Wartburg News

Wartburg biology professor offers to share animals with other educators

A blue-tongued skink is just one of the many animals in Dr. Michael Bechtel's collection. 

Dr. Michael Bechtel’s animal collection began more than 30 species ago.

Bechtel, a 1994 Wartburg graduate, was a student when a ball python became the first animal in his menagerie. The professor of science education’s collection has now grown so large he wants to share the animals with other Iowa teachers.

“There are many different types of learning. One of them is naturalistic. That’s the way I learn,” Bechtel said. “It wraps kids in.”

While teaching high school science in Saydel, Bechtel placed animals in more than 15 school districts and 100 classrooms. Each year Bechtel set up the animal in the class and trained the teacher to care for it. Every other month his students would visit, check on the animals and do a short presentation for the class. He hopes to do the same here.

Bechtel’s collection includes snakes and other reptiles, amphibians, rodents and a couple mammals. He has rats, mice and hamsters. He has Australian tree and Pacman frogs. His collection of snakes and other reptiles are too numerous to count. He also has a hedgehog, tortoises and a Patagonian mara, a large, rabbit-like mammal.

One also must not forget the hundreds of cockroaches. The sound of them skittering around in their cages can be heard throughout Bechtel’s Science Center classroom.  

“My master’s project was on animals in the classroom. I found that autistic students wouldn’t speak, but once the animals were involved — especially the bearded dragon — it wasn’t about them and they would talk to their peers,” he said.

In addition to using the animals as part of his curriculum, Bechtel also takes great joy in growing his collection through breeding.

“When I find something that is tough to breed or tough to get to mate, those are the animals I like to work with,” he said. “Then once you do, it’s like, ‘Oh, look what I can do.’”

Bechtel is also available for presentations at schools and organizations.

Those who wish to learn more about Bechtel’s collection or request an animal for their classroom may call the Wartburg College Biology Department at 352-8280 or email Bechtel at michael.bechtel@wartburg.edu.

Dr. Michael Bechtel with an Australian tree frog.