate Earth Day year-round!
1. Conserve Water
Conserving water saves energy, and using less water keeps more in our ecosystems. There are many ways to conserve water from taking shorter showers, turning off the water while you brush your teeth or installing drip irrigation in your garden. Drip irrigation delivers water to your plants right where they need it most- the roots. Learn how to install a simple system yourself at this free workshop Saturday, May 20 from 8 to 11:30 a.m. Register Today to save your place.
2. Plant a Tree
Planting trees has many environmental benefits and can improve the quality of life of the community. Every February, the Woodlands Township hosts an annual community tree planting event. Learn more about the Community Tree Planting Eventon the Woodlands Township website. The Woodlands Township hosts an Annual Arbor Day Tree Giveaway to encourage residents to help reforest our community. If you don’t want to wait until Arbor Day, read the Environmental Services DepartmentNative Trees article to learn the best way to plant a tree and ensure it thrives.
Reducing waste is one of the many things you can do to help lessen your carbon footprint. Read the Recycle-More-Guide to see what and where to recycle beyond the curbside cart! Or save your hard-to-recycle items for the 3R Drive Thru.This special collections day in November gives you the opportunity to drop off items you’re not able to put in your curbside cart.
One way to reduce the amount of waste in landfills is to compost. The Woodlands Township offers free backyard composting classes every year in the spring and fall. If you are interested in trying this at home, you can buy a compost bin from Environmental Services anytime. Learn more about The Woodlands Township Composting Resourceshere.Last October, The Woodlands Township had its firstPumpkin Smash Event. It was a Smashing success and a great way for residents to dispose of their pumpkins in an environmentally friendly manner. Find out details on the Woodlands Township Calendar.
5. Support Wildlife
You can make a difference starting in your own backyard. The Woodlands Township has many programs, workshops, seminars, and volunteer opportunities available to help support your local wildlife. National Pollinator Week is right around the corner, with spring in full bloom there are many ways you can support our native pollinators. Planting native milkweed or nectar-producing plants is a great way to support habitats and encourage pollinators to stop by! Additional resources are in the Environmental Services Blog. Invasive species take over the environment and cause harm to the stability of ecosystems. Join the Woodlands TownshipInvasive Species Task Force to help.
6. Pick Up Litter
Keep the community clean by picking up litter in our public spaces. The Woodlands Township has trash grabbers, gloves, and trash bags available to be picked up by appointment. Also, the Earth Day GreenUp, a community clean-up event takes place every March, and again in September. Both theGreenUp and GreenUp Fall Sweep information can be found on the Woodlands Township website If you’re interested in keeping the Woodlands free of litter Adopt-A-Path is a year-round program that you can apply to join. Additional information can be found on the Adopt-A-Path webpage.
7. Immerse Yourself in Nature
Going outdoors and educating yourself about the wonders of nature is a wonderful way to appreciate the earth. The Woodlands Township has two upcoming events that are great opportunities to learn about nature. The Great Texas Birding Classic will be held on April 29th, at the George Mitchell Nature Preserve. This event is a bird-watching competition across Texas, and the Woodlands Township has a registered team. More information about this event is on the calendar listing. If you can’t attend the Great Texas Birding Classic, we have birding backpacks available to rent year-round for those interested in birding! Make a reservation here
Another event coming up is the Bioblitz during Pollinator Week. It is a two-part event, starting June 19 through June 25 is the week-long community effort to identify as many species as possible through the iNaturalist App. Then join the in-person event on Saturday, June 24th at Rob Flemming to continue the search in person and visit the BioBooth. Read about BioBlitzon The Woodlands Township website.
There are many benefits to gardening, it improves the quality of air in the soil, provides habitat and cover for pollinators, and adds to the aesthetic of the environment. The Woodlands Township provides two home gardening classes, one in the spring and one in the fall which is coming up on August 21st, you can register here. The Woodlands Township administers community gardens, if you’re interested in a garden plot call the Environmental Services department and ask to be connected to the community garden coordinator.
There are many ways to celebrate earth day year-round. Some of those include finding ways to conserve water, planting trees, recycling and composting to reduce waste, supporting local wildlife, picking up litter, and gardening. The Woodlands Township has multiple resources to help you on your journey to becoming more environmentally friendly and connecting with your community. If you have any questions, visitThe Woodlands Township Environmental Services Websiteor search the online library for your favorite topics.