Animal house

UNI's Botanical Center and McCollum Science Hall are home to hundreds of campus critters for all to enjoy.

Nestled in the heart of the University of Northern Iowa Botanical Center and McCollum Science Hall (MSH) are some unique plants and animals you'd be surprised to find on campus.

Ernie the iguana in the University of Northern Iowa Botanical Center and Greenhouse.
Ernie, a green iguana on the University of Northern Iowa campus, spends her days and nights in a temperate climate in the Botanical Center. On summer days, Ernie enjoys being put on the warm cement to roam the center.

The collection of plants in the Botanical Center includes economically important specimens such as coffee, banana and papaya, common in tropical habitats. In addition to the tropical plants is a collection of arid-climate plants, typical of a desert ecosystem. This desert room includes plants from drought-adapted plants such as cacti and yucca.

"The Botanical Center is set up in such a way to make the plants and animals feel as if they are in their indigenous environment," said Billie Hemmer, Botanical Center preserves manager.

Enjoying the surroundings of the plants are several animals who inhabit the Botanical Center and Greenhouse. A green iguana, Ernie, spends her days and nights in a temperate climate, as she likes to be warm with some humidity. An African Grey Parrot, Columbo, typically sleeps in her cage at night. Columbo sits upon her perch during the day and also enjoys hanging out where students are. She even mimics Hemmer in her own tone of voice. The center also has many goldfish in its 1,000-gallon pond.

"Walking from one part of the greenhouse to the next, you feel a change in the temperature and climate," said Hemmer. "That is a conscious decision for the plants and animals inhabiting each area of the building."

Jeff Tamplin, associate professor of biology, holds Steve Irwin. Irwin is UNI's own alligator, who is used for research by students in the department.
Jeff Tamplin, associate professor of biology, and Steve Irwin, an alligator on campus, pose for a picture in McCollum Science Hall. Irwin is one of many unique animals within campus grounds.

But the beauty and tranquility of the Botanical Center and MSH aren't their only perks. These facilities provide considerable amounts of laboratory and research experience for students exploring many majors and interests within the College of Natural Sciences.

"Students majoring in subjects like biology or horticulture learn an immense amount of information about these plants and animals," said Hemmer. "They learn the diets and study the habitats of the plants and animals so they are able to care for them."

MSH is home to dozens of hatchling turtles, snakes and, believe it or not, an alligator. His name… Steve Irwin, a name given by some research students in the department.

"The biology department has students working on research projects where they work directly with the animals, learning how to take care of, properly clean and feed them," said Jeff Tamplin, associate professor of biology. "This provides quality, hands-on experience for students because many want to go on to veterinary school, and this type of training and handling of animals offers a unique understanding of different species."

Students can be interns, conduct research or simply volunteer at the Botanical Center. The experiences gained from these opportunities are unprecedented.

"When Columbo, our African Grey Parrot, was donated to us, the previous owner thought she was a male," said Hemmer. "We wanted to be positive of her gender, and the only way to do this was to perform a DNA test. So, a UNI student and biology professor worked together to pull out a couple feathers and test them, and the test concluded she was a female. This is a scientific experiment and a learning experience that few students receive while in school.

"Our students really gain valuable knowledge in caring for animals. Columbo is an endangered species; it's rare for students to have opportunities to care for animals like this."

Columbo, an African Grey Parrot, aided UNI students' research experiments by having a DNA test performed to conclude the gender. Columbo is a female. Among many interesting characteristics, Columbo can mock Billie Hemmer, Botanical Center preserves manager, in her own tone of voice. UNI's McCollum Science Hall is home to dozens of hatchling turtles and snakes. These animals aid in research projects where students work directly with the animals, learning how to take care of, properly clean and feed them.
Columbo, an African Grey Parrot, aided UNI students' research experiments by having a DNA test performed to conclude the gender. Columbo is a female. Among many interesting characteristics, Columbo can mock Billie Hemmer, Botanical Center preserves manager, in her own tone of voice. UNI's McCollum Science Hall is home to dozens of hatchling turtles and snakes. These animals aid in research projects where students work directly with the animals, learning how to take care of, properly clean and feed them.
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