AIS: From Novice to Knowledgeable!

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