SAN ANTONIO – Twenty volunteers from throughout Texas representing Master Gardener and Master Naturalist associations recently completed Master Volunteer Entomology Specialist training in San Antonio.
The volunteers represented several counties, including Bexar, Brazoria, Hays, Harris, Kendall, Lubbock, Tarrant, Victoria and Walker.
The training was hosted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service office for Bexar County at 3355 Cherry Ridge Dr., which also provided the venue for most of the program instruction.
The training, which took place from Sept. 27-Oct. 1, was given by Texas AgriLife entomology experts from throughout the state, including agency experts from San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston, College Station, Ft. Stockton, Uvalde and Overton.
“Together we basically provided the volunteers with an Entomology 101 class in a compressed frame,” said Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist and integrated pest management program specialist for Bexar County.
Along with course instruction, volunteers received training in insect collection and photography at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.
Topics included insect identification, pesticide safety, biting and stinging insects, landscape and ornamentals pests, vegetable pests, invasive species, mites, ants, mystery bug bites, beneficial insects, butterfly gardening, collecting methods and preservation techniques, and integrated pest management.
“The idea behind the training was to provide the volunteers with specific knowledge about insect identification, characteristics, behavior and management so they can share that information with others in their respective communities,” Keck said.
She said insect issues affect people every day in both urban and rural settings, but most involve human interaction with pests such as mosquitoes, cockroaches, ants and bed bugs.
“Of course, we feel it’s important that we instruct volunteers on the role of beneficial insects and the importance of all insects in our ecosystem,” she said.
The program is essentially a ‘train-the-trainer’ initiative and volunteers are encouraged to begin their own entomology program in their county, Keck said.
“Each of them also has committed through their association to contribute volunteer hours toward supporting AgriLife Extension entomology programs or activities in cooperation with their local county agent,” she noted.
The fee for training is $300 and covers instruction, materials, lunches, a complete insect collection kit and an AgriLife Extension entomology bulletin set.
“This training will be very beneficial in my efforts teaching kids at the Children’s Vegetable Garden here at the San Antonio Botanical Garden and in my presentations at youth gardening programs in schools here in Bexar County, both of which I implement with AgriLife Extension people,” said Bexar County Master Gardener Carol White, an attendee. “The kids will find insects in the soil and I’ll be able to help them identify them and say whether or not they’re beneficial.”
“We view these volunteers as ambassadors for entomology who will be going back to their respective counties to help represent our discipline,” said Dr. Paul Nester, an AgriLife Extension integrated pest management program specialist from Houston, who discussed fire ants and Rasberry crazy ants.
Nester said he appreciated the opportunity to help the trainees understand the health and safety risks associated with fire ants and the need for community involvement in fire ant control, as well as the need to address the proliferation of Rasberry crazy ants in the state.
Kim Schofield, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management program specialist from the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas, said entomology specialist training has been offered to Texas Master Gardener volunteers for more than a decade, but this is the first year there has been significant participation by the state’s Master Naturalist association.
Schofield, who presented on insect identification, collection and preservation, as well as beneficial insects, said next year’s training is slated to take place in Dallas.
“AgriLife Extension offices throughout the state provide information, instruction and technical assistance on insects and pest management, and these volunteer specialists will help the agency expand its educational outreach to improve the quality of life for Texans,” Keck said.
Keck added that AgriLife Extension integrated pest management efforts in Bexar County include working with the local Habitat for Humanity office to provide instruction to prospective Habitat homeowners, giving educational instruction on insects to students at area schools and working with area neighborhoods to implement community-wide fire ant control programs.
“AgriLife offices and facilities throughout the state, especially those in urban areas, provide similar programs in their communities,” she said. “These are practical and useful educational and community service efforts, and we know these volunteers will be an integral part of them.”