Fun Star – Experiments gone wrong: Mutated creatures cover campus, students try to catch them all

Amelia Cooper/Fun Star Reporter
April 1, 2012

Students are scurrying to capture wild animals as a bizarre new trend invades Fairbanks.

A previously well-hidden research project gone awry was exposed last week when Maggie Waters, an English student, discovered an oddly large chrysalis near her Sheep Creek home.

“It definitely looked like a cocoon or something,” Waters said, “but it was as big as my head.”

As Waters walked closer to the pod-creature, it opened two wide eyes and blinked at her, she said. “I fell back when it looked at me. I called the authorities to have it removed … who knows what’ll come out of that thing.”

Veterinary officials have since been incubating the quarantined chrysalis under 24-hour surveillance.

Further accounts from around the UAF area support Waters’s claims. Dining Services employee Brook Pewter saw what he thought was a squirrel with something on its back, “I was just out having a smoke, and it was–it ran off before I could really see,” he said “but it was big, and it looked like it was carrying something.”

In the summer of 2010, a group of horticulture students under the leadership of Samuel Oakwood, professor of biology, began an agricultural experiment at UAF’s experimental farm. They aimed to isolate the effects of certain biological compounds on flowering plants. The experiment ran for two months trouble-free, but records cut off after July of that year. University biologists are scrutinizing what records are available. The biologists believe there may have been another experiment and the wildlife epidemic is somehow related, they said.

Mutated animals have spotted far as Goldstream Road, but tend to keep to naturally wooded areas, especially areas with tall grass.

Harry Oakwood, leaning against a red Subaru, told a group of teenage girls about his connections to Samuel Oakwood. “It was my gramps’s experiment, so I’ve already seen most of the mutations.”

Harry Oakwood helps his grandfather collect information on the creatures. “He’s working on a database to keep them all straight,” he said.

The girls fell toward the boy, cooing and shamelessly batting their eyes in admiration. Harry accepted their appreciation with the entitlement that only an only child would feel.

Samuel Oakwood declined to be interviewed, but his grandson mentioned that the mutations seem to discolor and cause the animals to swell to unreal sizes. Other than these consistencies, individual species are affected differently.

Ashton Kelley, a sociology student, also has been employed by Oakwood, he said.

“He asked me to come to his lab and gave me a … well I’m not really sure what kind of animal it was, maybe a mouse.” Kelley plans to use the creature to protect himself as he seeks out and takes notes on the other mutants he discovers, he said. “It’s dangerous out there.”

The creature by Kelley’s side stood at about knee height and sniffed around with the curiosity of a doberman. Its round, champagne-colored body contrasted starkly with its reddened cheeks. Its long, flat tail appeared to be broken in several places, but still managed to stand erect.

Others have sought to capture an exotic pet of their own, including Darren “Red” Flannery of Delta Junction.

“I heard about lizards that can breathe fire, and I was like, holy crap, I need one,” Flannery said. He packed a bag full of bug repellant, knick-knacks and candy bars, and set out for Fairbanks on foot. He arrived Sunday morning.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “it is illegal for citizens to possess or export native Alaska species as pets,” though some animals may be kept with the right permit.

When it comes to the logistics of applying these laws, the mutants lie in a grey area. Safety may also be an issue. They are known to be hostile and will jump at anyone who wanders into their territory. It is best to avoid the densely populated grassy areas.

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