From Flanders Fields to Texas Fields

© Smrm1977 |

Memorial Day is a commemoration of those that died while serving in a branch of the U.S. military. Americans have observed it in some form since shortly after the end of the Civil War. The federal government declared it a holiday in 1971, and officially recognizes Waterloo, New York as its birthplace. 

The red poppy became an indelible symbol of Memorial Day with the publication of the poem In Flanders Fields in 1915. Written by John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon serving during the Second Battle of Ypres during WWI, the poem forever married the image of blooming red poppies and the burial crosses of those that died in battle.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

In 1918 the poem was again published in Ladies Home Journal, and after reading it at her desk, YMCA Overseas War secretary Moina Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a sign of remembrance. She spent the rest of her life campaigning to have the red poppy adopted by veteran agencies and the public as a symbol of their fallen heroes. And thus the words of a Canadian soldier brought the red poppy as remembrance to America.

About the same time, a soldier returning from Europe brought with him a bag of poppy seeds. H.P. Compton was a veteran of the 36th Division, Army, and was deeply moved by the crosses of American soldiers buried in Flanders Field.  When he returned to his home in Georgetown, Texas, he gave his mother the seeds. She in turn planted them in her front yard on east 7th Street, and from there they spread all over town. In 1990 the Texas legislature officially recognized Georgetown as the Red Poppy Capital of Texas. They in turn host an annual Red Poppy Festival (this year the festival has been rescheduled for the fall).

This year on Memorial Day we invite all of our readers to remember what the red poppy, and the day it symbolizes, means to all Americans.

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20 Years of Saving Turtles. And Tortoises!

Saturday May 23 marks the 20th anniversary of World Turtle Day, an annual celebration to encourage the protection of turtles, tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. 

About 30 different species of turtle and tortoise call Texas home; some common, some endangered, some terrestrial, some aquatic.

There are simple ways you can help keep our shelled neighbors safe. 

  • Don't buy a turtle or tortoise from a pet shop, it only increases demand for wild individuals. 
  • Report the sale of any individual under four inches to local authorities.
  • If you're helping a tortoise cross the road send it in the same direction that it was going, otherwise it will just turn around!

And in honor of World Turtle Day, here's a sneak peek at our next Wild Women column by Louie Bond. Meet Ila Loetscher, the Turtle Lady of South Padre Island!

At 81 in 1985, petite but indomitable Ila strolled onstage at Late Night with a year-old Atlantic green sea turtle incongruously attired in a wig and baby dress with ruffly pink panties, then proceeded to playfully nibble the creature's flippers and rub the turtle's oil on her face as a "beauty treatment."

Next came a 3-year-old turtle in a giant hat and poncho, whose severed flipper caused him to swim in circles, Ila reported. 

"Boy, do I know that feeling," quipped host David Letterman, obviously tickled by his sprightly guest. 


Zebra Mussels on the Move in Texas

As with terrestrial invasive species, aquatic invasive species can be easily introduced by our own inadvertent actions. It's incredibly important to follow all national, state and local regulations to do our part to stop the spread.

How can you help?

Three simple words. Clean. Drain. Dry.

The Great Lakes account for approximately 80% of our continent's surface fresh water. It's a vast water system with tendrils through much of the country. The zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, was first observed in a Michigan area lake in 1988, and it now calls much of the large water system home.

As of March 2020 zebra mussels had made significant forays into Texas, with confirmed infestations in at least 19 lakes in 5 major river basins of the state.  

So why is that such a big deal? Their rate of spread is incredibly fast and their biology makes them particularly problematic. They can stick to just about any surface or substrate, permanently securing themselves to pipes, boats, trailers and buoys.  They can sink navigational buoys, damage boat hulls and destroy water systems. Major cities have been impacted as water flow is restricted or even contaminated by infestations in water system pipes. Austin's water supply made national headlines in 2019 as decaying zebra mussels caused system-wide odor in its potable water.

The thing about zebra mussels is that they are incredibly easy to accidentally move. In their free-floating larval stage they can float for up to a month in ballast water. Because of this and their ability to attach to the surface of a boat or boat trailer, boat movement is a primary vector for moving them from one body of water to another. 

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, with our natural propensity to get out on Texas' lakes and rivers, it's critical for all boaters to Clean, Drain and Dry their boat, trailer and equipment.

More reading on the Zebra Mussel in Texas:

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These Ants are Crazy!

Not all invasive species get their foothold as the result of intentional release. Instead they arrive because we unknowingly bring them here.

Something as simple as moving a single small item from point A to point B can be the launch of introduction. Multiply that by many items, and even more points, and it's easy to see how an invasion begins.

How can you help?

