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Chameleon Cages

Minimum Female Chameleon Cage Size

Panther Chameleon Cage

Chameleon Cage Size usually isn’t that controversial of a topic. It is generally accepted that bigger is better. There are a few side topics that sometimes come up.

One is minimum size for females.

Often, females of the species get a smaller minimum size because their body is smaller in species. This is most commonly seen in panther chameleons where the female is noticeably smaller than the male. But I have opted to remove this smaller size from the Panther Chameleon Care Summary.  Female Panther Chameleons have been successfully kept in 18" x 18" x 36" cages so the care sheets that list this smaller size are not wrong. I have elected to remove this option from the Chameleon Academy care summary because it is such a minor jump in cost and space to give them the same 2x2x4’ size as the males and it will be a huge increase in quality of life for your chameleon.

So is it accurate to list 2x2x4 as a minimum for females? For this I am taking artistic license. The spirit of a Care Summary is to provide a guide for chameleon husbandry to the best of the authors knowledge. Minimum cage size is a pure value judgement based on how well the chameleon will do in that size. For proper chameleon husbandry advice I balance my recommendations between what is best for the chameleon and what is realistic for most people to implement. In the particular case of female panther chameleon husbandry, my judgement says that the best living experience and your enjoyment with your chameleon will come from the readily available 2' x 2' x 4' or 36" x 18" x 36" cage sizes. I cannot think of a chameleon species that is available to the herpetocultural community where the size difference is so great that it justifies a different minimum cage size for females. So, going forward, I will not be presenting a different minimum cage size for females.

Conclusion

So, does this mean all the other caresheets that list minimum female cage sizes as smaller than male cage sizes are wrong? Does this mean that all the years of me saying that a 18"x18"x36" for a female panther chameleon was wrong and I need to go back and change everything? No, of course not. The smaller size will work. This is a 100% case of the caresheet author (me) making a judgement as to what is best for your chameleon's life and your enjoyment of the chameleon keeping experience. This is a minor change that returns great dividends to both you and your chameleon. So, this is my choice for what information I feel best about passing on to the beginner chameleon community.

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Female Ambanja Panther Chameleon

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Female Panther Chameleon

Ep 208: Chameleon Caresheet Confusion

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What do you do when the chameleon experts contradict each other? You just want to set up your chameleon right the first time. Why can't anyone agree on how to do it? In this episode I talk about how to reconcile different experts saying different things.

Link Resources

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

As many of you know, I just released a video component to the Chameleon Academy Panther Chameleon care summary. If you go to the Panther Chameleon page on the chameleonacademy.com website you will find a .pdf download of the care summary. You’ll find this care summary much different from standard care sheets as this one contains a level more information such as information on the cage interior, the lighting/hydration cycle, feeding quantity, and not only what level of UVB, but distance to the light fixture if you use a certain product. Backing that up is a webpage that explains every parameter on the care summary so you can understand it better. My vision for the Chameleon Academy has been that it would be a multi-media chameleon education experience so there is also a video companion tutorial and a podcast episode for researching on the go. So with this wealth of information you are confidently set to get your panther chameleon! Until, that is, you compare what I say to what your social media group says. And it doesn’t match up. And then your friend gave you a care sheet from the expert they say is 2nd to God in knowledge…and that contradicts both me and your social media group. So you pull up the care page on the website of the breeder from whom you have purchased a juvenile that will be ready in one short month! How can there be so many different opinions….no, not just opinions….deeply embraced convictions on the care parameters of one of the most commonly kept chameleons?

That is what I will discuss today. Even if you decide that you trust my information and want to go with it, we are a community and so you will have to deal with all these various view points when interacting. I am going to highlight the top six debate points you will find during your research into chameleon husbandry and your use of the care summary I just released. I will share the history behind them and the concern level.

 

Caging

First we have caging. There is nothing that controversial with my caging parameters. I do recommend larger cages for females. Many care sheets have males at the 2x2x4’ cage and the females at the 18x18x36”. My care summary has them both at 2x2x4.  Your female chameleon will appreciate the larger 2x2x4 cage usually recommended for males. But, if you set the cage up correctly, the often recommended 18x18x36 will work. Keep in mind, though, that these are all minimum sizes. No breeder will say you shouldn’t get a larger cage so even though what I say is a little different it won’t be controversial. You may run into the random social media expert that read a care sheet and didn’t understand the concept of “minimum”, but, by and large, going bigger is not going to raise any eye brows.

The point where there may be some confusion to work through is that I promote that cage type should be chosen with respect to your ambient room temperature. The closer your temperatures and humidity levels are to ideal the more screen panels. The further they are from what you are trying to provide your panther chameleon, the more solid sides. Because the average household has acceptable temperatures, but the panther needs higher humidity at night than most houses provide, I lean towards hybrid cages with mostly solid sides as my most common recommendation.

So, what do you when your breeder says that chameleons need a screen cage or else they’ll get a respiratory infection and die?

Well, here is another case where you have to choose who to listen to. And then stick with that information source.

Let me explain. There are many ways to get something done. Yes, some ways are better than others, but there are times when different ways can still get the job done even if some of those are better than others. And you have to pick what you are going to make work.

With the Chameleon Academy I am promoting a thoughtful and insightful approach to chameleon husbandry. Much of the husbandry I talk about is a bit more complicated than your standard husbandry advice. It requires more thought. It isn’t necessarily hard, but it does take some understanding. And, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that learning chameleon husbandry might take some thought and learning.

A hybrid cage will retain heat and humidity. That is the reason for getting a hybrid cage, of course! But it also means that you are able to over do it. So it requires you to develop the discipline to watch your heat and humidity levels. Well, mostly the heat. In a screen cage most people will struggle to get anywhere near the target humidity levels, but it will be hard to overheat or over-humidify the cage.  Because you are literally using your small heat bulb and humidifier to change the entire room environment. So you get a localized heat or fog cone with it quickly dissipating. And, so it is harder to over do anything. People have adjusted their care to account for screen cages. And this is one reason why you can’t pick and choose care parameters from different places. Someone telling you to use a screen cage will often also be telling you to mist regularly through the day. This is because your chameleon will need to drink during the day to make up for losing moisture during the night because the humidity was low. And this is how we all did it for many, many years. So, yes, it works! But do you see how one parameter was adjusted to make up for a deficiency in another? So, take some time and get comfortable with your information source and don’t be rattled when you run into five other perspectives saying they are the only one. And I will take the unorthodox approach and say between me and your breeder, listen to your breeder. Your breeder is the one that is meant to be there to hand hold you through the process. That is what they are there for. Pass on that only if you have a community or mentor that is willing to take the role of guiding you. And then don’t go back to your breeder and make them unravel everything you have done outside their care parameters. Every group has figured out how to make their method work and they may or may not be able to switch gears in their head. And this isn’t what you want in the first place. You want the person guiding you to come from their place of strength and that would be their method that they have perfected. So, back to cage type, if you are having trouble getting the humidity up with the screen cage your breeder told you to get then have the breeder help you figure out how to get the humidity higher. Though, yes, my care summary has been put together using decades of personal experience and incorporating input from around the world so, if I have done my job right, you will be able to study what I have written and understand it enough to make an educated decision on your own. But remember, this is one of those topics that people take personally. Most people in the community have heard of hybrids and glass and write them off as advanced caging. Some outright say anything but a screen cage will kill you chameleons. So there is a lot of drama surrounding this topic. And if you say you are using a hybrid cage to a person who only knows screen cages get ready for an uncomfortable exchange. It is like putting a Mac computer in front of a person who has used a PC all their life. Some will stumble through it and figure out how to get on the internet and some will just pull out the holy water and wood stake.

 

Basking Temperature and Length

There is a shift going on in the chameleon community which is touching panther chameleon care. We, and I mean we as in the general community are becoming more aware that hotter conditions, combined with high food intake is not healthy for chameleons. This, I think, takes a little history. As we grew up in our chameleon keeping we were desperate to keep them alive. This is in the 1990s. It was exciting to have chameleons live years. Then we went to the next stage of herpetocultural growth and wanted to be able to breed them. This happened quite easily with panther chameleons. So during this time we would be babying them and providing anything that would make them grow quick and large. This was, and still is, a common benchmark. Big is healthy, right? If you saw two panther chameleons and one was twice as big, that is the one you would want. Well, yes, and, back in the early days that would be a very accurate assessment! But now that we have gotten way past the stage of keeping them alive and being gitty that we successfully bred them we are turning our attention to refining their health. And we are finding that bigger is not healthy. Sure size is fine, but bulging fat pads are not. This is demonstrated most dramatically in Veiled Chameleons where over-energizing the females with heat and food makes their bodies overproduce eggs to a life threatening number. You have probably heard of egg binding. A common cause for death from egg binding is females whose fat pads have swelled and egg production is two to four times what it should be. The females become marble bags and have complications. This comes from over energizing the females body through heat and food. Although the condition is not as severe in panthers as it is in veileds, there is still that danger of over-engerizing the panther females. And so you will see care sheets run a wide range of basking temperatures from 100 degree F to 80 F. The higher the temperature the older the care information. This is a husbandry area we are still working on figuring out the right recipe of temperature versus food intake. I have chosen 85F to 90F because it is on the lower side and is well tested. In the coming annual updates I am sure that I will lower the  basking temperatures, but I can’t until I know what is safe. You see, lowering temperatures and food intake too far will produced stunted chameleons. And I need to know where that border is before my care information gets closer to it. I am actively doing extensive work with panther chameleon care parameters so as soon as I am confident I have a regimen that is as simple as possible without getting people too close to the edge I will adjust parameters. But for now, just be aware that there is a shift going on in the community and you will see various basking temperatures. 85-90 is a good safety.

You will also see talk about time that your basking bulb is left on. Reducing the time the basking bulb is on is a strategy employed by some sections of the community to prevent the over energizing of the female. I have been experimenting with basking temperature and lengths. So far, I have found slower growth, but no stunting yet. So there is promise that this is a tactic that can be used. I am not to the point where I think I can recommend this without beginners mis-stepping and having problems so I am still conservative on this tactic. You see, I am not only responsible for the information I provide, but how it is interpreted and executed by the readers. So I am careful how I present new methods. At this time, I advocate leaving the basking bulb on as long as your chameleon needs it. As I said in the care summary, this takes observing your chameleons behavior. In a hybrid cage you’ll probably have to turn it off after a morning warm-up. In an all-screen cage you probably can leave it on all day. But this is a parameter I really want you all to be mindful of. Watch your chameleon. Learn what they use and realize you can turn on and off the basking light as is appropriate for your conditions.

 

Humidity and Naturalistic Hydration.

Another shift in our community is the increased awareness of how humidity plays into our hydration husbandry. Most care sheets do not recognize nighttime humidity needs. This is where we follow the natural cycle of higher humidity, lower temperatures during the night and lower humidity/higher temperatures during the day.  I have called this the naturalistic hydration cycle and this is the prime example of how all care parameters are interlinked. The standard hydration method has been using a screen cage and misting multiple times during the day. This is what you will see from many breeders and social media groups. Since the humidity is standard low human house levels the chameleon loses moisture during the night breathing. This requires misting during the day to rehydrate.

In the naturalistic hydration method we provide high humidity during the night and mist so the chameleon can drink during the morning if he needs to. And this provides what they need so we don’t have to spray them during the day which they hate.

