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Cosmo for the Cold and Scaly

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Sex and the Single Iguana” is not the kind of headline found in most magazines. Neither is a centerfold of a naked green lizard.

Then again, most magazines aren’t after the same audience as Reptiles, a slithery pet publication that recently celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Think of it as a sort of Cosmo for the scaly set. There are beauty tips (“Unravel the Mysteries of Skin Shedding”), health reports (“Constipated Iguana?”) and a dollop of sex (“Start Your Own Rodent Breeding Colony”).

Actually, Reptiles is a fairly serious, straightforward magazine for owners of coldblooded creatures. But it’s dressed up with clever headlines, colorful graphics and even a few celebrity interviews--such as Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash (who discusses his reptile-friendly house), Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann (who collects aquarium fish) and NFL linebacker Chad Brown (owner of a reptile-breeding business).

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The same basic formula also guides several other magazines from Reptiles’ parent company, Los Angeles-based Fancy Publications, a pet publishing empire that includes such titles as Koi World, Ferrets, Natural Cat (sample headline: “Holistic Hairball Fighters”), Critters (sample story: “What’s Hot in Pocket Pets: Flying Squirrels, Chipmunks, Gerbils and More!”), Rabbits and Natural Dog (which tells you “How to Massage Your Dog”).

The head human at Reptiles is editor Phillip Samuelson, 34, who toiled at the company’s Bird Talk and Dog Fancy magazines before dreaming up the idea of a publication devoted exclusively to reptiles and amphibians.

After a year of planning, the magazine premiered in September 1993, just about the time that “Jurassic Park” stomped into movie theaters and Americans “seemed to go reptile crazy,” Samuelson says.

Circulation climbed to a reported 100,000 before dipping to the current 80,000. The magazine’s success also spawned at least three imitators.

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Says Samuelson: “There’s a pretty big hobby interest.” Big enough, apparently, to land Reptiles a bit part as background scenery in the 1998 movie “Small Soldiers.”

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January’s special fifth anniversary issue featured a smorgasbord of reptile news (sightings of 400-pound turtles in Hanoi), reptile humor (a cartoon that says, “In Australia, snakes coil counterclockwise”) and a roundup of herpetological paraphernalia (including a line of reptile greeting cards, rain forest frog refrigerator magnets, reptile checks, a lizard-shaped CD rack, reptile key chains and iguana mouse pads).

That issue also has an index of the previous year’s stories, which included such titillating titles as “Hitchhiking Boa Gets Caught,” “Pink-Tongued Skinks,” “Gatorade: Not Just for Gators,” “ABCs of Aquatic Turtle Filtration,” “Keeping and Breeding Poison Frogs,” “Cobras as Weapons,” “Men Cited for Misdemeanor Involving Alligator,” “Reptile Sculptures,” “Lizard-Tainted Wine” and “Caesarean Section in a Cyclura Iguana.”

Even the advertisements are often entertaining. In addition to merchants peddling a “great selection of albino boa constrictors,” there were pitches for frozen mice-cicles (“the other white meat”), reptile jewelry and an iguana lightbulb that “induces 7-DHC conversion to previtamin D3 at a rate 23 times greater than the next leading UVB reptile bulb!”

Don’t leave the cage without it!


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