5 Unusual Animals You Wouldn’t Expect To Find in the Chippewa Valley

What the heck is a Chinese Water Dragon anyway? And can it actually walk on water?

Rebecca Mennecke


Atelerix albiventris

Like most African Pygmy hedgehogs, Peter Quill can be grumpy and a little hard to handle in his Eau Claire home. Also known as a “four-toed hedgehog,” Peter Quill requires daily handling so he stays friendly and … well, less prickly. He’s pampered with weekly baths and nail trims, and close monitoring of his temperature to make sure he stays healthy – and cozy. Owner Jennet Connolly adopted Peter from a local breeder who was USDA licensed. “I do enjoy that they tend to only bond to one person,” Connolly says, “and that person’s me. He loves climbing up into my hair and burrowing to feel safe and sleep.” On your average day, you can find Peter running on his wheel or snacking on mealworms. When it comes to adopting hedgehogs, Connolly recommends doing your research. “All exotic pets require special care, whether it’s maintaining temperature and humidity or special diets and supplements,” Connolly says. “Failing to do some of these things can be detrimental to your little exotic friend.”

Bearded Dragon


13-year-old Caitlynn Johnson of Eau Claire has allergies, so your average cat or dog wasn’t going to fly in her home. She wanted a pet she could still care for and enjoy, so for her birthday, her family adopted Speedy – a bearded dragon. Speedy is healthier than your average human, living off a diet of kale, collard greens, shredded carrots, sweet potatoes, and various kinds of bugs. “She likes to angle her head and just stare at me with her mouth open when she is hungry, which makes me laugh,” Johnson said. “She loves to hang out in her tree and be fat and lazy.” Her enclosure requires a special UVA and UVB light bulb, and Johnson makes sure to give Speedy fresh water and clean his tank. Speedy loves to be petted and to play – especially if it means attacking things.


Ambystoma mexicanum

Godric Von Tybalt is one of many axolotl pets in the Chippewa Valley. What is an axolotl, you might ask? These bizarre lungfish-looking creatures are salamanders that live underwater. They are also known as “Mexican walking fish.” “I enjoy having Godric just simply follow my finger and him floating around,” said owner Amelia Vircks. “He isn’t an exciting pet, almost like a fish, but of course, he doesn’t have the looks of a fish.” You can most often find Godric watching Vircks, a student in Altoona, doing her schoolwork. He enjoys swimming to the top of the tank, only to float back down to the bottom. Vircks takes good care of her pet by changing Godric’s water frequently and doing water tests to check the pH, nitrate, nitrite, and chlorine levels. “Axolotls are really goofy creatures,” she says. “They have an adorable little smile that could warm any heart.”

Rainbow Boa

Epicrates cenchria

If you think iridescent scales look pretty cool, then you should check out a Brazilian Rainbow Boa, such as Peter Parker in Menomonie. Owner Jenah Call adopted Peter from the Reptile Expo in Eau Claire when Peter was a baby. Because he’s considered an intermediate species of snake, he needs high humidity as a baby – about 90-100% humidity. When owning a Brazilian Rainbow Boa like Peter, it’s important to do a lot of research. Call recommends watching home care videos to familiarize yourself with some of the processes.  “I love the rainbow shine he gives off when you hold him out in sunlight,” Call said. “He’s a very gentle snake and doesn’t have an attitude unlike most Brazilian rainbow boas.” After a big meal, you can find Peter going for a swim – “almost as if him eating supper was too much work and he needed a pool to unwind in,” Call said.

Chinese Water Dragon

Physignathus Cocincinus

NovaPet Animal Rescue in Osseo is the only exotic rescue in the area. According to the center, over 60% of exotics are not cared for properly – so they end up dead, at the humane shelter, or euthanized. When it comes to Cleo and Greg, two Chinese Water Dragons, they’re safely cared for at the rescue center after being surrendered by a family who could not care for them due to COVID-19. Chinese Water Dragons, like Cleo and Greg, are intermediate-level animals – similar to iguanas – but smaller and more personable. They require big enclosures and love trees, so they require lots of vertical space. “The coolest thing a water dragon does is run on water sometimes,” the rescue center says. “You heard me right, run on water.” When it comes to care, the rescue center recommends researching. “The horror stories you hear are from improper research care.”