But to do this the fundamental core of our husbandry has to change. To raise the humidity we need to block off the ventilation to the point where we get enough airflow for air exchange and cage drying during the day. That allows our nighttime humidity to build up. And this requires a hybrid cage with solid sides. Then we can create a nice build-up of humidity at night. But a hybrid cage also holds in heat during the day so we now have to be mindful of heat build up from the basking bulb. This means we have to introduce the concept of reducing basking bulb on time and monitoring temperatures. That seems simple in concept, but going on social media you learn that this is for advanced keepers only. So there is a slow shift in understanding towards the naturalistic hydration. It is resisted by many, and not fully understood by others, so be aware that there will be a wide swing of opinions around humidity and when you should mist. Really, the best thing you can do for yourself is understand the different methods and make the decision for yourself. But, if you are still confused then go with the method advised by the person helping you along. Once again, I fully admit that the Chameleon Academy approach can be intimidating at first. I can say I have personally tested the naturalistic hydration over a number of years with many species and it is a better approach than the screen cage/daytime misting approach. I highly encourage you to use it. The naturalistic hydration method should be your end goal, and start here if you can, but it is something you can incorporate later if you wish.

 

 

Supplementation

Next, Supplementation. This is where we add mineral and vitamin powders dusted on the surface of our feeder insect and we add nutrition in this manner. The reason why there is a wide range of supplementation regimens is that we are still figuring out supplementation. We have a fairly good idea of what works, but we are quite primitive as far as understanding how much of what, and in what combination, is needed. And that gray area leads to a wide range of personal interpretations. This means that you are going to be exposed to the supplementation regime your information source tried and their chameleon didn’t get sick. That is the level of certainty we have right now.

The main area of debate is how much vitamin D3 to allow through the diet. In nature, chameleons get their Vitamin D3 from UVB just like we do. The sun’s light hits our skin and we use the UVB wavelengths to synthesize vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is critical because that is what lets us absorb calcium from what we eat. Without Vitamin D3 we don’t get calcium and without calcium our bones get soft and will break. It is called Ricketts in humans and Metabolic Bone disease in chameleons. So we need vitamin D3. For the longest time, both education about UVB and UVB bulb strength was lacking and so we had many horrible cases of Metabolic Bone Disease. This was solved by putting vitamin D3 into the supplements we put on our feeder insects. This was a wonderful solution except that there is a danger of D3 overdose because it is a fat soluble vitamin and excess amounts won’t just flush out of the system. There is a built in stop valve for D3 being generated from UVB, but no stop valve if it comes in from the diet. Therefore, if you give too much in the diet you could get hypercalcemia which means too much calcium in the body and life limiting things like calcium deposits on organs where they shouldn’t be. We want to avoid that. And with present UVB light technology we don’t have to use dietary vitamin D3. The one case where present information suggests we use dietary vitamin D3 is alongside giving preformed vitamin A. Honestly, I am still working through understanding how this works and how it applies to reptiles, but with nutrition that is a common state of affairs for us. Reptile nutrition is not the most funded area of science these days. I’ll link to an abstract about a study in rats where giving Vitamin A decreased the effectiveness of calcium absorption. So this is why more vitamin D is, most of the time, added to supplements with preformed vitamin A.  But, that is leading us down a rat hole, so to speak. Back to different supplementation regimens.

You’ll run into two main varieties of routine. One is the one presented in the Chameleon Academy which is calcium and bee pollen based for every feeding and then a multivitamin with preformed vitamin A every two weeks. You will run into many variations on this approach. The philosophy behind the academy approach is that we give calcium and bee pollen every feeding and simulate a random vertebrate every two weeks that gives a shot of vitamin A. The chameleon gets vitamin D3 from UVB every day as well and, if this is done correctly, there is no need to have D3 in the diet. The D3 in with the biweekly multivitamin is just there to keep the vitamin A company.

The other regimen you will run into with a number of breeders is using Repashy Calcium Plus every feeding. This has worked well over time and has been adopted as a much easier to remember supplementation schedule. Different supplementation routines are like fighting words in the chameleon community so prepare for strong feelings when you bring it up. I have linked a podcast episode that goes into the testing done by Kammerflage Kreations for them to decide on the Repashy Calcium Plus regimen. It is a thoughtful and well tested decision. If you are considering this approach then listen to the episode to understand what was behind it. I find myself in the strange position of recommending a different supplementation regimen while defending the use of Repashy Calcium Plus. And the reason why it is important for me to defend using Repashy Calcium Plus every feeding is because the methodical approach that went into showing that this is effective should serve as a model for how we test any supplementation regimen. My defense of using Repashy Calcium Plus is not because that is the supplementation I want to recommend, but I am defending the method used to test it. If we put in that amount of work into any of the things the community presents as facts we would have a much stronger community less able to be swayed by the latest loud voice that comes along. I ask that you take this to heart. I see so many half baked ideas being passed around because there was no critical thought applied to its creation or adoption as a sound bite.

 

Maybe one day there will be some repeatable test that will determine what the danger level is for daily vitamin D3 intake. And then this issue will be laid to rest (well, maybe). But, my message to you, who are just trying to make heads or tails of this subject is that both regimens work. If you want to use your breeder for support then go with the supplementation and UVB regimen that they suggest. If you want to go to a certain social media group for support then use their regimen. Just know you can’t go back and forth. Don’t use the social media regimen and then go back to your breeder if something is off. Get support from the person who you get advice from. If you are following Chameleon Academy advice and want to ask questions then my experienced team and I have camped out at the Facebook group, The Chameleon Enthusiasts to offer support. At The Chameleon Enthusiasts group the team is dedicated to helping across all supplementation routines. We make it a point to understand what is behind the supplements so we can offer an insightful analysis no matter which regime you are using. Just about anywhere else, a different supplementation routine will be blamed for anything going wrong without a critical analysis. And this is, yet again, the reason why you need to use the method understood by the breeder, mentor, or group that you will be interacting with. Understanding supplementation is challenging. One thing I will warn you about is any supplementation regimen that uses calcium plus D3. Both Fluker’s and Rep-cal calciums with D3 are way over the top with D3 and if there is going to be a supplement that tips the scales into overdose, it will be them. If you are told to use either Flukers Calcium with D3 or Rep-Cal Calcium with D3 then it is time to take a step back and re-evaluate.

 

UVB lighting

Next is UVB lighting. The Chameleon Academy care summary uses the T5 HighOutput fluorescent lights. This is the most common bulb used on social media so there shouldn’t be much of note there. ,Use the UVB chart on the Chameleon Academy care summary. If your breeder recommends using a T8 light, using a T5 light will not change anything other than give you better D3 synthesis at a given distance. So using the Chameleon Academy UVB recommendation will not interfere with any other care parameter that you find out there. And it will ensure good D3 synthesis no matter what the supplementations schedule.

There may be some people that are concerned about using a T5 light system with a supplementation regimen such as Repashy Calcium Plus that has vitamin D3 in it. This comes from a lack of understanding of how UVB and D3 works. I’ll try to give a summary example. The body creates only the amount of D3 that the body needs. Say the chameleon needs 10 units of D3 a day. The body will turn on the UVB conversion and make 10 units of D3 and then shut down conversion. It does not matter how intense the UVB light is after that. It cannot turn back on the conversion. If you then give 8 units of dietary D3 through your supplement then the body will only make 2 units from UVB. And it doesn’t matter how intense the UVB is. What I am getting at is that is if you give Repashy Calcium Plus it doesn’t matter if you use T8 lights or T5 lights. You will not cause a D3 overdose from using T5 lights. Now, going too high will cause other problems, but not D3 overdose. And Dr. Gary Ferguson did a study showing that panther chameleons will deliberately bask as long as they needed to get the UVB they need. So, using a T5 as directed on this care summary is compatible with all appropriate supplementation schedules. This, of course, assumes a proper supplementation schedule as discussed above.

So, bottom line, use the Arcadia ProT5 6% UVB on top of a screen cage with the back of your chameleon 6” from the top. Please review the care summary for details and asterisks and such.

 

Feeding

And finally, there is a feeding schedule that has feeding chameleons as much as they will eat until they are adults and then easing off to five feeders every other day. This is another case where we are trying to avoid unhealthy weight. My five feeders every other day is less than most breeders recommend, but still more than some care sheets. This is the exact same case as with the basking temperature where I want to see more cases of how people execute this before I go lower. I have had people stop giving food to chameleons that were behind in growth because of a general schedule meant for chameleons on the standard growth cycle. So I have to be careful and sensitive to how this information is interpreted. Five feeders every other day is effective, yet conservative. But you will see a wide range of advice out there.

 

So I hope that this helps ease you into the community and understand all the different opinions out there. It would be simplest if there was one care sheet we all agreed on and presented. But that isn’t the case. And beginners like to come onto the scene, collect caresheets, and then pick and choose parameters. So there is no way to keep anyone focused on one path. And, that makes sense. When you are new to the community you do not know where the best information is. Instead of telling you to just listen to my one way, I would rather explain why things are the way they are, share the transitions we are going through as a community, and have you understand why you are going in a certain direction. It is okay for you to do something other than what I am advising. Just know the options and know why you have chosen a certain direction. Every situation will be different from different environmental conditions to different social involvement. And all these different parameters go into what is best for you. And the best thing you can do for yourself is to be able to understand the currents, and chose the appropriate captain, and chart your own course.

 

This podcast episode is certainly a stand alone episode that can explain the confusing twists and turns when looking for information in the chameleon community. But from the top view, it is the next step in my project to document the panther chameleon breeding lifecycle. I presented the panther chameleon care summary and this helps you navigate the community while reading the care parameters. We will now slowly get into caging with a mindset for breeding. Though you’ll find I am going to be presenting a somewhat different approach to this breeding group. And I hope it is one that will resonate and, perhaps, inspire a new generation of breeders.

 

I am slowly getting my stride in integrating my podcast with my video channel outreach. I have ambitious videos that take a bit of work and so I am going to try an every other week approach so one week a podcast episode and the next week a video and so on. I appreciate your patience as I work through this new outreach and figure out how I can humanly produce the content on a reasonable schedule! But, so far, I am very happy with how I am being able to fulfill the multi-media vision I have for the Chameleon Academy.

 

And, finally, if you go to the chameleonacademy.com website home page there is a link to where you can pick up some chameleon academy merch. From T-shirts to hoodies and a coffee cup. So you can sport the rainbow panther everywhere you go and share this very special corner of nature that endlessly fascinates us!

And if you think about it, everything we are learning about chameleons and the amazing depth to which we learn it, is a part of nature that few people know exists. This is truly an amazing personal growth we are all undertaking. And, just doing this is a growth experience for me. It is exciting to think where we will be by the end of the year. And, all I can say, is this is a whole lot of fun and I am glad you are doing it with me! Now, let’s see if I can get the video out next week and then I’ll be back here on the airwaves the week after! And, if you snag one of those T-shirts or hoodies, tag me on Facebook or Instagram wearing it and let me know if I can share it on my account!

 

Take care and give your chameleon an extra special treat for me. I’ll see you later!

 


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Chameleon Egg Laying Bin

Ep 205: Creating a Chameleon Egg Laying Bin

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I take you along with me as I create an egg laying bin for a rare species of chameleon, Trioceros cristatus. By providing multiple egg laying topographies we can allow her to choose what feels best to her chameleon mind.

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

It has been an exciting week at the Chameleon Academy! I keep a rare species of chameleon from the Cameroon called the crested chameleon, or, more accurately, Trioceros cristatus. We have so few in the hands of experienced breeders that any success is celebrated in this very small community. It is a shy species, but what an impressive one it is. The female is bright velvety green and the males are a rich chestnut color with a blue crown above their head. Both sexes have a sail fin along their back. They are a little different as far as husbandry than your standard forest edge chameleon as cristatus happily spend their time closer to the ground and hiding away from bright lights. They are a lowland species so, despite their visual similarities to chameleons we equate with high altitude, cristatus are not interested in deep nighttime drops. The other interesting feature is their tail is shorter than most of the commonly kept chameleons. Cristatus is one of those species that is a good husbandry experience expander. It is similar enough in husbandry to the common species that it should be no problem for anyone to try their hand at it, but just different enough to be a new experience. Hmmm, I think I have let my affection for cristatus lead me on a bit of a tangent, but no matter, it helps you understand why I was so excited to see her pacing her cage in an obvious desire to find an egg laying site. Obviously, this was not a surprise. I had introduced a male to her a little over nine weeks ago, observed a mating, and had watched her grow with eggs as I made sure everything I fed to her was gutloaded and properly supplemented. So, yes, this was an anticipated event!

