Monthly Archives - January 2016

Chameleons and Drainage

Ep 10: Chameleons and Drainage

Summary: Good morning Chameleon Wranglers! Welcome back to part two of our Chameleons and Water segment. In the last episode we talked about the importance of water and how to get it in the chameleon enclosure. This episode is about what to do with the water that goes into your chameleon cage once we are done with it.                                      .


You can listen here:

Show Notes

Good morning Chameleon Wranglers! Welcome back to part two of our Chameleons and Water segment. In the last episode we talked about the importance of water and how to get it in the chameleon enclosure. This episode is about what to do with the water that goes into your chameleon cage once we are done with it.                                                                                                                                                                              .

.

Links:

Heavy Duty Drainage Trays From Dragon Strand

25" Heavy Duty Drainage Tray: For 24" x 24"footprint  and below

19" Heavy Duty Drainage Tray: For 18" x 18" footprint and below

Cage Systems with Drainage Trays:

DragonStrand

 

Washing Machine Drain Tray

Gardening Drain Tray

Home Depot Bucket Head Wet/Dry Vac
The Amazon link below makes it easy to purchase this product, but you will be able to find it much cheaper if you drop by a Home Depot in person! You also need a 5 gallon bucket and a crevice tool.

 

Chameleon Fecals Facebook poop group!


Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Good morning Chameleon Wranglers! Welcome back to part two of our Chameleons and Water segment. In the last episode we talked about the importance of water and how to get it in the chameleon enclosure. This episode is about what to do with the water that goes into your chameleon cage once we are done with it. But first, we have an email question from listener Bridget.

Bill, My name is Bridget and I love listening to this podcast on my way to work. Just wanted to let you know the movie with Pasquel the chameleon was Tangled, not Rapunzel. <yeah, I know…I slipped up on that one!> I would like to know, how do you feel about rescuing chameleons from pet stores that have them in poor conditions. There is a pet store around here that has a veiled chameleon in a cage with a water dish. It looks skinny and I am considering bringing him home, but I don’t want to support this store. How do you feel about this situation?

Thank you Bridget for this question. This is an age old dilemma of us chameleon keepers. We want to save the chameleon, but don’t want to support the people that put this chameleon in this position in the first place. And if we rescue a chameleon from substandard conditions doesn’t that just relegate another to take its place?

The answers to these questions are a whole lot of maybes. This is a much larger question for the community so I’ll expand it to cover this question as a philosophical one and then I’ll close up for specific advice for you.

So first let’s take a look at the pet stores themselves. You have anything from small one location pet store, sometimes termed “mom and pop” stores all the way up to large chains such as petco and petsmart. There are some independents of various sizes inbetween those. The problem with all of these is the same, though. Chameleons are specialty animals and if you are not able to spend time and effort on them specifically things go astray. Chameleons just can’t be kept like other reptiles. Some stores can pull it off, and some cannot. Even reptile specialty stores have had questionable chameleon set-ups. One thing I do want to add here is that there are some cases where the pet store will put a water dish in with a chameleon only to avoid charges that they are abusing their animals by withholding water. It is easier to put in a water dish in every cage than it is to explain that different animals need different conditions. Check the top of the cage to see if there is a dripper as well or talk to the caretaker to see if they have a spraying schedule. It is best to get the full picture before getting too upset.

And, just a note here. Pet stores are often run by animal lovers. Reducing them down to purely dollars and cents is not fair. Yes, they are running a business, and things are tight for pet store operators, but do not dehumanize them just because they are running a business. Talk to them first. Then you can dehumanize them – just kidding. Be good people, okay?

Also, if you do talk to them, realize that they have no idea who you are. You are coming in with all this crazy talk about how chameleons should be taken care of. You may not be the first to bring this up. The last person that came in spouted off a different list of do and do nots. What is the poor guy to do except smile and hope you go away? You may know your husbandry is solid, but how would someone who is not part of the community know if what you are saying is true?

A large pet product corporation makes red night lights for chameleons and another on makes waterfalls that go inside the cage. You can tell they are for chameleons because they have chameleons on the box! And no-name you crawls out of the woodwork and blasts them for having a nightlight? Who are you? And, oh yeah, they got blasted by some other chameleon lover last week for having plastic plants in the chameleon cage. But then someone else said plastic plants are fine. There is no shortage of experts of all levels of experience. Just a shortage of consistency in what those experts say. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be out there trying to make the world a better place for chameleons, just go into it understanding why it is difficult for other people to know if you really know what you are talking about. Establishing a relationship with this pet store so they know who you are and have a trust built up will go a long ways.

But anyway, let’s talk about rewarding the store giving the chameleon substandard care. This is always a mixed bag because you feel like a hero by freeing a living being from a cycle of misery while at the same time you are slime by being part of making sure that cycle continues.

Consider whether you are economically important. If your corner pet store is trying out a chameleon to see if they will sell and that chameleon dies then that one chameleon dying will ensure none others take its place. If that same pet store was given a clutch of veiled chameleons on consignment then it doesn’t matter to the owner how many die and how many are sold. You buying or not buying is irrelevant. So, theoretically, buying a sick or abused chameleon does, in a way, reward offering an animal in that condition, but the actual damage or lack thereof maybe negligible.

In a large name pet supply such as Petco or Petsmart you have about 1000 store locations each. Decisions are made regarding the economic viability of an animal regarding not only how many they sell across all stores minus how many die, but also what products the store carries that attached to that animal. And if a chameleon dies do you think Petco takes that loss or passes it on to the breeder? I bring this up only to make you realize that, although a handful of people can definitely make a difference in how things run, the decision to rescue a chameleon from Petco is not going to tip the scales in either direction. There would have to be a much larger, coordinated effort to make an economic dent in chameleon sales. If you started a group of rescuers that made it a point to rescue 100 chameleons a month from one of these store brands then, yes, you are now economically important. When your rescue organization starts getting corporate Christmas cards from Petco and Petsmart then, yes, your rescue activity may be driving a decision somewhere.

We most often see this battle raging when someone sees a chameleon that needs rescuing, their heart beaks for this poor creature and they create a fund raiser to free the poor guy and send him to a better home. My opinion on this is that we should concentrate what effect this action and our reactions has on the chameleon community. Because, until this activity becomes economically relevant to a 1000 store chain, this really just affects the chameleon community. Where are most of the first time big chain store chameleon customers? I would venture that they are not in the chameleon community. We get a lot of them after they make their purchase, but not before. So our arguing and debating within the chameleon community and deciding to n ever buy from them is economically irrelevant to the bog box stores. We can do things such as education and work with management to make the situation better, but blasting some good intentioned soul that wants to raise $200 to buy a chameleon is counter productive. Your message is going to a group of people that is no longer a meaningful part of the chameleon based economic environment at the big pet chains. So, I say, let them rescue that chameleon. It is more valuable to our community to have people that care so much than it is for everyone to toe the party line of big pet store = evil. I am not going to encourage this kind of behavior as rescuing a chameleon suggests that adding this chameleon to your household was not planned and the word “rescue” can be used to justify a decision being made prematurely. But a couple of rescue efforts a year is not going to result in a flood of new chameleons being stuffed into a pet store cage. If the rescue effort has a good home at the other end for the chameleon then I suggest we focus on the good it does that one life.   But there is also the good it did our community for a small part of it to come together and do something positive. If there was no real harm done (an theoretical harm doesn’t count) it doesn’t have to be supported, but there is no reason to introduce grumbling against the couple of people doing the best they can to do something positive. Believe me, there is plenty of time for them to get jaded by the system and discouraged by their fellow human beings. Make sure you have a very good reason before you squash idealism. Yes, often idealism needs redirection, but seriously reconsider any words of discouragement. We humans tend to default to discouragement. This is not a good thing. Discouragement is easy. If you must speak out, take the challenge of providing positive redirection. If that is not possible, silence should be broken only if there is damage to be avoided.

Now Bridget, my opinion in your case is to make sure you purchase a chameleon in the best heath possible. This is to ensure your experience is as positive as can be. You are looking at around 5 to 7 years of life with a healthy chameleon. That said, there are a special handful of people who look for the down and out. They want special needs chameleons and have the time and money necessary to give a good life to chameleons that are not in prime condition. Do not take on a sick or weak chameleon unless you have the means to provide vet visits. But that is the logical side talking. If you have fallen in love with this chameleon, are buying it with eyes wide open as to the health condition, and have a space in your life where it will fit then go ahead. I find sleeping on a decision for a night does wonders. And, of course, take a couple pictures of the chameleon and ask trusted chameleon people what they think of the health so you have some idea if there is any rehabilitation necessary.

Alright, now let’s get to the meat of this episode and discuss drainage. We already discuss getting water into the cage and what form it will take. Eventually, though, all of that mist and drip will end up at the bottom of the cage. Unfortunately, that is also where poop and escaped feeders end up so we are going to have to deal with this one way or another! So let’s break down your bottom-of-the-cage elements.

1) Standard PVC Floor. The most common floor you’ll run into is a flat sheet of PVC. This is the industry standard as it is simple and effective. Most often it takes the form of a plain white sheet of PVC plastic resting on the bottom frame. In most cage designs, but not all, it can be removed for cleaning. Usually it is white, but sometimes you will find green or black. One company, Canvas Chameleons, offers decals so your cage floor looks like a forest floor. When water falls on the floor it puddles until there is enough water that it flows towards the sides and then it will trickle down off the floor panel and out the cage. It is advisable that there be something to collect that water. If you keep potted plants on the cage floor then this is the floor option of choice as it will provide the support necessary. Whether you have potted plants or a bare floor, I suggest drilling small holes all around the floor to allow water to pass more freely out of the cage. Specifically pay attention to any area around plants or anything else placed on the floor as objects will create an indentation and water will gather there. And here is your Cham Tip of the day: If you get stains on your white PVC floor from water, dirt, and various unnamed things hitting the floor you may notice that it is difficult to get those stains out. Go to any grocery store or home improvement store and look for “Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser”. It is a cleaning pad made of some mysterious white spongey material and when you use one of these cleaning pads the stains just disappear. And I know you are saying, “Bill, I have tried to get these stains off before and it is impossible! How can this simple white pad perform this miracle?” And the answer is, “I have no idea. It uses magic just like it says it does.”

“But,. Bill, there has got to be an answer!”

“No. There doesn’t. There are some things that mortal man was not meant to know. Perhaps if Eve snagged another apple off that tree we’d have an answer to this one, but we don’t so we will just have to be content extracting the mysterious of galactic expansion and acknowledge that the truth behind the magic eraser is beyond our comprehension. Just make your floors white and go about your day.”

2) Screen Floor. The idea of replacing the white PVC floor panel with a screen panel was introduced to the market by Ed Kammer of Kammerflage Kreations as the Drip Easy system. It was designed as a way to avoid pooling and have the excess water go directly through the floor into the drainage tray. The Dragon Strand caging company now offers the “Drip Easy” system for select cages under a special agreement with Ed Kammer. Although it accomplishes the original goal of avoiding pooling water beautifully, it has gone on to provide another feature – to make the floor disappear. With a black drainage tray and a screen floor, the floor of the cage visually disappears. This is the direct opposite of a blatant white floor! This goes along with Dragon Strand’s vision for caging. With the Dragon Ledges, chameleon keepers have been able to create floating gardens, if you will, independent of the floor. Having a screen floor makes the floor visually disappear and creates a much more naturalistic arboreal appearance.

3) Substrate Trays. A substrate tray is a plastic or PVC tray that fits on the floor inside the cage. This is used to hold soil, coco fiber, sphagnum moss or any other substrate combination. Substrate trays have restricted uses with chameleons because, well, chameleons are arboreal, which means they live in trees. So, unless you are keeping pygmy chameleons or a gravid female of an egg laying species, you probably do not want to bother with a substrate. Substrates take a lot of work and if you don’t need it, don’t put one in. There are reasons for substrates and there are ways of doing it correctly. There are aesthetics and humidity strategies that incorporate substrates, but if you do not have a master plan that just cannot be accomplished without substrate then don’t bring that complication into your husbandry.

One thing you do not want to do is use a substrate tray as a water catch. Remember, substrate trays are inside your cage. Your goal is to get the water out of the cage. Any water left inside the cage will pool, mix with feces, and provide an unhygienic and possibly parasite laden poop soup for escaped feeders to crawl through and, thus, provide a quick shot of bio-poison to your animal when he eats that feeder.

We do have a problem in our industry where substrate trays are cheaper to make than drainage trays that go under the cage. Thus the cage manufacturers that target the low cost market and entry level customers have been able to get away with offering only substrate trays. Whether this is because of ignorance – maybe these companies do not keep chameleons themselves or business greed – once the customer figures it out the money has been long spent, this is one of the truly irresponsible product strategies that afflict new chameleon keepers. What you need is a drainage tray.

4) Drainage Trays are trays that fit under the cage. They provide a collection point for excess water outside the chameleon’s living space. These are a bit more involved than substrate trays because they must provide support for the cage which sits on top of them. Currently, the only cages on the market that have drainage trays specifically designed for them are all Dragon Strand cages – I keep chameleons so a drainage solution is a non-negotiable feature – and the #1 though #5 screen cages sold through the online supplier LLL Reptile. At the time of this podcast episode (which is early 2016) no other major commercial caging manufacturer offers drainage trays for their products. Because of slight dimensional differences, the standard Dragon Strand and LLL drainage trays will not fit the Chinese import cages. These include Reptibreeze, Exoterra, and DIY. I do have a Heavy Duty line of drainage trays offered through Dragon Strand that will fit those cages so there is a professional solution available for any of the square footprint cages offered.

I really wasn’t designing it for my competitors, but as a tool for people who would like to put potted plants on the floor of their Dragon Strand cage. It has thick reinforcement to hold the weight of potted plants on the floor of the cage so there is an extra cost associated with that. If the heavy duty tray is more than you need then you can check your local home improvement center for washing machine drainage trays. They aren’t as aesthetic as the drainage tray made specifically for this purpose, but it will do the job. If you go in the washing machine tray direction then just be sure to raise the cage up above the water level using blocks of wood or something else to keep the water level below the cage floor.

Alternatively, there are non-draining trays produced for the gardening industry, but they aren’t much cheaper than the Dragon Strand trays so the need to add spacers and the resulting nonprofessional look may negate any savings. Though perhaps the savings in shipping from a large corporation instead of a small caging company may make it worth it to do a self-build. If you go the Dragon Strand route then just put the cage on top and you are done with a clean looking solution! It is up to you to balance out your personal preference of money savings versus the time and aesthetic compromise. Whatever drainage solution you choose, make sure it collects water outside the cage and out of reach of the feeder insects and the chameleon itself.

