Wyatt Smith

Features Editor


In a large enclosure in the front lobby of Mateer Hall sits Izzy the iguana, lazily eyeing students as they rush to class.

Izzy is adored by students and professors alike.

“It’s Izzy, how can you not love him?” said Cody Staebler ’13, a biology and chemistry double major.

“He’s here because we love him and he’s cool,” agreed Associate Professor of Biology Richard Lehtinen, who specializes in the study of reptiles and amphibians.

“He’s funny. He’s just a big, bulky lizard,” Kristen Thomas ’14, a student animal caretaker for the biology department, said with heartfelt fondness.

Izzy’s main duty is to add some much-needed pizzazz to Mateer Hall. Tour guides make sure to show Izzy to potential students if they express interest in biology.

“Let’s face it; this isn’t the most attractive building on campus,” admitted Lehtinen. “It’s kind of a bomb shelter. [Izzy] brings some kind of uniqueness and life to the building.”

Izzy doesn’t offer this service for free. Thomas and the other caretakers spend an disproportionate amount of time tending to the iguana’s needs, from replacing his UV lights to taking him to the vet to preparing his meals. An herbivore, Izzy eats a mixture of vegetables, fruits and nutrients. Strawberries are a special treat.

“To take care of any pet well you have to give them a lot of TLC,” said Lehtinen, “and that’s no less true for Izzy than it is for a dog or a cat.”

According to the International Iguana Foundation, there are 45 distinct species of iguana living in the Americas and the Galápagos Islands. Izzy is a common green iguana, which are native to South America but are found as far north as Texas and Florida, where they are considered an invasive species. According to National Geographic, iguanas are referred to as the “chicken of the trees” in Central America, where iguana meat is a common dish.

Izzy is not the only animal found in Mateer. His enclosure is flanked by tanks filled with small fish. The biology department also maintains populations of mice, rats, zebra finches and mosquitoes for research purposes. Izzy is not used in experiments or classes, but is brought out for special occasions. Every so often, he is even dressed up in a Santa suit, rabbit ears or a bedazzled blue bowtie.

“We don’t do much with him,” said Thomas, “but he’s kinda like the biology mascot.”

Izzy was originally the pet of a visiting faculty member. When the professor left in the early 1990s, she was unable to take Izzy with her, so the biology department adopted the reptile.

“He’s a big lizard, so he became kind of a focal piece for Mateer and for the biology department,” said Lehtinen.

Izzy has since aged considerably and is no longer as active as he used to be.

“I think he’s just getting older,” said Lehtinen, “just getting a bit more staid and set in his ways and not so energetic.”

“When I talked to the vet, he said that this is the oldest [iguana] he’s seen in captivity,” added Thomas.

With any luck, Izzy will continue to delight students and add flair to Mateer Hall for many more years.