 

And so I wanted to take you along with me during the process of egg laying and then I am going to go into detail on making an egg laying bin. And this is perfect time because cristatus, and especially this cristatus, are a little more picky than a veiled or panther so I am going to share with you the egg laying bin strategy that has worked very well for me to coax some of the more rare species to lay. For another perspective of creating an egg laying from someone who spends more time with rare species than even me, go back four years ago and check out episode 76 with Carl Cattau. That is a great overview of the subject. The added value that this episode brings is that this one will be more of me bringing you along with me step by step as I carry out the strategy. And, I add in some insight I have gained over the four years since doing that episode.

 

One thing to start with is the whole trend towards using bio-active substrates, or even just soil substrates in a female chameleon’s cage. There are a number of reasons to do this that have nothing to do with egg laying. And there still is no necessity to have a soil floor with a chameleon, but I bring it up because if you have a soil floor then the immediate question is whether you need an egg laying bin. And the answer is no, if you maintain the soil in a way that allows it to be a good digging soil. This requires good drainage. Female chameleons will not lay their eggs in soaked soil so your substrate drainage needs to be dialed in with moisture input. For this episode, I am going to use the scenario where there is just the plain plastic floor that cages usually come with, but the principles and ideas are universal so you should be able to apply them easily to your particular situation.

 

First, it is important to recognize the signs that your female is ready to lay. This can be pretty straight forward for Veiled or panther chameleons. 30 days after mating you can expect an egg laying. This timing gets a little murky for other species that have the ability to hold eggs. I have had quadricornis and cristatus do this to me where gestation , the time period between mating and egg laying, is not necessarily consistent. The other very relevant case is with female veiled chameleons that often develop unfertilized clutches so you do not have a mating event to clock from. So, there are visual cues. As eggs develop you will usually see a female grow in girth. Sometimes you can see and/or feel egg shapes in the overly rotund torso. Other times, they can have stealth clutches where you are surprised they were carrying anything. Once again, that was with quadricornis in my personal experience. Veiled, panther, and cristatus have always been quite obvious to me. And you will notice the gravid shape growing and growing over the weeks. During this time the female will be eating as much as she can. And you should give it to her. I know you hear a lot about controlling feeder insect number and that is an important skill. But the major problem we are trying to solve is obesity in chameleons which overdrives the female’s body into producing more eggs than would be normal. This is often actually life threatening to the female so it is worth reading up on. Of course, I have some podcast episodes on this which I will link to in the show notes. But once her body has made the decision as to how many eggs to produce, it is healthy to give her what ever food she wants. She is now eating for 30 if you are lucky. If you grew up your female veiled in very warm temperatures and well fed then her body will take advantage of that and could give you 60 to 100 or so eggs. I know that sounds amazing, but the people who have tried to raise up a clutch of veiled chameleon hatchlings of 40 or more can attest to it not being the party the brochure promises. But once the number of eggs decision has been made it is time to give her what her body wants to develop all those babies. And scarf down the food she will do…that is until the eggs get sizeable enough that there is very little room left inside her body for food. And this isn‘t joking. Near the end of gestation there just isn’t room for food. And so going off of eating is a common behavior for females that will lay within the week. Not always, of course. Every female is different. So I am just presenting to you possibilities that often work. Jackson’s chameleons are notorious for this. They are livebearers, but when we get newcomers complaining that their female jackson’s chameleon was such a good eater until earlier this week we go into full baby care education mode.

 

The real indication is the change in behavior. Your female will usually like to warm up and be near the top of the cage or in her favorite resting spot in the leaves. You will then start to notice that she is hanging out near the bottom of the cage. And she is getting restless. And this is what happen with my lady cristatus. Cristatus likes to warm up and then hide in the foliage like any chameleon, but they are heavily on the hide-out side. I may see my female cristatus basking once a week and the rest of the time she is slinking about the underbrush of the cage. And this is a characteristic of cristatus. That is just what they do. All well and good, until early this week she started pacing the branches near the bottom of the cage and climbing the walls. So I knew the time was here.

 

Now, I also knew she was a picky egg layer. I know this because I already went through this with her before. The last clutch I got from her took the entire week of her digging test holes and then finally laying. I was using a simple container with digging soil, but didn’t get fancy. This time I decided to get fancy just in case. And, yes, I will explain what I mean by that.

To lay eggs, chameleons are looking for soil which they can dig through, has the right moisture content, and has a hard surface to lay against. That hard surface could be anything in the Earth including just compacted earth a couple inches down from the surface. They have also been known to target root balls of plants. Honestly, I am not sure if they really are looking for roots or roots just happen to be in the area. Because I used to run a large scale breeding facility where egg laying females would be released into large outdoor enclosures over 20’ x 20’ floor space. There was vegetation and open area. There were areas with what I thought was perfect egg laying sand/soil mixture and there were areas that I didn’t bother to replace soil. And it bothered me that I couldn’t get them to lay in the perfect egg laying areas. They kept finding untouched area where they could only dig down a couple inches. And it was up against hard surfaces.  And I am embarrassed to say that I did not learn my lessons right then and there with the most perfect communication I could have been given by what the chameleons chose when presented with wild options. I went on after that to do the ill advised things that many people are still doing like giving deep soil container for veiled chameleons to tunnel through. And, yes, I had tunnel collapses and was wondering how it made sense for eggs to be laid so deep. How would the babies dig out this far and what possible purpose would being 12 inches below the surface hold? It wasn’t until I was doing the interview with Carl four years ago for episode 76 that everything came rushing in and my observations all started to make sense and I figured out that I was forcing my ideas of what chameleons should need onto them and not listening to them. Since then I have slowly given my chameleons less and less soil depth to experiment. I started with 8” and have worked my way to 6” and now am trying 4”. Of course, species makes a difference. My Parson’s female appreciated more depth than my panther female, but not as much as I had thought. The pattern is, once I took away my interpretation of what should be, is that my chameleons were looking for a hard surface about half their body length deep to lay eggs against. So I came up with a laying bin design that I am using with all my females. It is working very well. And that is the design I am going to go over in this episode. But I can guarantee you that four years from now I will be doing this episode again and sharing with you the improved design.

 

And I hope you have become comfortable with that by now. This podcast was never meant to be the presentation of the end all be all information. It has always been a quest to learn more and figure things out. I know it is fashionable on social media to be an expert. That is not my gig. I will present what I know and share the confidence level associated with that, but you listeners to this podcast are on the journey of exploration with me. And I hope you value that we are doing this together and you are pretty much figuring all this out with me. My forty years of experience has served me well not to know the secrets of the universe, but to point my efforts in a useful direction.

 

So, let’s address how that approach is different from the standard, don’t fix what isn’t broken. When people find a way that works there isn’t much motivation to change it unless there is a demonstrated benefit. Example, if you are a panther chameleon breeder and giving your female panthers 8” of moist sand to lay in results in the successful laying of a clutch of eggs, why change? Doing the same thing for ten years achieves the goal. And this is why it is tricky when people say they have been doing chameleons for ten or twenty years. Sounds Impressive? Well, it is if they have been using that time to refine and challenge everything they are doing. It is less impressive if they are doing the same thing now as when they started. Honestly, I keep throwing around the 40 year experience stat specifically to stop people trying to use their 10 or 20 years as a resume point to prove they are right to say their way is the best way. No, my 40 years is only as valuable as how far I have come. Not in how much I have done the same thing over and over. So if your female panther is working twice as hard as she needs to to lay eggs you are not going to measure that by successful clutches laid. The value for challenging that is going to come from this inner drive to make life better for the chameleon. That is what I push for here. I agree that any change should have a measurable effect, but I argue that getting the same results with less physical outlay from the female chameleon is a measurable result. Anyway, the reason why I am going through all this philosophy is because the chameleon community is mostly stuck in the 8” or more depth for egg laying containers. So  expect push back if you stroll into those digital halls with what I am sharing on this podcast. That goes for many topics. But, if you are a long time listener you already know we are constantly pushing the boundaries here! So, let’s get on with the laybin.

 

The container

First, the container. I like using a clear sweater box about 16” x 12” and 7” high. But, Bill, if it is clear, won’t that freak her out when she digs to the side and sees light coming through? Yes, and that is a great reason for using solid side containers. But, I kind of want to be able to see where the eggs may be so I know where to dig. I have had some females that are so good at hiding their tracks that the only sign that I have that something happened is a bunch of dirt on the top of her head as she looks at me from her branch pretending she didn’t just lay a clutch of eggs. And carefully excavating the entire bin to ensure that eggs aren’t damaged once you find them is monotonous work. I will say that I have never actually broken an egg doing this, but I don’t want that first time. So what I do is I get a clear sided container and I duct tape a few layers of black trash bag around the sides so they block out all the light. Once she has laid I can easily rip off the plastic and see where the eggs are. Well, as long as she laid them against the sides or bottom. This isn’t 100% so other measures will be used.

 

I make sure there is plenty of drainage in the laybin. I do not want water to pool at the bottom of the laybin. Remember the female will likely dig to the bottom. If she finds a water layer then she won’t lay there. This is the draw back of having your bioactive or substrate floor in your cage unless you have external drainage. Having a drainage layer like the dart frog people do at the bottom of the soil layer may cause complications when it comes to egg laying. It really all depends on your water management. For my temporary laybin I drill a number of hole in the bottom to make sure no water will pool when the misting system kicks on.

 

The under ground topography

On the inside of the bin I am going to add some features. I want to be clear that most breeders are highly successful without going through the twists I am about to present. But they can do that when they specialize in one species. This is why egg laying bins from breeders are so simple. They have figured out the essence of what the species is looking for and have optimized their husbandry. My approach here, though, is how to approach an unknown species and giving enough options that it will result in her finding what she is looking for a successful egg laying. And this works for you while you are starting out with a species that is new to you. After a few successful egg layings you can start removing the features that are not necessary. But, for me, with a picky rare species, I am going all out!

 

So I know they are looking for a hard surface to lay against and I want to give them all the options possible in the small space at the bottom of their cage. I am planning on offering a soil depth of between 4 and 6 inches. This depth works for most species. On one side of the laybin I am going to put 2” of smooth rocks on the bottom so I get only four inches of soil depth. In the middle of the laybin I will have 6” of soil depth and on the other side I am putting in a live plant with the roots. This way she has a number of options. You are absolutely correct that she will have no idea where to dig to find the different underground topographies, but I wanted to make it so if she didn’t find what she wanted after digging the first hole that the second hole she dug would provide to her a different topography. And then a third hole would provide yet another choice. What I did last time was just digging soil in a basin. Every time she dug a new hole she found exactly what she found the time before. Eventually, she dug a hole that was tolerable and laid the eggs. So, I guess that was successful egg laying.  But I would rather she be happier about her choices and lay sooner than when the eggs won’t stay in any longer. This is how you get them laying on the top of the dirt or just pushing them out any old place in the cage. All of us breeders encounter this one time or another – especially with the rarer species. We just try very hard not to. Not the best husbandry experience.

 

Soil composition.

