Monthly Archives - September 2021

Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 215: Using Wild Conditions in Chameleon Husbandry

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Those of us dedicated to the art of chameleon husbandry have recreating the ideal conditions as our primary goal. Determining ideal conditions starts with understanding the wild conditions our chameleon species developed within. But then it must be translated into an execution in our captive environment. Today I talk about how we extract ideal conditions from wild environmental data and what the limitations of doing that are.

Transcript (More or Less)

Hello Chameleon Wranglers! Today we are going to look at the process of sifting through all the wild environmental data from our chameleon’s home region to figure out what we should put on our care sheets. And we are also going to go head to head with the fact that there comes a time when we have to do further study within our captive environment. Don’t worry, I’ll explain what I mean by that in this podcast.

 

The Chameleon’s Original Environment: Our Most Valuable Reference.

It will come as a surprise to no one that the chameleon’s original environment, where they spent millions of years adapting to, and becoming dependent upon, certain conditions becomes the foundation of determining the ideal husbandry. But there is some extraction and analysis that we are required to perform. We are simply not able to recreate the wild conditions in their entirety. Not only do the weather patterns constantly change, the chameleon changes its position within those constantly variable conditions. So just determining what those perfect conditions are is immensely complicated because you have to understand all the micro-climates that a chameleon has access to.

For a very basic and simple example. It may be 95 degrees F outside at the weather station taking the data. But our intrepid chameleon has retreated back into the dense shade where it can be downright cool. I think it is obvious that the weather station data is of limited value. The data taken where the chameleon is throughout the day is much more valuable, and much less accessible. Even viewing the chameleon basking in 95 degree weather is not evidence that we should be giving them a 95 degree basking point or that ambient temperature should be anywhere near that. The ability to retreat into dense shade makes deadly temperatures just part of the every day life experience.

This is why the larger the cage you make it, and the more microclimates you can create, the more swings in ambient temperature your chameleon can handle. By restricting our chameleon from roaming far and wide we drastically cut down on his available options to regulate his comfort. It is important to know that if you go back to the home country which should have perfect conditions and put a chameleon in a cage out in the sun you will most likely kill it. Because, even the home conditions are not ideal. There will be unbearably hot days and extended dry seasons that will kill chameleons. So there is no such thing as ideal conditions in the wild. There is a fluctuation of conditions which, on the average allow the chameleon to find microclimates to sustain himself. So, what does this mean for us? Is there such thing as ideal conditions? And how can we figure out what those ideal conditions are?

 

Is there such thing as ideal conditions? The answer is yes. There is. Or at least, there are a set of conditions that we can recreate in captivity that are a close enough approximation to ideal. And we continue to refine these conditions the more we learn. Our measuring stick is vitality and longevity. When you hear people talk about male panther or veiled chameleons having a four year lifespan you know that the overall husbandry conditions were not ideal. But there was a time when this was an achievement. Today, seven years can be reasonably expected and ten years is for congratulations. But I am hearing reports of panthers and veileds that are living beyond ten years so we still have a lot of work to do! The goal is to bring ten year lifespans to the mainstream. This is why my care summaries on the Chameleon Academy website change every year or every time I learn a nuance or better way of describing a husbandry technique. It is because they are living documents. And they will be until the combination of environmental and dietary conditions have been hammered down enough that a ten year longevity is routine if you follow the care summary.

 

How do we determine ideal conditions?

Getting information from the field is critical to start us in the right direction. But we must then start testing. We throw out the extremes because it isn’t a stretch to know that those are in the tolerance zone. We look at the averages and start with those. The thing is that we don’t always get it right to begin with. In fact, all you old timers, raise your hand if you specifically kept your Jackson’s Chameleon from getting too cold at night. Where cold is in the 60s? Yep, I was part of the generation that put together the care sheets you have now through our mistakes.

So, that begs the question. If it is so easy to go off in the wrong direction, how do we determine what the ideal conditions are? And here it comes back to testing. We take the conditions we think are the ones we want to try and we try them. If the chameleons live long and healthy we have a data point that says these conditions are valid for X years of life. And then you or other people tweak those parameters and either they get better or worse or the same results. Okay, another data point. Because we are trying to figure out conditions that are average and will work for the most number of keepers we have to repeat this test over many individuals and over generations. This is not usually something a single breeder can pull off! This is a community efforts over years and decades. This is why it takes a great deal of time to come up with care sheet parameters. And this is a core reason why I started this podcast in the first place. I wanted to gather the experiences of people from around the world.

