Pair make reptiles feel right at home

November 27, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

When Bettie Acks dressed her 2-year-old iguana, Kermi, in a witch costume complete with black hat, cape and broom, she never had any doubt who would win first place in the Halloween costume contest for pets.

"Kermi made a great witch," Mrs. Acks recalled, planting a kiss on the rare orange lizard from Honduras. "He's very friendly, and I take him out a lot. He likes to ride in the car."

Maybe it was his leathery skin, his bulging cheeks, his gnarled claws, the sagging dewlap under his chin or the spikes on his back that caught the eye of the judges. Mrs. Acks understands how appealing iguanas can be; she has nine more living in her Harford County home.

"They're all real nice and friendly," said the self-employed word processor and craft artist, who is 49. She enjoys watching the startled expressions of passing motorists when they see her iguana peering out of a window.

Mrs. Acks and her husband, Gerry, 46, a letter carrier, share their home with the iguanas, other assorted lizards and a collection of snakes.

A mischievous young ferret named Peanut has the run of the house. She torments passing ankles with nips from her sharp teeth as she searches for a playmate.

"I've always liked unusual pets," said Mrs. Acks, who hopes to become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. "I really love animals. I would have a lot more than this."

"She collects everything," her husband said. "Anything unusual and weird, she picks it up and gets it."

The iguanas seem like a part of the family -- and the decor -- inside the Acks' Edgewood home. Komoto -- the largest iguana at a magnificent 54 inches and 12 pounds -- poses like a statue on a carpet-covered tanning bed in front of the sliding glass door off the living room.

"I don't believe in caging iguanas," Mrs. Acks explained, as an unrestrained Komoto stared at a visitor a few feet away before climbing down from his perch to the floor.

Komoto opened his mouth for a chunk of Cheddar cheese, baring teeth as sharp as a serrated steak knife. His diet includes carrots, collard greens, kale, apples, dandelions, pears and any houseplant that falls within his reach.

At night he climbs up a rolled carpet tube "tree" to a platform near the ceiling to sleep.

"He used to climb on my stereo before we built that," Mr. Acks said of the platform.

There are bearded dragon lizards in an aquarium in the living room, geckos in the family room and, in the hall, a monitor lizard named Rocky who loves to have his chin rubbed. All of the lizards have a basking light and a full spectrum light to keep them warm.

Upstairs, in the "Reptile Room," Kermi, Spike, Scooter, Cricket, Miss Blue and other iguanas wander about in climate-controlled comfort, scrambling noisily up and down on cages and a latticed room divider.

They share the room with king, milk, corn, rat and gopher snakes that live in glass cases along the walls. There's a 45-pound Burmese python named Lucifer who sneezes from time to time '' and another named Marilyn. None are poisonous -- Mrs. Acks said she handles her snakes so much that she'd surely be bitten if she had poisonous snakes.

"Snakes are very quiet pets," Mr. Acks said. "And they don't have fur to leave all over the place."

Mrs. Acks said she used to be terrified of snakes, a fear she learned from her grandmother. But a few years ago, she became determined to overcome her phobia and developed an interest in studying and owning snakes and lizards.

At Halloween, she has been known to wrap Lucifer the python around her neck and a ball python around each wrist to try to scare trick-or-treaters.

And when she goes out, she often takes one of her pets along for company -- showing up at yard sales and craft shows with a snake around her neck or an iguana on her shoulder. "They're really neat," Mrs. Acks said of her reptiles. "They're not anything like you'd think they'd be. Everyone says that I'm the person who will pick up anything and it won't bite me."

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