So, how about the soil itself? I like to ues a 50% soil and 50% sand mixture that I throw together in rough measurements and mix together. More soil or more sand doesn’t matter. Just as long as the hole will hold its shape and not collapse in on the chameleon. But, remember, we want a hole. We do not want tunneling. I have to say this because there is still a number of people that embrace the chameleon having a deep enough bin that the chameleon can tunnel. This is the husbandry trap of thinking that what you observe them doing is an indication that they need to do it. In reality, the behavior you see may be them confused and just trying to make sense of the strange conditions they find themselves under. Tunneling is when the female just can’t make sense of things and just keeps digging until she runs into something that triggers the “this is good” signal in her lizard brain. Stop it before it gets that far

At this point, I have put my stones in on one side and the plant in on the other side. I then start mixing my soil in the middle and fill in the rock side - and then the plant side and then the middle. Once I have the laying bin full I then carefully spread a thin layer of soil across the top until it is a uniform dark coat. I then sprinkle just enough sand that I create a thin layer of light colored sand on top of the dark soil. What this does is allows me to see where the soil was disturbed so I know where to start digging. They sometimes do such a good job hiding their dig site that it often is impossible to tell where they laid the eggs.

 

Okay, so I made my laying bin and put it at the bottom of the cage. There are sticks leading down to the bin to make it easy to access. To help me know where she laid, I have clear sides to view the lower layers. These, of course, are wrapped by a few layers of black trash bags to block out light during the egg laying process. The surface is light and dark coded so any disturbance will be obvious. And then, I got myself a WiFi security camera that I will set up to monitor the egg laying site. So I am ready for whatever happens. I just have to hope it all goes well! So I place the laying bin in the cage and went to go get the security camera to set up. And, well, when I got back she was already in the bin. Yikes. I guess that didn’t take long. I quickly set-up the camera, but I had to do it outside the cage so I didn’t bother her which gave me a less than academy award winning clarity of picture. Oh well.

Now a word on cameras and privacy. The biggest problem with chameleons not using your perfect laybin is privacy. They are in an incredibly vulnerable position on the ground digging a hole. A laybin in an open area situated where you and the three family dogs can watch the action has a low probability of success. When I have a laybin in a cage I put visual barriers all around and leave only a peephole where I can keep track of things without disturbing her. My new security camera solved this and was wonderful. I didn’t even need a peep hole. I watched the whole thing on my phone with no disturbance. And, of course, now I am obsessed with this and will be setting one up in all my cages so I can watch my chameleons do nothing all day.

 

Anyways, the camera picture had something to be desired. At least I was able to view where she was digging. And dig she did. She was ready and dug one hole in the middle, laid her eggs, and covered them up. Success! I gave the hard working mother a long misting session and a buffet of crickets, roaches, and superworms.

 

So, post game analysis.

First of all, camera was a great idea. I watched it happen in real time. I knew exactly where she laid. Next time I’ll get it inside the cage with better lighting.

The sand and soil disturbance method was also effective. Although, in this case, there wasn’t much subtlety. By time she was done with it, the bin looked like a land mine had gone off. She dug a huge hole and only filled it back in half way. So, there wasn’t much challenge in knowing where to dig. There was none of that stealth I talked about with this dig.

So, how about the clear sides? This didn’t work for me this time. It has worked perfectly every time before and showed me exactly where the eggs were. This time, however, none of the eggs were touching the sides or bottom or even on the rock layer. So, so much for giving me a text book success story for my podcast and video! I feel I need to do this again and prove the worth of this genius method!

 

She dug in the middle area where it was six inches deep. She really made a mess of the hole so I don’t know what that was about. Was she unhappy with it but happy enough to not abandon it? Could I have done something better? I do not know. But she did deposit the eggs about four inches down counting from the top of the soil to the top of the egg ball. But let’s be careful how we interpret that data. Does that mean it was a perfect laying site or that she was simply able to make due? This can only be answered by providing different test sites across the years and putting together patterns. This is why we chameleon people need patience!

 

So, let’s recap. I went the extra mile on this one. Is that necessary? The answer is that it usually is not. My last Veiled chameleon laid her eggs in a wheelbarrow with plain dirt in it. I just picked up her cage and put it on top of the dirt. She laid and we all went on with our lives. I did a fancy laybin for my female panther chameleon and she, for the third time, thumbed her nose at my fancy offering and laid, instead, in her pothos pot. Or her polka dot plant pot. Or, literally, anywhere other than my perfectly made laybin. My Parson’s female laid her eggs in the dirt floor of her outdoor cage. No special soil mixture, no root ball, just against the planter box wall. So, no, it really isn’t that complicated. Once again, what I presented here was a laying bin configuration that covers a variety of options and puts them into one bin. You may go your entire panther chameleon breeding life without having a single female that protests against being asked to deposit her eggs on top of a bed of vermiculite, in nice neat rows one inch apart. But if you run into a species you are not familiar with then it is good to have options to try with them. This is exactly what I did to get my deremensis to lay for me for first time. But, boy was deremensis a puzzle for me. We were providing laybins with different soil compositions, we were starting holes for them,…sometimes we try everything. Eventually, my deremensis just laid in the plain dirt and I never figured out what the fuss was about. But it is good to have these options available to us so we are ready if we need them. And if Tanzania ever opens up and someone has a gravid Matschiei I want you to have the greatest possibility for success because I would love to work with that species. See…I do have hidden motivations for building the best possible educated chameleon community. Better availability of captive hatched rare species for me!

By the way, when I talked about the female panther chameleon laying eggs in nice neat rows one inch apart I am making a joke about the debate between leaving them in a ball like they were laid and separating them out in rows. I have tried both methods and haven’t yet seen a difference in end result. Having eggs clumped together tends to get them all hatching at the same time, but I haven’t figured out what benefit there is to that in captivity. I’ll keep experimenting with it. It is the more natural way to have them in a ball, but I am unaware of any problem that needs solving in the way chameleons hatch out. But this is purely a personal judgement. If you incubate them in a ball more power to you. If you incubate them in rows, two thumbs up. Peace everyone. As always, I’ll keep you in the loop as I explore this. Feel free to enlighten me to your truth.

 

So there you have a simple laybin project. All of the parts can be found at your standard home improvement center. And, of course, a simple container 4 to 6” deep of soil or sand/soil mixture will work as well in most cases. But it would be a very short podcast if I just said that! Nope, the underlying lesson here is not just making a successful egg laying bin. It is attacking a problem creatively. It is the skill of see that there is an issue with something like egg laying and then putting together a number of options that let the female teach us what she needs. And it is up to us to put aside what we think we know and accept what we are taught. Compare that to the many other responses to egg laying for the species and we start to put together a picture that can be replicated with other keepers. And, finally, care sheets can be put together that will actually work in 90% of the cases. This is how we build community knowledge.

In the end, I was able to recover twenty beautifully calcified eggs which will go into the incubator right next to the 21 she laid earlier this year. Yes, she has been busy. Let’s hope all goes well and there are baby cristatus greeting me by the end of the year. We have a small Facebook group specializing in this species called the Trioceros cristatus community if you are interested in getting involved with this chameleon species.

Wrapping it up

It has been an event filled week at the Chameleon Academy. If you go to the home page of the chameleoncademy.com website you can find a link to our apparel storefront where you can get shirts, hoodies, and coffee mugs with the rainbow panther chameleon academy logo. It is very cool seeing people starting to show them off on social media. Please tag me if you do!

And I am starting in on a project I have wanted to do for years, but now it is time. I am going to be documenting each step of a panther chameleon breeding lifecycle. I’ll be recording it in written word, Youtube video , and podcast audio. Each media will have a different perspective on the topic and will complement each other. The first step is to select the locale and genetics to be used and I am deep into that. If you would like to follow along, go and subscribe on the Chameleon Academy YouTube channel. The first video, Selecting your Panther Chameleon, is out. That was the companion video to last week’s podcast episode. I am very excited to do this project and I think it will be a lot of fun to bring you along.

I think what this will accomplish is highlight the immense amount of experience that going through an entire breeding life cycle of a species entails. This is why you can’t be an expert by just memorizing the care sheets and what people are saying on social media. You need the experience to back it up. And, if you stick with me for another two years, you can be virtually by my side as I start at ground zero and build up a personal panther chameleon breeding project. A Story of Panther Chameleons will follow my obtaining one or two pairs of panther chameleon juveniles, sharing basic panther chameleon husbandry and growth milestones as they grow up, documenting the breeding process once they mature, and then we will spend the incubation time discussing baby care and the pros and cons of being an official breeder. The project will end when the babies  hatch out grow to the age I got the parents at in the next couple months.

I have a playlist set up on my YouTube channel and a special section on the website to document each chapter. On YouTube you can subscribe and if you want notifications of when the new videos are up you hit the little bell icon by the subscribed button. Of course, there are lots of chameleon related videos there as well outside this project.

Thank you for joining me here. I look forward to these new projects and am grateful that I can make these community projects. It is simply more enjoyable that way. And now, it is time for me to get to work on finishing the video companion on YouTube for this laybin episode so you can see what I did. I love the stuff I keep busy with! Take care, and I will be back next week!

 


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Veiled Chameleon male

Ep 203: Considerations when getting a Veiled Chameleon

Listen Here!

The most common chameleon to be kept is probably the veiled chameleon. But it is one of the most impressive of chameleons. Today I talk about what you should consider when considering a Veiled Chameleon.

Considering how wide spread veiled chameleons are one might think there isn’t much to think about when getting one. And, that is why so many people have trouble with Veiled Chameleons! So, this episode is going to parse apart the situation. I would love for people to be able to start off right with this incredible chameleon.

Link Resources

The following links will help you research Veiled Chameleons:

Chameleon Academy Veiled Chameleon Profile

Ep 107: Keeping Chameleons Together (learn why cohabitation doesn't work!)

Chameleon Academy YouTube Channel

 

The Chameleon Academy merchandise store!

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

To start off with, finding a Veiled Chameleon won’t be an issue It is the most prolific chameleon to the point where vendors at reptile shows who have no business offering chameleons can purchase an aquarium full to sell over the weekend. Pet stores often have them and now that they are well established in Florida, wild caught individuals are available. All of these are of equal pet potential. They originate from a country called Yemen in the middle east, but we have not seen new bloodlines for many years due to armed conflict in the region. Thus what we have in captivity has been from a limited number of bloodlines. The specimens that have populated areas in Florida are from this genetic bottleneck, but do have natural selection. The genetics may be strained, but this keeps them from being weak. All in all, I would love for new bloodlines to be made available and I will be first in line when that happens.

Price Considerations

The big issue with Veiled Chameleons is the price. The problem is with how low it is. What this means is that the only way to make money selling Veiled Chameleons is to cut your care of them to the bare minimum and rush them out the door as soon as possible. The number of veiled chameleons that grow to adult size under these conditions is a testament to their hardiness. But when you are looking for a veiled keep in mind that the cheaper the price, the rougher the life your baby has had.

Unfortunately, the wide availability of cheap veiled chameleons has made it difficult for serious breeders to give this species the attention they deserve. This is a case where the chameleon community has shot itself in the foot by price shopping chameleons. If we insist on paying corner cutting prices because that is what the meat market companies offer then we will remove the option for quality chameleons from reputable breeders.  Occasionally, a reputable breeder will offer veiled chameleons as a passion project. If you are lucky enough to run across this opportunity, jump. Do not hesitate. Do not squabble about the price. Believe me, they could charge twice what the large companies do and they are still lucky to break even. This is because it takes time, space, and money to raise them up responsibly. But what you are getting is a superior quality chameleon. Both the mother and the baby were given the special attention that comes with being part of a reputable breeder’s program. And, yes, this does take some effort on your part. You have to be able to research the breeder to make sure they are reputable.