 

Captivity is different

In this exploration, we have to understand that we will be experimenting with things that go beyond wild conditions.

Even though the wild conditions are our gold standard there is only so far they can take us before we need to stop talking about them and bring them back to the vivarium to figure out how they relate to our situation. As an example, let’s circle back around to our good friend UVB.

How much do chameleons need? How is it connected to heat? How much do chameleons seek out UVB when it is separated from a heat source? How accurate can the chameleon gauge how much UVB they need? You would think that their body would have figured it out after all this time, but we have really messed that up with changing everything on them. We have taken the sun, split it into three separate lights and created heat and UVB gradients that they can move in and out of within inches on their basking branch. This is not natural so any natural gauge their body has now has to adjust to light sources that have different spectrums and intensities. We see this with heat bulbs. Chameleons will sit under heat bulbs that are too hot and burn themselves. And they will continue to do it. So there is something that is messing with their sense of self-preservation that works perfectly out in the wild. So, it is logical that we should consider that there may be similar issues with UVB. We don’t know. Maybe the spectrum of our lamps happens to correspond perfectly with what the chameleon’s body is looking for. Maybe the body is an excellent judge of vitamin D3 levels in the blood. We do not know and we need to be open to all possibilities.

 

Scientific papers give excellent insight, but because chameleons have their own mind and we have no idea why they choose to do what they do, we as hobbyists need to figure out how to implement the findings in our environments. When scientific papers are written regarding UVB or vitamin D3 these chameleons are forced into situations which remove as many variables as possible. So, figuring out how much D3 a chameleon needs to be healthy by orally dosing them with measured vitamin D3 may produce a number, but how useful is that when we, in the real world, are using powders of vitamin D3 and vitamin A which are dusted on insects. Powder is lost, the effects of the vitamins are different because they are given together, and the composition of the feeder insect may or may not change the outcome. So, once the scientists are done with their controlled experiments and extrapolations we have a lot of work to do on our end to figure out what it means in the real world of much larger cages.

Figuring out how chameleon behavior dictates the conditions we give them is a whole discipline in itself.

Do you want to see this happening in real time? I’ll let you in on something that will be changing in the coming years as far as husbandry. You will start to hear more about UVB doses. A UVB dose is the intensity of UVB, or the UV Index, multiplied by the length of time the light is given. So, if you use UVI 3 for 12 hours you have a UVB dose of 36. But the chameleon does not use the UVB light for all 12 hours. So, it is reasonable to have the UVB light on for only…what, 4 hours? 2 hours? I don’t know, but something less than 12. So, will a UVB dose of 12 instead of 36 give the same results? Is UVI 3 for four hours the same as UVI 4 for three hours? Presumably, there is a lower limit to where the UV Index just doesn’t energize the D3 synthesis any more. And we know we don’t want to give UVI 12 for one hour because UVB damages skin and organs. So there is going to be a working range of levels and lengths of time exposure.

The reason why you haven’t heard much about the concept of dose on this podcast is because it was an enormous effort to determine that UVI 3 over 12 hours was sufficient for Veileds and panthers. Adding the variable of time, in other words, changing the length of time instead of having it fixed, would have made it difficult to establish UVI 3 as a landmark. But now it is time to explore further. The next step is dose. Dr. Gary Ferguson’s latest scientific paper on chameleons experiments with different doses of UVB. One of Petr Necas’ YouTube videos on UVB speaks of a breeder in Europe who has experimented with doses in his colony. So the concept will continue to gain momentum. Expect it to be challenged as any new idea is, and should be, but there it is. You have a front row seat to the development of a new idea. And, yes, the caresheets of five years from now on the Chameleon Academy will be different. Because this is a good idea and I am going to work with it. It will be years before you start seeing this on the Chameleon Academy because it will take that long to lay down some guidelines that I could feel comfortable sharing with others to try. I am raising up my panther chameleon breeding group and, when they hatch, I will work with different values. I’ll work with females because my standard is the ability to lay completely calcified clutches of eggs with no dietary D3. If anyone out there wants to work on this before I have my group in place you are welcome to reach out to me and work with me on this. I know the key to solid reliable information is the patience to do it right. But I encourage those who are interested in such things and in a position to experiment now to go for it. I mean, once I come up with something it is only a data point until others reproduce it. So, I don’t mind being the one to reproduce your initial data. That will save time. We’ll need a handful of experimenters before we can be confident enough to put it in care sheets. Anyway, have fun watching the introduction of a new idea into the community! It is always a fun thing.