The rectangular footprint cages offered by Zilla or Exo-Terra are problems that you’ll just have to get creative with. Dragon Strand does have rectangular footprint cages that you may check to see if the dimensions match.

If you are constructing your own drainage tray or purchasing a washing machine pan or gardening tray then just make sure you have figured out how you will empty the tray of water. The Dragon Strand drainage tray options have a space in front of the cage which allows a turkey baster or wet vac crevice tool to fit in and suck up the water. Don’t think you will be lifting the cage off each time and taking the drainage tray out to the sink to dump it. You will be sloshing water all over on your way to the sink. Leave the cage on the drainage tray and use one of the water extraction methods that we will go into very soon.

5) Other Drainage Solution. Drainage trays are the drainage solution of choice for a small number of cages or cages in your living room or bedroom. If you have a reptile room or a large number of cages then it may be worth it to create a drainage table which collects the water and brings it all to a collection bucket or even a self-priming pump. For one reptile room I used rain gutters to run under the racks of cages and these gutters emptied into a Drain-a-saur self-priming pump which would pump the water into the utility sink drain when it reached a certain level. This automation made the water cycle simple. That is until it had an issue and flooded the area. Just remember folks, automation cuts down on the amount of time you have to spend on doing something, but it takes it own time to maintain as issues always seem to crop up. Don’t get complacent or else your lesson to be learned is right around the corner!

Did all of this just boggle your mind? The show notes for this episode will contain all these options with pros and cons and links to more information. Go there and it will be all laid out for options that are the cheapest to the easiest, but everything I lay out will be effective and hygienic.

Once you have a water collection strategy you’ll need to have a method for removing the water from the tray.

The first is basic evaporation. Especially if you live in dry environments, evaporation may get rid of most if not all the water from your drainage tray. This, of course, depends on the ambient humidity and how much you water.

2) Turkey baster. The most low tech and cheapest water removal tool is a turkey baster. If you only have one chameleon you can get away with a turkey baster dedicated to this purpose. They range from $.99 to $10 so go ahead and splurge.

3) Wet vac. My favorite water removal method is a wet vacuum. As I mentioned, the Dragon Strand drainage tray options have a space in front of the cage which allows a crevice tool to fit in and suck up the water. For about $30 you can get a bucket head system from Home Depot which is a wet/dry vac head, a 5 gallon bucket, and a crevice tool. If you have more than a cage or two then consider the convenience offered by a wet/dry vac. I like the bucket head concept because it is an inexpensive way to have a 5 gallon water collection. There are self-contained wet vacs which are well made and work, but their water capacity is not as high. If you just have a couple cages it is fine. But if you have a reptile room then water collection capacity is a serious consideration!

4) Bulkhead and gravity drain

There is a middle ground between having a bunch of cages on drainage trays and having a customer drainage system constructed in your room. Some keepers have taken drainage trays and have installed bulkheads on the back which allow water to drain out of the tray through ¼” tubing into a bucket. This takes a little familiarity with tools, but can be applied to cages in a reptile room or a cage sitting in the living room on top of a small cabinet which hides the misting system and the drainage bucket.

Now let’s talk about the great chameleon and husbandry system health monitoring that floors and drainage trays offer the keeper.

A major part of ensuring that your husbandry is sufficient is checking the floor of your cage on a daily basis. The poop you find is an indicator of the health of your chameleon. A healthy poop will be moist and tightly packed. You will get a feel for the standard size and frequency as well. Any deviation from the norm is a clue to something going on. Poop is great because it is an early warning system.

Is the poop dry? That is a sign to check your misting system or drip system. Running out of water? No longer pointing at a leaf? Plants grow and leaves die. If the perfect drinking leaf is no longer where it is suppose to be you need to change your misting or dripping location. Remember automation breeding complacency? Yeah, not only do you need to make sure water is still getting into the cage you have to make sure the drinking surface remains! Is the misting nozzle clogged with mineral deposits? The leaf which was perfect for the mist may be useless if what is coming out of your mist nozzle is just a dribble dropping uselessly to the floor. Does the misting system need to be “burped”? I went over this last episode. But as a review, the diaphragm pumps can have problems if they have been run dry. Although they won’t be damaged, they need to be “reset” to provide the proper pressure. This means disconnecting the nozzle system at the pump, allowing the pump to run until a stream of water comes out, and then reconnecting the output tubing.

Is the poop small? The obvious first conclusion is that the chameleon is not eating as much food. There could be other things going on, but the important thing is that you are vigilant and know that something is up and are looking for other clues. Not every deviation from your baseline poop sample is cause for alarm, but it does put you on alert. This is what we are looking for. This is the way to nip things in the bud before they become major issues.

Is the poop too wet, smelly, or ?? You could be looking at sickness or parasite activity with various differences in the poop. You may not know what something different means, but the fact that you know something is up is important. If you start seeing something different then you can start researching the chameleon forums or you favorite Facebook group for people who have seen this before. There is actually a poop group on Facebook which I will link to in the notes. But this change will be important information for your vet if it progresses. The important thing is that you are on alert and are looking for any other small sign of trouble that suggests that this change in consistency is more than just a funky digested hornworm. Oh yeah, changing diet may result in different looking poop. Take all these things into consideration when you are doing your analysis!

Has your chameleon not pooped in a couple days? Expect a poop every day or two. If you go longer than that then either your chameleon is not getting enough food or else is constipated. Check your food dish. Are feeders getting away before they are eaten? Hopping out? Climbing the sides? Are you putting in feeders that are too big or too small or just not what interests your chameleon?

You can do these poop based health checks whether your have solid PVC floors or the screen floor.

The drainage tray is actually a better misting system check than poop because it is a daily check item. If you are not seeing the right level of excess water in the drainage tray it is a red flag. Is your mister out of water? Unplugged? Has the seconds timer been set to “off” instead of “auto”. Is the misting nozzle clogged? Does it need to be burped? Same things as above. Your drainage tray is a window into the health of your misting system. If your misting system is working properly you will have water to remove from the drainage tray. This misting system health double check is one downside to automating your drainage. You then lose this monitor to the misting system. If you automate anything you must have an independent method of ensuring all is working. In the example of a misting system you have your checklists to make sure everything is in order: water basin filled? Mister set to” auto run”?, etc…but the check is not complete until you deal with the output which is, in this case excess water.

Drainage may be a simple concept, but not taking it seriously can, indirectly, have effects on your chameleon’s health. Some keepers decide not to have a drainage solution, or, more commonly, they were not sent home with one because the store didn’t have a drainage tray to sell. This can have negative effects on your chameleon because then you are constructing your watering strategies and cycles around not damaging the tables or wall or furniture around the chameleon cage. Those strategies need to be focused on properly hydrating your chameleon.

Some people place a towel under the cage to catch what little bit of spraying seeps through the cage floor. If this technique is working for you then I would be concerned that you are not giving your chameleon enough water. Obviously, I am not there so you will have to be educated and responsible enough to make this judgment yourself. Advanced keepers who master the control of their vivarium’s humidity and other parameters can mist just enough to coat the surfaces and have little excess water. This is a high level skill and the person doing this will be monitoring their chameleon’s health daily to ensure hydration.

So, here’s our summary for drainage:

1) Collect water outside the cage. Do not use a substrate tray inside the cage to collect water.

2) Drainage trays for chameleon cages can be found through Dragon Strand for any of their cages or LLL Reptile for their #1 through #5 cages.

3) The only commercially made Drainage Trays that fit Zoo-med reptibreeze or other manufacturers is the Heavy Duty trays by Dragon Strand

4) Although not as aesthetically pleasing, washing machine drain trays and non-drainage gardening trays are economical and functional ways of collecting excess water under a cage Just remember to plan for cage supports in these trays so the cage bottom is not under the water line.

5) The floor of your cage is a great way to monitor your chameleon’s health through their poop.

6) Your drainage tray is a great way of verifying your mister’s performance.

Thank you for joining me here today. I am always interested in novel, simple, clever, and effective solutions. If you have a method to handle drainage that I have not listed here then send it to me at bill@chameleonbreeder.com or on our Facebook page linked to in the show notes. Our account on Instagram is quite active and you are welcome to join us there! I post things that have to do with this podcast and in between that, I just sprinkle chameleon pictures and videos randomly through the day. I’d love to have you join us there. Well, the time is nigh and so that, is a wrap!


Season 1 Archive
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Chameleons and water

Ep 9: Chameleons & Water

Summary: Today we are talking about water. Water is as important to chameleons as it is to us. They need it properly function. Hydration is the basis of all organ functions within the body and so I am probably stating the obvious when I say we must put a high priority on providing water in the correct form for our mini tree dragons.

Note: This episode was updated in April 2019 to include a more up to date approach to hydration. Many podcasts do not bother updating the past, but the Chameleon Breeder Podcast is meant to be a reference and, therefore, it is worthwhile to update episodes. The main area of change is a shift in philosophy regarding eye health and showering.  If it is your first time, do not worry about it and just listen on!

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You can listen here:

We talk about a lot of products on this episode and I'll provide links to where you can purchase these if you feel they are right for you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

This podcast was all about watering methods for chameleons.


Dripper

The simplest was letting ice cubes melt and poking a hole in a cup for a slow drip.  But there are professional grade drippers that can provide a low cost drip long after you go to work in the morning.  Bonus points if you can get the drip to bounce off the leaves for drinking and then fall into the plant to water it!


Hand Sprayers

The next step up are hand sprayers.  They can either be manual sprayers or pressure sprayers.  The manual sprayer requires strong wrist muscles as each spray requires a trigger pull.  A pressure sprayer allows you to pressurize the water basin and then the water will come out continuously when you hold the trigger down.  Between the two, a pressure sprayer is definitely the way to go! Both manual sprayers and pressure sprayers will allow the chameleon both hydration and hygiene. Though to get to the hygiene part with a manual sprayer you will be developing some massive wrist muscles!

Pressure Sprayer with 2 liter capacity:

Pressure Sprayer with 1 liter capacity:


Chameleon Cantina

An innovative product is the Chameleon Cantina.  While I don't see this as rivaling a full misting system for effectiveness, this product can be a good way to hydrate your chameleon.  Just make sure your chameleon recognizes the water and takes to it.  Every chameleon will be different.


Fogger (Ultrasonic Humidifiers)

Ultrasonic foggers are available and help with humidity. You will have a visible cloud defending into your cage which has great aesthetic value. Keep these things clean though! You are aerosolizing and injecting into the breathing air everything in the water basin. Just make sure that basin is clean! I have had experience with a few of the commercially available ultrasonic humidifiers that are marketed towards reptile keepers.

The Oiibo product has been my favorite, though I did have wrong parts included and customer service is typical of off-shore suppliers (not good). But once it is working it works well. It has a Y attachment and two tubes that makes it convenient to place between two cages. This product has a 2L reservoir.

I'd like to try this next one as I appreciate the larger 3L reservoir, though you would need to create your own dispersement system if you wanted to provide for more than one cage.

And I have heard of keepers using the Evergreen product being happy with their result.

The Zoo-med ReptiFogger is an interesting fogger that uses a relatively small bottle reservoir. But I did try this myself and found it to work well.


Misting Systems

And we finally get to misting systems!  Below is a chart with the Chameleon Breeder Podcast product comparison ratings.

[ultimatetables 1 /]

Key:

Price: How much it generally costs.  Promotions will make price vary.

Timer:

Cycle timer = simple count down timer.  You will need a separate appliance timer to make a unit with a Cycle Timer work well for chameleons.

Seconds timer = complete control of when mister goes on, which day, and for how long.  Eight different misting cycle programming is standard.

Water Reservoir:

The water basin from which the pump draws it water.  It is either Self-contained which means it is ready to go out of the box or else it is User Provided which means you will have to provide one.

Nozzles Included: How many nozzles are included in the base unit.

Dry Operation: How does the unit handle being run without water in the reservoir?

Expandability: How many nozzles can be added to the system

Mist Quality: How fine is the output?

Product Quality: What is the overall product quality reported back from users.

Recommendation: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast product ranking.


Zoo Med Repti-Rain

Summary: This mister is really a sprayer as it just doesn't get the mist to be as fine as I would like.  The awkward mounting and very small .25 water reservoir mean that I probably won't be using this product much.  Couple the design short comings with too many reports of poor quality and I will recommend this product only if you are unable to step up to the Monsoon.  While the Exo-Terra Monsoon has its own quality issues, the Monsoon problems can be avoided.  The Zoo Med Repti-Rain just breaks down and there is no way around that.  It is listed here only because it is better than a dripper.  It will give your chameleon a good spray of water while it is functional!


Exo-Terra Monsoon

I actually like this mister.  It seems Exo-Terra did a 98% great job except for a 2% design issue which allows water into the control circuitry.  Unfortunately, this results in 100% failure of the unit.  Water short circuits the timer panel and the unit turns on and just keeps going until it empties whatever is left of the 2.5 gallon reservoir at which point the internal safety switch presumably turns on and stops the unit. Strangely enough, there is actually a simple fix to avoid that situation.  You just use an appliance timer to control the power to the unit, fill up the reservoir with the lid off (don't use the fill-up hole), and don't fill the reservoir up all the way.  That said, although I like this unit and it is working for me so far, I am nervous when such a major design problem is found.  It shows an emphasis on making something cheap rather than making something good so I am wondering what else is waiting to fail.  I hate to rain on this parade, but I am sad that such a good unit gives me an uneasy feeling about trusting it.  But, as far as I know so far, bypassing the water intake and using an appliance timer makes up for the design shortcomings and you can have that fine mist for a lower price.  This system is expandable to 6 nozzles and has a number of accessories so it well supported.  Note that the motor makes a loud noise when it is on.

Exo-Terra also makes a one-cage version. I have not tested this product personally,  but would make the assumption that the operation is similar to the large version. The pump is rated by Exo-Terra for two mist nozzles.


Mist King

Mist King has been the go-to Misting system for the serious chameleon hobbyist. The professional grade pump is powerful, relatively quiet, and produces a fine mist.  This starter kit comes with one nozzle, but can be easily expanded.  This system ties for my top choice for a mister for your chameleon.  But note that there is no screen wedge in this starter pack.  You have to order them separately.  Don't forget the wedges! Some starter packs will have misting wedges bundled in, but make sure they are there!