Don't move firewood. It's so easy for something unexpected to hitch a ride! Instead, buy it where you burn it. You can find detailed information at

Nylanderia fulva, the crazy ant, is one of our newer Texas invaders. It's also a tad mysterious and apparently loyal to the state since, to date, it's only been spotted here.

Tom Raspberry, a Houston area exterminator, was the first to recognize this as a unique pest. This - and not their reddish color - gave rise to their first moniker, the Raspberry crazy ant. Now they are more commonly referred to as tawny crazy ants.

Following that first identification in 2002, the ant seemed to turn up all over southeast Texas, from Houston down to La Porte, wreaking havoc on area businesses and homes. They seem particularly attracted to electrical wiring, even creating problems at NASA facilities.

Since then they have spread inland, with infestations in almost 20 Texas counties, as far from the Gulf as San Antonio. And given that they are considered a semi-tropical ant they certainly have the potential to keep on going.

But where exactly did they come from? Most likely South America. At least they are similar to other ant species found there. How are they spreading? Again, we don't specifically know, as no mating has been observed in the field. But they do propagate, and rapidly, colonizing a number of habitats and becoming nearly impossible to eradicate once they do.

As to how they got here, the most likely explanation is aboard a commercial vessel — an inadvertent stowaway, unknowingly transported to a new home. 

More reading on the Tawny Crazy Ant in Texas:

And tune in to your  local Texas PBS station May 24 - 31 for Texas Parks & Wildlife's award-winning television show. Learn more about new research into crazy ant control in the lab and in the field.

If you want to learn more about how you can make a difference, share this post and invite your friends to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!


Venom, Spikes and Stripes

Some invasive species are innocuous and easily overlooked. Others are so stunning it's difficult to understand how they could have invaded without notice.

It's up to all of us to stay vigilant about invasive species whether they are boring or brilliant.

How can you help?

Report any new or expanded invasive species outbreaks to authorities in your area.

The Red Lionfish, Pterois voilatans, is hard to miss. A gorgeous exotic that can grow to 17 inches or more, this saltwater reef fish is native to west Pacific waters.

It's not known precisely how they first appeared in the Gulf of Mexico although both intentional aquarium releases or a single large release during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 have been suggested. 

However they made it into the Atlantic, by 2010 they were present in the Flower Garden Banks sanctuary off the Texas' coast. Unfortunately, their numbers have continued to grow exponentially.

As with many invasive species, lionfish can devastate the areas they colonize. They out-compete native species due to their aggression, opportunistic feeding habits and prodigious breeding ability. In addition the lionfish is venomous - although reportedly delicious!

More reading on the Lionfish in Texas:

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Accessible Texas

Sometimes we just need a little help to pursue fun in the outdoors.

More than a quarter of all adult Texans have some kind of disability, which can make exploring the great outdoors pretty difficult. 

Of course, we’re here to inspire you to get outdoors, so we’re offering great information on accessibility in our March 2019 feature and Wanderlist, and now on a newly released episode of our Under the Texas Sky-Wanderlist podcast.

Not only are there visible kinds of limitations, like mobility impairment, but many are hidden as well. Think about the loss of sensory skills like vision and hearing or weakness due to illness or age.

Having small children in tow or taking care of aged parents can open our eyes to accessibility issues, as well. Break a leg or arm and you’ll see everything in a different light.

Many state parks offer some accessible features. These include trails, campsites, restrooms, bird blinds or exhibits.

Keep in mind that nature can play havoc with accessible facilities outdoors. Floods carve gullies in trails, drought leaves fishing piers and boat launches high and dry and strong winds down tree limbs that block paths. Even wild critters can damage accessible facilities.

Always call a park before you visit to ask about its accessible features or to see if hours/availability are affected by weather or COVID. Visit our Accessibility in Texas State Parks page for more information. 

Parks with accessible features

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Grass Carp in Texas

On occasion, the introduction of an invasive species isn't fully accidental. Many plants and animals arrive here with positive intent – as a pet or ornamental shrub or for agricultural purposes  –  but simply slip beyond our control.

The most obvious examples of this would be the intentional release of aquarium fish and plants into domestic waterways. But accidental release can also occur.

How can you help?

Avoid situations where aquarium pets, aqua-cultured plants and animals or live bait are released into waterways – whether that might be accidentally or purposely.

Ctenopharyngodon idella, the Asian Grass Carp, was initially brought to the U.S. as an aquaculture control measure in the 1960s. Individuals eventually escaped and were soon spreading. 

The introduction of Grass carp was certainly not intended to lead to ecological problems but it unfortunately has. They can inhabit a variety of habitats, are prodigious reproducers and can harbor parasites, all of which potentially change ecosystem dynamics.