Now, I’d like to address two special cases. Both Veiled Chameleons and Jackson’s Chameleons have established populations outside of the natural range. And since both their natural ranges are either difficult or life threatening to visit, the idea is often floated to study them in their introduced ranges. This is not reliable, but it takes a little explaining as to why this is so it is worth spending the time on this now.

First, let’s talk about the Veiled Chameleon.

Example: Veiled Chameleon. Even just five years ago, the prevailing thought was that Veileds were harsh, arid conditions. High heat and high UVB. I spent years trying to find an eye witness to ask them what it was really like and when I finally did, I found a completely different story that ruined what I thought. It wasn’t harsh at all. It was actually a lush oasis. What I found, and you can follow my journey on this podcast because I published my entire exploration, is that they hatched at the beginning of the rainy season in valleys in the mountains which sprang to life with vegetation. They hid during the day’s sun. And in these mountain mountainous regions they experienced fog banks in the morning, mild temperatures, and cool nights.

Is this report of Veiled Chameleon environment 100% the best we will ever have? I don’t know. Maybe when the civil war in Yemen is over, more of us can visit the area and our understanding will improve. We will either confirm what we have heard from Petr Necas, Martin Wendche, and Petko Dvorak, my three eye witnesses to Veiled Chameleon’s in the wild, or we will discover a deeper understanding with more eyes and minds on the ground. But, the fact is, that these three eye witness accounts in Yemen are the best source of information I have right now.

But what about Veiled Chameleon’s in Florida? They have naturalized there so can’t we just study where they are in Florida and study those parameters? The answer is not really. We can learn more about their tolerance range. Meaning, the range of conditions they can adapt to. They, like any living being, can adapt to, reproduce, and survive various ranges of conditions. But there is a huge difference between what they can make a living within and what is ideal. Their home range is the standard. They have spent history evolving within those conditions. Some they develop the ability to tolerate and some they develop a dependance on. Which is which is our ongoing challenge to discern. Veiled Chameleons in Florida or Jackson’s Chameleons in Hawaii are examples of chameleons finding areas that are within their tolerance zone and they are able to reproduce, which is the driving force of all living animals.

So why can’t we use Florida conditions for Veiled and Hawaii conditions for Jackson’s? Well, you may or may not be providing optimal husbandry.

You see, in captivity we drastically reduce the options available to our chameleons. In the wild they have a myriad of microclimates to choose from. The weather station may say 95 degrees, but the chances are that the Jackson’s in the area has nestled himself in the deep shade. Looking at the thermometer as you drive or hike by the area where chameleons live is a deceptive analysis. You need to take the measurement from where the chameleon actually is. But, you say, you saw a chameleon basking in 100 degree weather! Okay, but how long did he stay basking in 100 degree weather? In the wild they have full autonomy to stay however long they wish and find a cool place to spend the rest of the day 30 seconds after you leave the area.

But in our home cage of 2x2x4 we drastically restrict their options. Yes, I talk about gradients and how we need to give our chameleons choices. But, even with the best we can do, what we can offer them is a sliver of a shadow of what they have available to them in the wild. So, this is why we are so obsessed with figuring out what the ideal conditions are. If our chameleon is only going to have a handful of conditions to choose from we are going to make those as ideal as possible. We want the absolute best conditions we can create. And these conditions are within our power. Why, in the world, would we settle for conditions in their tolerance zone instead of the ideal conditions?

This is why Jackson’s Chameleon keepers model their captive conditions off of the home turf of Kenya. This is why Veiled keepers study Yemen instead of Florida. We are certainly interested in their adaptations, but shouldn’t adjust care guidelines to adaptations.

So, let’s talk Jackson’s Chameleons.

The ideal conditions for Jackson’s Chameleons have been a focus for us due to the number of people who have been unsuccessful in keeping them long term. We always had information for their home range in Kenya, but we had work to do to figure out what were the important keys to keep them alive long term. To determine the idealized conditions, we start with what is measured in their home range and then do a great deal of trial and error. This, of course, takes years and years to pull out patterns. And we, as a collective community, have found that the most effective ways to increase lifespan in captivity are 1) Include a deep nighttime drop and 2) to keep them individually. When these two parameters are included in husbandry the death rate drops significantly.

