Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Brief Autobiography


Experience, Education, Training
I am frequently asked just how I came to be doing what I am doing, be it the educational activities, rescue activities, writing, or just participating in various online forums. I am not, as many think, a veterinarian, nor am I technically a "herpetologist" (which is typically defined as one who studies reptiles and/or amphibians and obtains a degree in herpetology, which itself is a degree in zoology/biology with an emphasis on herps). What follows is a brief overview of my animal-related activities over the past 10+ years.

My knowledge of herps (reptiles, really) is pretty much self-taught, mainly because there was very little useful information available when I started. However, I was able to put to use my background and training in wildlife rehabilitation, some human and veterinary medicine, and animal behavior research (for the research department at the Los Angeles Zoo and in assorted field work projects) to researching and learning about the reptiles that came into my care and those belonging to other people who sought my assistance.

My personal herp-related, natural history, veterinary medicine, and biology library contains over 150 books plus herpetological, herpetocultural and veterinary journals and articles, as well as copies of journal articles kindly sent to me by a number of herp vets and other folks (for which I am deeply grateful). I am also fortunate in knowing several herp vets who are kind enough to answer my sometimes-convoluted questions, and read and comment on my writings.

One of the things I did before my neuroendocrineimmune systems were trashed was work for a wildlife educator. I was an in-class instructor, doing 5-week vertebrate taxonomy series in elementary and junior high schools. I also helped out back at the compound, socializing a wide range of reptiles, birds and mammals for handling and education. This included hands-on work with a 6 year old alligator; I had the dubious distinction at that time of being the only one the 'gator never chewed on.

I also worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and did educational outreach for the local herp society. I took courses in wildlife rehabilitation from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, got a lot of hands-on experience with a wide range of animals when working on oil spills doing bird recovery and when working at the wildlife refuge. The latter was especially busy during 'baby season' when our facility took in over 4500 animals along with the year round maintenance of the 160 permanent residents which included everything from big cats, camels, various primates, bears, wolves, to bunches of dumped and cast-off caiman, giant snakes, a huge alligator snapping turtle, and dozens of parrots. I also took vet tech courses at the local agricultural college. I've also worked with a long list of domestic and exotic mammals and birds through the rehab and rescue work. And I was pretty darned good blow-darting feline vaccines into the big cats, too!

My herps mostly came to me as dumped animals - I bought only nine of the over 53 herps I had here at one time. I treated (and continue to treat) them as pets both because I really like them but also because I used them as education animals, doing in-class lectures and exhibition-type events. Highly socialized animals experience less stress in captivity and during encounters (my article on The Use of Reptiles in Public Education goes into this and includes journal citations). I'm a strong believer that hands-on is the only way for people to truly learn not fear animals and to develop respect for them. The hands-on approach is the best way to hook a learner, be it a child or adult, into beginning to grasp the whole big picture...

At present, I have only a few reptiles: a Vietnamese leaf turtle; desert and chaco tortoises; and a Cyclura hybrid iguana. I have kept or worked with boa constrictors, ball pythons, blue-tongue skinks, corns; gophers; box turtles; Uromastyx, Burmese pythons, rainbow boas, anoles, water dragons, other colubrids, teiids, leopard and tokay geckos, assorted frogs and toads, and a variety of other reptiles. The cast of characters changed here as animals came and went when I was doing rescue and rehab. When I was able to be more active in public education programs than I have these past several years, I encountered many more native and exotic species.

I had to learn to say "no" to more rescues and activities that drain what little function I have. Having only 4 reptiles and a rescue dog at the present time is like being on vacation after years of having dozens to attend to. They are more than enough of a challenge for me right now, but they are worth it for the gentle joys they provide.

Other Activities
I co-founded the local herp society, North Bay Herpetological Society, in 1994 and was president for the first two years. Prior to my leaving Los Angeles (CA) I co-founded (Reptile and Amphibian Rescue Network) in 1992/1993.

As editor and chief writer of News from the North Bay, the newsletter of the North Bay Herpetological Society, for its first three years, many of my articles were picked up and published in other herp society newsletters. Articles from newsletters and my website have also made it into various BBS and online archives on the commercial services, and from there into herp society newsletters as well. My care articles are also getting picked up by a number of herp societies in Europe and elsewhere, with translations being made into Chinese, Danish, German, Dutch, Hebrew, French, Portuguese, and Spanish - that I know of.

I continue to field phone calls and email from vets, humane societies, and pet stores on care issues as well as calls from property owners who find themselves the unwilling roommate or owner-by-default of reptiles (like the landlord who found a 6 ft. caiman that had been left in his pond by his previous tenants). I have also done snake and turtle relocation, and got quite good at disentangling gopher snakes from deer netting in spring (must have been the experience of untangling nets blown out of net guns when catching birds for exam and banding!).

I also get - and used to answer - some 80-100 email letters a day. My ongoing health situation simply does not permit me to respond to the bulk of this mail, most of which can be answered if the people writing just read some of the 1500+ articles at my website.

I was quite active for years as a volunteer host in the Reptile and Amphibian Community on AOL, and for a while at's Herp Forum, the new home of the Pet Care Forum folks who first started the PCF on AOL, then moved to Veterinary Information Network when they hosted an online pet forum. Through the years, I've ranged from being the forum leader, hosting chats, or covering just a few boards. Because I've had to pull back my time online, my website has become increasingly important as a way to help people find the information they need.

Prior to all of this, I got my BA in organizational psychology and social anthropology. I then spent 18 years working in the health claims administration field wherein I managed large claims processing departments, designed claims processing and data management systems, wrote training and documentation manuals, hired and trained new employees for new departments, etc., for a large TPA.

I went back to school for my master's in education (Curriculum, Teaching and Learning). My thesis resulted in a 300+ page appendix, Reptiles: A Teacher's Guide To Their Care And Keeping In The Classroom. This grew out of a thesis research project involving a study of teachers who keep classroom reptiles, wherein I found that they are no better at keeping them than are the general public as they use the same books and the same pet stores to get their information. Ultimately, the care information provided in the appendix became the kernel of the articles that launched my Anapsid website.

I served, from 1994 through 2002, on the voluntary board of directors of the The Carousel Network: Chronic Neuroimmune Diseases Support and Information Network for Sonoma County, producing a bi-monthly newsletter and email discussion list for them. I am also one of the co-moderators of the original Iguanas Mailing List.. Excerpts of many of my herp care articles may also be found online at, a pet care information website provided by Veterinary Information Network for pet owners and their vets.

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