Naptime. With me are Koji (an akita with Vogt-Koyonagi-Harada and vitiligo), Mikey the eyeless 'possum, and Stevie, the antique-chewing moloccan, just a few of the 4 (rescued) dogs, 9 cats (they adopted us), 2 birds (husband had a soft spot for screamers), and assorted other creatures and characters who shared our home for various periods of time.

Welcome to
Educator, Author, Activist



I have been many things to different people through the years, especially since I first came online in 1993. Since then, depending upon how people came across my name and writings, or me personally in my appearances as a lecturer and exhibitor at various educational events in northern and southern California, some consider me primarily a green iguana person, whilst others know me from my information on snakes or when researching something apparently unrelated. Still others are more familiar with me from my work as an activist and educator dealing with chronic neuroimmune diseases.

Yes, I'd like to learn more about you...
I just want to get to your website links...

How do I go about finding out more about your book, Iguanas for Dummies

How do I go about getting a copy of the Captive Care of the Green Iguana video (now available in DVD with additional material)


Web History
With my first modem in 1993, I was able to start connecting with the world again after not having been able to work for two years due to a devastating neuroimmune (autoimmune) disorder triggered by my work on oil spills doing bird recovery for International Bird Rescue Research Center.

The prototype of my first articles on reptiles and amphibians began as posts on Prodigy and America Online. In June 1994, I became co-leader of the Reptile and Amphibian Forum on AOL. The forum continued to grow, with many of my articles appearing in the R&A library there. Many were picked up by herp BBS's around the country (and outside of the US), as well as (by permission) by Compuserve's Exotics forum. In early 2000, the Veterinary Information Network, the original founders of the AOL Pet Care Forum, moved all PCF operations to their own server at VIN. In August 2002, the Pet Care Forum hosts moved to our new home at, founded by Jeff Barringer ( There, I am on call to the hosts in the Green Iguanas forum and occasionally poke my snout around some of the other herp forums in the You also will find much of my reptile care information on the new, VIN's new offering for vets and pet owners.

In 1994, while working on my master's degree (Curriculum, Teaching & Learning) at Sonoma State University, I took a course on web authoring and put up my first website (previously, some of my articles had been up at other people's website, which saved me and regular rec.pets.herp readers from having to download the same lengthy articles that I posted regularly when newbies came online to ask for "everything you know about how to care for my new [fill in species]".- a question better asked before one gets any pet! As students, we were allowed a little bit of webspace to put up a personal website. My initial offering of articles on herps and chronic neuroimmune disease was over 1 megabytes. Fortunately, my professors were amenable to my pages being uploaded in the Education Department's server (though later the Biology Department contacted me to ask if I would move it to their server), thus getting around existing limits. Once I was working at home on my thesis, it was impossible for me to get to the campus to get updates loaded. I signed on with a local ISP, and moved my webpages to my new server space, and kept growing the collection of articles and resources.

In 1998, I registered my own domain,, to function as the main portal to the main herp and chronic neuroimmune diseases (CND) sections of my site. If you are looking for links into all of the main sections of my herp site, that's really the place to go - it's much prettier than this page is, too. If you aren't interested in seeing front page, then please use these links to get closer to your area of interest:

Website Links

Herp Care Info CollectionGetting The Most Out Of The 'Net
Green Iguana Care Info CollectionChronic Neuroimmune Diseases
Cyclura InfoLyme Disease
Herp Societies/RescuesCalifornia CFS & FMS Support Group Directory
Herp Veterinarians The Carousel Network
Iguanas for DummiesVoter Registration Information
Iguana Care VideoAbout Melissa Kaplan
Identifying Herps  
Venomous Snake Relocators

My Blogs:
Melissa's Miscellani




Cover image of my Iguanas for Dummies.    Published by IDG Books/HungryMinds, Inc.. August 2000.  Click the book cover if you would like to find out more information about my book.
Iguanas for Dummies
About my book, where to find it, and errata for the first printing.

Since I am very limited in what I can do on any given day, I can occasionally been seen in the Iguanas Mailing List, which I co-moderate. For more advanced questions relating to green iguana care and behavior, there is the AdvancedIguanaCare list (formerly known as AdvancedIML). I also moderate and/or participate in some other herp and health related lists, so you may stumble across me in your own ramblings through the Internet.

Because of the volume of herp-related email I get, and the fact that the answers to the majority of the questions asked are in fact found in the 2000+ articles at my site, I do not personally answer that email. There is an autoletter that is generated automatically when mail is received by my ISP for me. The autoletter refers people back to my site for more information. I'd love to be able to answer each of the growing number of letters and email posts I receive each day, but it simply is not possible.


Personal History
I was born on a snowy day in a place far, far, away. Okay, so maybe that's getting into a little too much history! Suffice it to say that I was born in the midwest and grew up in southern California, the middle of three kids. As of this writing I am on the downhill side of the mid-40s, thankful for alpha hydroxy and Feria for making that descent a little less obvious. I was married but am no longer. He was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer (the same day I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia) and died three weeks later. I was not exactly a stranger to the toll cancer can take on a family: my sister died of leukemia at age 33; my mother at age 56.

