Bert Langerwerf was known as the “Lizard Man”. He was a self-educated herpetologist who, together with his wife Hester, founded and operated the Agama International Herpetocultural Institute [ known in the lizard trade as the Agama Institute], the biggest lizard breeding facility in the world, in Montevallo, Alabama. The Institute’s web site claimed that the Institute was the largest breeder of Water Dragons, Tegus, and Lacertas, three different types of lizards.
According to sources in the lizard breeding industry, the Agama Institute was by far the largest lizard breeding facility in the United States, and probably anywhere. Langerwerf was considered to be a true pioneer in reptile breeding. The Institute annually produced thousands of lizards which found their way into reptile keepers’ homes throughout the United States, Europe and Japan.
Langerwerf made numerous contributions to the care and breeding of lizards as pets by private parties and commercial reptile keepers. He contributed his experience and his knowledge about reptiles to numerous publications including, “Reptiles Magazine” [USA],”Reptile Hobbyist” [USA], “Reptile and Amphibian Magazine” [USA], “British Herpetological Society Bulletin” [GB], “Lacerta” [Netherlands], “Xenopus” [Netherlands], “Herpetofauna” [Germany], “Elaphe” [Germany], “Bulletin de la Societe Herpetologique de France” [France], “Aquarama” [France], “Terra” [Belgium], “Nordisk Herpetologisk Forening” [Norway], and other magazines and periodicals.
As a promoter of reptile breeding, reptile raising and reptile keeping, Langerwerf travelled extensively to many countries giving talks about his extensive reptile breeding and general reptile experience. Along the way he visited many countries in Western Europe and the Middle East. He also visited countries in South East Asia including Japan.
Langerwerf also made numerous discoveries about reptiles through his experience in breeding and raising reptiles. Through experience he discovered that the sex of offspring reptiles is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. This was a major discovery that is still frequently cited in scientific journals about reptiles. He also discovered that reptiles must be exposed to direct sunlight to be able to metabolize calcium for their eggs. This discovery proved to be of importance for reptiles raised in colder climates where they are kept under glass protection during the colder time periods.
The three major lizards the Agama Institute produced were Australian Water Dragons, Jewelled Acertas and Argentinian Giant Tegus. The tegus were red-striped monsters that grew to as much as four feet. Most of his lizard output was sold directly to private parties or other Institutes. Some of the lizards were also sold to dealers, especially those in foreign countries. Other types of lizards bred and sold by the Institute were Bearded Dragons, Chinese Crocodile Lizards, and Morrocan Uromastyx.
To feed his lizard collection, Langerwerf went to great efforts to reduce the cost of feeding these hungry reptiles. He depended to a large extent on stale foods from grocery stores, especially over age meats, chicken, turkey and breads. He also raised unconventional reptile feed, including rats, giant cockroaches, super mealworms and larvae to be able to supply his reptile collection with their needs.
Bert Langerwerf was born in the Netherlands in 1944. He was raised and educated there and apparently became a high school physics teacher. Langerwerf apparently became interested in reptiles while he was still living in the Netherlands. In 1985, he and his family moved to the Canary Islands where they established a reptile park. But his real interest was in breeding and raising reptiles. So in 1988, the Langerwerf family moved to Alabama, and established the Agama Institute. He chose Alabama for its moderate climate, a condition important for breeding and raising reptiles.
Langerwerf passed away on August 11, 2008. At the time of his death, he was married to Hester. He is also survived by two sons.
Agama International, http://www.agamainternational.com/home.html
Bert Langerwerf [1944-2008], Obituary by Stephen Miller, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, September 20-21, 2008, p. A12
Remembering Bert Langerwerf, The World Loses the Lizard Man, Russ Gurley,http://www.reptilechannel.com/reptile-news/2008/09/16/bert-langerwerf
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