Pollinators and Assassins

Nope, that’s not a new Netflix original series, even though we’d totally watch that. Pollinators and assassins are two types of beneficial bugs you may find around your garden and home.


 Butterflies, moths, bees, flies and other winged insects all pollinate plants, helping your garden bloom and thrive. This post will focus primarily on the assassins, but we do have some super informational tips about attracting pollinators, too. For all the details, read our blog post, Creating a Butterfly Destination. You’ll find a list of plants to incorporate into your yard, and details about how much sun those plants require.

 Now, on to the killers.


Assassin bugs, like spiders, praying mantises, ladybugs, lacewings, and even some wasps, eat pests that like to destroy your plants. Most of us perform some version of a flailing jig when faced with insects, but as much as your family and neighbors may love your sweet, panicky dance moves, we should learn to coexist with - and even to attract - our multi-legged friends.

 To attract helpful assassin bugs, add mulch to your yard. The mulch creates cover for predatorial insects, allowing them to sneak up on their prey. Given a nice, mulch-covered environment, you’ll find that predators move right in.

 “These guys are going to be all around in a healthy garden or backyard,” said Lisa Keys, Science Mill Animal & Plant Care Technician. “Spiders and praying mantises are generalists and will eat a wide variety of pest species, such as caterpillars, grasshoppers and flies.”

 It’s also important to plant a wide variety of native plants. Planting many different types of plants will attract more species of insects, and establish a healthy ecosystem in your area. To find out which plants will thrive in your yard, talk to a local nursery. They understand the specific challenges of your environment, and have ideas for what, and how, to plant in your yard. A great Central Texas resource is The Natural Gardener. Their website is full of useful info.

 No discussion of assassin bugs is complete without some wasp talk. Lisa noted that many people shy away from attracting stinging bugs, yet some of them are definitely worth having around.

 “Wasps are particular about their prey, and don’t bother humans unless they are aggravated,” said Lisa. “Mud daubers, cicada killers, red wasps, and many others help control caterpillar, spider and fly populations, reducing the numbers of those pests in your yard.”

 So don’t be afraid. By cultivating many native plants, you can create a garden home to the right kinds of wasps and other assassins, as well as a host of pollinators.

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 Come to the Science Mill on July 13 for our Incredible Insects event to learn more about pollinators, assassins and all of their friends. Our resident biologist will be in the greenhouse with information about beneficial bugs, Radford's Roach Roadshow is bringing their world-famous Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and don't miss a very special presentation by Associate Professor Dr. Nels C. Elde from the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Utah on " Insect Zombies Controlled by Viruses." Plus more fun hands-on activities and a special showing of Bugs 3D in our 3D movie theater! 

 Incredible Insects! activities and presentations are free with admission. Pre-purchase tickets to reserve your spot in the 11am or 1pm "Insect Zombies Controlled by Viruses" presentation. 

 All this and a membership bonus, too? You bet! Purchase or renew a Science Mill membership in the month of July and get one free insect or shark book per membership. We have books for all ages, so come pick out your favorite!

Local Students Recreate Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Emily Cicchini’s son, Remi, is fascinated with the idea of exploring our final frontier.

“When I was 8, I got a space suit for Christmas, and I’ve always been interested in the concept of going to space and doing something important with my life,” said Remi.

So when Emily and Remi were looking for summer activities, they checked the NASA website, where they found the Apollo Next Giant Leap Student (ANGLeS) Competition.


This year’s ANGLeS Competition was conceived to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The challenge, open to students in grades 5-12 across the United States and territories, is to recreate the Apollo 11 moon landing using a drone and a LEGO Mindstorm robot. 

Emily and Remi decided to assemble a team of Dripping Springs Middle School students to participate in the challenge. 

“We are inspired and humbled by the success of the Apollo 11 astronauts and scientists, and are looking forward to seeing NASA continue to reach for the stars for years to come.  It’s thrilling to be even a small part of this important work,” said Emily.

Members of the Marvelous Earthling Moon Explorers (M.E.M.E.) Team are:

Commander:  Ethan Miller, 14
Lunar Module Pilot:  Remi Cicchini, 14
EVA Officer:  Macallister (Mackey) Weikert, 13
Science Officer:  Cosimo Crespi, 13
CAPCOM:  Reese Alford, 13

Remi said that the group of friends has worked well together.

“There’s a great synergy on this team, which has helped us get things done pretty quickly and easily.”

The M.E.M.E. Team has to complete a sequence of tasks that mirror the original mission of the Apollo 11 landing team, from designing and building a lander and a rover, to using coding skills to pilot the lander.