This is why someone pointing out that the weather station in Hawaii, their introduced location, doesn’t go below the mid-70s is not a compelling argument to ignore the generations of experience we have had in captivity comparing longevity of chameleons with and without nighttime drops. Unfortunately, the effects of a nighttime drop are not easy to detect. It must be done over time and over many chameleons. Because a warm night does not kill a chameleon. It just exhausts them a little just like when we do not get a good night’s sleep. We don’t drop dead. But the effect is cumulative. Just like our personality after one bad night’s sleep vs. our personality after an entire week of not sleeping well. So, the minor effects of a bad sleep slowly build. And then a couple nights of a deep sleep will reverse the trend. So this experiment is very difficult to run. And this is why we don’t consider a chameleon staying alive for six months with no deliberate nighttime drops as evidence that nighttime drops aren’t necessary. We have years and generations of general consensus amongst experienced breeders that noticeable nighttime drops positively affect Jackson’s Chameleon health. I know it is difficult to produce a nighttime drop. I have to do it with a A/C wall unit. But we are not telling you to give nighttime drops out of some powerplay. That is just what we, the Jackson’s breeding community, have found works the best.

Now, the question will, inevitably come up, shouldn’t Hawaiian Jackson’s have evolved to the different weather conditions by now? Shouldn’t we use Hawaiian data for Hawaiian jackson’s?

This is a valid question and one we have to consider. Animals adapt to different conditions. Within every group of babies there is a variation in many aspects. Some are going to be less fearful of humans and some will be able to handle warmer conditions. Some will be larger, some more colorful, etc… If any of these traits make that individual more likely to breed over their siblings, then the offspring will have more of a chance to have that trait. Repeat this over multiple generations and you have a locale of animals that are adapted to different conditions. It is not a huge leap to consider that the ability to thrive without the nighttime drops would make some babies stronger than others. So, should we treat Hawaiian Jackson’s Chameleons different than Kenyan Jackson’s? It is an interesting idea. All it needs is evidence. At this time, we have evidence that this is not the case simply in the fact that all of this effort we, in the community, are spending to try and figure out how to keep them from dying comes, at least in the US, from working with Jackson’s from Hawaii. And we have found that when kept in captivity, a noticeable nighttime drop increases longevity. So we have already been testing with the Hawaiian population and they have not developed this change – as far as we can tell. It is always possible for this to arise. So those working with Jackson’s in Hawaii are encouraged to keep looking out for it. But you have to test in controlled conditions that other can recreate for it to start to compete with the conclusions we presently have after working with Hawaiian Jackson’s.

Conclusion.

Our goal in refining our art of captive husbandry rests on replicating the natural world that chameleons live in as closely as possible. But there will be compromises that will need to be intelligently made. Since we are providing those conditions with artificial means we will have to adjust the best way to use our lighting and misting and fogging tools within the context of the environment we create. Does this mean the basking bulb and UVB bulb are turned on for different lengths of time? Does this mean we use solid sides instead of screen? The questions go on and on. And, this is our job as caretakers of the body of chameleon husbandry knowledge. To expand and constantly challenge.

If you enjoyed this podcast I invite you to check out the chameleon academy channel on YouTube where you will see my bright shiny face, get to meet Yvette, my gecko obsessed partner in life, and get to regularly commune with my chameleons. Thank you for joining me here. I’ll see you next time!


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Ep 214: Discussions on Chameleon Behaviors

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Chameleon behavior is a window into what is going on in their lives. It is one of the ways they communicate with us if we have learned the language to hear what they are saying. Today I go over the basics of what behaviors mean. We will talk about the difference between a behavior that is showing an emotional issue and a behavior that is showing a medical condition.

Links from the episode

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I am now doing a second podcast called the Reptile Entrepreneur. If you have ever thought about starting a business in the reptile community then this is the show for you. I go over everything from manufacturing to breeding and various business topics. So far, I  have talked to Josh Dovenbarger who is a bearded dragon breeder and David Brahms who makes perches for the Green Tree Python community with 3D printing technology. You are probably familiar with Todd Goode who came on and talked about overseas manufacturing. Next Monday you’ll hear from Richard Clarke who is a patent attorney who gives us an introduction to how the patent process works. And soon I’ll be talking about starting a YouTube channel or even a podcast of your own. If you would like to be more deeply involved in the reptile community then I invite you to check out the Reptile Entrepreneur on any podcast app, YouTube, or, best of all, at reptileentrepreneur.com which will have links to everything!

Transcript (More or Less)

Introduction

Good morning, Chameleon wranglers! Today we are going to continue our exploration of chameleon behavior. We will talk about the difference between a behavior that is showing an emotional issue and a behavior that is showing a medical condition. This is somewhat part two of the discussion we started last episode. In that one we talked about being able to pick up on changes in behavior that indicated that something was off. We talked about increasing our sensitivity to what they are telling us. And this is an important skill because chameleons will hide any weakness. But if we learn the subtleties of their behavior language we can develop that skill. So, let’s talk about behavior and what it means!