Cli-mist

The Cli-Mist misting system ties for top recommendation for your chameleon's misting system. With fine mist, the precision of a seconds timer, and a line of accessories for expandability, this system will do the job.  But remember that you have to order the screen wedges separately! Cli-Mist has been great about recognizing us chameleon keepers and they have, for years, offered a mounting wedge as a "free gift" when you  buy one of their systems. Just make sure that this promotion is still in effect when you purchase your system!

climist cyclone

The Cli-Mist Cyclone Misting System (Photo property of Cli-Mist)

Cli-mist Screen wedge

Cli-Mist Screen Wedge (Photo property of Cli-Mist)


Dragon Strand Cages that retain mist

If you are looking for a cage which can keep mist inside the cage then the top of the line is the Dragon Strand Clearside Enclosure. It has three sides that are a clear lightweight PVC material and one side that is screen.  This gives a balance between holding in the mist and giving ventilation.

Dragon Strand Clearside Enclosure


If you have a screen cage and you would like to protect the sides from allowing mist through then wrap a bamboo mat around the walls and you'll get a natural looking background.


Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Today we are talking about water. Water is as important to chameleons as it is to us. They need it properly function. Hydration is the basis of all organ functions within the body and so I am probably stating the obvious when I say we must put a high priority on providing water in the correct form for our mini tree dragons.

Good morning Chameleon Wranglers, Today’s episode starts with a note. This episode was updated in February 2019 to include a more up to date approach to hydration. Many podcasts do not bother updating the past, but the Chameleon Breeder Podcast is meant to be a reference and, therefore, it is worthwhile to update episodes. If this is your second time listening you are welcome to reference the show notes at chameleonbreeder.com episode 9 to learn about the changes. If it is your first time, do not worry about it and just listen on!

The Water Cycle

Chameleons have adapted to life in the trees and have become dependent on rain to drink. Although there are reports from the field of chameleons drinking from puddles or the bank side and some individuals have trained their chameleons to drink from standing water, this is not the most successful method across all chameleon species for obtaining water. We will focus on making life the easiest as possible for our chameleons and that means providing water in the form of moisture to be licked off leaves. In the wild, chameleons find water as condensation on leaves when they wake up in the morning as dew, and of course, when it rains. Moisture also comes to them with their food.

A 24 hour hydration cycle looks like this. If we start our 24 hour period at midnight our chameleon is sleeping in a high humidity night where moisture loss from breathing is minimized. When they wake up there is dew on the leaves which they lick. During the day they will also get moisture from the food they eat. And, of course, when it rains then water is all around. Annually, chameleons commonly get one or two wet seasons and then one or two dry seasons.

In captivity, everyone has a different approach to how they provide for the chameleon’s hydration needs. In our discussion here we will describe a simple protocol that is the easiest to implement and maintain.

If I were to pick one piece of hydration equipment that best supplied the basic hydration needs of a chameleon I would pick an automated misting system. With an automated misting system you will be able to simulate both a morning layer of dew and an afternoon rain shower.

In my opinion, the best watering system to start with is an automated misting system. This consists of a pump on a timer that drives misting heads on the cage. The mist heads create a blanket of mist on the surfaces and the timer ensures that it happens whether you remember or not or are even home or not. I would also suggest a dripper cup.

I would run the misters for about a minute before the lights come on in the morning to lay down that layer of dew. And then in the late evening, turn off your heat lamp, let the cage cool down for 15 to 30 minutes and then run the mister for a couple minutes.

If I can add another item I would add a dripper to be started in the morning after the lights have gone on. A dripper has the advantage that it can go on while the chameleon is awake and does not give them the rain signal which tells them to hunker down and wait out the storm. You’ll notice that your chameleon will avoid the mist and, when forced to be in it, will eventually settle into a nap like state until the rain is over with. They may drink during this afternoon rain storm.

For the ultimate hydration set-up, you can add a fogger to simulate the early morning fog rolling in like they are used to in the wild. This helps them sleep hydrated and not lose so much moisture during the night. I would run the fogger for a couple hours between 2AM and the lights coming on.

De-hydration has been an issue for the community for many years so do not doubt the importance of getting all this right!

With that basic format in mind, I’d like to review the various hydration methods commercially available and we can talk about how to use them. We will start from basic and work our way up to advanced.

Watering Methods

Ice cubes on cage top

One simple method that has been used is to simply place ice cubes on top of the screen cage and let the melting water drop onto the leaves. This provides a timed release of water. Although, the water is just above freezing when it drops. I am not a real fan of this because of the water temperature, but I know it works and I am trying to be comprehensive here. But please don’t rely on this method for hydration. I am going to suggest use it in emergency only.

Hole-in-a-cup

You can get a plastic party cup and poke a small hole in it with a pin. The resulting slow draining of water will provide a drip until the cup is empty. The more water the longer the drip. Although the more water, the heavier the cup and since you are putting downward weight on the screen of the top panel in a way that the screen panel was not designed to handle you need to tread carefully. Placing a grill or just two supports across the frame for the cup to sit on would solve this problem. This method is a cheap way to have a constant drip of water for hydration.

Commercial Dripper ($5 to $10)

You can find a commercial equivalent of the hole-in-a-cup strategy. These are called drippers and some have knobs which can adjust the drip flow. They aren’t expensive and even though a party cup is an easy do-it-yourself alternative I would suggest making sure your set-up looks clean and professional. At last that is my personal preference.

Hand Mister

Hand sprayers come in both manual and pressure spray versions. A manual version is the cheapest coming in around $3 to $7. It makes you squeeze the trigger for every spray while the pressure spray version allows you to pump to put the water under pressure. Then you just press a trigger to release your spray. The pressure spray version can be found from $10 to $50 depending on how big you want. You can get up to a backpack type unit if desired! The disadvantage of the hand sprayers is that you have to, every day, manually remember to provide hydration. You must have patience with this method and, if using the manual version, good wrist muscles.

Showering

Placing your chameleon in the shower has been a traditional method of rehydrating a chameleon. It has often been used to rehydrate imported chameleons. The attractive side of this is that there is a relatively endless supply of water. Just put a tree in the stall and you have an instant rain shower. Here are some considerations to make this work.

  • Make sure the water is cool to your touch. This is supposed to be a rain shower. You don’t want to simulate an icy arctic storm, but, likewise, rain itself is not “warm”. I know we want them to be comfortable and we warm blooded humans love our warm showers! But remember that chameleons are cold blooded and not designed for warm showers. They are designed to be energized by the warmth of the sun and settled by the cool of the night – or rain. It is best to adhere to what they have been designed to expect.
  • Some showers blast that water. For a chameleon size body that is like taking a fire hose to them. No matter how thirsty you are, a high pressure blast of water is not what is useful. We are not trying to pound water into them. We want a gentle rain that is relaxing and allows them to drink leisurely. Gentle is the important word here!

That said, I am no longer encouraging showers as a regular weekly or monthly hydration top off. Our goal is to create a cage environment that effectively supplies all needs, including hydration, within their cage. Instead of supplementing hydration outside the cage work on fixing the daily hydration cycle. If, for whatever reason, you do decide that a shower is necessary then just be careful about your temperatures and pressure.

Special Mention (Chameleon Cantina $24.99)

A relatively new and completely innovative product on the market is called the Chameleon Cantina. This small, pump based system creates a constant flow of water across some plastic leaves. Like every product I talk about in today’s episode, there is a picture and a link to this product in the show notes on the chameleonbreeder.com website. So, the Chameleon Cantina is a small water reservoir with a recirculating pump. The opening has a layer of plastic leaves that the water flows down. The opening is big enough for a chameleon to get their head in for drinking, but small enough that strategic placement can keep poop and feeder insects from getting in. It is essentially, a chameleon water fountain! If you decide to use this product then the most important thing is to make sure your chameleon is actually using it. Some chameleons take to it and some just don’t recognize it. When we come up with clever ways to give chameleons, heat, UVB, and water that they did not evolve to recognize we can end up patting ourselves on the back while our chameleons suffer and die. Make sure your particular chameleon figures out the concept of this drinking fountain. Don’t just put it in and go on vacation and don’t let it run out of water. The pump is not designed to run dry. You’ll burn that pump out. Mounting is a challenge. It comes with a suction cup for mounting which is completely useless for the typical screen cage. It was designed to go into a cage that this company makes which is marketed towards chameleons, but I…how can I say this…I suspect no live chameleons were actually involved in product testing. Anyway, you’ll have to find a creative way of mounting the cantina on the side of your cage. The electrical cord needs to go outside the cage. There is currently no easy way of doing this. One method is to loosen the frame screws and snake the power cord between the framing pieces. This gives an obvious opening in the cage for feeders to get out and whatever you have around the house to get in. Another method is to make a hole in the screen which, once again is not a clean option as you’ll have to plug that hole somehow.   If you are handy with tools a bit you can get a small sheet of PVC or acrylic from the home improvement store. You can mount this to the inside of your cage from frame to frame. This gives an area for easy mounting of the Cantina and a method for covering up the screen hole for the power cord.

And finally, there is a carbon filter that is recommended to be replaced every month. The major consideration with this product and anytime you have water pooled or recirculated within the cage is cleanliness. You will have to keep on top of regular disinfection.

This product is not a 100% clean solution for us. I, personally, am not a huge fan of this, but I know some people have used it with success.

Foggers

Foggers, or ultrasonic humidifiers, are those devices that whip up water into a visible mist. They are highly appealing as it is beautiful watching the mist roll down. We used to consider them novelties, but an exposure to the concept of 24 hour hydration has elevated fogging from novelty to an integral part of everyday husbandry. Although this is a new concept only here in the US. Nighttime fogging has been used extensively by European breeders for years upon years and is such a basic component of husbandry that it is incredulous to them that we even debate it here in the US. And, on this, I must agree. It is mind blowing to me that we missed this all these years when we only have to think about what happens at night. Humidity rises and fog rolls in. To be fair, what we missed was not that it was happening, but the significance of it. We all thought hydration happened only when chameleons were awake and drinking. This was only half the story. An increase in nighttime humidity and a decrease during the day is the natural rhythm. Although we have proven that some species can reproduce with a backwards rhythm of heavy misting during the day and drying out during the night, it is folly to look at our success with easy to breed species like veileds and panthers and decide we have reached the pinnacle of husbandry. By getting closer and closer to natural conditions we will unlock greater successes with species we have failed at before. The fogging at night maintains their hydration during the sleep hours.

Fogging is best done during the very early morning hours before the lights come on. You are replicating the fog bank moving in which will get burned off with the morning sun.  

Ultrasonic humidifiers are generally more useful to the chameleon keepers because they produce a directional fog. Regular humidifiers would work as well for this purpose, but then you are humidifying the entire room to between 70 to 100%. Houses generally are not designed for this, but if you rig up a directional feed or have a room where this can be accommodated then more power to you!

Ultra sonic humidifiers can be found easily online or in department stores. Some links are in the show notes, of course.

Ultra sonic humidifiers take a while to lay down a layer of dew so I like to use foggers in conjunction with misting systems. They make a powerful pair.

Now, Ultrasonic humidifiers have a couple of warnings attached. The first is a standard keep-it-clean issue. You are aerosolizing everything in the water and turning it into something that can be breathed in. That is the whole reason why it works as part of a hydration strategy during sleep. The ultrasonic process apparently does break down microorganisms to some extent, but it is hard to pin down just what it kills and what it distributes. The only clear thing that I can pass on is that the safety of the ultrasonic humidifiers depends on cleanliness. So avoid using ultrasonic humidifiers that require being inside the cage. Any open pool of water invites feeders, poop, and unexpected soiling.

Waterfall

Waterfalls have captured our imagination for centuries and one of the first things I thought of when I was putting together my first big cage construction was a nice long flow of water. It would be great for humidity and if I put leaves around it, a drinking source! Well, that part is absolutely correct! You can get these things from a waterfall. Unfortunately, along with that comes some unsavory elements. Most waterfalls are built around a water circulation system where the fallen water pools at the bottom and is brought back up to fall again. The problem comes with the cleanliness of the water. Water triggers a bowel vacating response in chameleons and they do a surprisingly good job getting it in the water receptacle. And then loose feeder insects have a habit of getting into the pool and drowning. All of this creates a bacterial nightmare which is then pumped back up. Most people, including myself, have concluded that the maintenance on fountains to keep them clean is more work than they are worth.  I won’t discourage you from trying because maybe someone some day will figure it out. But if you are just starting out and wondering why we haven’t done something so obvious I just want to give you heads up that fountains have been struggled over for decades. If you are just starting out in this hobby then leave your aspirations to be the first successful fountain integrator until after you have all the other things figured out.

Misting Philosophies

A thirsty chameleon will drink

A drinking chameleon is not always thirsty (pipette)

Lets not torture the poor chameleons

The bulk of this discussion is centered around automatic misting systems. This is currently the hydration/hygiene method of choice. It provides water in the closest to rain form that we have presently. I firmly recommend adding an automatic misting system to your husbandry as it is by far the most reliable and effective method. But before we get into the actual products available, let’s talk about the misting session itself.

You might be surprised by the panic type reaction chameleons often give the first spray of water. The misters start and your chameleon’s first reaction is to react as if you have sprayed him with acid. It would be amusing if it didn’t look so painful. But let’s consider the situation. Chameleons are used to rain showers which have ample warning that they are arriving. The sky darkens, the barometric pressure changes, the temperature decreases (at least a little bit) and finally rain falls. In captivity, things tend to be a little more surprising. One moment all is clear and warm and the next minute relatively cold water is spraying all over the place. The first reaction of any animal when suddenly sprayed with water is to get away and chameleons do this, as well. So let’s make this as comfortable for your chameleon as possible.

A common misting strategy is to mist two times a day. We can make that first misting just a little bit before the lights come on in the morning. As your chameleon is asleep they won’t be shocked. But what this does is allows them to wake up in a world covered in dew. Then they can drink in a natural manner. The dew round only has to be long enough to give a nice layer of dew everywhere. If you feel it is important to have a longer session in the morning then arrange it so the overhead lights come on and leave the basking light off. Have your rain shower for as long as you wish and when it is over you can turn on the basking light so they can warm up.

