Edgerton woman raises, sells exotic lizards and roaches

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Monday, August 2, 2010
— In glass tanks scattered throughout a living room, a bedroom and a den, 40 exotic lizards blush in shades of red, jungle green and deep tan.

They feast on fruit gruel and hunt insects in jungles of plastic ivy and hollow cork log. They chirp and croak. They mate.

Meanwhile, 4,000 tropical cockroaches click and scuttle in colonies on paper egg crates kept inside hard plastic containers. They dine on chicken food and rotten bananas.

It’s just another evening at Terri Kane’s home in rural Edgerton.

“It’s like being in a rainforest,” Kane says.

Kane, who signs her e-mails and business correspondence as “The Lizard Lady,” raises, breeds and sells several varieties of exotic Rhacodactylus gecko.

Kane is one of the Midwest's most experienced breeders of the geckos, which are a type of tree lizard native to the islands of New Caledonia near New Zealand.

Oh, and Kane also raises and sells giant cockroaches. She feeds them to her geckos and sells them online and to exotic reptile breeders.

“I acknowledge normal people do not have a house full of geckos and roaches. But not everyone has an indulgent husband like mine who’ll put up with this,” Kane says.

Her husband, Chuck, just smiles.

In a plastic Sterilite container, one colony of Kane’s odd insects, known as Guyana Orange Spotted roaches, writhe on top of each other. The 2-inch-long roaches, which are native to Central and South America, look like some kind of prehistoric armadillo.

On Kane’s shoulder perches Anna, a mossy green Giant Rhacodactylus gecko. Using odd, double-jointed toes tipped with sticky scales, the 11-inch gecko kneads its way down Kane’s T-shirt, perching on top of an orange lizard tattoo on her arm.

The gecko’s eyes are expressionless, solid white. Kane kisses its snout.

“Pretty girl,” she says.

Although Kane sells the roaches and lizards, she has a zoologist’s fascination with them. She marvels at a trait unique to Orange Spotted roaches: The females, which have 30 offspring at a time via live birth, stand guard over their young until their exoskeletons harden.

“You wouldn’t think a bug would have that kind of mothering instinct,” she says.

Kane pours hours into tending her roaches and geckos. Among her duties: cleaning the 21 gecko tanks in her house, feeding the animals and breeding them.

She only touches on how the breeding works. For the roaches, it involves electric heat pads and controlled colonization.

For the lizards, it has something to do with chirping and barking.

Kane doesn’t worry about a roach infestation if some of the insects get loose in her home. They can only breed and colonize at temperatures around 100 degrees, and they become sluggish and easy to catch at room temperature, Kane says.

The worst risk in a roach escape is that one could get trampled underfoot.

“It’s happened,” Kane says. “They’re like a cream puff inside. It’s white and fluffy.”

Imagine eating one.

Though Kane has oodles of roaches on hand, her lizards don’t get a bug smorgasbord. Since Rhacodactylus geckos are primarily fruit-eaters, Kane only feeds them a small number of juvenile roaches as a nutritional supplement.

“Roaches are like ice cream for kids. You can’t live off of it,” she says.

When she gets a surplus of the roaches, she sells them online, sometimes mailing the roaches to customers by ground mail. The insects are used to feed pet reptiles, rats and certain marsupials.

It took Kane over a year of research to learn to raise exotic roaches and geckos. She found books on care and breeding the animals, and she learned by trial and error how to keep them happy and healthy.

Kane says she’s driven to a reptile specialist in Chicago for emergency surgery on female geckos that became bloated with eggs.

“I believe no animal should have to suffer,” she says.

Kane also keeps rabbits, chickens and cats as pets at her farm. But Geckos are her first love. The roaches come second.

Money? A distant third.

“You won’t get rich raising and breeding animals, and you have to know that,” Kane says. “You have to learn them. You have to love them.”

Last updated: 2:49 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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