Illegally traded tarantulas find new home at Insect Zoo

Ginny Mitchell with baby tarantula

Ginny Mitchell, Insect Zoo education program coordinator, holds up a single vial containing a 4-week-old tarantula. Photos by Christopher Gannon.

The Iowa State University Insect Zoo welcomed 169 baby tarantulas this week after being selected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to receive the confiscated spiders.

Ginny Mitchell, Insect Zoo education program coordinator, said this is the first time the Insect Zoo has received confiscated animals from USFWS. The USFWS only sends confiscated animals to zoos, museums and other established institutions. Mitchell, who is on a listserv for zoos around the country, responded to a request for assistance for the spiders, confiscated Friday at the Port of Los Angeles, which led to Iowa State's selection.  

Vials of baby tarantulas

Small vials containing the 169 baby tarantulas. Larger image.

The tarantulas arrived Tuesday afternoon and were carefully unboxed by Insect Zoo staff and student workers. Ten of the tarantulas were given to Reiman Gardens and the remaining 159 will be raised in the zoo until they are big enough to be offered to other zoos. Mitchell hopes to keep half of them here at Iowa State where they’ll join other venomous species of spiders and scorpions as permanent zoo residents.

Tarantulas, including the Caribena versicolor (more commonly known as the Antilles pinktoe, or Martinique pinktoe, native to the Caribbean island of Martinique) now residing in the Insect Zoo, are one of the many animals trafficked in the illegal pet trading industry. The illegal pet trade is estimated to be worth up to $20 billion annually. Mitchell said most people think of reptiles, birds, monkeys and other larger fauna -- not tarantulas, butterflies and beetles -- when they think of this illicit industry.

"Many animals, such as tarantulas, are collected in the wild and sent to other countries for the pet industry. When animals are taken out of the wild, it reduces the general population and gene pool which can lead to the decimation of the species," she said.

Some species, like the rose hair tarantulas from Chile, are protected and not allowed to be removed from that country, Mitchell said.

"But even these protections cannot guarantee that they are not," she added.

Located in 432 Science Hall II, the Insect Zoo in the entomology department seeks to foster an appreciation of insects in Iowa and throughout the world. The zoo offers a variety of outreach initiatives including summer programs, school displays, story time with bugs and buggy birthday parties. Learn more on the Insect Zoo website.


Tiernen Edgar with baby tarantula

Sophomore Tiernen Edgar, entomology student employee, lets one of the four-week-old tarantulas walk down his hand at the Insect Zoo.


Impact of innovation commitment evident during pitch off week

Pitch off

Senior Cameryn Schafer delivers her 90-second pitch in front of a panel of judges during the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences pitch off contest Monday at the Student Innovation Center. Schafer has launched a pet food business for the blue-tongued skink, a variety of lizard gaining popularity among pet owners. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

The Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship's college-by-college pitch off began its sixth year this week with students from all seven colleges taking part. Participants have 90 seconds to pitch an idea to a panel of judges for cash prizes in one of two categories: new idea or existing business idea.

David Spalding

David Spalding

The first- and second-place finishers in each category from every college earn $500 and $250, respectively, and advance to the finals on Feb. 23. The finale is at the Launch Pad (room 4250) in the Student Innovation Center, with the winner in each category earning an additional $5,000, the runner-up $2,500 and third place earns $1,500.

Ivy College of Business dean and interim vice president for economic development and industry relations David Spalding is a frequent judge at the competition and has been involved since its first year. He recently talked with Inside about the competition and impact of Iowa State's commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship.

How has the pitch off evolved over six years?

It's great to see the breadth of majors and colleges represented in the pitch off. Now that we have Start Something programs developed in all of the colleges, students have more of an opportunity to refine their ideas before they get to the pitch competition. The ideas are clearer and they are articulating them better, and I think that is because of the various programs we offer across campus. 

