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Rising Home-Heating Costs Hitting Reptile Families Hardest

CHICAGO—With government figures indicating double-digit home-heating cost increases in coming months, America's reptilian citizens are warning that, unless swift measures are taken to provide them with adequate warmth, many will face serious metabolic crises this winter.

"Unlike our mammalian citizens, who maintain a consistent body temperature and have the option of throwing on a sweater, reptiles are entirely dependent on external heat sources," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) said. "All my constituents are facing rate hikes of 21 percent or more. But some of them, like it or not, may be forced into a quasi-hibernative state if they do not receive emergency fuel-price relief."

According to Department of Energy data, households in northern states have seen their home-heating bills double or even triple in recent winters. Heating costs in reptilian households have quadrupled the cost of special U.V. light bulbs.

Reaction in the reptile community has been uncharacteristically jittery.

"I don't ask for the average American to understand my lifestyle," said Arthur Marsters, 141, a cost-benefit analyst for Prudential Financial in Boston. "But there's no changing the fact that I am a giant tortoise. If I cannot maintain my core temperature, I cannot be a productive member of society, nor can I provide for my wife and latest clutch of hatchlings."

Marsters was not alone in his concern for the well-being of his loved ones. Anxieties are running deep in a community that, while close-knit, cannot huddle together for warmth.

Members of the Whitlow family of Elgin, IL, who have struggled to maintain their body temperatures this winter.

"People think we're lazy, spending all summer sunning ourselves on rocks and our winters in cozy burrows," said Mary Lou Keller, a cosmetologist and coral snake who moved to New England from Florida as a packing-crate stowaway three years ago. "But no one ever sees a reptile on food stamps. And you never see a fat one, unless it has just swallowed something whole."

Although home-heating assistance programs for needy families are available throughout the country, some reptile advocates such as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) argue that the application process is unfairly geared toward humans.

"Reptiles regularly apply for the needed benefits, but their tendency to react slowly means that their paperwork often misses the prescribed deadlines," Reed said. "Last year, we all heard the distressing reports of entire skink families relocating under stoves."

Reed—who owes his congressional seat to the crocodile vote and has extensive support from the terrarium, gravel, and pellet industries—is calling for heating-cost subsidies and tax credits for any vertebrate quadruped citizen who lays eggs.

"Natural-gas costs have doubled; heating-oil prices had their biggest spike in five years," Reed said. "I had an iguana in my office the other day who told me he had to take on a second job as a hippie's pet to ensure that his young have enough heat and lettuce this winter. This poor creature has enough problems maintaining a proper body temperature; now he's forced to be an absentee dad to his kids? That's just not right."

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