UW–Platteville assistant professor of biology John Peterson started an animal house in Boebel Hall Room 324, where students can get experience conserving and caring for animals.
Dr. Becky Doyle-Morin, assistant professor of biology, also helps advise the program.
Started in spring 2014 with the help of the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, the animal house consists of an Australian green tree frog, a ball python, beetles, fiddler crabs, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, millipedes and a Russian tortoise.
“We wanted to concentrate on organisms that would be less likely to love,” said Peterson. “We’re in the process of trying to get a tarantula and scorpion and we’re really excited about it.”
As an undergraduate at Michigan State University, Peterson participated in a bug house, which inspired his idea for an animal house at UW–Platteville.
“UW–Platteville has a lot of zoology and ecology majors that need hands-on experience with animals and there’s really no zoo nearby where they could interact with them,” he said. “Every semester since we’ve started, we’ve gotten funding through PACCE which allows students to get experience educating younger children about the animals.”
This past semester, the six students involved with the animal house took animals to Neal Wilkins Elementary School and Westview Elementary School in Platteville to educate the younger demographic about conservation of animals.
“It’s great with kids because you can take a cockroach in and nobody wants to touch it at first, but as soon as one kid touches it, everybody comes over and it’s just really fun,” said Peterson. After getting all the current animals in the animal house online, Peterson said he is looking towards getting more local species.
“We want to be able to educate someone about an organism that maybe they’ve seen before or that they can go out in their backyard and find,” he said. “That’s a really important connection that I think will be great for the younger students to have.”
Students who participate get credit for doing so, but they also get real-world familiarity. “This past semester we got in contact with the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque,” said Peterson. “We’ve got students shadowing educators at the museum just to get them a real feeling for what a zookeeper would be doing.”
The animal house program also hopes to connect with the cadaver lab on campus to help bring more elementary and middle school-level students to UW–Platteville to tour the animal house.
“It would help out a lot if students coming in to see the cadaver lab also stopped by the animal house,” said Peterson. “We’d like to transition more to a level of people coming to us rather than us going to them.”