Students are doing a better job of hitting the highlights they need to, because 90 seconds is not a lot of time. The more the idea is clearly thought out, the better you can articulate it. Being a judge in the competition is very hard when you are trying to determine who did the best. It really is a situation where you wish you could give 15 first-place prizes.

What's the biggest benefit to students of these competitions?

These pitches are another form of experiential learning, and a successful entrepreneur is going to have to pitch their idea to potential investors and partners. These competitions are a great form of learning for them, and that is what Iowa State has always been about -- the experience to go along with the academics. Even if they don't end up starting a business, the confidence they get from successfully doing these pitches is going to help them in whatever career they decide to follow.

Do you see an impact from a university-level commitment to innovation?

Students are finding a place to share their innovative thoughts and ideas. We are drawing students who are wanting to be part of Innovate at Iowa State. They might not have thought of the university before, but realize it can be a great place to nurture those ideas. Ultimately, I think this is going to lead to more successful startups coming out of Iowa State, and that is one of the objectives because small businesses are the job-creation engine of this country.

Are most universities offering programming in innovation and entrepreneurship?

We are a rare university because all seven colleges are collaborating in this effort. Often entrepreneurship is a niche program in an institution, but here it is very much at the center of what all seven colleges are doing. From a faculty perspective, this program allows students to refine their oral communication and critical thinking skills that really translate to the classroom. Students who have gone through this program benefit going forward during their time at Iowa State.

How do you see this competition evolving in the years ahead?

As we have more students involved in Start Something programs, I would expect the pitches will get better and students will continue to refine their ideas. The next step for students after [a pitch off] is the CYstarters program in the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. I think that team is going to have a tough time choosing students because of the quality of ideas and pitches.

Regent presidents make case for additional state support

President Wendy Wintersteen summarized how Iowa State would invest $12 million in additional state funding, if it received it next year, to members of the Legislature's Education Appropriations Subcommittee Monday. Iowa State requested a $12 million bump to this year's $174.1 million in general university operating funds from the state. In total, the three regent universities seek $32 million in additional funding.

Wintersteen, Iowa president Barbara Wilson and Northern Iowa president Mark Nook made their annual pitch at the State Capitol Feb. 13. Wintersteen told legislators Iowa State's proposal features five requests:

  • $4 million to develop "degrees of the future" to address the state's workforce needs. Recent examples have included cybersecurity engineering, business analytics, artificial intelligence and human resources management. She noted that 11% of ISU undergraduates are in degree programs related to cyber, including electrical and software engineering or computer science. Iowa State offers a degree program relevant to 49 of the state's 50 "hot jobs," she said.
  • $2 million to leverage private support and expand need-based aid for first-generation students, who comprise 23% of all ISU undergraduates.
  • $3 million to, in collaboration with the Critical Materials Institute at Ames National Laboratory, support rare earth independence for the U.S., including developing new ways to recycle computer hard drives, creating magnets from recycled rare earth materials and establishing a recycling program at the lab to more quickly develop recycling technologies.
  • $2 million to advance digital agriculture and manufacturing. Examples include hands-on clinics for farmers to maximize their modern machinery, cybersecurity assistance for Iowa firms and support for ISU's digital ag innovation team that works with Iowa's large agribusinesses.
  • $1 million to strengthen rural Iowans' vitality and resiliency. Funds would expand extension and outreach efforts in mental health, technical assistance and affordable housing.

Wintersteen thanked Gov. Kim Reynolds for allocating $40 million for phase II of the state Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. She noted Iowa State still seeks $22.5 million in state support over multiple years for the estimated $66.5 million second phase. Rounding out the funding would be $2.7 million in university funds and $1.3 million in private gifts.


Subcommittee members asked the presidents some funding-related questions, on topics such as efforts to control costs, the escalating cost to students and families, the variables in adding or discontinuing academic degree programs, and efficiency.

