It's a little hard for a visitor to miss Mark Mitchell's office in the U. of I. College of Veterinary Medicine's Small Animal Clinic.
Along a row of wooden doors framed on all sides by white-painted concrete blocks, his entryway is the one covered in brightly illustrated children's drawings.
There are paper spiders, crabs, turkeys and even a blue platypus.
"Thanks for teaching us about reptiles," says one letter sent from a first-grade class in St. Joseph, Illinois, where Mitchell, a professor of veterinary clinical medicine, once gave a school presentation.
"I like for the people who need to come and visit me to be comfortable and to feel like they can come on in," he said.
And they do.
It's not a huge office by any means, but Mitchell, a U. of I. Vet Med graduate and an Illinois professor for seven years, has managed to pack in several full-sized bookshelves near the entrance, displaying everything from scientific journals to Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"
There's an assumption, but not necessarily a guarantee, that the books are kept in some particular order.
"I call this part my library," he said, which leads to two freshwater aquariums (125 and 55 gallons) on one side, and a tree that serves as a chameleon perch on the other side.
The aquariums hold living plants, snails and discus fish. The perch is empty for now, until Mitchell can find the perfectly tempered lizard (only those with a prehensile tail need apply).
Mitchell, who travels extensively to research sea turtles and other water-dwelling creatures, has a desk in the far reaches of the room, the location of which appears almost an afterthought.
The office walls are covered in drawings and paintings of birds that he has collected over the years. A rhinoceros head thrusts prominently out of one wall, and nearby lurks a Bengal tiger head wearing a Louisiana State University baseball cap (both animal heads are fake; the LSU cap, a shrine to the school where he earned his doctorate, is not).
"It's just stuff I've collected in my travels, or gifts from former students," he said.
Current students have volunteered to help him with the care of the aquariums when he's traveling. In return, Mitchell gives them liberal access to his office.
"Students have been more than willing to take care of things while I'm gone," he said. "I let them squat in my office when they need a place to study. It's a pretty fair trade."
Mitchell's office pales in comparison with his home collection, which includes 50 basement fish tanks, snakes and, at one point, more than 200 turtles.
"My hobbies have always been fish and old cars," he said, noting his home garage is filled with the latter. "It's all of the stuff my mother told me I couldn't have."
He said he always was the "oddball" in his family - the one sibling in eight who chose to play with frogs and turtles over most other activities.
"I've always loved animals," he said. "I wanted to be a vet since I was 7. If you told the 14-year-old Mark Mitchell what he'd be doing every day when he grew up, he'd say just one word: 'Awesome!'"
Mitchell is finishing out a sabbatical this year that has led him to Jekyll Island, Georgia, to study climate stress on sea turtle reproduction, and to Germany to study lizard reproduction.
That would have been considered rock star status by the 14-year-old Mitchell.