The second round would simulate an afternoon rain shower and could happen in late afternoon. We can give the chameleon a warning by turning the basking lamp off. Not only do we not want to risk water hitting the hot bulb, but we are giving our chameleon clues as to what is about to come. If we establish a pattern of signs that a misting session will come soon your chameleon is smart enough to start getting himself where he wants to be during the rain shower. The most appropriate sign can be turning off the heat lamp. This simulates the clouds blocking the sun and the area cooling down a bit. This is pretty pitiful compared to the signs they get in the wild that rain is approaching, but chameleons are pretty smart and will be able to recognize simple patterns in their world.

Finally, the mist should be a gentle mist. Do not set up your misting system so it blasts your chameleon in the eyes, head, or body. If you bought a very powerful pump and have only one nozzle you might have an issue with spray strength. If necessary, you can siphon off some energy there by adding another nozzle or two that points to the soil where a plant is planted.

Product review of various misters.

There are a number of misters on the market and the prices vary from entry level to high end. The difference is really between $60 and $99 so both are affordable. You do get what you pay for in misters so when you are budgeting your chameleon husbandry items, budget your mister first. So I’ll start with entry level and we’ll move our way on up.

There are a number of characteristics that I’ll rate the misters on

1) Price. I have not always been so kind to some of the entry level misters in the market, but they have their place. The lower price may allow some chameleons to have mist instead of just drips and that is an increase in quality of life for the chameleon. In misters you get what you pay for, though. The low end misters are more accessible, but they are not as clean of an option. The higher end are a bit more complicated, but are powerful tools in husbandry so, if you can afford them, then it is well worth devoting the time to learn about them.

2) Timer. There are two types of timers used. The most economical is a cycle timer. This is where the timer has no idea what time it is. It merely counts down from when it was turned on. You are able to set how many hours between cycles and how long the cycle will last. As the units will turn on when power is applied you can just add an appliance timer to the power cord to control the unit. A seconds timer is a higher end option and has an internal clock that allows you to set precise times and durations for your misting sessions.

3) Water reservoir: There are two methods to holding water for the misters. Self-contained and user provided. Self-contained means that you will pour water into the misting unit itself. User provided means that you will be able to use whatever size container you would like, but it means you have to provide the container! Self-contained is useable out of the box. User Provided means you need to gather another piece to this puzzle.

4) Dry operation: What happens when the water is gone and the pump is turned on? What safety mechanisms are in place to make sure the unit does not burn out?

5) Expandability: How much can you expand the system?

Drip Loops

For all pumps you need to know about drip loops. There is always a chance of water splashing out when we fill the reservoir or one of those unseen events where water gets in contact with the power cord. It can then run down into the power socket creating a dangerous situation. You avoid this by making sure there is enough slack in the power cord so that the cord dips down and then up into the electrical socket. If you don’t understand what I am talking about look at the show notes and find the picture. If any water drips down the cord it will drip to the floor instead of flowing into the electrical socket.

Water type

Use distilled or RO water. Tap water has minerals in it which will clog your mist heads. If you do use tap water then you can clean out your mist heads with a vinegar bath. (the mist heads – not you)

Zoo-Med Repti-Rain

Price: Prone to promotion, price jumps around, but you can find them around $65.99

This is a cycle timer. You can choose between every hour, every three hours, 6 hours, and 12 hours and the duration can be set to 15, 30, 45, or 60 seconds each time.

You have a self-contained 28 ounce water reservoir – about a quarter gallon

Summary: The Repti-rain produces a spray more than a mist, but I have found the spray to be adequate for chameleons. If you are getting a stream of water adjust the nozzle head until it is as fine as you can go without shutting it off. It comes with two nozzles.

This automatic sprayer (we’ll call it) was designed for the Zoo Med terrariums and its mounting hardware is not really compatible with our screen cages. It has hooks for hanging and suction cups for sticking onto solid surfaces. The hooks are shown to work by hanging off the top frame of the screen cages, but one misalignment and they may go though your screen top. You can set it on a table, but there are vents on the bottom to avoid moisture build-up and that doesn’t sound like a good thing to block. There really is no solid mounting solution for us chameleon folk. I have used my test unit for a little while, but there are too many reports of quality issues for me to confidently recommend this unit. I’d rather you skip this one and get a mister you’ll be much happier with.

Exo-Terra Monsoon

Price is around $80. It comes with two mist heads.

This is a cycle timer with a bit more flexibility. You can choose between every hour, every 2,4,8,12,16, or 20 hours and the duration can be set to 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 30, 60, and 120 seconds each time. I recommend using an appliance timer and by passing the internal timer. There have been too many reported incidences of the timer getting moisture in it and giving out resulting in flooded cages to trust it at this time. Just use an external appliance timer on the power cord and you should avoid a nasty surprise.

You have a self-contained 2.5 gallon water reservoir on this unit.

Summary: I actually like this mister. It has enough pressure that you get a fine mist out. The large water reservoir is quite convenient. This unit will have to sit on a table, but you get eight feet of tubing extension. This system has a variety of accessories so it makes expansion to up to six nozzles pretty easy. I have not tried more than two nozzles so I can’t speak to how well it mists with the added load, though.

My biggest warning is that I have not heard that they have fixed their electronic problem where water gets into the timer circuitry. Some hobbyists have figured out that filling the tank while the top electronics portion is off and then being sure to not fill the water basin to the top takes care of the problem. I am suggesting taking those precautions and using an external appliance timer for your power control. The unit will turn on when power is applied so this is an effective control method.

It is loud, though. You will know when it turns on!

The Monsoon has an internal shut down when water is low so the pump does not overheat. Don’t rely on this, but it is good to know it is there.

The biggest problem we will have with the Monsoon is getting the nozzles in the cage. Once again we are forced to loosen cage walls or poke a hole through the screen. Not convenient. Many of you know I own the Dragon Strand Chameleon Caging company which I use to solve the caging problems I run across. I made a hydration mount which is a mounting solution that can be installed anywhere around the inside rim of the top panel. I actually made it with a hole that fits the two high end units we are about to go over and also a ¼” tubing hole. This ¼” tubing hole can be used to let the Monsoon mister in. You can buy these from dragonstrand.com or else, if you already have misting wedges laying around you can just drill a hole in it that is big enough for ¼” tubing to fit through. If you are not sure what I am talking about there is a link in the show notes that you can reference.

Let’s take a look at the High End

There are currently two high end misting system brands targeting the reptile market. There are numerous home misting systems for patios and such which you can use, but the easiest way to go is either Mist King or Cli-Mist.

Here are some common notes on both.

1) Both of these system use a Diaphragm Misting pump. These pumps are high power and can run dry without damage. Both of these require you to put together the system with couplings and tubing, but the power of these systems makes this effort well worthwhile.

2) Both require you to provide your own reservoir. This is the hardest part of the set-up as you must drill a hole in a water container and install a bulkhead which takes quite a bit of muscle. I, personally, just stick the intake tube down a 5 gallon jug of water. Their instructions say that the pump should be below the water line supplying it so, full disclosure, this strategy which I have been using for years is not recommended by the manufacturers and could be reducing the life of my pumps. Though here I am six years later still thumbing my nose at authority.

3) With diaphragm pumps they will sometimes need to be “burped”. When in use sometimes they just don’t have the umph they used to. And you just can’t figure out why it is not working. All the connections are correct, but you just get little spurts out. This usually happens if they, at some point, have run dry. Once they are running with out water then you need to essentially reset the water pressure. You do this by removing the water output line from the pump, run the pump so water comes out for a second, then reapply the output tubing. Your mister will now run well again. And don’t ask me why this works. It just does. I’ll figure out one day. But for now I am just happy it works.

4) Screen Wedges. These systems are the only ones that come with accessories specifically for mounting the nozzles on screen cages. This is the number 1 most forgotten accessory and source of frustration when you are ready to put everything together and realize that this piece is necessary and you don’t have it! Screen Wedges are a plastic wedge type shape that goes across the corner of the screen cage top panel, or in the case of the Dragon Strand mister mounts – anywhere along the edge of the frame- and allows you to mount the mist nozzle. You do have to poke a hole through the screen top, but the nut that holds the mister in place covers the jagged screen edges. I suggest installing the screen wedge on the inside of the top panel and if you can do the installation beforeyou put the cage together you are ahead of the game. Pushing self-tapping screws into an aluminum frame upside down has great potential for inappropriate language. If the cage is built, but there are no occupants yet then you can just turn the cage on its top. If there is already an occupant then take a deep breath and know that screws will fall a number of times before the night is over, but it can be done.

5) Both systems run off of ¼” tubing which can be found at any home improvement store if you need more. Look for the drip system area and you’ll find large rolls of it.

6) Both systems come with seconds timer which gives you down to the second control. These are wonderful timers.

Mist King

The starter system comes in at $129 and contains almost all you need and one misting nozzle. It can be expanding up to 10 nozzles. The only thing it does not come with is a screen wedge. Don’t forget to order this! There are a huge number of nozzles and fittings and accessories you can buy for this system. I have personally used Mist King for years now and it has served me well. I would recommend this system without hesitation. There are upgrade systems available which can be found on their website. Links are in the show notes

Cli-Mist

The starter system, called the CliMist Cyclone Misting system, starts at $149, but promotions can see it down to $99. This one expands to ten nozzles and some promotions have the screen wedge included free of charge. It appears Cli-Mist has taken notice of us chameleon people!  I have used CliMist for many years and it is a good system. They have a more powerful system if you want to run a room. And links for that are, you guessed it, in the show notes.

Application

Okay, so we figured out our misting system. Now let’s set it up!

First of all, make sure the mister does not spray the light fixtures. This is not a good combination!

Second, point it at plants whose leaves have convenient branch access. You are doing this for the chameleon’s sake so be aware that your coverage may not adequately water the plant. If this is the case then supplemental watering will be necessary for plant life.

Frequency and duration of your misting session is dependent on the species you keep and your environmental conditions. For panther chameleons in most areas, two misting a day at 2 minutes would be a fine starting point. Everyone will have a different misting schedule so there is nothing magic about this one. It is just a starting point. Monitor the poop and make sure it is moist. If not then you need to increase your humidity and/or hydration.

Beware of mist drifting out of screen cage walls and getting on furniture. The Dragon Strand Clearside cages were designed to look good while keeping in the mist so you can check them out, but for the standard screen cage we will have to create some barrier. Traditionally the hack has been to wrap two or three sides in a shower curtain. While effective, this doesn’t look terribly appealing. One way to add appeal to this method is to use a bamboo mat to wrap around the cage sides. This way the water guard looks natural and you can maintain your cage beauty. If the mist still gets through then you can line the outside of the bamboo mat with clear plastic tarp. The outside will look industrial, but at least the inside will still look nice! By the way, look for the bamboo mats that are held together by string. The ones held together by metal wire are prone to rust. This means you are probably looking in shops that appeal to Japanese customers rather than your home improvement store.

The most important part of automating your water system is to not become complacent. Automation is great because it gives your chameleons the water they need during the day while you are at work. It certainly gives you more freedom, but disaster is waiting for you if you allow your attention to detail to get lax. You must monitor the misting system on a regular basis to make sure it is still working. At least with hand misting you know exactly when misting is done. With an automated system it is easy to check on it just occasionally to fill the reservoir. If something goes wrong it could be days before you realize it. Therefore, check on your system every day by observing your animals. Should their poop get dry you have a major warning sign. Constantly cross check your automated system. Automated systems do save time, but mostly they just give you the freedom to choose when you will work with it.

To close this all up I will summarize by saying that I strongly suggest you start with a Cli Mist or Mist King basic misting system. If price is an issue then I recommend the Exo-Terra Monsoon with the special caveats discussed before. An automatic misting system is the best way to ensure that your chameleon has the water they need for a healthy life.

Now, let’s take a step back and take a look around.

A common question is why we hydrate so much in captivity. If you are not asking this now you will probably come to the point of asking it. We make sure our chameleons have daily water and we observe them drinking daily. But looking at the natural conditions of chameleons we realize that Chameleons certainly aren’t getting two rain showers a day in the wild! In fact, during the dry seasons they may be going weeks without rain! So why is it that in captivity they not only are offered water daily, but they drink daily, And some species are known to sit under mist and slowly drink for what seems like forever. Why the disconnect between captive and wild behaviors? The answer is that we are still working on figuring this whole hydration thing out! But here are some information points that may help us come to a complete picture.

  • In the wild, chameleons experience a humidity cycle that is drier during the day and very humid at night. We are always losing moisture when we breathe and chameleons do as well. Up until recently, many of us only thought of day time humidity. This left them to lose moisture during the night. The drier the environment, the more moisture you will lose from breathing. Therefore they would be in extra need of moisture replenishment during the day. Instead of dew being a “top-off”, it becomes more of a fill-up. We certainly made this husbandry switch-up work and chameleons adjusted to it, but it explains why they would be needing more to drink during the day.
  • Chameleons can be induced to drink. Chameleons can be opportunistic drinkers and placing a drop on their snout, whether through a pipette or from misting system, will get an instinctive drinking. If they are trapped perching in a shower or mist session then they could just drink and drink whether they really need it or not. So what we could be seeing is not that they have endless need to drink, but that they will reflexively drink when trapped in falling water. This certainly does not mean that every chameleon that takes a long drinking session did not need it, but it is suggesting that we be careful how we interpret our observations as to how a chameleon reacts to being trapped in mist or shower and extrapolate a husbandry need from the observed response. Simply stated, an observed response isn’t necessarily a husbandry need. There are a number of areas where I suspect we have been artificially creating husbandry needs that really aren’t there.

So, what does this mean for us when we are setting up our hydration protocol? It means that we offer water in an appropriate manner on a daily basis and adjust our approach based on behavior clues. Your chameleon should take a casual approach to water being offered. If a drip system is going to their side and they ignore it then that is a good sign. Here is a warning. Be concerned about a chameleon that drinks right away. If they drink with urgency then they are probably dehydrated and you need to increase their water availability. A well hydrated chameleon will not rush to water. Ideally, your chameleon will be indifferent to its normal, say, twice daily water shower and will wait for the rain shower to come to him.

I need to address eye hygiene. For a while I was hearing about a lot of eye issues. There were a number of things tried and it seemed that allowing chameleons to shower in the mist and undulate their eyes was helping. We would mist them, see them roll their eyes in their turrets, and not have eye issues. There was a paper published that listed this as a possible cause/effect. How can you argue with results? Hydration and hygiene was my mantra.  I reported that here on the podcast and was vocal in encouraging misting and showering for ocular health.

