By Drew Lash and Allegra Tepper
Lurking around the dark corners, hidden in the shadows is Optimus Prime, the master of his domain. Who would ever think that Optimus would be living right in Munger 106?
But students need not fear for their personal safety; science teacher Blaise Eitner guards the beastâs chambers, and Optimus is strictly a vegetarian.
Optimus Prime is a green iguana.
Welcome to what Eitner affectionately refers to as the “Animal Rehabilitation Center,” where the science department houses that have been rescued from students unable to care for their pets. The Munger collection began about nine years ago, Eitner said, when he adopted his neighborâs bearded dragon. Thus the Rehabilitation Center was founded.
“People donât think of reptiles as long term commitments, not like dogs or cats,” Eitner said. “They get tired of taking care of them and we are the recipients.”
Along with Optimus Prime, reptiles residing in Munger include a bearded dragon named Irwin, after Crocodile Dundee Steve Irwin, and two nameless corn snakes.
“Snakes donât have ears; they canât hear, so they wouldnât even respond if I called them names,” Department Head Larry Axelrod said.
AP Environmental Science teacher Dietrich Schuhl has a different outlook when it comes to the namesake of his classroom pets; he says he doesnât name his rainbow trout for fear of attachment.
With a clear fascination with the Transformers entertainment franchise and perhaps a desire for a classroom hero, Eitnerâs Oceanography and Marine Biology and AP Biology courses voted to name the green iguana Optimus Prime after the protagonist of the fictional series. At three feet in length, including his tail, Optimus has grown to live up to his moniker.
Neighboring Optimusâs territory are two 125 gallon marine aquariums of tropical and Californian cold water fish. Eitner collected these intertidal cold water fish on a California beach with a UCLA permit along with an OMB class. Director of Campus Operations James De Matte custom built the tank stands.
Animals in Munger have very intricate and individualized diets. While the rainbow trout eat typical dry fish food, others eat frozen marine delicacies, such as squid and shrimp.
Optimus sets a good example for students to eat their veggies, but Irwinâs diet also includes some meat, crickets to be exact. As for the corn snakes, Eitner simulates a near-wilderness experience, feeding the snakes live mice for them to hunt.
Occasionally this culinary ritual serves as a demonstration for Biology students.
Eitner said that he doesnât sympathize with the mice. “There are more mice than snakes, so I donât really feel too bad for the mice. Snakes gotta eat!”
Eitner works 10 hours per week after school, maintaining the rehabilitation center and the well-being of its inhabitants.
Some of the chance learning experiences that arise from having live creatures in the classroom make it worth it, he said.
Eitner recalls one instance in which he was teaching an OMB class about asexual reproduction in Cnidarians, such as the anemones found in the tropical tank.
When the class returned from spring break, the anemones in their classroom has performed the very process. Where there was one anemone before the break, now there were two identical Cnidarians.
“I couldnât have planned it any better myself,” Eitner said.
Silently protecting science students from the dangers creeping around Coldwater Canyon, Optimus Prime carries on the tradition of Transformersâ Autobots by keeping watch over those who enter his domain.