I earned my BA in organizational psychology and social anthropology from The Evergreen State College in the mid-70s. I actually only spent four quarters on campus, earning the majority of my credits while working on a kibbutz in post-(1973) war Israel and studying the politics of health care while working for the family business. The latter started out as just a summer job that grew into 18 years of employment working in all facets of the claims side of the business, working with some wonderful people along the way. My expertise was in developing data processing systems to adjudicate claims and capture and track utilization data. I started as an entry level clerk, working my way up the corporate ladder, with duties ultimately ranging from managing the claims unit for our largest employer to working with top management in planning and program development.

Upon the sale of the company, I was bound by an employment contract. When that company sold us to another business, our contracts were purchased. The new owner and I had a, shall we say, difference of opinion as to how employees should be treated. He offered to buy out my contract, which had another two and one-half years to run; I accepted. That gave me two years at full salary and benefits to do whatever I wanted. So, what did I do?

The Monday following my last Friday at work, I started a course through UCLA on animal behavior observation, taught at the Los Angeles Zoo. Upon successfully completing the course I started regularly volunteering for the LAZ doing behavior observations on their giant eland, the California condors nest boxes during breeding season, and whatever short term projects came up, such as the "Will someone please figure out how this female capuchin keeps escaping from the capuchin enclosure every day??!!". (Of note: There were three of us assigned, during the class, with observing one of the two groups of giant eland, one that included an adult male and two females, and the females' three offspring. We all observed a behavior that we did not see in the existing giant eland behavior descriptions. As it turned out, we were the first to see and document play behavior in young giant eland.)

A couple of months after that, the American Trader, a British Petroleum oil tanker, ran aground off the coast of Huntington Beach, CA, due to outdated Coast Guard maps. A couple of days later, I tracked down and called the facility set up to deal with the finding and treating of oil-affected birds. I spent my 32nd birthday walking deserted (of people) beaches looking for beached birds, and a few days later started working in the IBRRC's rehab center set up to care for the birds brought in.

This led me to take the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council's Basic Rehab course, which enabled me to go right to work at Wildlife Waystation volunteering in the hospital and baby room. I also did some inclass teaching of vertebrate taxonomy for Wildlife on Wheels. And, on days when I had no classes or spills to go to, I went back to school - this time to the local community college - taking veterinary clinical nursing. I also spent some time doing some field work up in Tule Lake, CA, part of Dan Anderson's white pelican project (Long-term Status of White Pelicans Utilizing Water-development Projects in California and the Effects of Drought). I also wrote and presented a paper on reptile rehabilitation at the IWRC's1993 "Wildlife Rehabilitation: A Perpetual Learning Process" conference. I also helped the local herp society in Los Angeles do educational events around the county, as well as did various school programs.

Things were going just great...until weird endocrine and immune things started happening. I was lucky - it only took me a year to get an initial diagnosis, and that was because of my happening to know a psychoneuroimmunology researcher who provisionally diagnosed me, sent me to a clinician he knew knew his stuff, and the rest is history. Eleven years after first diagnosed, I can say that things have not gotten appreciably better in terms of how aware the public is of the real situation about chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivities, chronic myofascial pain, ciguatera toxicity, mercury toxicity, and a lovely crop of new things that are finally being defined and for which tests are being developed, such as mercury toxicity, hypercoagulable state, postural tachycardia syndrome (which includes orthostatic intolerance), Cryptostronglus pulmoni, and Babesia, another tickborne disease, about whose treatment even less is known than is known about Lyme disease, both of which, based on new tests, I also have.

Soapbox Alert

I would like to take a moment and ask that those who may be inclined to write me to tell me about a cure for CFS/FM or MCS: please don't.

I have been lucky to have as my CFS/FM/MCS doctors very astute physicians who have been working with patients like me for over a decade, who keep up with the research, new protocols, etc. I am a proactive health care consumer rather than a passive patient: I do just as much to research what's going on and actively discuss things with my doctors rather than just waiting for something to happen.

The thing that most people offering cures don't understand is that CFS and FMS and MCS isn't just one disease: they were caused by multiple factors, and the longer they persist, the more that goes wrong with the body's systems and organs, and the more difficult it becomes to tease out the original cause and untangle the subsequent mess caused by years of the underlying causes being undiagnosed and symptomatically treated.

People who have been properly diagnosed with these disorders do not present identical profiles. Gut, immune, thyroid, brain, autonomic nervous system, endocrine dysfunction: while there are many similarities, all the things that make us different from one another means that there is no one product or protocol that is going to work for all of us.

Remember that the word syndrome means "we know you are sick, we believe that you have all these symptoms, but we haven't a clue what is causing them." So, just like the term metabolic bone disease is an umbrella term for the many different well-defined situations that cause loss of bone density and other calcium-related health problems, people diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia syndrome have the same constellations of symptoms, meet defined criteria in terms of time since onset, and for which the underlying cause is unknown as of the time the diagnosis was made (meaning diseases for which definitive "yes you have it"/"no you don't" laboratory tests exist have been done and returned negative results).