Just because the veiled chameleon is available to casual chameleon people, don’t let that dissuade you from being a serious chameleon herpetoculturist with the species. There are others like you and we all need to realize we are not islands.

Morphs

Now the subject of morphs. The only reliable color morph I know of is, the Translucent or pied. This is where there are varying levels of white and pink blotches. If this is to your liking then getting a baby translucent will likely get you what you are expecting. There are many other morphs advertised like sunburst or lemon or high blue or high yellow or any number of creative names. It is more murky as to whether these are truly morphs you can count on. While some people say they got the color they were expecting, others do not. What I can personally say is that if there were established morphs of Veiled Chameleons that were true to color, I would expect that there would be an industry developed like we see with panther chameleons and a network of breeders specializing in certain morphs. We do not. Variations in color obviously happens. But it isn’t obvious to me that there are reliable true-to-color morph lines. I welcome the proof that they do exist and I would happily report that here.

 

Caging

The next consideration is the cage you buy with your Veiled Chameleon. We have an epidemic of ZooMed Chameleon Kits being sold with pet store chameleons. As enticing as the marketing and box text, and what the pet store employee says, the ZooMed Chameleon Kit is not acceptable for a Veiled Chameleon. Followers of this podcast will recall an episode I did previously where I said that the kit would work for small chameleons, including young Veiled Chameleons. Yes, in the academic sense it is true. But practically speaking your veiled chameleon will grow so fast that even if you did get it when it was small enough to live in the 16x16x30 cage included, it would out grown the cage so quickly it isn’t even worth getting it as a temporary cage. If you listen to those podcasts, my entire reason for doing those was to educate people with the kit as to how to create a stop-gap measure until they could get an appropriate cage set-up.

No matter what size or age your veiled chameleon, get the adult size cage and set it up as you would an adult. Your baby will flourish under those conditions. Once again, people selling cheap chameleons are conditioned to sell cheap equipment because the majority of consumers will not want to pay more for the equipment than they did the chameleon. It is a completely ridiculous standard. Very much like people refusing to pay more in shipping than they do the product. All these things are completely independent, but, in our minds, we base the value of the transaction by the piece which we deem the focus.  Once again, if you are getting a cheap chameleon, do not let that devalue its life. Put your savings in equipment. Get the proper equipment as if the chameleon cost you $500.

Once again, people selling veiled chameleons are conditioned to offer you cheap and inadequate equipment because that is the kind of customer they are used to dealing with. Break that mold. You have a 7 to 10 or even more relationship with your chameleon. Treat the entire relationship with respect and your chameleon will thrive.

The Cheap Mindset

So, if the cheap mind set is what the reptile show vendors have for veiled chameleons, what kind of care do you think they got? Just look at the aquarium with wood chips on the bottom and two sticks thrown in for 30 veiled chameleons to crawl all over each other. This is pretty disgusting. The best option is to pass this up and do not patronize that business. If you have to choose one out of that mass of green bodies then pick the one most active. Everyone of them is in a state of high stress and adrenaline. The ones sitting still or with their eyes closed have used up all their energy. It is best to pick one that is still showing it has fight in it. And, if my Hunger Games description takes the fun out of it, then I am glad I have been able to communicate the situation they are in. These are animals that need their own space.

Picking a Baby

And to address the reason why people pick the calm ones. I know, you want one that will be passive and friendly. The bottom line is that is not what a chameleon is. You may get a chameleon that is not fearful of humans. Go ahead and stick your hand in the cage and see if any come towards you instead of running away from you. Select that one. But do not take the behavior of not running away from you as a sign they are friendly. They are likely at the end of their stress rope and have given up. This is not the same as friendly.

Now, I am not saying that you picking one that doesn’t run means they will die on you. While they could and not running is a bad sign, these chameleons often bounce back once they are in proper husbandry conditions. Of course, some just continue their crash. It all depends on the individual. To be fair, Veiled Chameleons are much more likely to be able to recover than, say, a Jackson’s Chameleon, but still, make wise decisions in your selection process.

The fact that people inexperienced with chameleons are able to sell veiled chameleons greatly increases the chances that they will try and sell you a pair or two females or two or more and tell you they can live together. This is incorrect. The number of chameleons you can come home with has to match the number of cages you come home with. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Male/female…two females…bonded brothers…a pair that has grown up together….no. If you want to dive into the details of cohabitation I have a podcast for that. I’ll link it in the show notes. But, spoiler alert, even though it explains all the reasons and details the end result is still, one chameleon per cage.

If you decide on a juvenile it is time to strap in your seat belt and get ready for a ride. Veiled Chameleons grow very quickly and can show mature colors at 4 ½ months. Your females can be laying eggs at six months. It is a good thing to feed your growing veiled chameleons as much food as possible, but to pull back when they are full grown. Obesity is a huge problem with Veiled Chameleons because they don’t have a stop signal when it comes to eating. – especially if they are kept hot like may caresheets direct. So, in addition to learning about general chameleon care, you need to get familiar with the special conditions surrounding Veiled Chameleons.

MBD

All chameleons are susceptible to Metabolic Bone Disease. This is where animals do not get enough vitamin D3 and cannot absorb calcium. Bones are brittle and weak. So why do we see it in Veiled Chameleons the most? Well, it is the combination of 1) the chameleon growing so fast (so there is little time to figure out something is wrong) and 2) The veiled chameleon being sold to people with little to no experience and selling them cheap and inadequate equipment to go along with inadequate information. So, a bad start with a race to maturity that does not allow for a lot of time to integrate with the community and learn that something needs to change in the husbandry. The solution is a simple application of sufficient UVB light. Even if they are told this, how could they know that the UVB light they came home with in the Chameleon Kit is entirely inadequate? The lack of good information and the expense of proper equipment is a potent cocktail that spells trouble for newcomers getting their first chameleon. This is why listening to this episode and, at least knowing what you need to know, is so important at the beginning. And I wish I could get it in the hands of every new chameleon owner.

Special Considerations for a Veiled Chameleon Female

You can sex Veiled Chameleons from birth by the spur on the back of their back ankles so you have a choice between the two. Either makes a good pet, but the females are geared to laying eggs. They have to in order to make sure the next generation is safely in eggs under ground before the dry season comes. This genetic drive combined with the less than ideal husbandry given to them turns them into egg making machines. The excessive diet and heat supercharges their body into gaining unhealthy weight and activating massive amounts of eggs to be developed. And this can happen even if she is not mated. It is so prevalent, that some veterinarians are suggesting proactive spaying to avoid the stress of egg laying. While it does fix the problem it does not eliminate the cause of the problem. The cause is improper husbandry. And the reason why it is so difficult for the community to change their ways is because the unhealthy part of this makes them grow bigger and faster.

There needs to be an education that there is a good “big” and a bad “big”. Veiled Chameleons that are large in healthy proportions are no problem. In other words, they are long. Veiled chameleons that start having fat bulging out of the casques and large fat pads that end up restricting the oviducts are not only not healthy, but they can be deadly. If you have heard of egg binding, that is a condition that can be caused by overfeeding and overheating. Too many eggs and fat pads that are too big can easily equal your female chameleon’s death. This is a difficult thing to educate on because bigger and egg production have traditionally been markers of health in our community.

So you can see why it is so hard to get the community to change course from the advice they have been giving all this time. It is a lot easier to prove that overfeeding and over heating creates big chameleons and that high egg production is a sign of extra good husbandry than it is to put numbers to reduction in lifespan. So this will be a long road.

Add this this that we are still figuring out the right numbers to tell people. This revelation is relatively new so only the people on the cutting edge of chameleon husbandry are working with it. This is ambient temperatures in the mid 70s with a basking temperature in the low 80s and a couple of food items every other day for adults. But we are showing promising results as far as decreased egg production and decreased production of infertile clutches.

To be fair, this is something we need to proceed with caution. Cold and underfed chameleons will be stunted so, like everything, it is possible to go too far. So, this change isn’t something to be done without a firm respect for consequences. But we must go forward considering the health crisis we are experiencing in female veiled chameleons. It is so normalized that most chameleon keepers do not recognize obesity.

 

This particular episode was meant to help you make decisions in how to obtain a Veiled Chameleon. I’ll link to a flight of episodes in the show notes where you can dig deeper into all the episodes on husbandry which is part of the preparations that are appropriate to do before bringing one home.

Veiled Chameleon Mis-information

The last thing I need to prepare you for is that there is an unfortunate amount of misinformation about Veiled Chameleon natural history. It isn’t surprising considering that their native Yemen has been in civil war and you can’t just go visit their homeland. In fact, it took me years of searching before I finally found eye witnesses that I could interview on this podcast. And once I did, I found that much too many of my previous assumptions were wrong. Amazing what happens when you step outside the echo chamber of our assumptions and go to the source. I am going to list the major revelations, but in the show notes I will link to the interviews themselves so you can hear for yourself. Understand that this information is only slowly making its way through the community.

  • Veiled Chameleons are not from hard arid lands. They come from high altitude mountain valleys called Wadis that are lush with vegetation during the wet season and get clouds of fog rolling into the wadis at night. The idea of hot and arid comes from photos and videos taken during the dry season when nature is killing them off. The populations literally crashes every year at the beginning of the dry season and is reborn when eggs hatch at the beginning of the wet season the next year. So, now you know why they have to grow as fast as they do.
  • Veiled Chameleons are not a high UVB species. Like most chameleons, they get warmed up in the morning and hide from the hot afternoon sun. Veiled chameleons are healthy at a UV Index of 3 and there has been, to date, no evidence they need higher UVB.
  • Veiled chameleons do not need high heat. If you want to check their weather conditions yourself check the weather stations for Ibb, Yemen. You will find a standard montane environmental condition on par with what you would expect for a Jackson’s Chameleon. The difference is that Jackson’s will die at higher heat and Veiled chameleon will just get bigger and unhealthy. We humans like bigger so we have made a negative a false positive.

This episode is not about diving into each of these issues. This is more of a warning that there is more misinformation about this species than there is for other species. So, you are lucky that you can start off on the right foot. When in doubt, listen to the people who have been there, not the ones who have just memorized internet talking points. It took me years to find eye witness sources to get my information straight. Take advantage of that effort and start off right to begin with. And don’t argue with people who haven’t yet updated their information. It will be a waste of your time.

I have integrated all the latest husbandry information on the Chameleon Academy care sheets and you are welcome to base your start there. A link in the show notes goes to a full description of husbandry.

And, this all gets you started on the right foot. Veiled Chameleons are great chameleons. The colors and casque are impressive. The personality is usually shy and defensive, but if we are getting a chameleon with the intention of letting him be a chameleon this shouldn’t be an issue. If you need to hold your chameleon to be happy then a chameleon is not the best choice. I have enjoyed working with Veiled Chameleons over these may years and have dedicated much time on the podcast to support the proper care of the species. Everything you need to have a wonderful, long term experience with your veiled chameleon is available to you. Your job is to make sure you get the best little guy or girl to start off with.

 


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Machakos Hills Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 202: Considerations when getting a Jackson’s Chameleon

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There are special considerations when buying each species of chameleon. But the Jackson’s Chameleon has more pitfalls than most. Today we will go into what to consider when buying a Jackson’s Chameleon and how to avoid making a mistake that could bring an unwelcome surprise or even heartbreak.

Link Resources

A fun video about finding my Jackson's Chameleon gave birth!

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

If you are listening to this while you are in the planning stage of getting a chameleon you will be well prepared to buy strategically. If you are listening to this after falling in love with a Jackson’s Chameleon while out shopping for dog food then things are a little more on the fast track for you! Either way, we will start at the beginning and cover all the bases.