Well, we always need to look at what we think we know with a critical eye. Since then I have spent quite a bit of time discussing this with scientists, hobbyists, and veterinarians. Could it be that what we are observing is not them cleaning their eyes of debris, but trying to get the water from our misting out of their eyes? When challenged on this, I couldn’t say I have ever seen a chameleon actively walk into a spray of water to wash out their eyes! It makes sense that if that were a requirement for eye health that they would actively seek it out. And then what do they do during the dry season? All very good questions.

Okay, so say we embrace that this isn’t a hygiene requirement? What do we attribute this anecdotal decrease in eye issues to? And, to be clear, any interpretation that the community experienced a decline is highly speculative as it is taken from my personal experiences and perceptions from information gleened from discussing from fellow keepers. There is no well of information that compiles this data. But let’s say my interpretation is correct and there was a decrease in eye issues. I can say that I, personally, experienced a decrease. So that, at least, is one data point I can be sure of. But here is where we need to ask any time we come to a conclusion - Could there be another parallel explanation that explains it better? Let’s try this scenario. Perhaps it was an increased awareness of the importance of vitamin A. We in the chameleon world have been recovering from a vitamin A scare in the 90s that came from a well intentioned, but flawed study published in a hobbyist magazine. That study has since been challenged, but vitamin A is not present in one of the major supplements used by chameleon keepers at the time, Miner All. As I moved to other supplements, such as Repashy Calcium plus lo D, that included vitamin A and I started to include, among other things, sweet potatoes which are high in carotenoids, in my gutloading, I was now, unwittingly, including a necessary vitamin for eye health. So could an industry wide shift in supplements and a better education on gutloading across the community create a change that we, or, at least I, attributed to ocular rinsing? Yeah, it is possible!

So where do I stand now? Still investigating. But there is enough question in my mind that it is worth going back and being cautious about the conclusion. And this is our challenge. Since I had already, in my mind, solved the ocular health problem with misting, I did not pay attention to the vitamin A portion of my supplementation. So I still have exploration to do in my own husbandry.  I give this example not to confuse an already complicated situation, but to demonstrate how dynamic our education must be. We must always be challenging what we think we know. So where do I go from here? I explore.  I experiment. From that I learn, share, and discuss with others that are on the same path of exploration as I am. I appreciate your indulgence of my personal development. I guarantee I will continue to challenge pretty much everything I think I know and will take you along with me.

And that, folks, is the first in this two part podcast series on the water cycle. The next part will deal with drainage – where the water goes once it is sprayed in the cage.

Thank you very much for joining me here on the podcast. I have put together show notes and for today it is extensive. We talked about a lot of products!! If you are enjoying the podcast please do me a favor. If you plan on buying any of the products we discussed today go to the show notes at chameleonbreeder.com and go to episode 9: Chameleons and Water. Click on the links in the show notes. Many of them go to Amazon of which I am an affiliate. What this means is that if you purchase a product after following one of my links then I will get a small percentage as a sales commission. In fact, you don’t even have to buy that particular product by time you are through! I would be commissioned for anything you purchase after following my link. This is a simple way for you to support the podcast without spending any more than you normally would have. Not all products have Amazon links and it doesn’t matter. This affiliate program does not affect my review of the product.

We have covered a lot of ground here! But this is critically important. Chameleons can dehydrate quickly and this causes internal issues and weakens their body. Hydration is one aspect of chameleon husbandry that demands serious attention. We chameleon keepers have daily husbandry chores and I would venture to say that maintaining hydration is the most important one.

And that, chameleon wranglers, is a wrap

Season 1 Archive
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Interview with Bill Strand

Ep 8: Interview with Host Bill Strand

Summary: Get to know the host of the Chameleon Breeder Podcast, Bill Strand. Briana Kammer returns, but this time she is in the host seat!  Inbetween talking about Bill’s story, these two discuss the current chameleon community and weave in a vision for the chameleon community going forward.  Listen in to a free flowing talk about past adventures that led to this point, podcast philosophies, and future directions.


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Should I Breed Chameleons?

Ep 7: Should I Breed Chameleons?

Summary: For people who love their chameleon keeping experience this question of breeding naturally comes up.  What can be better than having a chameleon?  Well, obviously – more chameleons!  But it isn’t as simple as that. We will explore the reasons, good and not-so-good, to breed chameleons.                                              .


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Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Today’s episode is inspired by an email I received from Sarah. She has a Jackson’s chameleons and she wonders if she should breed “Monty”. She has kept Monty for over a year and feels that breeding him would be fun. And she asks whether that would be a good idea or not.

Thank you Sarah for your question. Of course, you wrote in to a podcast named the “Chameleon Breeder Podcast” so I could be accused of being biased a bit. But I will answer to the best of my ability. I’ll expand this answer to be general enough to cover as many situations as I can so Sarah and anyone else thinking this question might pull away what they need.

For people who love their chameleon keeping experience this question naturally comes up. What can be better than having a chameleon? Well, obviously – more chameleons! And the fact that baby chameleons are pretty much the cutest thing on Earth. In today’s episode we’ll take a look at the breeding question. I will give my insight and experience and I want to iterate that on most of these podcasts I try to present in a manner as objective and educational as possible. My opinion is there, and how could it not be, but I keep it as much to the facts as I know them. This podcast will have it all switched around. You are going to be getting a lot of my personal view mixed in with my experience. So, if you hear something that you don’t agree with, don’t worry so much on this one. This podcast is meant mainly to be a catalyst for thought for those who are considering getting involved in the breeding of chameleons.

Should I breed my chameleon?

This isn’t a primer on how to breed chameleons or how to take care of babies. This is a discussion on reasons why you may be thinking about breeding chameleons and the pros and cons of those reasons. We will also discuss consequences of certain decisions if you do decide to breed your chameleons. The point we will focus on that will drive everything else is what is your end game.   Are you doing it just for fun? And how important is the money aspect of this?

Right from the start we need to establish that there is a huge difference between breeding/raising chameleons and selling chameleons. And then there is an even bigger difference to make the jump to actually make money at it. For this short time that you and I are sharing these airwaves we are going to make sure that we are completely honest with our expectations for this breeding experience. How much of this is for fun? How much for money? So here is a summary of what is required for each:

Breeding and raising of chameleons.

For this you need solid husbandry. Nutrition of the female during pregnancy, incubation strategies and baby care are critical to be correct. But this is probably what you are fully aware of and, actually, looking forward to! Do not wait for the three month mark to find out that you really didn’t think about the details on what it would take to sell chameleons.

Selling Chameleons

The skill set to sell chameleons is getting the word out there. In this day and age that means social media. There are other outlets, but Facebook makes it so easy to reach hundreds of people. It could be thousands or tens of thousands if you are willing to spend money to advertise. Finding new homes for your chameleon can be as simple as finding enough people in your friend network to have homes to send them to to starting your own Facebook company and doing a sales campaign.

Making money

Ah, money. It makes the world go ‘round. Selling your chameleons is a skill set in marketing and visibility. But the real way to make money selling chameleons is a function of selling for more money than you put into the project. The reason this is important is that streamlining your processes takes an enormous amount of time and skill. Your biggest reoccurring expense is your food bill. Are you going to put the time and effort in to create and maintain a feeder breeding group? Are you going to be a cricket or dubia roach farmer? Are you going to super charge your sales outlet with a fancy Facebook page and a consistent social media campaign? Making money on your chameleon breeding efforts is an exercise of reducing costs and developing an industry reputation.

The reason why we are breaking those three up is that you need to consider each one. Realize that you will need varying levels of skills in each one depending on what you plan on getting out of your experience. As for me, I love the husbandry part of raising baby chameleons. That would be my passion. I do not like the process of selling chameleons. I can do it and I can do it well. It is just that I’d love for someone else to do the selling and I’ll do the breeding! This is the reason why I did wholesale selling for a time. I loved the breeding and raising and then I did not have to spend time with sales! Where are your strengths? Ponder each of those three skill sets and consider where your talent or enjoyment lies. Come up with a partner if you need one of those skill sets and don’t have it or want to deal with it. But have a plan ahead of time so you don’t find yourself stuck when you really need to be moving. Because of my hesitation to be a sales person I totally grew to adulthood a group of five Abronia Mexican Alligator Lizards I was supposed to sell at three months old. I enjoyed them, but my personal preferences got in the way of the plan. So, if your plan does not include living seven years with 60 veiled chameleons all over your house then you need to spend some time up front with the breeding project exit strategy.

But let’s get back to the beginning. I have six common reasons why people start breeding chameleons. See if you see yourself in any one of these.

1) I want more chameleons!

There is an itch that once we get bitten by the chameleon bug we want to be surrounded by them. I want to caution you that our ability to collect chameleons vastly outstrips the time and resources available to keep them. I have been there – “got to collect them all!” Unless you have a project that requires numbers of chameleons, I am going to suggest to you that concentrating on the husbandry of a few chameleons will give you much more joy than having a room full of chameleons that takes all your waking hours to clean and feed. It is counter intuitive, but more chameleons does not necessarily equate to more enjoyment. Just remember that your love may expand to encompass them all equally, but time and resources do not grow as easily. Working with chameleons is fun. I love it. But there is a little secret of life I will share that comes from just life experience – stop expanding while the experience is still great. That is how you keep it great. When things are going well we tend to keep pushing until it is not fun anymore. I guess that is what we humans need to know when to stop.

If having more is a motivation for breeding chameleons yourself I am going to say that you will definitely get more! Just make sure more is what you really will be happy with once you get it. Nothing says you can’t slowly add another awesome morph of male panther chameleon every year to a collection that is growing at the rate that you can still tell when you are reaching the point of diminishing enjoyment – rather than figuring that out after you have long passed that point.

2) Status

At least in the North American arena, which is what I am familiar with, being a breeder is a status symbol. You hear people talk about breeders as if they hold the keys to the chameleon world and breeders will list their years of breeding as a resume. And that isn’t necessarily all bluster. You get quite a lot of experience breeding chameleons on a regular basis and you sure need to know what you are doing. At least to some extent. Breeding veileds and panthers is pretty much a recipe now a days so you really just have to follow the instructions. Someone having produced X number of panther chameleons is not an indication that the breeder can speak on all aspects of chameleon care. Following a recipe can get you lots of cookies without you ever having to understand the difference between baking powder and baking soda. The real accomplishments start happening in areas beyond just churning out lots of panthers or veileds. And this isn’t to diminish the accomplishments of the breeders out there. Heck, the name of this podcast shows where my mind is, but I just want to bring out that if you are becoming a breeder because of this feeling that you step up to another strata of status I will let you know that there are many other areas of study that you can make huge contributes to the community. I am not saying you shouldn’t breed. I am just saying there are better ways to get recognition if you are looking to be part of something.

3) Bad Information

Various versions of mis-information continues to floats around. One of these that has actually driven people to breed is the one that says if you don’t breed your female chameleon she will die egg bound. When we use the term “egg bound” it is the common name for the medical term Dystocia. It means that the female retains her eggs for whatever reason and she dies without laying them. Egg binding can come from having so many eggs that her body cannot handle the production. This is commonly caused by over feeding. We in the chameleon world run into this the most with female veiled chameleons. Veiled chameleons don’t have much of an off switch when it comes to food and so they eat and eat. We love to watch them eat and think they will stop when they are full. The end result is that the Veiled chameleon’s body goes into super production due to availability of food and can create enough eggs to be a problem. Other times she refuses to lay her eggs because a suitable laying site is not available. This is a gross oversimplification of dystocia or egg binding. The important thing to know is that egg binding does not come from lack of breeding. If you have a female who looks to be more gravid than is reasonable then look to your nutrition and feeding habits. And make sure there is a suitable egg laying site. An egg bound chameleon will have the same outcome whether the eggs are fertile or infertile. This breeding idea was just a stab in the dark by someone who was trying to figure out what went wrong and it stuck and it won’t go away it seems. Double down on your study of nutrition and you will have no problem with your female chameleon. Avoid obesity and if she does develop eggs give her a suitable laying site. That may not solve all the cases of egg binding out there, but breeding is not a requirement for a female to have a healthy life.

4) To Reduce Pressure on Wild Populations

It is a noble intention to be part of the solution of species going extinct. It makes sense. If captive bred animals are available why would we have to buy chameleons from the wild? Of course, we know a major problem with chameleons is the destruction of habitat. So maybe we could even breed enough here and then we could ship them over to Madagascar to strengthen wild numbers!

It is a great idea, but I am going to have to be a downer here. Market forces are not driving the export quotas for chameleons. Those are set by CITES (that is the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species) based on what is determined to be a sustainable level of collection. If there is a market for that species of chameleon then our army of established chameleon breeders will want to breed it and there will be continued demand for wild caught blood to refresh our genetic lines. But, once again, regardless of whether our motivation is to capitalize on a living product or to launch a life saving conservation project, CITES quotas don’t care what we want. Even if the price is driven down, they will still come in because every exporter wants to use their entire quota. I remember during my days as an importer. If I wanted Panther and Carpet chameleons I had to take Oustaleti and Verrucosus so the exporter would not be left with a partial quota that no one would take. They still came in paying no heed to domestic market conditions.

Reintroduction of a species is viable only if the habitant destruction is reversed or at least stopped. And reintroduction would be risky with a captive generation. But, that said, if that situation ever came to be, the organizers would need people experienced in breeding chameleons.

This is a topic we could do a whole show on, or even many. Suffice to say for the purposes of you making the decision right now as to whether you will breed or not, don’t let the situation of wild chameleons be part of that decision. I encourage all of us to find ways of making the world a better place. Your first clutch of babies may be the first step on your journey to doing just that, but let’s get you through your first clutch before taking that on.

5) Money

And we round this up with the elephant in the room – money! Yes, you can make money breeding chameleons which is music to the ear of anyone who longs to be paid for what they love to do. And if that is all you want to hear then turn off the podcast now and go give me a great rating on iTunes. For those of you still left, yes, you can make money, but it is certainly not as easy as just doing it. The problem is actually not the breeding portion. Remember how I said it was a recipe? There aren’t a whole lot of commercially viable species and the ones that we do - have the care and breeding instructions plastered all over the internet.

If money is a component to your motivation then you have to decide whether you are just going to breed a clutch or two to help you fund your hobby and maybe trade babies with others to expand you collection that way – or if you truly want to treat this as a business.

If you are just going to support your hobby then it is easy. You just continue doing exactly what you normally do. Keep your chameleon community contacts and when the time comes to sell babies you leisurely do so. Since you are doing it to support your hobby you should do it in a way that allows you to enjoy it. This means to prepare a head of time for four to six moth old babies. This removes the stress of having to panic sell babies when they reach the 3 to 4 month stage.