In the past three years, nearly 50 percent of the people in the local CFS/FMS/MCS group have been found to have Lyme disease, most with at least one other associated tickborne disease. So, while a Candida diet may cure a person originally diagnosed with CFS who actually has a raging systemic Candida infection, it is a waste of time and energy for someone who has Lyme and normal levels of Candida. Ditto growth hormone abnormalities, mercury toxicity, other diet, drug, supplement (I remember with SAM-e and MSM was touted as the answer), etc. "cures". Many of us with Lyme and other TBI do indeed have other problems, but treating these other things do not going to make us well, not until the all the underlying causes, including TBI, are properly address as well. And given the way Lyme screws around with all the body's hormones, including neurotransmitters, Lyme must be addressed before one can hope to get a glimmer of the actual state of the endocrine system.

As an example of how enterwined all these other disorders with TBI, my MCS has considerably abated since my first course of treatment for Lyme. My thyroid gland function, continues to be increasingly impaired by the continued effect of the Borrelia remaining within.

And for those tempted to write me to tell me to get a life, to get off my (spreading) butt and exercise, etc., well, thanks for the suggestion, but been there, done that, and that ain't the problem.

So say the neuropsychologists I've seen for comprehensive evaluations, two of my three physicians who, coincidentally, both happen to hold two different degrees--one of them being in psychiatry. I am fully confident that if my problem was "only" depression or a matter of being too self-involved or whatever the latest buzz words are for malingering and fakery, I'd have been back at work as a fully functioning member of society years ago. Heck, most people dream of taking vacations I, on the other hand, dream that I am once again working full time. What a rude awakening come morning.

Invisible disabilities, in other words, suck big time. It is a sad fact that one of the biggest of the many problems encountered by those of us with invisible disabilities is the ignorant comments and gossip spread by those who haven't a clue and no interest in getting one.

The only thing that can be said is: just wait.

With autoimmune disease amongst the fastest growing of all types of illness, well, one's chances of not getting one, or one's loved one not getting one, shrinks and will continue to do so as long as we continue to turn a blind eye on what we are doing to our environment, both outside and inside our homes. We don't wish our health problems on anyone...but given the increasing number of people who find my CND site when researching reptiles, things aren't looking real good out there.

Once it became apparent that I could no longer work at what I'd spent 18 years doing, nor would I be able to work with birds and mammals due to the hypersensitivity to them, and the increasing health problems exacerbated by living in the Los Angeles area, I decided to return to school to get my masters in environmental education. Unfortunately, when I was accepted at the only college in California with both decent air quality and an EE program, the EE program had been dropped due to budget cuts. Since most of the course work was in the department of education rather than environmental sciences, I was able to pretty much design my own masters program within the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning program's prerequisites, bringing my interests in the environment and reptile natural history to my course work whenever possible.

In the years since, I've continued to write for my herp and CND sites as well as various publications. In 2000 I wrote Iguanas for Dummies, part of John Wiley & Son's new foray into helping dummies with pets (not that anyone who reads my book is dumb - quite the contrary!). I've also been doing a little community activism again, though not nearly as active as I was in the days before I became ill.

In 1996, I started producing the newsletter for the local CFS/FM/MCS information & support group. In 2001, I was elected president, and ran the group for several years. I have spent a bit of time delving in my family genealogy, and have ended up doing a website about the shtetl my paternal grandfather was from in Belarus. That site is a part of the resources offered by for whom I occasionally do some other volunteer work.

I've been getting an itch to try some other kind of writing...something that ties in my knowledge of herps, invisible disabilities, and other interests, such as forensics and natural history. But there is also the tug to go back and revisit my paper on reptile rehabilitation (Ninja Turtles and Heavy Metal Snakes, IWRC Proceedings, 1993), and my thesis project, Classroom Reptiles: A Teacher's Guide For Their Selection And Care (Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park CA, 1998), to update them for possible publication. Nah, the fiction bug is definitely gaining precedence.

While not being able to do everything I want to do can occasionally become depressing, at least I know that I won't die of boredom or get into trouble by not having enough to do!

Chronic illness unsought
A solitary life unfolds
Creeping on shadow feet

I think that's about it for now. If you would like to read more about how I started working with animals, and herps in particular, as well as see a list of my published work (and read those available online), check out my brief online herp-related autobiography. I take a personal look at disability and reptiles in On Reptiles and Disability, an excerpt of which was published in WE Magazine. Some of my philosophy on coping with chronic debilitating illness can be found in my CND's Coping page.

You can also read about me in an article published in Reptile & Amphibian Hobbyist Magazine in January 2000. Written by Dolly Ellerbrock, Meet Melissa Kaplan gets into my animal welfare stance which has so annoyed pet stores as well as some pet trade organizations and breeders. There's also a short chapter about me in Jim Cherry's great little book, Loco for Lizards

I occasionally tweet about things that amuse, annoy or irk me, so drop by sometime if you have nothing to do.

Iridescent green flash
Ageless eye stares back at me
Swift as the wind, he's gone


Back to front page.© 1990-2010 Melissa Kaplan
Haiku © 2001 Melissa Kaplan
Last updated October 17, 2012

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