Water polo players Pat Glasgow and Bob Ernst entered the fledgling university on a mission – to make the mascot an anteater. Well, mission accomplished as Peter the Anteater has become one of the most popular mascots of all time.
FROM THE BEGINNING
Legendary head coach Al Irwin had recruited Glasgow and Ernst from Orange Coast College to play on the first men’s water polo team at UCI when the campus opened in 1965.
While sitting on a lifeguard tower, Glasgow thought about his future at UCI and of an anteater.
“It wasn’t an epiphany,” Glasgow remembered. “I just had a thought - Irvine Anteaters. It just rolled off the tongue.”
At the end of a shift, Glasgow radioed Ernst who was at another tower and once they agreed on the anteater the focus shifted from the type of the mascot, to how to make people believe it.
On move-in day at the Camino dorm at Mesa Court there were 50 male residents, 48 freshmen and transfers, Glasgow and Ernst. The duo stood out front and greeted everyone, planting the seed – “You know what the mascot is don’t you? An Anteater. You better believe it.”
And so the campaign began.
Meanwhile the campus administration floated the safe idea of mascots such as the Clippers, Mariners, Dolphins, Explorers and Toros and went as far as to have renderings commissioned to show students what they might look like.
The first water polo game in UCI history was played on October 8, 1965. Ernst remembers the teams lining up on opposite ends of the pool deck and after the official’s signal, the UCI team shouted Anteaters rock! The crowd looked around wondering what that meant. Little did they know the start of something magical was about to take shape.
Glasgow, Ernst and a fellow Camino resident Schuyler Hadley Bassett, who fancied himself an advertising executive, sketched a logo based on the popular Playboy bunny, which was the hip brand of the time and the campaign began to gain steam.
Bassett was active, papering the campus with the logo. When the flyers disappeared immediately, Glasgow was worried, but then quickly realized they were on binders and hanging in dorm rooms so they ran to the copier to make more.
A mention in Sports Illustrated’s Scorecard on November 8, 1965, hailing the new rallying cry heard in the stands at games was another boost for the fate of the Anteater and Glasgow knew there was no looking back.
Transition to basketball season. After being absent for a few days, Bassett returned with a car full of pins and bumper stickers that the dorm members sold at basketball games. Ernst remembers that with little to do outside of campus, everyone went to the games and the cheers really caught on.
A suggestion from the administration that inferred the mascot should be some type of bear to align with other UC campuses almost threw a wrench in the plan. Glasgow couldn’t remember who exactly picked up the dictionary, but they might have saved the life of the anteater as it confirmed it was also called an ant bear.
On November 30, 1965, the Anteater was officially chosen in a student election as the mascot of UC Irvine. In a sign of the times, the choice was hailed for its originality, winning with 559 votes over the second place choice "None of these". The Unicorns, Sea Hawks, Centaurs, Roadrunners, Toros, Bison, and 49 write-in votes didn’t stand a chance.
In reflection, Glasgow said “I hope people enjoy the uniqueness of the Anteater. It wasn’t done in jest or to make fun of the university system, it was just an antihero of the time.”
Ernst agreed. “It’s totally unique, but not absurd. It’s a great legacy. When I walk around campus and see the anteater sculptures and paintings I think it’s pretty cool. I’m glad we managed to pull it off.”
Glasgow and Ernst would add to their resumes following the creation of the mascot with Glasgow becoming UCI's first All-American along with Bob Nealy and Ernst coaching the U.S. women's eight rowing team to a gold medal in 1984. Both men served as coaches at UCI following their collegiate careers and have been inducted in to the UCI Hall of Fame.
Background image of Johnny Hart's B.C. Anteater courtesy of UCI Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives
Inspired by Johnny Hart's comic strip, "B.C., Glasgow and Ernst wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times asking Hart to use the anteater as the school’s logo, but received no answer. Little did they know, Hart responded to the university and said he would be honored to have his anteater used.
Students opted to use Hart’s anteater as the face of the university and a large image of the mascot sits on the water tower overlooking the athletic facilities today.
While the anteater was a visual, Hart’s ZOT would unite generations to come.