 

What Sub-Species are Available

First of all, in the market right now, circa 2021, you have ample access to two subspecies of Jackson’s Chameleon. The most common one is the largest, the Yellow-crested Jackson’s Chameleon. In the community we usually call them xanths after their scientific subspecies name xantholophus which, in latin, means yellow-crest. Nice how that works, isn’t it? The males are bright green with three horns while the females are bright green with no horns. And this is how most pet store people know Jackson’s Chameleons.

Xantholophus has an interesting background in that, in the US, we have a consistant supply of specimens that originated from Hawaii. Details are hazy, but there are rumors of now Jackson’s Chameleon populations set up on the US mainland specifically for supplying the pet trade. Details are hazy because the legality of this is questionable. But so is bringing them in from Hawaii. So there is some gray area here of which I do not have an answer. The significance to you making a decision on what chameleon to get is that the Hawaiian population is in a sort of genetic bottleneck as they all originated from a few dozen individuals imported there in the 70s and escaped. This has no bearing on their suitability as a pet, but if you have any aspirations of breeding your chameleon I highly encourage you hold out for a specimen from Kenyan bloodlines. These are harder to find as adults, but if you plug into the dedicated community, such as is on the Jacksons Chameleon Community group on Facebook, you will find that serious breeders tend to work only with the Kenyan bloodlines. Since Kenyan bloodlines are harder to find and more expensive to start with, a breeder with Kenyan bloodlines will be well aware of what they are doing and can share that with you. If the breeder is not sure whether they have Hawaiian or Kenyan then you should assume they are Hawaiian in origin.

 

So, enter in a second subspecies that has become more common lately called the Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon. This ones’ scientific name is Trioceros jacksonii jacksonii and it has a myriad of common names. It is called the true Jacksons chameleon, the Kenyan jacksons chameleon, the rainbow Jacksons, and, at one point it was called the willigensis jacksons chameleon. This was confusing because it sounded scientific, but it was never an official scientific name. We generally don’t like to use it because it tries to sound scientific and is deceiving. The males have three horns and a bright yellow and green flank with blue cheeks while the females mess everything up and show one or three horns. This is very important because anyone who believes that you can sex jackson’s chameleons by their horns will incorrectly identify a female Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon as male. This wouldn’t be such a big deal as the females are wonderful chameleons to keep.  Except for the next big thing to take into account. And that is that female Jackson’s chameleons often come to you pregnant. And if they aren’t now, if they have ever been exposed to a male in their life, they usually will be later when you least expect it. Especially if you think it is a male! The universe just works that way!

 

So, before we even get into how to get a hold of a healthy chameleon you have to know what subspecies and sex you are even getting! And this can get tricky. The best thing to do is to go to the chameleonacademy.com website and get familiar with the photos there of males and females. Alternatively, you can go to the Jackson’s Chameleon community Facebook group where there is a team of Jackson’s keepers that can do an ID for you. As the care of the xantholophus and the Machakos Hills subspecies are essentially the same, the real importance in getting a accurate identification is for whether you have a female or not. Because that has important future significance with how much of a surprise a sudden baby-filled cage would be.

 

Pet Potential of Subspecies, Gender, and Age

As far as pet potential, the choice between subspecies or male/female is a personal one. The differences in the subspecies are mostly cosmetic and you can decide whether you like color or size more. Both males and females make equally good choices. The males have the prominent horns which attract many people, but I have got to say that I greatly enjoy the personality of the female xantholophus. I have found them quicker to adjust to humans. I like the female Machakos Hills Jackson’s because they have the horns and interesting patterns. They are a little smaller so a standard cage looks bigger on them.

 

The Special consideration of babies

Of course, there is a major consideration with females with the possibility of babies in your life. The younger you buy her the more likely she will not produce babies. If you are buying an adult you are almost guaranteed to have babies come your way. It isn’t certain. It is just a high enough probability that you should be, at least, looking for physical and behavior signs that you should start preparing for babies.

 

The issue of whether you are ready to take care of chameleon babies is one of the more unique considerations that buyers of Jackson’s Chameleons need to consider upfront. Though this is true of any live bearing chameleon species, it must be highlighted more for the Jackson’s Chameleon because it is the species that commonly finds itself in big chain pet stores and other retail outlets that attract people who are the least experienced with chameleons or even reptiles. Most chameleons are egg layers and a long incubation period buffers beginners from suddenly finding a mini-horde of babies in their care.

 

The potential of babies may make you hesitate to take a mature female chameleon home with you and this is appropriate if you are not ready for that next step in chameleon keeping. But there are people like ten year old me who think having babies is a plus for getting a female. What could be more fascinating than raising up baby chameleons? The answer, of course, is that raising up baby chameleons is exactly the incredible experience you think it is! It is also an enormous amount of work and expense if you want to do it right. So, for those who are excited about the possibility of raising baby chameleons I will say this: I absolutely encourage you to get the experience of raising baby chameleons. It will truly be an incredible memory. But…and this is a big but….you have to commit to doing it right. The information is easily obtainable on chameleonacademy.com on how to do it. And I have podcast episodes on how to do it. And I will be doing more educational outreach to make sure the information is easy to get a hold of. So the information on breeding and raising chameleon babies is out there. Review it and know what you are getting into. Unfortunately, doing it right with chameleons is more involved than most people are willing to take on for a one shot experience. And if you cut corners you will, most likely, end up with dead chameleons. And that is not the positive experience you are looking for. So, go into it with eyes wide open.

 

The Best Approach: Find a Breeder

The best approach to getting a Jackson’s Chameleon will surprise no one. Find a breeder and get a 4 month old juvenile. At this point you can safely get any subspecies or gender and be assured you will have a quality start. Recognize that there will be a higher price point for a captive bred specimen and price will increase with age.

 

 

The Four Month Mark

 

Now, you may ask, why the four to six or even more months for a Jackson’s Chameleon when a veiled can be sold at six weeks or a panther at three months? Before I jump into that I want to do a sidebar here. Age of the chameleon really isn’t a good gauge of when a chameleon is ready to go. Each bay and each brood of babies grows at a difference pace. The most accurate way of determining when a baby is ready to go to a new home is vigor and body size. The reason we give it a month rating is because that is much easier to understand. That would be when a standard brood of babies would be ready if they grew at the average pace. But, really, the judgement of the breeder as to when the baby is well started is key. If someone is selling you a baby younger than four months then they should have a decent explanation as to why that shows they made a solid judgement.

 

And, here is the reason,

Jackson’s Chameleons grow at a slower pace and tend to be less hardy in the typical human house environment. Obviously, they are just as rugged as any other chameleon baby expected to survive in the wild, but they are less adaptable to the conditions we have in our homes. So there is this strange phenomena where some broods of Jackson’s have this die off at around the three month mark. Not everyone experiences this, but until we have a firmer handle on what is going on, the Jackson’s community is pushing for four months to be the standard.

What could be the reasons for this die off? It is almost assuredly two reasons. Cohabitation and lack of a nighttime drop. Babies born into captivity are usually kept in groups which causes constant stress.  Jackson’s do not show stress as obviously as other species so it is often missed that this is happening right under our eyes. Add that to lack of good sleep if they do not have a distinct nighttime drop and you have stress points compounding on each other. The present working hypothesis is that the cumulative effect of these stresses becomes overwhelming at about the three month mark. Obviously, this will play out differently in each situation depending on how the babies are cared for.

With so many variables it is difficult to have long term testing to put numbers to these, but you can prove some of it out yourself. If you find yourself with baby Jackson’s Chameleons you can take out a few individuals, raise them in their own cage, and keep the rest in a group setting. You will see for yourself the difference after a couple months.

 

But back to you and your first Jackson’s! So, how can you avoid getting a stressed baby? Once again, work with a reputable breeder. Even if that breeder does do group raising, they should be monitoring the situation every day and removing trouble makers. It is this constant monitoring and care that you won’t get with the larger retailers selling babies…or even adults.

 

Cautions when buying a Jackson’s Chameleon

So let’s get down to brass tacks about finding a source for Jackson’s Chameleons. This species is widespread and has found its way into pet stores, reptile expos, and online retailers. Thus, I need to give you three major cautions about dealing with sellers of Jackson’s Chameleons.

 

First, Beware of companies selling young babies.

 

With Jackson’s Chameleons there is an epidemic of babies being sold too early – especially from online companies. And there is a reason why live bearer chameleons are so susceptible to this. When the chameleons come into an import facility or are held for transport there will always be a female who gives birth at the facility. These babies are then sold as soon as possible which means too young and at a cheap price. There is nothing we humans love more than a cheap price! At least in the moment. You can easily guess the outcome. And this scenario plays itself out on a regular basis on the Jackson’s Chameleon Community Facebook group. A new member comes on wanting help with their baby chameleon that isn’t doing well. We do our best, but we watch as these new keepers learn the hard way how much a cheap baby chameleon is not a good deal. Of course, they are not to blame. How can these new keepers know the lay of the land and where the pitfalls are? The definition of being new is you don’t know the area!

 

So, why don’t these places hold onto these babies longer? Well, that costs money and takes space. Unfortunately, $150 - $200 USD is about the minimum you can sell a baby chameleon for and hope to at least break even. Chameleon babies don’t like to be together and the eat a lot. So a breeder needs to have ample caging and a constant supply of food. This is expensive. If you are buying a chameleon for less than $150 then either the breeder is not making money and will soon fade away (because spouses are not impressed with a business that losses money) or else they are not caring for that chameleon for any appreciable length of time.

 

There are a few breeders of Jackson’s Chameleons. The serious ones breed the Kenyan bloodlines of the xantholophus. And since these babies grow slower and tend to be more sensitive than veileds or panthers, Jackson’s babies are usually sold at four months old or even six months old. At this point there is a respectable bit of money invested in this baby. Not only that, but there was significant money invested in the mother while she was pregnant. See, there is much more to a healthy baby than how it is taken care of once it is born. So, if you want a good healthy baby – and , yes, you do – plug into the Jackson’s Chameleon community, find a breeder, and be willing to pay the $150-$200. It is 100% worth it.

 

 

Second, Beware of people pushing cohabitation

it is way too common for sellers to tell you you should buy a pair and that they can live together. Jackson’s Chameleons are much more subtle in their communication than, say, veileds or panthers. And so they appear to be living in peace. This is not the case and cohabitation is a stress situation which will lead to stress. I hate to say this, but I have even heard of breeders being unethical in their attempt to sell more chameleons. They would be immediately banned from any group I am in charge of, but there is nothing I can do about a reptile show. Unfortunately, this isn’t just from unethical people. It is also from people with the best of intentions that just got the wrong information. The reason why you should immediately go elsewhere is because someone that tells you Jackson’s Chameleons can live together is either trying to take advantage of you or else keeps their chameleons that way and your baby has been the result of a mother that was stressed during pregnancy. That is an unseen strike against you that you would never be able to know about. So it is best to steer clear of any entity that supports cohabitation of chameleons.

 

 

Third, Avoid group cages

It is too common for pet stores and reptile show vendors to buy a bunch of cheap chameleons and throw them into a screen cage and sell them like fish in a barrel. This is an incredibly stressful situation and shows that these chameleons got no care before being presented to you. Yes, this is why they are so cheap. And when it comes to buying chameleons anything cheap should sound loud warning bells. The reason why anything is cheap is that no care has been given to them. The amount of care given to them is the quality you will be getting. Chameleons do their best to look healthy because that is survival to them. But you will often find a quick crash once they are alone in a cage in your home and they have spent their remaining energy trying to defend against all the chameleons they were stuffed in a cage with. Everyone loves to spend less money. When you are buying animals turn off the thrill of feeling like you got a good deal. It will trick you into a bad decision and there are no end to people that will love to take your money and run.