Let me explain: A common panic is when the babies get old enough to move their dominance contests to the physical stage. This can come around the three month stage. Once they start mauling each other the keeper, understandably, is suddenly willing to sell them for anything just to get the stress out of their lives. If you are doing this just for fun then make sure it stays fun and have a plan should all the babies not sell at three months.

Really make money.

If you truly want to make money selling chameleons then you need a different mindset then just having fun. You need to know the breeding of your species inside and out and reduce the cost. You may be raising your own feeders. For the purposes of this episode I will mention one thing about turning your hobby into a business. People love breeding chameleons so many people do it. And our wonderful social media has made it surprisingly easy to set up shop. This is why it is somewhat simple to find panther chameleon breeders when we log onto Facebook. Get a couple panthers, make yourself a name and open a Facebook store! It is really that simple. So your competition is intense. You will have to develop your own follower base. Should you do it? Well, if you are wanting to turn it into a business then you have gone beyond the wondering whether you should or not. I will leave you with this: Go into business when you can offer something that is different. Don’t do the same thing as someone else and then have your differentiation be that you are cheaper. Having a bunch of hobby breeder and business aspirationals in a downward spiral to see who can offer the cheapest panther chameleon is just bad for the hobby and bad for the panther chameleons. There is no skill in offering a lower price unless you have retained the same profit margin and are able to offer the lower price because of operational efficiency. That means you have developed a new and novel way of breeding feeders which lowers your cost of doing business. It does not mean moving in with your mother and having her pay your utilities. And why is this bad for the panthers and bad for the industry? Because if we all drive the price of panthers down and down then we will bring it down to the point where it cannot sustain anyone’s business. Sound good? Bring it back to the hobbyist level where it is all about the love for the animal instead of the money? That is thrown about as if it is a good thing, but it is not a strong community structure.

Stable business level ventures enhance our community. It is stable profitable business that will defend our rights to keep reptiles by supporting organizations such as USARK which is a political action organization that actively defends us against anti-pet keeping lobbyists. A rag tag band of hobbyists will never come together in a co-ordinated effort to fight on capitol hill. We need healthy industry to support that kind of effort.

But I am starting to wander here. As a new breeder you are not going to be changing the industry just yet, but I will offer you this advice. Make sure you have housing to hold any babies that do not sell at three months old. Raise the price and sell them as hold backs. But do not let yourself get into the position where you are having to lower price to dump the clutch the because you are running out of space. I will tell you right now it is easier to produce eggs than it is to take care of babies and the biggest trap new breeders who are drunk on the money from their first clutch fall into is breeding more females than they will be able to handle in babies. I call this the 300 hump. This is where we hear the new breeder brag about how many eggs he is incubating and then we never hear from them again because they could not handle the baby explosion that resulted. You can overwhelm yourself much to easily. In the panther or veiled breeding business your skill is not in producing babies in quantity. It is managing your production so that you can handle the work load and baby care requirements to maintain quality.

6) Fun and the experience

This is, perhaps, the best reason to decide to breed your chameleons. This is because you are not worrying about recouping your investment. It is okay to be frugal but when you make a budget that revolves around creating the best experience for you and your one clutch you are more likely to put attention in the right places. If this truly is for fun and the experience then you may have a chameleon now and decide to get him or her a mate. Or you might be shopping around for a good species to work with. If it is the latter then the last part of this podcast is for you.

And if you think that one day you might want to breed for money or to help pay for the hobby this is the best way to start. Come at it from the perspective of how to provide the best husbandry for the clutch and refine that husbandry until it is solid. Once that is in place and you understand the concepts and requirements not just from a book knowledge but from an intuitive level then you will be able to more accurately judge what is best when you slowly transition to a small side business. I got to say that you can tell the difference between someone who went into chameleon breeding from the business perspective and someone who came at it from the husbandry perspective. Which one do you think stuffs 4 female panthers in a sparsely decorated 36” cage? Breeders that show and promote superior husbandry will become the leaders, while the egg factories will be less and less relevant. Sooner or later the customers figure it out.

Species Suitability for Breeding

Let’s talk about suitability for breeding

Veiled Chameleon

The first is the Veiled Chameleon. This is an egg layer. The advantages of working with veiled chameleons is that they are hardy and prolific. This is why they are the most common first time chameleon. They will survive a great deal and their prolific nature means they are relatively cheap. This is also their downfall. Someone paying from $50 all the way down to $25 for a veiled baby at a show will balk at all the expensive caging, misting, and lighting that chameleons need. You expect me to buy a light bulb that is as expensive as my chameleon? And what are the chances of a $25 chameleon going to a $75 vet visit? It all depends on whether the chameleon is a treasured family member or an impulse buy that was cheapen enough to be worth getting your kid to be quiet. The cheap price does not drive away people who will value the chameleon as a life to be loved, but it does allow in a whole raft of people that view their purchase as a throw away item. It is painful to say, but a good deal of how much we value an item depends on how much we paid for it.

This is a top consideration for you if you are deciding what species of chameleon to breed or if you already have a veiled and decide you want to breed him/her. Care is pretty much hammered out for Veileds. It won’t take much luck on your part to end up with 30 to even 60 incredibly cute, eternally hungry baby veiled mouths. And here is the thing. The biggest challenge with Veileds is not difficulty in breeding, but finding yourself with too much success. You will need to be able to handle 30 to 60 babies that may or may not get along with each other. And when veileds don’t get along with each other they tend to get nasty. You’ll need to work on that end game plan ahead of time. Talk to friends in the chameleon community and see who would like a baby chameleon if you breed. You may get a few. If you are willing to learn how to ship and your friends are willing to pay the shipping price (shipping can be very expensive) that will take care of a few, but with veileds you are probably going to end up having to find a reptile pet store or wholesaler that can take them off your hands. These can be found online. Pay attention to their size requirements. Growing 60 babies up to their size requirement with no bite marks or nipped tails is an intense project that research can prepare you for, but please be prepared. The best thing to do is talk to people who have raised up a clutch of veiled and see what they have done and what it took to do it. Then you’ll have a better idea whether you want to take this project on or not. The biggest pro with a veiled chameleon is the ease at which you can get babies. The biggest con is the number of babies you may get. It is a lot to take on for a first time chameleon breeder.

Panther Chameleons.

The panther chameleon is another egg layer and generally an easy chameleon to breed. The females are not picky as to where they dig and lay eggs. Your clutches will range from 20 to 30. Which is a manageable number. Still a meaty project, but manageable. It is great fun watching the colors come in with the males, although this usually happens well after the three month selling time. There are strict market preferences that have coalesced where having unknown lineage decreases the value of your babies dramatically. Your best bet is to start off with a chameleon that has an established lineage. Since the female does not show colors like the male it is critical that you get your female from a trusted breeder or else you will have a more difficult time finding homes for your babies. Even if you are doing this all for fun and are not worrying about profit you still must consider your exit strategy. You will have to sell the babies eventually.

The challenge you will have with selling baby panthers is that there are so many people out there doing this already. But with a good genetic base, a panther breeding project would be a good one to start with.

Jackson’s Chameleons

At least in the US, Jackson’s Chameleons are easily found and at an economic price. Their main difference in the breeding realm is that they are live bearers. This is a big relief to people who are intimidated by the idea of incubation. There are no eggs to worry about! You’ll get between 12 and 30 babies so the clutch size is good as well. Jackson’s Chameleons are mild mannered and a generally easy chameleon to work with. Your only challenge is that wild caught Jackson’s are cheap and your babies probably would not be able to be sold for much more. But Jackson’s are popular so, with a little patience, you should be able to find homes for your babies. There are other species which are similar in care and are livebearers as well. T sternfeldi is an example of a smaller livebearer which is still colorful and has a mild personality. If you are picking a species to breed strictly for enjoyment my pick is a Jackson’s Chameleon

I love breeding chameleons. I have supported captive breeding efforts -especially long term multi-generational breeding efforts – for a while now. I get great joy from the experience and I believe that the more we know about chameleons the stronger we are as a community. So I am definitely encouraging breeding! But only if you truly are ready. It can be an amazingly positive experience or it could be a nightmare. So do your reading and make some friends that have done this already.

The more people get involved in breeding the better off we are when something like Madagascar opening up happens. We are to the point where everything coming in from Madagascar is being treated like gold. Breeders are devoting serious effort to those animals. So, as far as I am concerned, that is a community win!

That’s a wrap up for today. If you have just started breeding and have stories to tell I’d love to hear your advice to those who are considering starting out. What did you wish you knew? What do you think would help the first timers have a better experience? Let me know via email or on our Facebook page. Links to these things can be found on our website chameleonacademy.com. Our sponsor for this show is the Dragon Strand caging company. We have just launched our largest cage yet – the Large Atrium Enclosure. We have been wanting to release a cage that would be perfect for a panther or veiled chameleon to live their entire lives. At 45” wide x 44” tall and 22” deep it comes standard with a total of eight Dragon Ledges so that you can create a branch and plant network for your chameleon. It is finally the cage where they can really stretch out! It comes both in screen and Clear panel versions. Visit DragonStrand.com for more information.

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Chameleons and Stress

Ep 6: Chameleons & Stress

Summary: Explore the relationship between chameleons and stress.  We go over the three stress zones: Comfort, Tolerance, and Intolerance and then delve into different kinds of stress including stress spikes, internal physical stress, external physical stress, and emotional stress.  Most importantly, we go over the communication that chameleons give you that we often miss because we don't speak chameleon!  Well, then, here is a lesson in chameleon speak!  By learning the signs of stress you are well versed to eliminate it as much as is possible from your chameleon's life!                                               .


You can listen here:

Show Notes

Stress is a subject that is well studied and has many parallels.  A great place to start learning more is the American Institute of Stress.  This page has a great summary: http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/

A pretty technical paper discussing how there may be a link to eradicating parasites in our bodies and the rise of certain diseases. Does the failure to acquire helminthic parasites predispose to Crohn’s disease?

The caging system described in the episode which allows a breeding pair of panther chameleons and 24 babies to all be housed individually and visually isolated from each other in 8 feet of wall space is the Dragon Strand Breeder Cage System.  Click the picture to be linked to the website.

Dragon Strand Chameleon Cages


Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Happy New Years 2016, Chameleon Wranglers! Welcome back to our weekly chameleon fireside.

Today we will talk about stress and chameleons. Stress is a major topic as we are constantly told not to stress our chameleons. But what does that really mean? It is important that we know what we are talking about!

Stress and the effects of stress are well studied. So if you want to continue to dive into understanding stress there are other sources. How many? I would say there are a plethora of sources. You can start at the American Institute of Stress and see how what I am saying for chameleons fits on the human function curve. We and chameleons may be different creatures, but we are made from the same stuff. The term “stress” as we use it today was coined by Hans Selye in 1936. The simplest definition was “The rate of wear and tear on the body”. This is of importance to us because the health of our chameleon is weakened with stress. When health is compromised infections and sickness can more easily set in and, if left to continue, the chameleon’s life is shortened to an untimely death. My hope in talking about this is to promote vigorous longevity as the standard by which we keep our chameleons. The detrimental effects of stress are slow and generally long term in nature so are often overlooked. Issues with the chameleon’s health are written off to bad luck or just “what happens”. I would like us to do better than that and do the best we can to understand chameleons for what they are. That is really the only way we can provide the best husbandry possible.

Before we get into this I want to make it clear that I am not trying to encompass the entire subject of stress here. I am focusing on understanding the stress levels that we need to manage for the best possible chameleon captive husbandry. There are actually good stresses out there. But I am going to focus on the stresses we need to worry about.

The Stress Zones

To set the groundwork for this discussion I’d like to create certain zones. These zones come from basic study of stress in humans. You can find all sorts of charts and I’ll include a good link in the show notes. I am adapting those concepts to chameleon husbandry. So my explanations here may be unique in their approach, but the concepts are hardly original.

Comfort Zone

The first zone is the comfort zone. This is the range of conditions that the chameleon would consider ideal. It would be a zone where all environmental parameters are perfect for the species, there would be no predators, no parasites, no competition for food, water, or great basking spots. Food coming by is of high nutritional content and possesses no biting parts or defense spikes. It is chameleon paradise.

This is just a concept. And it is probably good that we will never be able to reach our idea of chameleon “perfection”, because we may not actually know what is ideal. For example, everyone wants to get rid of parasites. And I can’t give any evidence that we should change that! But parasites and chameleons have evolved together and may be tied closer than we realize. In humans, there are theories that our immune system response to parasites also is a key to combating diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Perhaps our effective advanced world hygiene has robbed us of certain parasites which we depended on in some ways.   It is certain that there are relationships like this throughout the animal kingdom. I feel comfortable saying that we should get rid of parasites with the information we have now, but the more we learn the more we realize that there is no black and white in this world. Except that chameleons are awesome. The point is that we will be continually refining what the comfort zone actually is. But we have a pretty good idea of the basics and our job as chameleon keepers is to construct our husbandry to be as close to that chameleon comfort model as possible. Or, and this is vitally important, be consciously aware when we are choosing to deviate from that comfort model.

Tolerance Zone

The next zone is the tolerance zone. This is the zone that encompasses a normal healthy life. In humans, our tolerance zone is being hot and rolling down the window, getting the flu and whining about it for a week, or cramming for finals or that important presentation and not getting enough sleep. In all these cases, our bodies are presented with a challenge to the comfort zone and we take steps to bring us as close back as possible. We adjust the air conditioning. We take some medicine and rest. We sleep in over the weekend to get our strength back. With a chameleon they move themselves under the basking lamp, they get a dose of panacur to knock out the pinworms, and they get put back in their cages to wonder why this hairless ape is so amused by playing treadmill with them. The tolerance zone consists of stress spikes which are correctable and go away.

Intolerance Zone

The next zone is the intolerance zone. This is where the chameleon’s ability to absorb the stress conditions is exhausted. When the temperature is so hot that gaping, turning white, and hiding in the lowest, darkest place does not correct it the chameleon enters into heat stress and physical damage occurs to the point where death is possible and, if the stressor is not removed, inevitable. When there is a high parasite load and the chameleon struggles to get enough nutrients its body gets weaker and weaker to the point where it starts to fail. The host/parasite relationship is off balance and both will now die. The delineation between the tolerance zone and the intolerance zone is not set and clear. A certain set of conditions can be firmly in the tolerance zone for one day, but as it continues, they move into the intolerance zone. The slow slide of tolerance to intolerance is the hallmark of constant stress. It has also been termed “low grade stress” or chronic stress. This is why you can have people talk about how they can keep chameleons living together or feed them only mealworms. The stress of competition and malnutrition builds up over time. The longer it is in effect the fewer the number of chameleons that will be able to handle it.