The catalog of chameleon behaviors is extensive. So I have ot break it up into chunks. This episode cannot cover everything. I have selected to go over behaviors that could give you an indication of a possible medical condition. So, I won’t talk about the one handed chameleon salute or swiveling behind a branch or things like that. I’ll talk about things I would like you to be skilled in looking out for to save their life because they indicate something possibly serious.

At a basic high level, behaviors that show discontent are an increase in activity. While medical conditions are a decrease in activity. Makes sense, right? So, all we need to know is what the chameleon baseline is for activity and we can start to get a feel for what is above and below this. The natural state of a chameleon is staying in one place and only moving for heat, UVB, to get out of heat or UVB, or to get to where the food is. And if all those environmental conditions would ebb and flow perfectly and food would traipse on by on a regular basis, chameleons would be happy to sit in a safe and secure spot all day and night. Remember that chameleons are always on the look out for predators. Birds, snakes, larger reptiles, climbing mammals, even larger invertebrates  are always looking for a meal themselves. Just the act of moving puts the chameleon in danger. This is why they do that jerky back and forth movement when they walk. They are trying to look like something other than an animal that is good to eat. They figure they’ll take their chance with the leaf eaters. So, anytime they decide to go bask in the open to heat up or move to a better hunting location they are acutely aware that they are increasing their risk of being eaten. Not only by being more exposed, but simply by the act of moving.

 

What this means for us is that chameleon movement means something. It is a form of communication in itself. And we can get clues as to what is going on in their minds by watching when they move.

The question we keepers have to answer is whether the movement is because of a normal behavior, emotional need, or medical need. So, let’s look at those three things.

 

First, normal behaviors.

Before I go into what is normal chameleon behavior, keep in mind that chameleons are living beings and each is an individual. Just like us humans. So once I go over a generalized behavior list for a day in a chameleon’s life you have to account for individual differences in your specific chameleon. Every chameleon will have nuances. When 99% of the species acts a certain way it is valid to say that that is a characteristic of the species. But be ready for someone who has one of those 1% to burst onto social media proudly boasting that he has proven all the experts wrong! And then whole groups decide they are enlightened because they hold onto this obscure characteristic to redefine the species. Yes, some experienced people are done learning new things, but many of us use our experience to realize that there will always be that 1% that don’t fit our human need to define things definitively. And that the existence of the 1% does not negate the truth that the overwhelming number fall into the 99%. I am highlighting this because it is so easy to get confused on social media with every expert fighting for attention and using whatever methods are necessary to show how special they are.

One more point and huge danger area. Movement is 100% under control of the chameleon’s conscious brain. This means it is a behavior and behaviors and habits are constantly affected by the environment. Example, say your chameleon goes to bask every morning to warm up. One morning, while doing this, your chameleon notices that your cat has figured out how to climb onto the plant pot tower by the cage and has learned your chameleon’s habits and now makes it a point to be hidden in the houseplants waiting for your chameleon to come up and bask. All it takes is for this to happen a few times and your cat to do something, like lunge, to scare your chameleon and you, oblivious to all of this, are left to wonder why your chameleon doesn’t want to bask anymore. How do you defend against what you don’t know you are missing? That is a tough one. But we have to be very careful what assumptions we make about any judgement. Watch a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies. That’s what I do.

But this also comes to play in other ways. The more comfortable a chameleon gets in life the less they will need to find security. If they are comfortable with their cage they may stop hiding in the foliage to sleep. This is a normal progression in stable chameleon households. So you need to apply modifications to the general chameleon behavior I am presenting before you apply it to your unique situation. Use this as a foundation to build your own personal standard behavior set.

Here is the danger. You need to remove your layer of emotions that you project. If you are projecting human emotions onto your chameleon you are muddying the waters and you won’t be able to see clearly. Yes, all living things have variations on the same emotional set. The warning sign that you are stepping into the realm of projection is when you are convinced you have tapped into an emotion that has no relevance to a chameleon’s survival in the wild. And since people who have manufactured that special connection to a chameleon will have turned my message off long ago I can only say this to people who are trying to sort through all the information out there and figure out what is real. I know we want to love our pets and have them love us. And that is okay when it is all in our heads. But when those desires result in us justifying husbandry, caging, and handling choices, then our human emotional interpretations are compromising the quality of our overall husbandry.