“Our main obstacle is time,” said Emily. “We must start, complete the mission, and return to base within 15 minutes. If we are successful, we may be invited to participate at the regional and national levels.”

In the spring, Emily saw a presentation that the Science Mill gave about the Mill’s summer programs, and decided to reach out about a collaboration. Bob Elde, Science Mill Science Director, and Portia Marchman, Science Mill Director of Operations, were excited to host the students and be part of the ANGLeS Competition. M.E.M.E team members have been meeting at the Mill to develop their lander and rover, and to practice the mock moon landing.

“We’re always looking for ways to get involved with our community and support students who are seeking out STEM related activities outside of the classroom,” said Marchman.


 On June 22, the M.E.M.E. Team is participating in the Science Mill’s Drones & Droids event. They are going to fly their drone-based lander about 20 feet to a target on a map of the lunar surface. Next, they will pilot a droid-like rover to deposit a payload of a cultural artifact and pick up a sample moon rock, followed by returning to base where the Science Officer, Cosimo Crespi, will identify the rock sample.

 “We’re a little nervous,” said Remi. “If we don’t take it seriously, that leaves room for error, and we want it to go well so we can go on to the next round. This Saturday is going to be a trial by fire.”


 Join us on Saturday, June 22 to watch this incredible team reenact the Apollo 11 landing. To show his support, former NASA Astronaut Tom Henricks will be in attendance to meet the M.E.M.E. team and watch their moon landing demo. Meet Mr. Henricks and R2-D2, as well! All event details can be found on our website.

Drones & Droids activities and presentations are free with admission. Share your photos at the Science Mill with us! #sciencemill #dronesanddroids #explorejctx


Bubble Fiesta!


On May 4th we’re hosting a Bubble Fiesta in our backyard, the Science and Art Park, featuring hands-on bubble creation stations!

 It may look like play - and trust us, you’re in for gallons of bubbly fun - but these stations encourage inquiry-based learning by integrating science, engineering, and math.

 Last month, Dr. Karen Uhlenbeck, a professor emerita at The University of Texas at Austin, was the first woman to win one of the top prizes in mathematics for her discovery of a phenomenon called “bubbling.”

 "Bubbles entice for their seeming simplicity, which approaches the existential,”  said Dr. Uhlenbeck, a professor emerita at The University of Texas at Austin.

Join us on May 4 from 11am-2pm, to experience enticing, existential bubbles at our bubble creation stations:

  • BYOBW - Build Your Own Bubble Wand - Become a bubble engineer and design your own, unique bubble wands!

  • Bubble Formulas  - Concoct a bubble solution using chemistry principles, and learn what makes the biggest, best bubbles!

  • Multi-Dimensional Bubbles - Math concepts really pop when you construct geometric shapes to make multi-dimensional bubbles you'll have to see to believe!

  • Giant Bubbles - Even the bubbles are bigger in Texas!


And the exploration doesn’t stop with bubbles! The Science and Art Park is home to exhibits that will challenge you, thrill you, and entertain you all day long:

  • Visually stunning and interactive, you control our 30-foot-tall Colossal Robotic Hand.

  • At the Fossil Dig, you use real excavation tools to unearth hidden dinosaurs and more.

  • Experience our over-the-top Rube Goldberg-esque labyrinth, the Incredible Ball Machine.

  • Take on the Giant Lever for a challenging game of tug-o-war.

  • Don’t miss our gentle giants, three African Spurred Tortoises named Speedy, Tortilla, and Miss Jiff.

We really hope you pop by! (Sorry, couldn’t help ourselves.)

 Science Mill admission includes everything mentioned above, plus over 50 hands-on interactive exhibits (and a 3D movie!) throughout the historic mill.

 We are open from 10am-4pm on Saturday, May 4, with Bubble Fiesta activities from 11am-2pm.

Another STEM-tastic year of Homeschool Days!

Another STEM-tastic year of Homeschool Days is coming to a close! We are already prepping for the 2019-2020 school year (registration for the STEM Scholar Program is open!), but thought we’d take a moment to celebrate all we learned this past year.

The 2018-19 school year is wrapping up with a focus on careers in Coding for May. Jennie Kam from Cisco will speak about cybersecurity, and Cisco employees will be on hand for a special game of Pitching Packets. The game demonstrates how networks function, and what kinds of things can make them better or slow them down. Students will also examine binary code (while making cool bracelets!), and program our robot, Botley.

 The Science Mill’s inaugural group of STEM Scholars graduates on May 9, too! Read more about this unique program, and register for 2019-2020 STEM Scholars now!