I need to mention that there is always that one individual chameleon that hangs out with other chameleons, will eat only mealworms, and doesn’t care about your UVB light. He drinks from a water bowl and, as a hobby, collects different species of hookworms. He is the chameleon equivalent of the fast food eating, TV watching, chain-smoking, whiskey drinking uncle of yours that outlives your fitness coach cousin. Despite these anecdotal data points we will be discouraging mealworm-only diets and whiskey binges for both your chameleon and you.

Types of Stress

So now that we have our zones laid out let’s work on understanding types of stresses. And then we can put the pieces together for a whole picture.

Stress is the body’s way of driving you to change your situation. Chemicals are released in your body telling you that there is a condition, whether physical or emotional, that is not optimal for your life and it is requesting a change. There are four kinds of stress that I feel are relevant to chameleon keepers. And understand these are designations created by me to help explain how we should address this topic. Your vet will probably just call it stress. But to dive into understanding your chameleon and coming out of this with some actionable items in our husbandry we need to break it up and study the different aspects of it. This is important for us because handling can stress your chameleon, but it is not the stress that will be eventually bringing you into the vet. So that is why we as keepers need to have a deeper understanding of what we are doing and how it affects our chameleon.

The four stress conditions I would like to talk about are

1) Stress spikes

2) Internal physical stress

3) External physical stress

4) Emotional stress

Stress Spikes

Stress spikes are what keeps us safe in a world that wants to eat us. We would feel a rush of stress as the saber-tooth cat leapt towards us with mal intention. Well, at least our ancestors would have. Today we are more likely to feel stress spikes when we are late for work and can’t find our keys or we get cut off on the freeway. These are temporary flare ups of stress which go away relatively quickly. In the chameleon world, stress spikes come from things like taking a chameleon out of his cage when he doesn’t want to go, the dog running by his cage, a hawk flying overhead, the misting system suddenly turning on, the lights suddenly turning off,…and it goes on and on. Of course, fearing for their life has a much higher stress level result than the quick surprise of a mister going on. Normal life is filled with stress spikes of various degrees from annoyance to full on fight or flight. A chameleon is designed to withstand these stress spikes. Because, in fact, the stress spikes are the body’s way of ensuring their (and every other living creature’s) survival. Discomfort at the temperature is what drives a chameleon to seek out the heat lamp. There was a minor stress bump and the chameleon took action to bring his body back into comfort. A hawk flying by at low level will generate a huge stress spike that will shoot adrenaline through his body and you’ll get the immediate swiveling to get behind the branch or even a drop to the ground. In both of these cases the stress appeared, was dealt with and the chameleon goes on with life.

Occasional stress spikes are not what you need to worry about. If you need to medicate your chameleon, please do not refrain from doing so because you are worried about the stress of holding him or opening his mouth. Yes, you will be stressing your chameleon by holding him and sticking a syringe into his mouth, but it is for a greater benefit and that stress will fade quickly. This is the main key between stress spikes and low-grade, constant stress. The chameleon can do something about the stress spike to correct it. If the chameleon cannot be relieved of the stress – if there is no escape - then it is no longer a spike and becomes a constant stress. Constant, chronic stress is what will shorten your chameleon’s life. We will spend most of the podcast speaking about this stress.

Intro to Chronic Stress types

 

The next three types of stress are the ones you really need to look out for. They are the ones that exert a constant stress on the chameleon’s body. These are the stress points that the chameleon cannot get away from. This means it is chronic. A chameleon under constant stress will have a compromised immune system. A stressed immune system opens the chameleon up to illness. It is the exact same thing that is happening when we get sick from being cold for too long. It isn’t the cold that is making us sick. It is the body spending so much energy trying to keep us warm and failing that weakens us. The bacteria and viruses that are always around us, but have been fought off, find that this body is weakened and they are able to take hold. And, just like us, sometimes that infection is a minor annoyance which the chameleon fights off when conditions get better.   But in the case of a constant stress, the problem gets worse and the result is life threatening. As serious as these are, understand that the seriousness comes from the chronic nature. The silver lining of this is that this is not a cause for immediate panic. You do the best you can to reduce these stresses and watch for behavior that suggests that there is something you didn’t catch. You then put on your detective’s hat and figure it out. Chameleons are actually quite hardy and if you know the signs of stress, you have time to correct the condition. The reason why many people get in trouble is that they don’t know the signs and chameleon language so they do not recognize there is a problem until it is too late. We will go over the signs that there is trouble brewing and with this knowledge you’ll be able to recognize problems while they are still able to be reversed.

Internal Physical Stress

We will start with internal physical stress. This is usually in the form of parasites. This can also be bacterial or viral infection, broken bones, strained joints, or complications in egg development for example. Malnutrition (or obesity for that matter) also contributes to internal stress. But how you detect internal physical stress? Broken bones and any other kind of structural damage is pretty easy to determine as the chameleon will stay away from using the limb or body part and will move strangely or not at all. Discoloration of the skin is a dead give away of something going on beneath the surface. Fecal exams can discern whether there is a parasite load that must be dealt with. Studying the poop can give you an insight to malnutrition or dehydration. A good healthy poop is moist and tightly packed. A dry poop is a warning sign that the chameleon is not getting enough water. Smaller poops indicate not as much food intake. All of this is a prime concern to us as any of these stresses maintained over time will eventually cost your chameleon its health or life. The major sign that there is an internal stress that has moved into the intolerance zone is when the eye turrets start sinking in or your chameleon closes its eyes during the day. This is an immediate get-to-the-vet condition. But please use some judgment here. Sometimes chameleons will blink their eyes. Sometimes they need to flush out their eyes. The danger sign is when they are left alone, think no one is watching and their eyes are closed as if they are napping during the day. Napping is great for us, but is not a healthy chameleon activity.

External Physical Stress

These are conditions which affect the chameleon from the outside. You usually know these items as basic husbandry. But incorrect temperatures or other environmental conditions produce stress. And this is the exact same thing as you being too cold. You can handle it for a while, but just go to an office every day that is too cold and you end up getting sick on a regular basis. Your immune system has been weakened and finally, something bad took hold. Drafts are an example of external physical stress that could drive someone with a perfect cage set-up crazy. Especially if it is in the form of an air conditioner that goes on when the said keeper is at work. A regular blast of cold air day after day will become a health issue quickly and no images shared with your vet or across the internet will show this issue unless someone happens to catch the air conditioning vent above the cage.

Emotional Stress

Lastly, emotional or behavioral stress. This is stress that comes from the chameleon’s perception of the world. A sense of security will be different for each chameleon. Elements that affect security are cage interior design, cage placement, and interaction with other living creatures. Chameleons are prey animals and have a need to feel protected. Even predators need a safe place to sleep when they are feeling vulnerable. A chameleon’s cage is their most significant source of security. They will soon view their cage as their bush. It is their territory. A chameleon comfortable in their cage will have no problem with you walking around outside, but as soon as you open the door you are now in their territory and you will illicit a response appropriate for how much they fear you. A new wild caught will likely rush into the safety of the leaves or puff up and try to scare you away while a captive bred that knows you well may excitedly come closer in anticipation of the special silkworm treat that your fingers always bring. Make sure your cage has a leafy area that the chameleon can retreat to that hides him from view (more or less). As he gets used to you and the environment he will use it less and less, but the knowledge that he has a safe place will help him feel secure. This leafy retreat also serves as an early health warning. A chameleon that is usually basking and out in the open waiting for that silkworm now spending time in their so called “safe spot” is a great way for you to pick up on that your chameleon is getting sick. This is an internal physical stress, but we are using the emotional psyche of the chameleon to hide when sick to our benefit. In fact the best way to tell if your chameleon is not feeling well is a change of normal behavior. This is why you being attuned to your particular chameleon’s behavior is so critical because every chameleon is different. But the only way you can see a change in behavior is if you create areas of the cage which allow different behaviors! If your cage is just a network of perching branches with a dripper in the corner your chameleon is on display all day and you will get sick signs much later into the sickness because the chameleon has the pressure to be in the open and show its strength. The bottom line is to construct your cage interior to give that emotional retreat.

Your cage placement is important as well. You need to be aware of what your chameleon can see and what is happening around it. Birds and cats eat chameleons. Placing your chameleon cage next to your loveable pet parrot and your cat’s favorite napping spot may make for a human “Awwww” worthy Christmas card, but you just filled your chameleon’s life with predators in close proximity. Don’t do this to your little guy. Yes, chameleons are impressive in their ability to realize they are safe in a cage, but you know they will flinch whenever the bird stretches its wings or the cat wakes up. Just think about some alien putting you in a cage and letting you float in a tub with great white sharks. This is what we often ask our chameleons to do without thinking about it. Also consider what kind of activity goes on around the cage. Placing the cage near a kitchen door which opens many unpredictable, without-warning times through out the day is a poor placement. Surprises and even anticipation of surprises are a stress. While a door opening would be considered a stress spike, constant stress spikes become a chronic stress condition.

And, just a side note, throughout this podcast I am giving examples of stress causing events. I am going into detail as to what they could be to effectively communicate the concept. Every chameleon is different and every situation is different. Please do not go away saying that Bill said that opening kitchen doors is a chameleon stressor and beat down anyone who has a cage near a kitchen. You will run into the guy who everytime he comes out of the kitchen feeds his chameleon a special treat. This guy has just turned a surprise stress situation into an excitement situation. What will or won’t stress your chameleon depends on the individual skittishness or shyness and what an event means to that particular chameleon. And this is always changing as the chameleon grows. Please just take the concepts and apply it to your situation.

Height is security for chameleons. Notice how they tend to like to crawl to the top of your head? One way to help your chameleon feel secure in his cage is to place it high enough that the chameleon can perch above all the activity. Dogs or small children running around suddenly have much less effect on your chameleon because they feel they are removed from it all. Placing the cage on a dresser can make all the difference in the world! You’ll notice that a newly acquired chameleon higher up than you will display more annoyance than fear when you put your hand in its cage. If you are at eye level you have a higher component of fear involved.

And then there are stresses from interactions with other living creatures. I hope it is obvious that chameleons should not be playing with your other pets. It could be a tragic mistake to think that the affection your cat or dog shows you applies to all living things. But there are two common interactions that we as a community commonly subject our chameleons to. Those are interactions with human and with other chameleons.

We will start with humans. Since your pet chameleon will be interacting with you to some degree it is important that you learn the signs of fear in chameleons. Fear is the stress that we will be dealing with when we interact with our chameleon. We are predators and they are prey. We humans with our big brains have created this concept of a “pet” and need to be patient while chameleons catch up to this bizarre notion. And, not only do we expect that the chameleon be okay with captive life (which, if we do our job right, they adjust to beautifully) we now want to handle them! Boy, evolution spends millions of years firmly ingraining survival red flags into the chameleon’s gut instinct and we decide that we are going to toss those out the window! So, pull up a seat and get comfortable. We need to set the stage for this topic.

Human Interaction

First, let’s understand that there are fundamental differences between us and chameleons and our world views.

Holding and touching are human bonding elements. We see this in many pack animals. Dogs, cats, parrots, and elephants to mention a few. These social relationships are strengthened by touch. Our culture clash is that chameleons are not social animals in the way we are. They are solitary animals and in their language, touch does not mean affection. There is no reason for a chameleon to have developed a sense of relationship, as we know it, with other chameleons and especially not with humans. These other animals make great pets because they have the sense of family that they can transfer to include humans. Chameleons start off with a huge handicap in this area. Dogs grow up being nurtured by their mother and enter into a pack structure. It doesn’t matter whether that mother is a dog or you. The community structure is ingrained. Being nurtured is being licked. Whether that is with a dog’s tongue or a human hand it is still nurturing. There are so many similarities between a dogs view of relationships and a person’s view of relationships that the combo is almost intuitive. We agree on what these actions and structures mean.

Chameleons, on the other hand, have no concept of family as egg layers have no idea where they came from and live bearers disperse as soon as possible.

There just is no parallel in a chameleon’s experience to slightly tweak to include benevolent humans. The only natural category we fit into, as far as a chameleon can see, is a predator. To bring in the stress zone concept, we could say that any relationship skills and ability to relate to you as a pet keeper is working within the tolerance zone part of the chameleon psyche. It is foreign to them. We are working with the ability of the chameleon to suppress its natural signals to escape. It is actually pretty impressive that they can do this! We really push it when we handle our chameleons. Being in the hand of a predator is the last thing before being in the mouth of a predator. At least that is the instinct they are born with. We want to reprogram them. And each chameleon will adjust to this differently. Exceptional individuals completely lose their fear of humans. I have seen them and they are a joy to have around! But that is not common. Most individuals can lose their fear of humans, but retain their discomfort of being handled for long periods of time. Some individuals just cannot put aside their instinct to defend themselves against a larger animal and you get a fight or flight response every time you come near. Luckily, the most common chameleons available in the pet industry fall into the middle ground.

So go into the idea of handling fully acknowledging that you are no longer working hard to bring your husbandry closer and closer to that chameleon comfort zone. We are deliberately taking an unnatural and stressful situation and our goal is to reprogram the chameleon to move the interaction as far away from the intolerance zone as possible. It is important to realize that this is what you are doing because you cannot take it personally when the chameleon reacts poorly or progresses slowly. Every chameleon will react differently to taming and you will have to be attuned to chameleon language to make it work without over stressing your chameleon. If handling is important to you then you need patience, an understanding of stress signals, and to accept your chameleon’s ability or inability to meet your desires. Since this is an episode about stress I will leave the actual taming techniques for a later episode. Today I will give you the signs of stress which are born of fear. But before we get into that I’d like to put this into perspective. The stress associated with handling or going through a taming session falls under the stress spike category. If you are in tune with the signs of fear and stress then you will be able to adjust your handling sessions accordingly.   If you know and respect the signals your chameleon is giving you then handling will not be a health issue. Just be sensitive to what your chameleon is telling you. So here are your signs of fear or emotional stress in chameleon language

1) The Chameleon Salute. This is where the chameleon brings his front leg up close to his body. This is a usual first sign of fear. Often the chameleon will be leaning away from you while it is doing this.