On the subject of administrative costs, Wintersteen said Iowa's public universities are lean operations in a national comparison.

"All three have a very clear focus on efficiency and doing everything in our power to run the most efficient institution that we can. It's a goal of the state Board of Regents and a goal of each of our administrative team members," she said.

In a national list capturing a five-year average (FY 2017-21) of universities' administrative efficiency, measured in dollars spent on administrative costs per student FTE, all three Iowa universities rank in the lower third. With a national range of $1,348 to $7,724 per student FTE, the three regent universities' five-year average ranged from $2,373-$2,771.

Legislative members also asked questions about expenditures on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programming, as well as the "recent" need for programming.

Wintersteen told committee members inclusion programming isn't new and Iowa State has provided it for decades. She noted diversity and inclusion efforts serve a very broad student audience, including ethnically diverse students, low-income students, first-generation students, veteran students, and students with learning disabilities, among others.

"It's about shepherding every student so they feel they belong and can be successful," she said. The payback for those efforts is better student retention, higher graduation rates and greater efficiency in the years it takes students to complete their degrees -- down to 4.18 years at Iowa State.

Wilson added that employers ask for graduates that are trained to lead in a diverse world and prepared to work on diverse teams in locations around the globe.

Regarding the salaries of DEI leaders at the regent schools, Wintersteen said the universities operate in a competitive, national job market when they recruit campus leaders, including those in charge of DEI programs.

"It's an important investment we make as we try to bring in the very best to serve our students, focus on student success and work with our faculty and staff," she said.

Scheman planning, parking rates go to regents next week

Iowa State will seek state Board of Regents permission to begin planning for an estimated $10 million-$12 million in renovations to the ground and first floors of the Iowa State Center's Scheman Building when the board meets Feb. 22 (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) in its Urbandale office. The agenda is online, and all open portions of the meeting are livestreamed on the board website.

The athletics department, which manages the Iowa State Center, proposes improvements to the 48-year-old conference facility that would include the entrance lobby, restrooms and event and circulation spaces. Benton auditorium on the east side of the building would be converted to an open, flexible event space. The project also would upgrade building entrances, interior finishes, lighting, wayfinding and food and beverage amenities. The design process would include an evaluation of the center's exterior elevated walkway network. If repairs are required and funding permits, those would be a final piece of this project.

Parking rates for FY2024

Iowa State is proposing a 3% increase to campus parking permits and a 25-cent hourly increase (to $1.50) for metered stalls and lots for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The parking division also seeks to increase the penalty for three parking violations by $5 each: overtime on parking meters (to $20), failure to purchase a parking receipt (to $20) and improper parking (to $30). The last violation excludes improperly using a space designated for people with disabilities, for which the fine remains $200.

The board will approve parking rates at its April meeting.


Proposed permit increases: ISU lots

Permit type

Proposed FY24


24-hour reserved






General staff*









Motorcycle, employee



Parking meters, metered lots



*Includes residence and Ames Lab staff permits


Memorial Union staff manage that building's parking ramp. As proposed, MU ramp permits generally would go up $20-$50. The MU isn't proposing any changes to hourly rates in the ramp.


Proposed permit increases: Memorial Union ramp

Permit type

Proposed FY24


Annual, MU employee



Fall or spring



Winter (Nov-Feb)






Universities' value to Iowa

Hannah Ruffridge, an economist and director of higher education consulting for the labor market analytics firm, Lightcast, will summarize findings related to its new report on the economic value of the Iowa regent universities to the state. She'll present to the full board near the end of the meeting.

