From the creepy-crawly and fanged, to the furry and leather-winged, Dixie State University has had its fair share of on-campus creature encounters.
Dixie even has history with an alligator — but there’s more on that later.
As far as the most recent encounters go, squirrels, scorpions, tarantulas and bats have all encroached on DSU students’ natural habitat, and they can cause quite a scene, especially when they decide to interrupt class time.
Breanna Opdahl, a junior communication major from Wahpeton, N.D., and her class members scrambled from their classroom March 3 as a Mexican Free-tailed bat flitted overhead.
“I was pretty much falling asleep in class, and, all of a sudden, I see [my professor] completely change into this defensive stance,” Opdahl said. “I look behind me and, all of a sudden, there was this little, black thing zooming around the room … We were trying to get it out of the classroom, (and) everybody was freaking out.”
It then flapped around in the rafters of the Udvar Hazy School of Business building before campus services officials captured it with a net and released it outside.
“I was like, ‘Why does this happen to me?’” Opdahl said. “Because it almost hit me in the face … I was awake after that. It was just weird.”
That wasn’t the first time a bat found its way inside a campus building, and it won’t be the last, said Sherry Ruesch, executive director of campus services. As migratory animals, bats flock to St. George during spring semester and find their way into buildings every year, she said.
In fact, clouds of bats even claimed DSU as their home about eight years back when an entire colony started roosting beneath the Hansen Stadium seats.
“We used to have just thousands and thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats (nesting under the seats),” Ruesch said.
Ruesch said they would cause quite a bit of havoc during football season sunsets when they’d all fly out at once.
She said the situation worsened and caused problems for about two years until workers filled the gaps beneath the seats with foam to prevent bat habitation.
Now, about that alligator: No, it didn’t run rampant and terrorize students; instead, it lived quietly on campus.
Biology professor Curt Walker said roughly 25 years ago, biology professor Andrew Barnum heard rumors of the reptile living in the Virgin River by the Bloomington Country Club golf course. He captured the lizard and gave it a home in what is now known as the Desert Terrarium, or the outdoor garden and habitat, located at the heart of the Science Building.
“It lived down in the middle part of the building where there’s a pond for several years … right here on campus,” he said.
After the alligator died years ago, Walker said its taxidermied body was put on display in the Natural Science Museum in room 207 of the Science Building.
As for the latest encounters, Ruesch said students recently spotted a squirrel and a tarantula in the North Plaza, in addition to some scorpions in the Russell C. Taylor Health Science Building. All were live-trapped and released by campus grounds crews as they’re passionate about humane critter control, she said.
Birds and mice are of the more mundane on-campus dwellers, but to combat their occasionally problematic numbers, campus services officials have allied with a once similarly-bothersome nuisance: feral cats.
In fact, Ruesch said the campus services staff has even befriended and named two feral felines: Precious, a shy, 14-year-old, white, bobtailed cat; and Smokey, a black, attention-hungry tomcat.
Thanks to April Aschcroft, DSU mail specialist and animal-lover, Precious and Smokey enjoy life on campus in wake of what was, about 20 years ago, an overpopulation of feral cats riddled with disease, Ruesch said. Aschcroft has since been catching and spaying or neutering any feral cats she’s come across to prevent problematic populaces.
Thus, not all campus creatures disrupt classes like the Hazy bat, but they do help maintain the quality of Dixie’s grounds, like how Precious and Smokey hunt mice. However, Ruesch said if students do encounter a critter that seems out of place, they can inform faculty or call campus services at 435-652-7500 so officials can capture and release the animal to where it belongs.
“[Encountering creatures on campus] is definitely a day-changer,” Opdahl said. “(But just) stay calm and stay away from it; give it its space and wait for someone who has the right equipment to deal with it.”