Green Iguana serves as centerpiece of zoology's educational outreach program

elvisWhen the announcement comes that Elvis has left the building, he’s either headed for a leisurely bask in the sun by the fountain at the Edmon Low Library or off to a classroom to help teach such weighty topics as evolution, adaptation and osmoregulation.

Much like his namesake, this Elvis has a growing fan club of some 200 Facebook friends and is pampered, bathed and fed by a coterie of attentive handlers dedicated to his care and comfort. The comparisons to the legendary pop star end here.

This Elvis is a strict vegetarian who tips the scales at 13 pounds and is more renowned for his abstract expressionist art than his vocal styling.

OSU’s famous Elvis is an artist, teacher’s aide and literacy advocate.

He is a 5-foot, black-and-orange Mexican subspecies of Green Iguana that calls the Learning Resource Center on the third floor of Life Sciences West home. He is the reptilian star of the zoology department’s introductory biology course where he helps students understand basic principles of evolution and physiology.

Accompanied by an interesting variety of reptiles, amphibians, spiders and insects, Elvis also travels to K-12 schools across Oklahoma as the centerpiece of the Elvis and Friends Educational Outreach Program.

The enormously successful program brings science alive in the classroom with hands-on lessons in natural history, wildlife preservation and the often too demanding responsibilities of exotic pet care.

Elvis regularly visits schools and libraries as part of a children-reading-to-animals program. The mild-mannered and people-loving lizard makes the perfect listening partner for children who are just beginning to read, helping to build their self-confidence.

Equally remarkable are Elvis’ talents in the studio. Using water-based paints and his whip-like tail, he creates elaborate abstract paintings on 18-inch by 24-inch canvases that the department sells or auctions to raise funds for the Elvis and Friends traveling classroom.

The department posts Elvis’ art endeavors and outings along with the occasional science facts tidbits on his Facebook page found at Elvis Iguanidae.

When Elvis leaves the building there is no doubt he is the most beloved reptile in the state. On a warm day when this unlikely social media star announces a lunchtime appearance on campus via Facebook, his two-legged fans line up to see him, eager as the autograph seekers that once followed his musical namesake.

Elvis and Friends Attracts Patron
Elvis’ program caught the attention of 1969 economics alumna Delores Wright, who became a zoology department donor whose financial aid helps undergraduate students gain experience in exotic animal husbandry and supports the Elvis and Friends Educational Outreach Program.

“Her generosity means the department can continue to reach out to Oklahoma children and communities,” says Moria G. Harmon, zoology department lecturer, lab coordinator and Elvis’ primary handler. “It also means our animals can continue receiving quality care from undergraduate caregivers.”

To recognize Wright’s important financial contributions and her patronage of the arts, the zoology department gave this Elvis aficionada his first painting.

Friends of Elvis (FOE)
Find Elvis on Facebook by searching for Elvis Iguanidae and adding him as a friend. The iguana’s original owner, Jim Bidlack, a biology professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, gave Elvis to the zoology department in 2002. Since Harmon began the Elvis and Friends Educational Outreach Program in 2005, Elvis has inspired the imaginations of hundreds of Oklahoma schoolchildren.

Photo: Moria G. Harmon, zoology department lecturer and lab coordinator for the introductory biology course, has been Elvis’ handler for eight years.

Sources: Story by Timothy R. Ryan, journalism '84 and photos by Phil Shockley, University Marketing