Other ISU items

In other business, Iowa State will seek board permission to:

  • Beginning this fall, offer a bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering through the chemical and biological engineering department, with support from the mechanical, electrical and computer, and materials science engineering departments. The degree program would have three emphasis areas: biomaterials, biomechanics and bioinstrumentation. Biomedical engineering is the sixth most popular engineering degree in the country. Its addition strengthens the College of Engineering, meets workforce demand and offers another ISU pathway to medical school.
  • Reset its group of 10 peer institutions. Three of the current 10 would remain: Michigan State, North Carolina State and Purdue universities. Seven different universities would be added whose missions and goals align more closely with Iowa State.
  • Close two centers: Plant Genomics Center and Plant Transformation Center, effective May 31. Remaining relevant research activity has been integrated into the Plant Sciences Institute.
  • Award two honorary degrees at spring commencement events: A Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Trudy Huskamp Peterson, 1967 alumna and first woman archivist of the United States, for her advocacy in maintaining and preserving archives that involve the human rights of individuals around the world and her commitment to publicly sharing, in documents, as much of the nation's heritage as possible. History faculty members nominated her for the award. The second is a Doctor of Science degree to Temple Grandin, distinguished professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, animal welfare pioneer and activist for people with autism, for an outstanding career in humane animal handling, animal welfare and related facilities design, and using her experience living with autism to influence her understanding of animal behavior. Faculty in animal science nominated her for the award.

The board also receives a set of mandatory annual reports in the February docket:

Turning ideas into impact -- ISU Day at the Capitol

The annual ISU Day at the Capitol event on Feb. 21 will again showcase how the university is turning ideas into impact -- through initiatives focused on innovation, entrepreneurship, economic development and service to the state.

President Wendy Wintersteen and nearly 50 faculty, staff, students and stakeholders from 17 programs across campus will share stories of how Iowa State addresses state priorities, prepares students for careers and explores new frontiers in science and technology. ISU Day at the Capitol runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon in the statehouse rotunda.

Exhibits prepared for ISU Day at the Capitol include:


Expanding vigilance against cyber threats

The Center for Cybersecurity Innovation and Outreach is leading education and workforce projects to protect Iowa businesses and critical infrastructure. Iowa Cyber Hub facilitates collaboration between education providers and companies to provide a cyber workforce. CySim helps organizations practice cyber defenses and prepare for future attacks. ReCIPE helps secure the energy sector. The CyberEd group of faculty and students creates and delivers cybersecurity education and outreach to Iowa and beyond.

The display will showcase CySim and ISU cybersecurity efforts to protect farmers.


Digital agricultural innovation starts here

The scientists of ISU's Digital Ag Innovation are passionate about industry partnerships and enhancing agricultural productivity and efficiency through science-driven solutions. Partnering with Iowa-based companies, ISU Digital Ag is advancing the agricultural technology of tomorrow -- while supporting the workforce needs of Iowa through ag tech-based careers.

Unmanned aerial vehicle and camera systems used in the research will be displayed.


Protecting a $32.5B Iowa industry

Modernizing the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is critically important in safeguarding Iowa's $32.5 billion livestock industry -- and the nation's food supply. The renowned lab provides invaluable expertise on animal health and food safety issues. Funding for Phase 2 of construction will put ISU on the forefront of cutting-edge technology to combat animal diseases.


Supporting America's rare earth independence

Research at the Ames National Laboratory on the ISU campus plays a key role in the nation's secure supply chain of rare earth metals -- important ingredients in many energy-related technologies. Research in rare earth recycling and magnet testing and production has national impact on energy use in transportation, energy storage, consumer electronics and many other areas.

Technology transfer success stories will be highlighted, and samples of magnet and rare earth metals will be displayed.


Extraordinary potential in every county

ISU's Hixson Opportunity Awards Program is one way Iowa State demonstrates its commitment to giving first-generation and low-income Iowa students a chance to do something extraordinary. The Hixson program looks beyond traditional measures of academic success to see student potential. One student from each Iowa county is annually selected based on financial need, essays describing hardships overcome and future goals, and high school recommendations. Those selected receive a half-tuition and fees award, and they participate in programs and services that provide a supportive, potential-fulfilling campus community.