There are breeding populations in Texas from both legal experiments that escaped and illegal stocking. These are known to exist in Lake Conroe and in the Trinity River - Galveston Bay area.

More reading on Asian Grass Carp in Texas:

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Invasive Species Awareness Week: Giant Salvinia

Not every exotic species becomes a danger when introduced. Most cause no harm or simply fail to thrive. But the 15% that do reproduce and spread rapidly become known as invasive species. Whether you’re a landowner, suburbanite or city-dweller, invasive species will impact you – even if you never realize it.

$137 billion is spent annually to prevent, monitor and control invasive species spread in the U.S. And while it’s tempting to picture that as giant snakes in the Florida Everglades or the northern snakehead in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, here in Texas we have our fair share of invasive species that are equally problematic.

This week is National Invasive Species Awareness Week, a nationwide push to raise awareness of how people can prevent the spread of invasive species and protect their natural ecosystems.  

How can you help?

Learn about invasive species, especially those found in your region. Alerts for Texas by region can be found at

One invasive species you might not know about if you never visit a Texas waterway is Giant Salvinia. 

Salvinia molesta is a South American native that floats in large chains. Because it lacks roots, it can form dense mats that block sunlight from reaching native aquatic species, and its large leaves reduce oxygen levels in the water as they decay. Entire water surfaces can become covered, irrigation pipes blocked, recreational fishing, boating and waterfowl hunting all impacted by its spread.

Giant Salvinia was initially used as an aquarium plant and for decorative water gardens. It was first found outside landscape cultivation in Texas in 1997 and continues to spread throughout the eastern region of the state. 

More reading on Giant Salvinia in Texas:

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Happy Mother’s Day


When my sons were little the Mother’s Day gift I most appreciated was solitude. Mother’s Day was the one day of the year when my husband would pack them up, leaving me the luxury of sleeping in, catching up on my reading and maybe even squeezing in a pedicure.

I could rely on a solid 6 hours of being my own best friend - and if that appeals, check out our May feature by Pam LeBlanc!  Just having silence was a gift all its own.

As they grew older that need for distance waned. They became self-sufficient – although not particularly quiet – and we spent most Mother’s Days at baseball tournaments, state parks or the beach, places we could all enjoy in our own ways.

Mother’s Day you see, is a holiday tailored to the needs of the person it honors. The mom.

First celebrated in 1908 in Pennsylvania, it became a national holiday in 1914 during the Wilson administration. Anna Jarvis, the “mother” of Mother’s Day (as it were) envisioned it as a personal celebration between mother and child – a tribute to the sacrifices every mom makes for her children. And Mother’s Day really caught on.

Bolstered by the floral industry, and with the support of financial magnates John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz, the holiday outpaced even Ms. Jarvis’ dreams. In fact by 1920 she was decrying its commercialism and publicly announced that Mother’s Day should be a day of sentiment, not profit.

As it turns out it continues to be a bit of both. In the U.S. it’s typically the busiest day of the year for restaurants topping even Valentine’s Day, about $5 billion is spent on gifts for moms each May, and it’s the number one day for flower sales!  But there is sentiment too. Call volume increases over 10% on Mother’s Day, and it’s not as if those moms are hitting up brunch, lunch and dinner by themselves.

Of course, our world has changed. And as I sit in my home office writing this, I’m surrounded by my not quite fully-fledged adult children completing their final college assignments for the semester.  And after nearly two months I’m sort of wishing that my former ideal personal celebration of solitude was once again on the table.

@ Chase Fountain/TPWD

While Texas is starting to re-open, restrictions might limit the commercial aspect of your Mother’s Day planning this year, but sentiment is always something you can deliver.  Here are a few quick ideas on how you can still make it special for mom even if you’re all stuck… I mean spending quality time together… at home.

  • Take a page out of Anna Jarvis’ book and write a letter to your mother, after all in Anna’s words she’s “the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.”
  • A craft that’s perfect for kids – make mom a card. Anna again, “any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than a fancy greeting card.”
  • It may sound like a cliché but go ahead and bring her breakfast, or brunch, in bed. Pro tip: do the clean-up too!
  • Treat her to a picnic lunch. If crowding at your local park prevents effective social distancing, use flowers or greenery as a festive touch in your own backyard, or colorful blankets and pillows on the floor of your living room.
  • Take a walk or bike ride together, or simply sit outside and enjoy the day. You may not even know how much such a simple gesture will mean to her.
  • Flowers are nice for a few days; flowering plants can be nice for a lifetime. Choose a few natives that will thrive where she lives and plant or pot them for her.
  • Hug your mom. And if you can’t, at least make sure you are part of that 10% call volume surge.
After all, it’s Mother’s Day.