 

In summary,

  • Beware of cheap babies from big companies.
  • Actively avoid people, even breeders, supporting cohabitation.
  • Do not buy a chameleon picked out of a group cage.

 

Wild Caught Jackson’s

I am a strong proponent of buying a captive born babies from a reputable breeder. But I would not be doing my job if I did not acknowledge the situation where you are heart set on bringing home the chameleon that looked you in the eye while pawing at the cage door.

 

At this point you need a general guide for picking out wild caught chameleons. So, here are a list of tips

  • Know that if you get a female that the chances are you will have babies in your future. Female Jackson’s Chameleons have been some of the coolest chameleon pets I have had so there should be no blanket advice against them because of the baby potential. They have exceptional personalities. And it was always female Jackson’s Chameleons that got comfortable enough with me that they ate garden bugs while sitting in my hand. But the reality is that the likelihood of babies needs to be a serious consideration when getting a female.
  • You will need to do a fecal check for parasites. Sometimes the establishment you are purchasing the chameleon from will have a phone number for a local reptile vet.
  • Go for the feisty one. So many people want the calm one. Well, in the wild, calm ones don’t survive and it is the ones actively telling you they don’t like you in their cage that have the spunk to make it. My friend, Patrick Holmes, who works with snakes gave the hilarious story of how when he is picking out the baby snake to bring home he puts his hand in the cage and the first one to bite his hand is his choice. This is because the strongest of the babies will stand up to the king kong hand in their space. Jackson’s are a calm species so we won’t get them jumping out of the trees at us, but there is enough in them to gape and threaten us. Don’t get a chameleon if you want a good holding pet.
  • Remember that the seller may be totally confident that you are getting a male, but you get babies the next month. Welcome to the Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon!

 

You should make sure that there are no wounds on the animal and no broken bones. Chameleons help with this as often a new injury will show up as a dark or sickly yellowish spot, but check that each foot has a strong grip and the tail curls with strength until the tip.

A chameleon with internal distress will sit with its eyes closed. This is often covered up by the high stress situation of being in a showroom cage with a bunch of other chameleons. So if you see a chameleon in a group cage with its eyes closed you know the situation is very bad.

We have actually been lucky with the quality of wild caught jackson’s chameleons. Whether Hawaiian or Kenyan they have not been the mess that other chameleon species have been. But this is 100% dependent on the people involved in the process and this can change at any moment. So, even if you have had a good experience or know people who have had good experiences with wild caught Jackson’s Chameleons, keep your guard up.

 

Conclusion

 

If you continue on with the plan to get a Jackson’s Chameleon the next steps are to review their care requirements and compare them to the environment in your house to make sure you are set as far as their needs. On the chameleonacademy.com website I have an extensive care section. And, in the show notes, I have a link to the Jackson’s Chameleon Community Facebook group where you can get more support.

In other news, I am having a blast with my Chameleon Academy YouTube channel. Although I have a number of educational videos planned I am just having a lot of fun making chameleon keeper vlog videos. You can come along with me as I go branch hunting, show you around my special bank of outdoor cages for pregnant livebearing female chameleon, and I even turn a Chameleon Kit cage into a very cool plant filled garden for a newborn Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon. Just search for Chameleon Academy on Youtube and you should find it. And I finally have T-Shirts and mugs available. If you go to the Youtube channel just click on the menu item that says Store and you’ll see the merch.

 

Thank you very much for joining me here! And it is time for me to get to work on the next podcast and video!

 


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Female panther chameleon

Ep 201: The Five Most Asked Chameleon Questions

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In this first episode of season six I answer the five questions most often asked by people interested in becoming chameleon keepers. It is important to understand what a chameleon is like before getting one to ensure that you are the right fit for one. If you are excited to allow your chameleon to be what a chameleon is then this can be the start of a long, enriching experience. So, I explain what a chameleon is to allow you to make an informed decision!

Welcome to season six of the Chameleon Academy Podcast!

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

Welcome to the first episode of season six of the Chameleon Academy Podcast. My name is Bill Strand and it is time to dive in. If you are new to the podcast then you have tapped into the most dynamic and constantly pushing review of chameleon husbandry. We have been doing intense review into a wide range of topics including UVB, supplementation, and the dietary health of veiled chameleons. And in 2021 we will be continuing to expand our understanding. Before we jump into our topic for the day I need to explain how this season is going to work. I’ll make this as short as I can because my new listeners came to hear about chameleons, but this is about the creation of better information resources so it is relevant to the subject.

I have wanted to develop my video outreach for many years. I tried about three years ago and wasn’t able to keep it up because making videos, at least the way I make them, is very difficult to do on a weekly basis if I am doing a podcast and paying a mortgage. So there were some released and then it sputtered. It has come time where that needs to be the top priority. Topics such as UVB and supplementation are great to talk about and have a huge webpage about them, but video will be the most effective medium to communicate those concepts. So I will be wrapping my schedule around the release of the videos. My plan is to do a podcast and video episode release on the schedule that I am able to get them out. I will shoot for every two weeks, but it may become unpredictable until my video production skills hit their stride. But this means each topic will get thorough attention and an effective presentation. The videos will focus on making the topic easy to understand and the podcast will fully flesh out the concepts and the thinking behind them. So the two will be companions. If you are coming to the podcast after watching the YouTube video then you’ll find much more detail and perspective into issues surrounding the points I brought up. In fact there may easily be multiple podcast episodes for each video because I will be talking about the issues surrounding the approach. Nothing is simple and that definitely applies to chameleon husbandry!

 

The take away from this is that now is a very good time to get the free chameleon academy app on either iTune or Google Play. That way you will be notified when an episode is released. This will be very interesting and kind of cool. There has never been a video/podcast/and website combination before for us Chameleon people and I am exciting to make this happen.

 

To start this season off I wanted to begin with the first step. What is a chameleon like as a pet and what do we need to consider when making a decision to bring on into our home? The ideal scenario is that you are doing research for a chameleon you are considering buying in the future. Now is the time to make sure you will enjoy what having a chameleon is actually like! If you already have a chameleon then this will help align some of your expectations. If you are wondering why your chameleon doesn’t want to come out and play even though you are his benevolent caretaker then this episode may shed some light on the situation. I am going to start with explaining what chameleon keeping is like at a high level and then answer the five most asked questions from people interested in getting a chameleon. These questions are taken by the highly scientific method of what I answer most often. I could easily make this the 100 best questions to ask before you get a chameleon! But there are many weeks of content creation ahead of us. Let’s start with the five most common actually asked. But first, I’d like to discuss the very open ended question as to what chameleons are like as a pet. The reason why this is not one of the most commonly asked questions is because people often already have a preconceived notion of what it is like. It is what drives their desire for a chameleon in the first place and this forms the basis of desire so it doesn’t always occur to people to question it. So, I want to start off by examining what a chameleon is so we can determine whether our expectations and reality overlap!

What are Chameleons Like?

Chameleons spend their life looking for things to eat and avoid being eaten themselves.  When you walk by a chameleon’s cage and you see them swivel around the branch they are hiding. When you see them walking in a jerking manner they are trying to hide their movement by looking like a leaf swaying in the wind. All of this is because their defense against predators is to not be seen. They are not fast animals and they don’t have armor so the best defense is not to be detected. They are so effective with this that field scientists studying them don’t bother searching for them during the day.

This is important because we need to understand that a chameleon reacts to us as something that could eat them. And, that makes sense. For millions of years, assuming that animals bigger than them might eat them has been a very successful method to keep them alive to bug zap another day. This idea of being a pet is completely foreign to them and they have to figure out what this situation means for them. This is why you have such a large range of reactions to captivity from chameleons. The good news is that chameleons are intelligent enough to get used to the idea of you being around. Especially if they are captive hatched and you are the one regularly bringing them food. It is not uncommon for them to be there hanging out at their food dish waiting for you to show up.

So our attitude must be to align our expectations to what they are – NOT to figure out how to bend them to our expectations as to what we want them to be. This is difficult because when we want a chameleon we have a set of expectations. And it is just anti-climatic to re-evaluate our initial desire. What a buzzkill. But there is a living creature involved and that must be respected.

 

Here is the starting block and if we mess this one up the entire chameleon keeping experience will be off. It will either be disappointing for you or/and an early death for your chameleon. Our mindset must be that we are here to provide for them and we need to accept them as chameleons.

The entire theme of my approach to chameleon husbandry is focused on us providing to them, as much as is possible, what they were developed over the millennium to be nurtured by. And we have to deal with the fact that we look suspiciously similar to what would eat them and they have no parallel in their evolution to being held by something big enough to eat them. And, although they can calm down around us once they get to know us, they physically do not have the part of the brain that is used for what we call love.

 

So,

What kind of relationship can you have with a chameleon?

Every chameleon will have a different personality so you can’t predict what one will turn out to be. The species, how you care for them, and how young you receive them will all affect how they grow up. Even picking out the calmest baby is not a reliable method because there are many reasons a baby could be calm that will suddenly change once he gets into his own home and then gets his hormones super charged as he grows up. I am not saying he won’t turn into a calm adult. I am just saying the path to adulthood has many variables that cannot be predicted.

 

 

The most realistic expectation of keeping a chameleon as a pet is that you are creating a slice of nature in your living room. The enclosure is filled with plant life. And you chameleon weaves in and out of all the plant life to warm itself, hunt for food, and fade back for a good night’s sleep. It becomes more of a visual experience. You are the creator of this world and responsible for maintaining it. In return you are able to observe it and your chameleon growing. And that is the ideal chameleon keeping scenario.

You may have noticed that there is no holding or playing with the chameleon in that scenario. And I know that has disappointed a good number of people wanting a chameleon. We humans have a deep need to touch and hold what we love. And this is how we look at the world. But, chameleons are completely different beings. To be successful with chameleons we need to put our desires aside and open our minds to what they need to be happy.

It usually is not really what we want to hear. Especially after watching Pascal in Disney’s Rapunzel. I know I am going out on a limb challenging the authority of a Disney film. Believe me, I would love to tell you that a chameleon can tame down to be a shoulder pet. But, unfortunately, this is not realistic. If it was, I would be first in line for this species. So the best use I can put my 40 years of studying and keeping chameleons to is to help you see what chameleons truly are. If you come into this with realistic expectations you can be fully prepared and both you and your chameleon will have a much better time of it.

Now, I know this is an immediate turn off for many people. We have the advantage on the podcast that the listening audience here is a little more further along on their herpetoculture path. And this isn’t elitist. You have to be further along to 1) find this podcast in the first place and 2) be excited to listen to chameleon talk for 30 – 45 minutes! And so, I am going to break the fourth wall here and let’s talk about the situation and how we in the community can better deal with newcomers. When people come to chameleon keeping they come from a certain perspective. Some come from the naturalist side where they want to study chameleons and what they are. Obviously, a healthy approach and one that perfectly aligns with what we are doing here. Another approach is seeing a cute chameleon in a pet store, falling in love, and making an emotional choice to buy it. All they have to go off of are the chameleons in the movies and whatever the pet store employee tells them. And pet store employees are not allowed to say “I don’t know”. They are expected to be the experts so they will do their best and share what they have been told - just get this convenient kit and you are good to go. We in the community need to realize that when the mew keepers come to us they have done their research. They asked the pet store guy. And there is no indication that they should doubt his word or do further research because they got a simple, understandable, and case closed care summary. Why should they look further? So we have to realize that it falls to us to help newcomers along through the process. And, if you are this newcomer, I am sorry for how confusing things are. Chameleon keeping is not simple. And the problem with distilling it down to a simple sound bite is you lose a lot of the details that are important. So there are a lot of newcomers that only signed up for something as simple as the pet store said it would be and then find out that there is so much more to it. The fact that you are listening to a chameleon podcast means a lot and you are going to be able to get the information you need. But once you get your feet under you and if you decide to become part of the community your experience with the transition will be a valuable asset to help others.

