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Nicolas Cage’s lizard a star attraction in Lake Forest

Wildlife Discovery Center

Where: 1401 Middlefork Drive, Lake Forest

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays

Admission: Free

Details:; (847) 810-3663

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Updated: November 19, 2013 8:45AM

Since he’s been with actor Nicolas Cage since birth, it’s no wonder that Cage’s former pet lizard is hungry for the limelight at his new home in Lake Forest.

“He’s kind of a ham,” Rob Carmichael, curator of the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest, said of the carnivorous lizard. “He’s got quite a personality.”

The 4-foot speckled Asian water monitor arrived in an overnight FedEx box in early April, after a mutual friend in the zoo business suggested Cage send his pet to Lake Forest for keeps.

“Nicolas loves reptiles, he’s passionate about reptiles. But with his busy schedule, he had too many animals to take care of,” Carmichael said.

In a brief phone conversation with the actor, Carmichael learned what he could about the pet named Michael — now dubbed Grug for the character Cage voices in his new animated movie, “The Croods.” The lizard, he found out, was one of Cage’s favorite pets and the star wanted to find a good home for him.

“He raised him from a baby,” Carmichael said. “Nicolas did a really nice job. He had him around people at an early age. He got him used to being handled and being around different people.”

That early exposure created an animal that fit in quickly at the Wildlife Discovery Center, which is open to the public and attracts school groups, Scouts, families and private parties.

Carmichael and his crew realized the star power they had as soon as the 5-year-old lizard emerged from his shipping box.

“He’s just real chill. He’s at ease around people,” Carmichael said of the center’s only current celebrity animal.

Animal keeper/wildlife conservation educator Addy Robinson admits to quickly losing her heart to the newest arrival.

“I instantly fell in love with him. He’s so personable and friendly,” she said.

Part of her daily routine includes taking Grug on walks using a leash and a cat harness at Elawa Farm, located at 1401 Middlefork Drive in Lake Forest.

“He likes to go out and play. He’s a lot of fun,” she said.

That outgoing nature has landed Grug a leading role in the Center’s outreach program this summer, where Carmichael takes a few handpicked animals to schools and Chicago Park District functions in neighborhood parks.

“We’ll get to go on tour. He’ll be a big hit,” Carmichael said.

In the meantime, the team at the Wildlife Discovery Center will get Grug up to snuff.

“He needs a pedicure,” Carmichael said. And he needs to bulk up a little.

The crew feeds Grug every other day on an alternating diet of vole, mice, rats, fish, chicken and quail.

“In a short amount of time, he’s going to be in tip-top shape,” Carmichael said.

In the next few weeks, Grug will move from his indoor enclosure to a large 30-foot-long by 10-foot high by 10-foot wide outdoor cage, where he can truly lead the celebrity life, basking in the sun and swimming in his own pool.

“He’s going to get so much attention,” Carmichael said. “He’ll do just great.’

The Wildlife Discovery Center is a combination nature center, wildlife sanctuary, museum, and biological station featuring displays of live reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds including raptors and a bobcat.

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