AIS: From Novice to Knowledgeable!

May 15th, 2019

For the last month, I have been working to transform from a nervous person who doesn’t know anything about identifying fish and plants to a competent volunteer for the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC). This process had two main parts: online training and an in-person workshop. Both parts focused on 11 aquatic invasive species (species that live in water, are not native, and cause or have high potential to cause harm) that are a top concern in Minnesota. The 11 species are:

Plants = Eurasian Watermilfoil (pictured), Hydrilla, and Starry Stonewort

Invertebrates = Rusty Crayfish, Zebra Mussels, Quagga Mussels, and Spiny Waterflea (pictured)

Fish = Bighead Carp, Silver Carp (pictured), Round Goby, and Ruffe

Part 1: Online Training

Online learning has never been my favorite, but it was useful since I knew very little going into the program. MAISRC predicted it would take 8 hours to complete and it took me 7.5! First was a pre-assessment. Even though I am an educator, it was still a little disheartening to click “I don’t know” 25 times in a row. The next phase included 6 modules of slides with voice-over information from the course instructors. It was nice that I could break these modules up and go at my own pace. I also loved that one of the instructors would sneak little one-line jokes into the audio, such as that “spiny waterflea are planktonic animals related to crabs, lobsters, and crayfish – but less tasty!” The online learning ended with an open notes check-out assessment that you must pass before attending the in-person workshop. You need 17 out of 24 to pass and can take it 10 times to get that score. Thankfully, I passed the first time with a 23 out of 24 and treated myself to a brownie as a reward!

Part 2: In Person Workshop

I was super excited for the in-person workshop. There were 5 different dates and locations to choose from for the workshop. I selected the one closest to the Twin Cities, which was in Arden Hills. I really was not sure what to expect, but it definitely exceeded my expectations. The workshop had around 25 people, and we got to participate in small group, individual, and whole group activities. These activities really helped me to apply the knowledge that I learned in the online modules. There were lots of moments like, “oh that’s what they meant by a central axis and leaflet pairs”.  A lot of time was spent identifying specimens using our amazing AIS Identification Guides. We did not have live specimens but photos, models, and preserved specimens. The fish models on a stick were particularly Minnesotan!

It was also fun to connect with our instructors in person, chat with some of the other volunteers, and have a delicious taco buffet lunch! The only thing I did not enjoy was another assessment at the end of the in-person workshop. Tests make me nervous, but at least it was open book and notes again. I just got the email this morning that I passed with a score of 19 out of 20! I am now officially an AIS Detector and I can’t wait to start logging some volunteer hours!!!

Try It Out!

Want to test your aquatic invasive species knowledge? Give it a try with some of my trivia below!

#1) True or False: Zebra mussels have a flat edge and won’t fall over when set on it.

#2) Do carp have eyes that are typically above or below the midline?

#3) Which one is an invasive species, and which one is a native species?



– Alexa, Learning Experiences Specialist


Apply Now To The Youth Engagement Program

May 6th, 2019



The Youth Engagement Program (YEP) is a program for any youth entering 9th – 12th grade in the fall of 2019 who have a desire for gaining knowledge in the conservation field.  YEP will offer youth a unique environment to learn from professionals in their respective fields, have fun and learn about conservation in our community.  Como asks that youth who join YEP come with an open mind and the desire to be engaged.  Youth who sign up for the program will be considered volunteers of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.  This program is FREE to participating youth as costs are covered by the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment Grant.

YEP will have three, one-week sessions, June 10-14, June 17-21 and June 24-28. Each of the one-week sessions are independent but may have some overlap of activities. Meeting times will be 9:00am to 3:00pm, Monday through Friday. This program will be a combination of learning from our experts at Como, as well as visiting other organizations to connect and learn from them. The application period is open until Friday, May 10th. You are encouraged to apply early, and share your excitement with friends who may also be interested in joining.

Highlights of the program include:
• Networking with professionals in conservation and related fields
• Field trips to fun destinations that support conservation and sustainable practices
• Giving back to the community via service work
• Behind the scenes visits with Como staff
• Connecting with fellow youth who share your passion and interests

Ready to apply? We thought so! Here are the steps you need to take to get started:
• Download, print and complete the application
• Obtain the required signatures – youth and parent or guardian
• Submit completed application by May 10, 2019
• Questions? Call 651-487-8271 or email:




So You Want To Do Some Conservation?

April 18th, 2019

I have been working at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in different education roles since 2017. Thanks to Como Friends support of my Conservation Champions project, I am starting a new adventure with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center!

In my time at Como, I’m very familiar doing things like…

…teaching a program while holding a snake…

…or doing evaluations like surveys (with my new haircut).

I’ve always wanted to do more to contribute to conservation efforts and get my “hands dirty” in the field in addition to teaching about it. I don’t have any experience caring for animals (I just hold them briefly as an educator), I didn’t take any classes in college in ecology topics (I was an education major), and I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever had. Many of my colleagues have participated in Conservation Champions projects related to the species they care for here at Como, but they felt out of my depth.

I’ve never trained or cared for sloths like Zookeeper Liz…

…or penguins like Zookeeper Kelley.

So, I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for different organizations and opportunities that would allow someone like me, with no previous experience, to comfortably participate in hands on conservation work right here in Minnesota. As an alumna of the University of Minnesota, I looked closely at opportunities through their partners and that’s where I got lucky!

I stumbled upon the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center! They have a program called AIS Detectors (Aquatic Invasive Species Detectors). Anyone over 18 is encouraged to participate in the program which includes a registration fee, online training, an in-person training, and a minimum of 25 volunteer hours a year. This was exactly what I was looking for! I proposed participating in this volunteer program as my Conservation Champions project and was selected to be funded by Como Friends!

For the next few months, I am going to be transforming from an educator to an AIS Detector and sharing the experience with you all! If you’re like me and always wanted to be more involved in conservation efforts but aren’t sure how, tune in to my monthly updates to learn what it’s really like! Next month I will be sharing about the online and in-person training experience.

To learn more about this volunteer program, follow the link to watch their informational video. I’m excited get started and help our beautiful lakes!

– Alexa, Learning Experiences Specialist


Senior Strolls featured on Twin Cities Live!

April 4th, 2019


Spring Flower Show on Grow With KARE!

April 4th, 2019