The standard chameleon behavior is to sleep in a secure location. This means hidden in thick foliage on thin branches. In South Africa I found a Chamaeleo dilepis sleeping deep inside a big bush that had more than inch long thorns all over. There was blood spilt getting that one out for the sake of a blurry photograph. You can see pictures of them at the ends of long thin branches, presumably in a way to be able to detect snakes coming along the branch to get them. In your cage it would take the form of sleeping on the branches behind the plants. This is why I recommend lots of horizontal perching branches behind a thick middle layer of foliage. You want that security option to be available to them whether they end up using it or not.

They wake up upon lights on and make their way to the basking area where they warm up. Once warmed up they will leave the basking area and find where they want to hang out during the day. Often this is back inside the foliage where they feel safe. They will always be on the look out for food and predators. In the evening you may find them back out. This is looking for food before settling into their choice for sleeping spot. Kind of a simple life. And that is the way they like it.

Chameleons are intelligent enough to determine schedule patterns. If you feed them at the same time during the day you will find them waiting for you. If you feed them in the same spot every time you will find them waiting there for you. So you can establish this simple interaction. And you can take advantage of this. At the same feeding time you can start feeding time off by offering a treat by hand. Maybe a superworm or dubia or anything else that is different from your standard fare. Once hunger inspires them to take it from your hand you give them their regular crickets in your feeder run cup. This trains them that your fingers bring something good. The more gregarious chameleons will start getting their tongue shooting ready when you come into the room whether you have anything in your hands or not.

Another scheduled behavior you will see is that they will learn when the lights will go off. In the wild, they get into their sleeping spot before the sun sets. They want to be ready for darkness when it comes. In captivity, we tend to have sudden darkness when the lights go off. Eventually we will have dimming lights as standard husbandry equipment, but, for now, chameleons will figure out when lights out time is and go to their sleep spot an hour before. This is the one time where it is okay for chameleons to have their eyes closed while the lights are on. If they close their eyes a certain amount of time before lights go out every day then this is a sleeping behavior and not a medical condition you need to worry about.  Each chameleon does this differently. I have heard of chameleons doing this 30 minutes before lights out and one extreme case was two hours. But they are just following some internal switch and that switch is working off of unnatural signals so give them some leeway.

 

Emotional needs

There are two emotional needs that will drive behavior. Security and mating season. These manifest themselves as restlessness. A very common question from keepers is why their chameleon does laps around the inside of the cage. They crawl across the sides, up and down, and upside down across the top. This is a behavior of a chameleon that wants to be someplace else. Usually it is because their cage is too small or they don’t have enough plant cover to feel safe. But it can also be that their cage is down on the ground and they want to be higher or else they aren’t getting enough heat. There is something that is not right.

The most common misinterpretation is that the chameleon wants to come out and play with you. And this has led to many stressed out chameleons that just want to find a better place to sleep and end up having to play hand over hand run every time. So you think you have a loving chameleon that wants to play and your chameleon is insecure and stressed. A massive miscommunication. This is further complicated by the fact that occasionally, there truly is a chameleon that seems to want to come out and be with humans. This chameleon will be content in their cage, but then crawl onto your arm when you are doing maintenance, crawl to your shoulder, and then hang with you for a spell. Maybe eat a roach you offer from your hands. And then show no interest in going back in his cage. But once you get him back in his cage he happily settles back in. I presently have two chameleons just like this. And me, in all my cynicism and constant efforts to challenge the notion that they want to be out with me, has to cry uncle and accept that they just don’t fear me and have decided that food comes when I do so they want to hang out on me and see what appears. The problem is that the existence of these individuals does not mean that every chameleon can be this way. And it definitely does not mean that every person who says their chameleon loves them has a handle on reality. Do you know how hard it is to see these chameleon whisperers posting pictures of them with a stressed chameleon talking about how in-tune they are with nature? Remember there is a wide range of variation in individuals. So, it is possible that your chameleon is one of these outliers. It is not probable and you should never expect that you can look for and find one. Because if you interpret incorrectly your chameleon will suffer. But they do happen. And, that doesn’t mean that all of us saying that chameleons are not handleable are wrong. I have two that buck the trend, but I would be doing the community a huge disservice if I did anything that allowed someone to expect that friendly is what they would find when they got a chameleon.