ZOT is the sound an anteater’s tongue makes when attacking prey.
In 1965, "Give 'em the tongue, the tongue, the tongue. Give them the tongue!” was often heard at games, including a loud "Zot" after every score.
Former UCI volleyball head coach Charlie Brande, who was a freshman basketball player in 1965 and Bassett’s roommate, fondly remembers the games and the sound of ZOT coming from the stands.
“The best part was looking at the opponents and their fans who were like what the heck did they just say?”
Dr. Dan Aldrich, who Ernst described as a Chancellor of the students, was often seen at the games shouting ZOT along with the students.
The campus has fully embraced the word, calling the campus email Zotmail and the convenience stores "Zot 'n Go".
The hashtag #TogetherWeZot is used by Athletics.
Anteaters Through The Years
SET IN STONE OR BRONZE
A 430-pound, bronze anteater was installed in front of the Bren Events Center and unveiled at the first Anniversary Celebration of the facility on January 14, 1988. The statue was a $50,000 gift to the University from the Class of 1987. The 8 1/2-foot-long statue was created by New Mexico artist Billy Fitzgerald, who also designed UCLA's famous Bruin Bear mascot. Peter is one of the marquee photo spots for events, concerts, graduations and visitors.
Background photo of installation of the bronze Anteater courtesy of UCI Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives
At the Student Center there are several anteater sculptures, including a bench with a bronze cartoon-like Peter the Anteater sculpture created by Edward E. Hlavka.
Anteater Tower, the signature piece of UC Irvine’s Student Center, is adorned with a nine-foot long bronze sculpture of the anteater. The sculpture overlooks West Peltason and Pereira Drive, while a 13-foot companion sculpture is installed on a second tower overlooking the Student Center terrace and Ring Mall.
Near Langson Library and the flagpole, a brick mosaic of an anteater is located on Ring Road.
OH THE PLACES PETER WILL GO
Peter has grown popular beyond the campus limits, being touted as the nation’s No. 1 mascot most recently by Tokyodachi in 2020 and Mascot Mayhem in 2019 during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as well as “Best of the Best” in Mashable’s Mascot Madness contest during the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
In 2007, the national championship men’s volleyball team gifted a stuffed anteater to President George W. Bush on a visit at the White House.
Peter appeared on the Conan O'Brien show in 2015
Peter has also helped UCI to several Guinness World Records
A floral depiction of Peter has been seen at the Rose Parade and Peter has sailed in the Newport Beach Boat Parade, but maybe the most far out travel came in August 2007 when a small, stuffed Peter accompanied astronaut Tracy Caldwell on the space shuttle Endeavor mission STS-118.
Peter is always out in the community and has been seen at a Duck's game hanging out with Wild Wing as well as at Anaheim Stadium.
THE REAL DEAL
Two giant anteaters — wild cousins to Peter — made their debut on April 17, 2010 at the Santa Ana Zoo at Prentice Park, putting their long, sticky tongues and bearlike paws on display for all to see.
With the help of donations from the UC Irvine Alumni Association and the Mike Schroeder Family, the pair were transported from Guyana at a cost of $20,000 each. The anteaters spent a year adjusting to their new home before going on public in their home, Tierra de las Pampas grasslands habitat.
While not endangered, giant anteaters are a threatened species. Peter and Heesoo of Troy have had four pups since being at the zoo. Baby anteaters, called pups, are born with similar coloring and striping to adults, allowing them to instantly camouflage. The pup will ride on the mother’s back for up to one year as they grow to full size, before leaving to establish their own territory. Giant anteaters, who are found in the tropical forests and grasslands of Central and South America, are considered vulnerable in the wild due to habitat loss and hunting.
Anteaters use their sharp claws to rip open bark looking for ants as well as termites and other edibles. While the amount of insects to feed an anteater isn’t possible at the zoo (they may eat up to 30,000 ants and termites a day), Peter and Heesoo feast on smoothies made of cat food, spinach, papaya, bananas and other healthful ingredients.
The anteater’s calm demeanor may not strike fear in many initially, but when provoked, it transforms into a fierce competitor as UCI’s opponents can attest to.