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Take A Walk On The Wild Side

Photos Provided By EACH – Concordia College

Concordia College’s Exotic Animal Care and Husbandry Club care for over 40 exotic animal species. With a plethora of reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, students Kelly Noah and Greta Duren are providing thoughtful care while researching these unique, exotic animals.

While some may be hesitant to embrace a scaled animal like their dog, the Exotic Animal Care and Husbandry Club (EACH) at Concordia College is eliminating the stigma associated with exotic animals and promoting widespread education and research of reptiles and amphibians.

EACH strives to teach people how to provide a healthy habitat and quality care for exotic pets. Concordia students and EACH members Kelly Noah and Greta Duren are passionate about educating themselves and the public about the wonders of the animal kingdom.

Noah and Duren’s responsibilities range from studying and caring for these animals to leading EACH’s fundraising and outreach efforts. EACH currently cares for over 40 species of exotic animals, which includes reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and a cockatiel housed in Concordia’s Integrated Science Center. Caretakers in the organization provide general care and maintenance every day, including feeding and cleaning enclosures.

“EACH has evolved into a course so students are getting credit for taking care of the critters, which is cool, but it’s basically a class,” Noah said. “It’s open to any and all students that have a strong interest and commitment to learning about exotic species.”

Meet The Exotic Animals

EACH currently cares for over 40 different species of exotic animals. Among the plethora of critters are tortoises, several species of frogs, salamanders, three species of snakes, four tarantulas, a cockatiel and 100 axolotl larvae.

A campus favorite is Gödel the red-footed tortoise. Gödel can sometimes be seen roaming the hallways and study rooms with caretakers, sometimes even accepting snacks from students. Jewels the cockatiel will even hitch a ride on his back on one of these adventures.

Known as a “cuddle bug” among the exotic animal bunch is a boa constrictor named Roxy. This five-and-a-half-foot long snake loves to constrict and hang on people’s shoulders to enjoy the high vantage point.

One of the most notable animals though according to Noah is the pixie frog. “You’d think it’s small and dainty but it’s this gigantic African bullfrog and they are the funniest things you’ll ever see.” The pixie frog is a bit of a misnomer. Pixie frogs are among the largest of frog species, with males weighing over three pounds. EACH’s pixie frog Franklin is female and will likely only get to about half the size of a male.

Recently though, EACH has been known for its axolotl breeding. EACH has two adult axolotls that recently bred for the first time. “It was a really fun project over the summer to raise them and document their development,” Duren said. “Axolotls are unique in the sense that they develop so quickly.”

Axolotl’s tissue development is very rapid and their genetics are incredibly unique given their regenerative limb properties. For example, if a predator were to bite off one of the axolotl’s legs, the axolotl could grow the limb back with nearly the same function and ability as the previous limb. This regenerative ability has made axolotls a hot topic within stem cell research.

Duren observed the axolotls as they developed from eggs to larvae, describing them as fish with a face. A specific goal that Duren has for herself is to develop a breeding program for the axolotl, so she can better study axolotl development and contribute to axolotl studies.

EACH also recently acquired a saltwater tank, opening up the possibility for many new animals to be studied and cared for. “I have a lot of fish and a lot of cool invertebrates,” Noah said. “It’s a really cool thing for someone studying biodiversity. The tank has evolved over time and it’s presented some challenges but it’s been interesting to learn and grow. That’s one of the greatest highlights.”

The organization also cares for a variety of invertebrates, which are also used as model organisms in a variety of Concordia’s courses when studying topics such as evolutionary diversity. EACH raises colonies of dubia roaches and crickets, the food source of many of their exotic animals, both a cost-effective and healthy home-grown meal for their critters.

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Franklin, a Pixie Frog or African Bullfrog
Habitat: Sub-Saharan regions of Southern Africa
Lifespan: 15-25 years

Caring For Exotic Animals

The majority of exotic animals that are kept as pets are native to habitats thousands of miles away. The responsibility falls on the owner to research the animal to provide the proper environment and diet for these animals.

Noah offered some general advice when it comes to owning an exotic pet. “Do your research before getting them, because then you can have a better understanding of their particular care and husbandry, and know what to look for when things deviate from normal.”

Owners of exotic pets will need to consider several factors, such as ensuring a proper enclosure is used. The enclosure may require controlled temperature and lighting in addition to promoting the animals’ natural behavior, like climbing or burrowing. It is also recommended the owner confirms there is a nearby veterinarian that can treat the animal before purchasing the exotic animal. As many exotic pets live much longer than traditional pets, the owner must be aware of the commitment they are making.

Outreach And Education

The organization provides hands-on learning experiences that have proven indispensable to its members, many of whom are pursuing careers in animal science or biology. If you are looking for veterinary jobs or something similar in the future, then experiences like these are invaluable.

“I’m getting a lot of hands on-work, taking care of animals, taking care of reptiles and amphibians, which is really cool,” Duren said, who is studying biology and planning to go to grad school for wildlife biology. “It’s been really exciting to work in the animal room and to get this kind of experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

The students also lead the organization’s outreach events. EACH has had a booth at the Exotic Pet Expo in Fargo sharing information regarding exotic species and selling baby axolotls to raise funds.

EACH organizes several on- and off-campus events every year to promote continued education on exotic species. One of these outreach events is interacting with Cobber Kids, the early education program for children on campus. The children receive hands-on learning opportunities from EACH’s members. EACH has also hosted Halloween events in the past where the animals are in costume and the Critters and Cram event during finals week, letting students destress with the animals.

In the past, EACH has also launched a volunteer program where members of the club can assist the animal caretakers with feeding, cleaning the animals’ enclosures and providing general enrichment opportunities for the critters.

EACH’s Plan For The Future

While EACH will continue to provide quality care for its exotic species, the organization’s members have their eyes set on continued education. EACH is currently developing a Critterpedia, which will be an encyclopedia of all the animals the organization has, used to have, how to care for exotic species and a bit about their natural history.

The organization is also working on getting a native species habitat going with one of the professors at Concordia. EACH is trying to create an educational experience about native Minnesota aquatic species, whether that’s bacteria or protists in water or animals like crayfish or minnows.

A greater emphasis is being put on sharing the information EACH has gathered with the public. The group is looking to film videos of its exotic species and share it on a platform such as Youtube, which has become increasingly important as the opportunity for in-person outreach and education events has declined.

“We want to educate people on what it means to take care of a critter whether that be a dog, a cat, a tree frog or red-footed tortoise,” Duren said.

Everyone deserves the rewarding experience of having a pet, EACH just wants you to think outside the box of what that pet could be.

“People might think exotic pets present a significant challenge, but I don’t find them to be particularly challenging to take care of,” Noah said. “A little bit of research goes into it but they result in a really fulfilling experience.”

Instagram: @cobbersforcritters

Written by Brady Drake

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