2) Gular out. The gular is the pouch of skin in the throat area. Chameleons can puff it out to look bigger and it often has bright colors so a chameleon can use this as a warning sign to other chameleons that he means business. Unfortunately, to humans it just means he is showing off his beautiful colors and he looks really really cool! Thus the problem of speaking different languages!

3) Flattening body. Chameleons flatten their body to make their profile look bigger. This is a common tactic in the animal world. Looking bigger is an attempt to scare away another creature or make you look too big to eat. When a chameleon flattens their body at you they are trying to scare you away.

4) Gaping. Gaping is when they hold their mouth open. This is an obvious threat precursor to biting. Chameleons usually don’t want to bite and will give as much warning as possible to avoid having to do so. Well, most do. I have had some chameleons that seemed to like the taste of me and would go straight to biting. They didn’t bother with trying to scare me away and at times I suspected they may have been trying to draw me in.

5) Bright colors: Those bright colors we love so much are actually there to scare us off and let us know what a tough guy the chameleon is. It is unfortunate that chameleon language for “get away from me” is so beautiful to our eyes.

6) Darkened colors: On the other side of the color spectrum is the darkening of colors. The darkened colors are a sign of submission. This is a chameleon that has accepted defeat. This is usually done in response to a dominance contest with another chameleon, but can happen with you. You may see this response when every time the chameleon tries to get away you corral it back and the chameleon finally accepts that any attempt at escape is futile. The subsequent darkening of color or, worse, closing of eyes, is unfortunately, not contentment with being where ever it is you have placed it, but resignation to the fact that it cannot escape.

8) Swiveling away. This happens if you have the chameleon on a stick or are trying to get it out of its cage and it doesn’t want to come. The chameleon will swivel itself around the stick to put the stick between you and it. They will flatten their body to the point where there are two eye staring back at you from either side of the branch. Once again, it is unfortunate that this display of fear is so cute to us. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and chameleons are from Saturn.

9) Running away. Running away is kind of obvious. But with chameleons it is a little complicated. They know that their best defense is to stay still and hope they are not seen. They know they are not built for escape via running away. So it is important that you not use a chameleon NOT running away as a sign that they like where they are. Give a chameleon a path of escape and leave the room. If you come back and they are staying put then you can say they like where they are.

10) Dropping and/or Discing. Some of the more skittish chameleons will jump off your hand into free space. This is a defense mechanism that gambles that the fall is better than the sure thing of being eaten. If your chameleon is willing to jump into the unknown and take its chances with a fall then you know you have a long road to taming this guy down. Some species, like quadricornis and montium will actually roll up in a tight disc shape and get some gliding action on their way down. It is very cool to see, but I don’t recommend trying it out.

11) The Double Chameleon Salute is where the chameleon rises both front legs up close to his body and is swaying on his back legs at this point the gular (his throat) is usually puffed out, his body is flattened, and he is probably got his mouth open and looking like he might bite. And, yes, biting is next.

12) Biting: Yep, good old fashion biting. It is the universal language for get away from me! Chameleons can and will bite. They have teeth and can draw blood. But, as scary as being bitten is for most people, remember that chameleons usually give many warning signs before they bite. You will encounter behaviors on this big long list we have just gone through before you get the bite so if you are understanding chameleon-speak – and we just went over the basics – you are not going to have to worry so much about a surprise bite. It will usually happen when you have ignored the previous signs.

13) Eye Turrets sunken in. We can learn so much about our chameleon by its eyes. The eyes and the eye turrets are windows into your chameleon’s health. Eye turrets starting to sink in is your warning sign that you have started to step into the intolerance zone. Whatever is currently happening should have stopped long ago.

14) Eyes closed. Anytime your chameleon is sitting with its eyes closed and it is not dark and time for sleeping be very concerned. This is a chameleon shutting down due to stress whether it be emotional stress (they have given up trying to escape) or internal physical stress (it is so painful inside). You need to either get them away from the external stress source or take care of the internal condition.

So, to sum up, handling is, usually, just a stress spike. It is a stress, but not one that will land you in the vet’s office unless you just ignore all the stress signs and totally overload your poor chameleon. Know the signs of stress and fear and manage them appropriately for what you are trying to accomplish. When worked with slowly and patiently with respect for not going to far at once, chameleons will tame down to a reasonable level which, of course, is determined by each individual chameleon’s ability to adjust.

Stress from Other Chameleons (Co-habitation)

Our other major interaction situation is co-habitation. This is where two or more chameleons are put in the same cage. It is natural for when two chameleons meet to establish which one is dominant and gets to keep the bush. That is just what they do. The one that loses the dominance contest needs to go and find another bush. Depending on how aggressive the two individuals are the dominance contest may be short and unimpressive or it may end up being a spectacular display of colors and physical attacking. It is widely accepted that you can’t have two males together so our husbandry problems usually come from housing a pair of chameleons together, multiple females together, or a clutch of babies.

These situations are generally discouraged due to the raft of complications that they can cause. As with the discussion on handling, this episode is about the stress, not the techniques in managing cohabitation so my purpose here is to give you the warning signs. If you have chameleons of any age in the same cage you will have to be well versed in the signs of trouble. The reason why this is critical is because co-habitation stress is a chronic stress. It is in the living space of the chameleon and they cannot escape it. And that really is the crux of the problem. The problem with co-habitation is not when chameleons are around each other, but when they can’t get away from each other. The reason is simple. When in a dominance battle, the winner knows he has won when the loser shows submissive colors and leaves the area. If we have stuck these two chameleons in the same cage, the loser can show as much submissive colors as he or she wants, but can never finish the contest by leaving the bush. The dominant one is under low grade stress as every day he has to continue fighting and the submissive one is under low grade stress because he or she cannot leave and let the battle end. This is why free range set-ups work for chameleon groups. Whenever squabbles arise, the submissive one can give the victor all the signals that he has won and the contest can be ended to the satisfaction of both parties. Everyone can go on with their lives. This is not the case for chameleons sitting in a cage. Even with equal basking, water, and feeding stations, co-habitation is not advised because you don’t know when one of the two decides they are done being in the same space. You could have two individuals that seem to be compatible one day not be compatible for whatever reason. These reasons could be anything from coming of some age to going in or out of a certain season for mating. Chameleons in the wild can be found around each other, but they also have complete freedom to get away from each other. We cannot remove that one important aspect of that interaction and think we will be successful! The typical scenario is that the pair or group appears to be getting along, but that dominance battles are being fought on a non-physical level. If the two or more chameleons come to an agreement of who is in charge, are happy with it, and the winner backs down then you have a peace of sorts. If there is constant question as to who rules the roost or the dominant one does not get the right signals that he has truly won (remember that “leaving the bush” is the official close of the contest) then your chameleons may be locked in a silent, but real tug of war. This tug of war takes a toll on both parties.

Now I realize that most of the breeders here use the bin method to raise babies. For those new to this, the bin method is where a clutch of babies is raised in groups. The breeder has a number of bins or cages that are used to separate the babies as they grow up so the babies are around like-sized cage mates. The reason the sorting is done is because babies bully each other. Babies naturally grow at different rates, but that is compounded by whether the baby is part of the alpha dominant group or the submissive group. The babies are constantly shifted around to make sure the weaker ones don’t waste away and/or die. Raising babies together is a skill not in proper husbandry, but in making sure that the group dynamic does not get out of hand. Nipped tails, minor bite marks, and slower growing individuals are all signs that chameleon nature did not sign up for close quarters.

This podcast is about best practices. So I can only hesitantly support bin raising or any kind of co-habitation. Few people go through the expense to individually raise babies. But I can tell you breeders of parsonii certainly find a way! While not ideal, bin raising of babies has produced quality babies for may years. I have done it often, myself. Yes, babies have squabbles and some get damaged, but it overall works good enough and a breeder skilled in recognizing trouble signs and moving babies around can avoid major incidents.

Whether babies or adults you may find yourself in a situation where you need to keep chameleons together for at least a short period of time. This could be the three months it takes to raise babies up before going to new homes, an impulse buy, or any other unexpected event.

Rest assured that co-habitating chameleons do not self-combust immediately and some can adjust to varying degrees. For the purposes of this podcast I want to give you signs of stress and dominance play. Once you have that information and you know what is going on between your chameleons you can make the appropriate adjustments.

So here is your list of signs to watch out for. Note that all of these can happen for a variety of reasons. If they happen once they are merely a stress spike. If they happen repeatedly to the same individual you can suspect you have a targeted victim and that this victim is living with a chronic stress situation.

And I need to make this clear. I am giving you these stress signs so that you can recognize things that are going on before they get to the point where damage is being done. There are many signs of trouble that happen before you get to physical confrontations that you can head off serious trouble before it happens. But I would not feel good about this information being used to specifically make a forced long term co-habitation situation work. That scenario is usually tied to production of eggs for a business. I am not thrilled when business interests try to justify compromised husbandry practices.

That said, remember that there are times when you may choose to do something besides what we know are best practices. That is not always bad. There are always things to be learned by trying things differently. By knowing the stress signs you can make sure that your chameleons aren’t needlessly suffering. Here are some communications regarding stress and dominance play.

1) Climbing the walls of the cage: Chameleons should not climb the walls of their cage. They will do this for the first few days in a new cage, but, if the cage is set-up appropriately, the chameleon will settle in and stay comfortably on horizontal branches. If the chameleon is scaling the cage walls then they are trying to get somewhere else and there is something wrong with their cage or its location. If you have a group situation and one chameleon continually is scaling the cage walls then you have one chameleon trying to leave the situation. This is a clear sign that your chameleon needs another living area.

2) Always perching below the other: If there is a situation where one chameleon constantly is perching lower than the other you have a dominance structure established. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless this is accompanied by other items on this list. If both the dominant one and submissive one are content with the hierarchy then you may have a time window of peaceful co-existence. But watch out for some of these other signs that the dominance battle is not truly over or has reared its ugly head again.

3) dark colors: The submissive one out of a dominance battle signals to the victor that they won by displaying dark submissive colors. They are also suppose to leave the area. If the submissive one will not break out of the darker colors you may have a situation where the submissive one will be continually bullied until they leave the bush…which of course can’t happen so if one of your chameleons is constantly in darker colors you may have a lingering dominance battle.

4) the dominant one eats first. Does one chameleon always have to be the first to eat? It may even go as far as the dominant one eating all the food so the submissive one goes hungry. Or that the dominant one eats the food the submissive one was eyeing. You’ll see this when you introduce a female to a male for breeding. Let a cricket go near them and see who snags it. If the male snags it then you may have chance at a good mating. If the female snags it in front of the male then you may have a female that is letting the male know this won’t be easy.   This is one of those things that is not 100%, but try it a couple times and see if you get a pattern. Sometimes there is a stand off for some reason between a male and a female and neither moves. If you see this let a cricket go running up the side of the screen cage. I have had that break the tension as the male snags the cricket and then goes to successfully mate the female. Just a tip to try.

5) the dominant one climbs over the other. We see a dominant chameleon climbing over a submissive one in many scenarios. We see it in babies and we see it in females that do not feel like breeding. If you are wondering if this is bullying behavior or not then just observe whether it is consistently the same characters involved in the incidents.

6) stealing food from another’s mouth. Stealing food from another chameleon’s mouth can be just being attracted to an insect and not caring that another chameleon already caught it, but if it happens continuously between the same individuals you know something more is going on.

7) tail nipping. Tail nipping is when one chameleon will follow another and bite the tip off of the tail. It is not uncommon for “B” grade chameleons to be sold with nipped tails. This happens more often with babies as they are kept together more often, but this happens with adults living together as well. I usually hear about a particular trouble maker in a certain group that gets a taste for tail tips and becomes a repeat offender.

8) Bite marks. If you see faint black rings on a baby chameleon those are probably bite marks from a sibling. The good news is that these marks usually go away after a shed or two. So, even if you get a baby with a black, mouth shaped ring on them, it is not a reason to get too excited. Babies shed often and, unless the bite was deep, it will disappear soon enough.

9) Eyes closed. As stated before, when the eyes close during the day you know the situation has progressed too far. You have trend far into the intolerance zone and things are physically breaking down. Find the stress point and remove it immediately.

10) Losing weight. The trouble with low grade stress is it is something that happens over time and is not the direct cause of death. So your chameleons live together for 9 months seemingly fine and then one gets a bacterial infection. If it happens over time and it is subtle how can you know it is happening before the infection stage? Well, first of all, don’t put yourself in that position – keep your chameleons separately! But one of the most valuable habits you can get into is weighing your chameleon on a weekly basis. It is by this practice that you will be able to measure your chameleon’s relative health with respect to time. Anytime your chameleon is losing weight you have your early warning sign.

I would not be surprised if there are other examples of dominance play that you all have witnessed. If you have something not on my list send me an email! Keep your eye out for signs of building stress to nip it in the bud. And let’s work on bringing our chameleons as close to the comfort zone as possible. My episode today is not meant to say what should or should not be done in handling, caging, or other aspects of husbandry. My purpose was to expose chameleon communication the best that I have been able to uncover in these decades of trying to figure them out and to figure out where I can get better in what I do. Take these data points and apply them to your chameleon husbandry and see if any of them can help make your care better. And if I have missed something here, please let me know! Although do not confuse being able to keep chameleons alive with success in husbandry. Chameleons are fighters and will live through an amazing amount before dropping off. “Still breathing” was the standard of success in the 80s. We have moved on from that and have learned enough that we can have chameleon quality of life as our target standard. That is what I am really interested in discussing.

And we’ll close up there. Thank you for joining me in this extra long episode. I considered breaking it up into a two part series, but it all tied in so tightly that it had to go together. If you are interested in some links to the topics presented then you can find them in the show notes at chameleonacademy.com. Look for episode 6.

The reason I can sit and put together an hour long educational episode is because of support from the Dragon Strand caging company. Creating designs specifically to reduce stress in chameleons has allowed me to study this chameleon behavior in depth. I designed the Breeder Series of hybrid cages specifically for breeders to be able to keep their breeders visually isolated and even to raise babies up individually to avoid nipped tails, bite marks, and the effects of bullying. The cages have screen fronts for ventilation, but solid sides to keep them from being affected by others next to them. You can even have a breeding pair of panthers and 24 babies raised individually in 8 feet of wall space with a couple racks and the Breeder series cage systems. Look in the show notes for pictures and links or just visit dragonstrand.com

Have a great New Year’s day! We have many things planned for this podcast in 2016 and can’t wait to get to them! So hold on, chameleon wranglers, this ride is just beginning!

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