Mating Season is a special case. You may notice your male chameleon suddenly becoming restless out of nowhere and you have no idea what has gotten into him. It is possible that the mating season bug has bitten him and he is now looking for a female. In this case he will be driven and there really isn’t much you can do to stop him searching. The immediate question is whether you should get him a mate and I would caution you against volunteering yourself to be a chameleon parent to 20 to 30 babies because of this. I know it sounds fun in the moment, but there are far reaching consequences to the decisions you make…and now I am sounding like I am giving a talk to my teenagers. This will subside. I had a couple  Jackson’s Chameleon males who would do this every Spring. I found they would especially do this if they could see other males and females in the area. The only problem is if they are damaging themselves by this constant activity. If they are in the typical screen cage and you are worried about injury on the screen would can line the inside with trellis or something which allows them to climb on something beside the screen itself. For me, they would do this for a week or two and then go back to normal.

Females may become restless and walk the bottom of the cage if they have eggs they want to lay. Although you should be expecting this if you introduced a male 30 days ago, some females, depending on circumstances, will develop unfertile clutches and, having never intended to mate them or even know what a gravid female looks like, you may be surprised by this. If your female chameleon suddenly becomes restless and crawling around the bottom of the cage then consider whether a laying bin would be appropriate. If she appears to have gained weight faster than you would have expected then this is a good thing to consider.

Changes in behavior can also signal nutritional or medical needs

The most common behavior that we see that sends up a red flag is a chameleon with closed eyes during the day. Any lethargy or closed eyes will send experienced chameleon keepers into a frenzied multi-pronged rehabilitation mission. The only exception was mentioned before and that is getting ready for sleep. We take this seriously because it indicates an internal distress and once it gets to the point where it is showing itself as closed eyes and lethargy we know it is far along. This is so serious that I dedicated the last episode to early warning skills.

Now, eyes closed could be other things as well such as physical trauma such as a scratch on the eye or debris in the eye turret or nutritional such as a vitamin A deficiency. So it is time for a vet visit to confirm in order to make sure your treatment is appropriate and effective.

Here are a handful of other behaviors we see that tells us something is off.

Eating soil. Geophagia is the action of eating soil and this is usually thought to be because of a deficiency of some mineral in the diet. It gets hard to treat this behavior if you already are giving calcium every feeding and multi-vitamin/mineral supplements every week or two. If you aren’t, modifying your supplementation routine is the best place to start. But sometimes we cannot figure out what is driving them to eat soil. I always say that the best solution is to figure out what stops the behavior instead of removing the soil to prevent the behavior, but I would also suggest removing the soil if they continue to eat the soil. On one hand, eating soil isn’t inherently dangerous, but with the potting soils we use with fertilizer balls and the possibility of impaction I actively discourage and prevent the eating of soil while I figure out what they are missing in their diet. Impaction is where they are not able to pass feces due to a blockage. This blockage could be because of a parasite load out of control or it could be because what they tried to eat clogged up the pipes. Soil doesn’t digest and break down so you can see where eventually there could very well be something that doesn’t go out the back door smoothly. Any dehydration will exacerbate the situation as well.

Hunger strikes. A chameleon refusing to eat can be serious or it can be that they are just full. If they are not eating because of a medical condition like impaction or feeling horrible you are going to see other signs as well such as lethargy and eyes closed. But the most common cause of a hunger strike is that the chameleon is simply full. Chameleons really don’t use a lot of calories during the day. And we tend to feed them very well in captivity. We feed them so well that they are getting too many calories in some cases. When this happens they get pickier and picker as to what they eat. They are getting picky because they aren’t eating for survival. They are eating for pleasure and entertainment. It is the same as us eating dinner, being full, but making an exception for ice cream. Get a chameleon stuffed with cricket to where they couldn’t eat another bite and then get a shiny green bottlefly into their cage and you will see them totally ignore that they can’t eat anymore to get the prized flying green thing. If your chameleon is healthy, active, and not eating then simply skip feeding for three or four days. When you come back they should be ready to have their next meal. Don’t worry, chameleons can go a long time without eating. Three or four days is nothing for them. It makes them hungry, but is not dangerous at all. Just when you start feeding again, feed less than you used to.

Drinking Water. What? What is the problem with drinking water? That is what they are suppose to do! Well, I present this for your consideration. Chameleons will normally not have opportunities to drink water during the day in their native ranges. Sure, a rain storm provides it, but in the dry season rain storms could be few and far between. They are drinking dew in the morning and then getting moisture from their food. So why are they gulping water from your mister in mid afternoon? Well, this is a sign of dehydration. A chameleon that is enthusiastically drinking is dehydrated. They are usually reserved and you rarely see them drink the dew on the leave from your morning misting. Now, this is a new approach that is meant to match the hydration cycle from their native lands. This is opposite of the standard chameleon husbandry of the last few decades so this is controversial. I am not going to fight anyone on it. Take a look at the reasoning on both sides and you make your own decisions. You can go to the show notes reptileentrepreneur.com for some research links.