Producing top-notch military leaders

ISU's land-grant roots began with practical education in agriculture, mechanic arts and military science. Since 1870, Iowa State has been a pioneer in military training and education, fostering many officers in successful military careers. Currently, nearly 200 ISU students participate in ISU's three Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) units.

Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC will be represented, and a virtual reality flight simulator demonstrated.


Deere apprentices improve communications skills

The English department partnered with John Deere to create a communication component for the company's welding internship. ISU helped high school apprentices in welding and machinery sharpen their writing and speaking skills through communications training.

A virtual reality weld simulator will be demonstrated.


Changes to ISU peer list await regents' approval

Senators learned about proposed changes to the 10 peer institutions Iowa State uses when reporting to the state Board of Regents during the Feb. 14 Faculty Senate meeting.

The original list of peers was made in 1986 and changed just once -- adding Pennsylvania State and removing the University of Arizona. Senior vice president and provost Jonathan Wickert said it's necessary to update the current list because only one of those peers also lists ISU as a peer.

"All of the current peers are more selective in their admissions than we are because we pride ourselves in opening our doors very widely to students via the Regents Admissions Index," he said. "Most of the schools on the current list have human medical colleges that impact resources available to the university."

The proposed peer institutions include three from the current list in Michigan State University, East Lansing; North Carolina State University, Raleigh and Purdue University, West Lafayette. The new schools are Colorado State University, Fort Collins; Kansas State University, Manhattan; Oklahoma State University, Stillwater; Oregon State University, Corvallis; University of Missouri, Columbia; University of Nebraska, Lincoln and Virginia Polytechnic and State University, Blacksburg.

All 10 are land grants with extension services and Research I universities in the Carnegie classification. Eight list ISU as a peer. The proposed list is subject to final board approval on Feb. 23.

Determining new peers

To help determine the new peer group, executive director of institutional research Karen Zunkel and her staff reviewed numerous quantitative and qualitative factors for an advisory committee of university leaders. Quantitative factors included: STEM enrollment, research expenditures, cost of attendance and fiscal resources. Qualitative factors included: strategic goals, land-grant institutions, innovation focus and whether ISU partners with them in research.

"We started looking at high research, public land-grant institutions," Zunkel said. "That gave us a list of 24, and we started identifying schools similar to Iowa State across a broad range of indicators that are good fits on institutional mission and culture."

ISU ranks in the middle of its proposed group of peers in most measures but remains the most affordable, Wickert said.


In addition to proposed modifications to the board list of peers, Wickert said Iowa State reduced the number of peer institutions in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from 97 to 29. The list is often used by the Chronicle of Higher Education and publications that rank institutions.

"It gives us a broader perspective than the board list, and we wanted to have some representation from coast to coast," Wickert said.

The 29 peer institutions for IPEDS are the 10 new board peers, the seven institutions removed from the peers list and 12 additional Research I institutions.

Iowa State's 29 IPEDS peers

The universities below are Iowa State's 29 peers in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The list includes the 2023 revised set of 10 peer institutions, the seven institutions removed from the previous peers list and 12 additional Research I institutions.

  • Michigan State University, East Lansing
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette
  • Colorado State University, Fort Collins
  • Kansas State University, Manhattan
  • Oklahoma State University, Stillwater
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis
  • University of Missouri, Columbia
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln
  • Virginia Polytechnic and State University, Blacksburg
  • Ohio State University, Columbus
  • Pennsylvania State University, Happy Valley
  • Texas A&M University, College Station
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of Illinois, Champaign
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • University of Arizona, Tucson
  • Arizona State University, Tempe
  • State University of New York, Buffalo
  • University of Clemson
  • University of Georgia, Athens
  • University of Kentucky, Lexington
  • Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
  • University of Maryland, College Park
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Texas Tech University, Lubbock
  • Washington State University, Pullman
  • West Virginia University, Morgantown

Kellogg's 24th ISCORE includes a personal turn

Two men, one white and one Black who were born within a few months of each other and raised in the South, one near Atlanta, the other in Galveston, will discuss the lingering impacts of Jim Crow laws on their upbringing at the 2023 ISCORE (Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity) Friday, March 3, in the Memorial Union. Due to high volume, online registration for ISCORE closes Friday, Feb. 17.