Actual Mother's Day 2011, watching my boys fish at McKinney Falls State Park.

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World Migratory Bird Day - May 9th

For over 25 years World Migratory Bird Day has been celebrated around, well, the world.

The colorful Northern Parula can be seen during early spring migration. © Paul Reeves |

This global campaign brings awareness to migratory bird conservation, organized around the planet’s migratory bird corridors.  Here in Texas, we see birds migrating along the Americas corridor through the Central and Mississippi flyovers.

For some species, Texas is a temporary home for breeding, while others are just stopping along their route. However long they stay, their beauty, grace and birdsong are something we can all enjoy.

Iridescent feathers make the Ruby-throated Hummingbird a welcome guest. © Steve Byland |

More information about migratory birds and the flyways through Texas can be found at the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

Learn more about migratory birds in Texas in the (virtual) pages of our magazine.

If you enjoyed learning about the importance of migratory birds, share this post and invite your friend to subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to600+ articles for only $1.99!


Texas Game Wardens Celebrate 125th Anniversary

From Resource Protection to Hurricane Rescues, Game Wardens Take Care of Texas

Hurricane Ike rescue, 2008 Photo by Earl Nottingham/TPWD

For 125 years, Texas Game Wardens have protected not only the residents and visitors of Texas, but the state’s incredible natural resources as well. Since 1895, “call your game warden” has been the best answer to a wide array of problems and questions, especially in rural communities, where they are best known for their work with hunting/fishing law enforcement.

There have been a lot of milestones along the way:
  • 1946: First game warden school held at Texas A&M University 
  • 1971: Game wardens given peace officer status 
  • 1979: First female game warden 
  • 2007: Museum established at Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens 
  • 2009: New training center opens in Hamilton County

Specialized teams have expanded the capabilities of game wardens in exciting new ways over the past decade, as we profiled a few years ago in the magazine. Underwater and swift-water recovery teams have proved invaluable in emergencies; unmanned aerial systems, forensic accident reconstruction and criminal analysis keep game wardens up-to-date on the latest crime-solving techniques.
One of our most recent game warden features, “Black Market Wildlife,” tells the fascinating stories of illegal wildlife trade investigations, such as gigantic fish, all kinds of turtles, shark fins, hummingbird love charms and a long list of banned items for sale at flea markets.
“We’ve seen everything,” says game warden Steve Stapleton. “We’ve found live white-tailed deer in cages for sale, raccoons for sale, opossums, armadillos. It never ceases to amaze me what we’ll find.” 
The K-9 unit, established in 2013 has won the hearts and imaginations of many Texans, including some of our youngest residents. We get a little misty when we read this passage from Mike Cox’s 2014 article, “Ready to Rescue.”
“The youngsters had been trapped with their parents atop their roof when Onion Creek turned into a raging river … Although safe, they were scared and crying. Then they spotted Game Warden Christy Vales’ dog, Ruger, a Labrador retriever. Their tears drying quickly, the kids bolted toward the dog to pet it, their recent harrowing experience at least temporarily forgotten.”
Game wardens provide heroic efforts after major disasters, especially the devastating hurricanes that devour everything in their path. In 2008, 200 game wardens came out after Hurricane Ike to help with rescue and recovery efforts. In 2017, 368 wardens rescued more than 12,000 persons from Hurricane Harvey’s flood waters. Remarkably, as we described in “Harvey’s Reckoning” in 2017, some rescuers turned away from their own flooding homes to save others, like Game Warden Dustin Dockery.
“I just shook my head,” he remembers. “Then I went back to handling what I could. At that point, all you can do is go back to work. Thank goodness, my family was safe.”
Game wardens from nine states came to help Texans during Harvey. After all, Texas game wardens have always done the same. In 2005, 111 Texas game wardens responded to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and rescued more than 5,000 victims.

Today, Texas game wardens are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring personal protective gear was delivered places of critical need, like rural areas. They’re assisting at testing sites and driving samples to labs.

“We’ve been called the Swiss-Army Knife of Texas law enforcement, and we take that to heart,” interim Colonel Ronald VanderRoest, who leads the TPWD Law Enforcement Division, said recently. “We are proud that Texas Game Wardens are ready for anything. We know our game wardens are successful in adapting, and we pride ourselves on community-oriented policing. That is the foundation of how we operate.”

Texas game wardens are now the stars of a reality series on Animal Planet, “Lone Star Law.” The popular show has been running for seven seasons. We love the way the show describes our game wardens.

“Whether rushing to investigate poaching cases, save flash-flood victims, disrupt illegal smuggling rings, or rescue injured wildlife, the officers are always on the go, defending both animals and citizens.”

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