And finally, strange body movements. If your chameleon seems to be flailing its limbs around for no discernable reason or is grabbing its tail or other limbs then you are seeing signs that are common to a case of Metabolic Bone Disease. This is where a calcium deficiency causes limbs to be misshapen and can mess with control of those limbs. What you are seeing is a result of a nutritional disorder that will eventually kill your chameleon so all your concern is justified. This is time to get to a vet for some quick calcium in your chameleon and a husbandry review to make sure you have calcium in the diet and sufficient UVB shining down. And if you already have a UVB light then it is time to dig deeper and see if that UVB light really is doing the job.

Those are my chosen top behaviors run into by chameleon keepers that have significance. Of course, there are many others. On the Chameleonacademy.com website I have a whole section about behaviors trying to catalog it all for new keepers to be able to have a quick guide. Check it out if you would like to see what resources are available to you to dig deeper into this subject. And, if you have come to the end of this episode and want to dig deeper into understanding your chameleon you are seeing the top tier of keepers. Maybe you are just starting off and have a lot to learn. But you are on the path and are taking the steps forward. Don’t let the enormity of what there is to know intimidate you. To truly be experienced in the chameleon world it takes years simply to observe and live through the basic life stages. Get a juvenile panther chameleon and it will be at least two years before you are able to say you have witnessed the basics of their life stages. So, you have time. Lots of time. I encourage you not to get caught up in the accelerated pace you find on social media where you feel that pressure to memorize everything and start being the expert in month’s time. Where people are giving advice on raising babies before they have even hatched eggs. This is all a façade. This is the land of caresheets written by people who haven’t even seen a lifecycle of the species. It is all borrowed off other people’s work. So, my advice is to stay away from that rat race. Look at this as a five to ten year pilgrimage where you will absorb everything, try it out, and truly make it your own before bothering pretending you know what you are talking about.  This podcast is the deepest collection of chameleon knowledge from around the world that exists. There is literally no other resource that comes close to exposing you to the input and perspective from so many experts around the world. If you listen to one episode a week you will only be halfway through your five year plan by time you get to the end. Of course, I keep making them so maybe there will be enough to fill up the rest of that five year plan. But my point is that you have time. Don’t rush it. This is a wonderful corner of the natural world and, so far, there appears to be no end to what we can learn about chameleons and the natural world through our love for chameleons. So, relax…and take it little step by little step. Before you know it all of this will not only make sense, but you’ll be there alongside me working on the next steps for our community.

As a reminder, this podcast has a website home base where I have taken the chameleon knowledge combined together and made a substantial resource to study their husbandry. I was going to use the word “comprehensive”, but there is so much more that I have to do. I only need 72 hours a day to get it all done. Though there is something invigorating knowing that I can work on it for the next 30 years of my life and the action item list will still hardly have a dent in it when I finally pass it on to the next Chameleon Academy Headmaster. That day is decades away, but I know I will be busy every day until that point. Thank you for walking the path with me and joining me on this adventure. And now it is time for me to get working on the next episode because there is still so much more to do!


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chameleon with gout

Gout in a Chameleon

Sarge, the Kinyongia multituberculata, has a case of Gout

chameleon showing gout

Sarge is a Kinyongia multituberculata chameleon. This species originally comes from Tanzania, but Sarge is a captive hatched specimen that came to me ten years ago. This is a wonderful species and, if exports ever start again, it would be a prime candidate for a breeding project.

A few days ago i noticed Sarge favoring his left front foot and found a lump there. I made an immediate appointment with the vet to get it checked out. The next day I was with Dr. Tom Greek of Greek and Associates who quickly discovered it to be gout. Gout is a concentration of uric acid around the joints which causes pain. The causes of gout are not clear. Presumably, it has to do with nutrition, but it is also a common occurrence in chameleon old age. At ten years old, Sarge is at the upper end for small chameleons.

The ball of uric acid on his foot was lanced and emptied. He has been put on allopurinol which will help keep the gout in check. It is unknown why a ball of uric acid would form on only on one foot. But it is likely there is uric acid on all the feet. The Allopurinol will be a daily habit to help keep him comfortable into his old age.

chameleon at vet

Sarge getting weighed during his vet visit

Dr Greek DVM

Dr. Greek examining Srge

discolored chameleon skin

After the extraction of th uric acid, Sarge's skin showed the dark signs of distress. But these faded before the end of the day.

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