Japannah Kellogg head shot

Japannah Kellogg

Japannah Joseph Kellogg Jr., who leads the ISCORE project, and Patrick Phillips, Stanford University English professor who researched and wrote the 2016 book, "Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America," share an understanding gained from very different experiences: Kellogg confined by a seemingly strict mother who he later realized was desperate to keep him safe, Phillips bit by bit rejecting the disdain for Black citizens he witnessed in his hometown and finding the courage to advocate for equality among races.

Phillips' book connected them. From age 7, Phillips grew up in Forsyth County, Georgia (now suburban Atlanta), the setting for his "Blood at the Roots." The book shares the details of fall 1912 in Forsyth County when, in response to the rape and murder of an 18-year-old white teen, white residents lynched three young Black men and over two months' time, through arson, threats and terror, drove out all 1,098 Black citizens of the county, burning down homes, churches and businesses and claiming "abandoned" land for themselves. Kellogg's great-grandparents, Joseph and Eliza Kellogg, were born slaves but had managed to accumulate 200 farmed acres as free citizens, the most of any Black residents in the county.

Learn more

Author Patrick Phillips also will give a public lecture about Forsyth County's violent history on Thursday, March 2 (6 p.m., MU Great Hall).

History supplies numerous examples of white violence against Black people, both short-lived incidents and community erasures. What set this one apart is that white residents of Forsyth County succeeded in repelling Black residents for nearly 90 years. In 1987 -- 75 years later -- suppression of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day "brotherhood" march in Forsyth County received national attention, including from two then-17-year-old boys.

The men's first phone conversation last year was personal. After finishing "Blood at the Roots," Kellogg wanted to talk to the author with so much insight into his ancestors' history, and Phillips was pleased to talk to a descendant of people mentioned by name in his book. Kellogg said several days later the idea came to him to invite Phillips to ISCORE. The two could share the similarities and contrasts in their parallel lives.

"Over the years of leading this project, I take pride and I take it seriously that I've cultivated a space that has allowed us to be vulnerable. Our keynote speakers typically share a little bit of their journey, and we benefit from people telling their stories," Kellogg said. "For me personally, it's an honor and a privilege, but it's also frightening to participate in a project that I hold near and dear."

Kellogg said Phillips' book wasn't easy to finish.

"There was some compartmentalizing because I knew how it was going to end," he said. "The stuff you know doesn't sound good, doesn't feel good. It isn't good. I hope to be able to articulate what it felt like, reading."

Their conversation will be moderated by alumna Ashley Garrin, who leads the McNair Program in the Graduate College for first-generation and underserved populations.

ISCORE, Wednesday preconference

Phillips and Kellogg's conversation will be the 1 p.m. keynote session Friday following lunch. Friday's opening session (8:30 a.m.) will feature faculty panelists who reflect on their experiences at the 2022 National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE) last summer in Portland, Oregon.

Faculty, staff and graduate students are welcome at a preconference on Wednesday, March 1 (10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.). It includes one morning and two afternoon breakout sessions and a keynote address at 3:10 p.m. by Corey Welch, director of the STEM Scholars program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He'll talk about the strengths of being a first-generation, low-income undergraduate, aligning his values with the scientific research he did, and applying learned skills to create the STEM Scholars community.

The preconference's opening session (11 a.m.) will feature an abbreviated version of the yearlong Professional Development Academy for faculty and staff attending their first or second NCORE. Several participants in this year's academy will discuss the advantages of approaching diversity, equity and inclusion work supported by professionals across campus units and divisions and employee classifications.