This all begs the obvious question,

If chameleon keepers do not handle or play with their chameleons, what do they do?

Mostly we watch them. It is deeply satisfying to create their environment and watch both the chameleon and the environment grow. We do develop a relationship with our chameleons. And I don’t mean like we would our dogs. It is a unique chameleon relationship. Chameleons will get to know you because they recognize humans. And they will get to know you and drop their guard around you. Many of them will learn that they can get special treats if they eat from your hand. And once they learn that their cage borders are their territory they will have maintain a sense of security as long as the door is closed. They do have the capacity for trust and trust can be built and it can be broken. Anyone who has had to give a medication routine knows that syringes and forced mouth openings can put back the human/chameleon relationship for a long time. The reason why I focus so much on the least common variable, meaning that chameleons do not want to have anything to do with us, is because most chameleons tend towards the shy range and building expectations that your chameleon can be in the top 5% of friendly is just setting you up for disappointment. If everyone went into to chameleon keeping with the expectation that they would be getting a shy animal that does not want to be held, 95% would get a chameleon as advertised. The other 5% would be posting to social media that I don’t know what I am talking about and that their chameleon loves to come out on their hand and play cards with the family. But none of the chameleons will have keepers disappointed in them because of what they are.

 

So, with that very important foundation under us, let’s get to those top five questions are that I am asked by people thinking about getting chameleon.

 

The #1 question is Can I hold my chameleon?

Boy, this one just keeps coming up in various forms!

And this presents an immediate challenge for the experienced chameleon keeper to answer. Our answer would be no, chameleons are not a pet for holding. And that would be the right answer. But we need to go beyond that and address what the beginner will see all over social media. People are holding their chameleons all over the place! And the most experienced keepers and breeders are holding their chameleons. You go on my social media feeds and event he video where I say don’t handle your chameleons and I have them on my hand! So we are obligated to explain the situation. And here is where it gets murky. How to make a complicated subject simple. Good luck. I did an entire extra long podcast episode on stress and now I have to distill it down to a couple of sound bites before the newcomer’s eyes glaze over? Yikes…

 

But, here is the real answer.

Proposition: Handling a chameleon causes stress with that chameleon. True. How much stress depends on the personality of the chameleon and the nature of the handling session.

 

Proposition: Stress kills chameleons. True.

Just like in human beings, stress taxes the immune system and weakens it until a sickness can take hold. Then we, and chameleons, get sick. Sickness in chameleons leads to death more often than in humans because it is difficult to know when a chameleon is sick until it is so far along that the chameleon can’t function.

 

Proposition: If handling causes stress, and stress causes death, then by the transitive property of equality (for all you math nerds out there)- Handling causes death. Only partially true.

 

The reason is that there are two types of stress. There are stress spikes and chronic stress. A stress spike is like when we get cut off in traffic. Adrenaline goes through our body, we say things that we hope our kids don’t repeat, and then we go back to normal. Your immune system does not become depressed from a stress spike. You aren’t going to catch a cold from being cut off in traffic one day.

Chronic stress is something different. This is where your body is stressed so does not get a chance to recover. This is having the air conditioning vent blowing directly on you all day at work. This is knowing that there will be lay-offs at the end of the month and everyone at the office is trying to make everyone else look bad to decrease their chances of being cut. This is being forced to live in and work in a house with a Bengal tiger loose.  Eventually the stress will cause you to get sick. Was the tiger example ridiculous? Well, maybe we can imagine what a chameleon feels when, everyday, they get blown on by the air conditioning vent, then the sun comes through the window and bakes them which brings the house cat to come and lounge by the cage. You can see how things we would never think of could cause chronic stress to a chameleon that has had its options reduced by being in a cage. This is why we have such a high responsibility in this.

So, where does handling fit into all this. Just taking your chameleon out and letting him perch on your hand for a visual examination is a simple stress spike that goes as high as the chameleon is nervous. I have some chameleons that send their time on my hand worried I will eat them and some that see my hand as something that will take them to a good thing to eat. These two chameleons are having completely different stress responses. A trip to a vet is a much longer stress spike, but it too, will be over and not be repeated every day. A photoshoot is a stress spike that is not a health issue. Handling becomes an issue when the stress starts going through the roof. Such as when we play with a chameleon. The hand over hand as the chameleon keeps walking is great fun, except that the chameleon is trying to get away. So to your chameleon it is an exercise in futility that they will do until they give up and decide they can’t do anything to avoid being eaten. They close their eyes and the well meaning human assumes they are tuckered out and trust them enough to sleep on their hand. A chameleon sleeping on your hand is a huge red flag. This is exhaustion, not trust. And this is the problem. If we say you cant handle your chameleon, the beginner who is excited for their Pascal will just go to some YouTube personality that says all those supposed experts are just fuddy duddies and of course you can hold your chameleon You just have to tame him down by handling him every day. It is hard to compete with someone telling someone exactly what they want to hear. All I can do is share what a chameleon is and hopefully it resonates.

So, yes, limited, calm handling is okay. But if handling is an important part of your pet relationship then it is best to look for another type of reptile or pet. That is just not what a chameleon is.

 

Question 2: Will a chameleon bite?

The second most asked question is whether a chameleon will bite. The answer is only if they have to! Chameleons don’t like to bite. They bite to get you to go away. And it is never a secret that they are about to bite. They give unmistakable warning signs. They puff up, they gape, they show their teeth, they make fake lunges to let you know they are serious. And if you ignore all that, yes, a bite is coming your way. And larger chameleons can break the skin. But, no, chameleons will not come after you. The people who get bit most often are those who ignore all the warnings and insist on picking up a chameleon that is not interested in being picked up.

 

The third question is What equipment do I need for a chameleon?

And this is a big question with a very long answer that can easily spread across an entire year of podcasts. And this is why it is so important to have the chameleonacademy.com website to back up both the video and podcast series. In it I can put together build guides that lead the person step-by-step and have purchase links.

If you are a beginner listening to this then the build guides are your best approach. In them you will see how the main components all fit together. Basically, you have a cage, a lighting system, and watering system. The cage needs to be at least 2’x2’x4’ for most of the available chameleon species. Lighting consists of three parts – Daylight for sight, a basking bulb for warming up, and a UVB bulb for Ultraviolet wavelengths that allow the chameleon to create vitamin D3. A full watering system consists of a mister, a fogger, and a dripper. And then there are the plants for the inside. You don’t have to memorize this all right now. You have the links for the build guides on the podcast show notes that lead you step by step.

I have been spending literally years putting together these build guides. And I have to update them every year because products are no longer available or I find better products. And that is why it is a huge advantage to have a website to refer to.

The most controversial part about this build guide will be the hydration system. I do my build guides using a mister, fogger, and dripper. Every influencer or group will have their own approach. This is one of the areas where you want to pick your source and follow one source. If you ask around you will get many opinions. The reason why there can be so many opinions is that the benefits of different watering approaches are subtle and difficult to quantify. We don’t have renal failure on all chameleons using one approach or the other. I am certain that there is a long term effect on longevity, but there is no hard data to prove either way. This question touches on the bulk of chameleon husbandry so any short answer is incomplete. But the important thing for a beginner to take into account, at a high level, is that getting a chameleon means you will have a 2’x2x’x4’ or larger cage in your room with a watering system and a light system. Each of these three will be $100-$200 USD each with the cage going up in price depending on the quality you are wanting.

 

 

Question #4 is What do they eat?

-They eat bugs. Live Insects. Not only that, you need to feed and take care of the bugs so they are nutritious to the chameleon. Just make sure you are good with bugs before starting in this direction. Many chameleon keepers become bug breeders as well to give you an idea of where this often ends up. Chameleons need live insects so any thought of using the freeze-dried bugs can be let loose now. Would it help for me to say that many chameleon keepers take pride in their roach colonies? Did I just complicate your campaign to get your spouse to agree to a chameleon? Well, to try and save the day I will say you don’t have to keep roaches. But it is worth looking at the resources I have in the show notes to get familiar with the eating habits of chameleons and make sure you are totally comfortable with keeping live insects around the house. Once again that is just what chameleons are.

 

And, finally,

Question 5: Will a chameleon just die on me?

We have a long history of chameleons being thought of as fragile. This was fuelled by chameleons being treated roughly during the exportation process and then being kept inappropriately when they get here. Things are much better now over what they were decades ago. The importation process has improved and our husbandry knowledge is world’s better.

 

Chameleons are hardy animals. When set-up correctly they can live 7 to 10 to 15 or more years depending on the species. But we do have to keep them correctly.

If you set any animal up incorrectly they will die. If we were pets for polar bears and they kept us in ice caves we wouldn’t do so well. Chameleons are designed to survive in nature that tries to kill or eat them at every turn. Nature is not nice! I can guarantee you, they are tough creatures! All you have to do is set the chameleon up correctly and he will thrive! And that, of course, is what this podcast is all about.

 

As far as we have gotten there is so much more work to be done. We are lucky to be in a stage of herpetoculture where our focus for the most commonly kept species is no longer just keeping them alive or even breeding them, but longevity. Yes, what we don’t know dwarfs what we do know and we will not establish successful reproductive protocols for each and every species in my lifetime. But for the most common species such as Veiled, Panther, and Jackson’s Chameleons, we are working on refining our husbandry to push their longevity to the ten year mark. And that goal is completely arbitrary. There will be an internal limit to how old they can get. Our goal is to get our husbandry to the point where we find it. So this is actually an exciting time. We are entering into a stage in our discipline where we have the tools to explore longevity as a goal. And I am not talking about isolated incidences. Yes, hearing about some veiled chameleon somewhere that reached a ripe old age is great news, but it really isn’t an accomplishment until we can establish husbandry practices that allow the general community to reach those ages. And this will take time. The general community is still producing veiled chameleons that are overweight and producing unhealthy egg clutch sizes. So there is a lot of work we have to do and with longevity, proving anything can only be done over long periods of time.

Closing

Those are our five questions. Though half the podcast was taken up by the initial question about chameleon nature that I threw in there! The companion video to this episode then went on to discuss a number of dos and donts that I selected as the ones I would pick if I were trying to find the most important points. Once again, I could easily make them 100 dos and 100 donts! But we will take those apart in the next podcast episode.

2021 will be a year where we solidify the basics. The Chameleon Academy only has one term, Basic Husbandry, released. There are actually four terms planned! But there is much more that needs to be done to distill the basics. Video is very important so it is the priority. You’ll see each section in the term being fleshed out and made more robust.

I am very aware of the fact that I produce complicated content. I have struggled with reducing the presentation because I have a hard time leaving out important aspects. Chameleon husbandry is not an infographic! So this is my approach to each topic: I am going to create a solid base of information and work my way up. Once I have a detailed website page and podcast episodes that discuss the topic, explain it , and show the research behind it I will create a video that summarizes it visually. And then I will have an infographic that simplifies it even further to sit on top of that mountain. That way, there is depth for the person who wants to dig.

And then, there is the simple task of updating that mountain of content every time we discover something new! Considering how fast we are moving forward, I don’t think I’ll be bored anytime soon!

Thank you for joining me here. Chameleon keeping has meant more to me than just keeping a lizard pet. Dedicating myself to the discipline of herpetoculture with an emphasis on chameleonology has become a lifelong pursuit and has exposed me to parts of nature I never knew existed. It has been a wonderful experience and I look forward to many more years of personal growth. And, I look forward to sharing the journey with you.

 


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Furcifer minor

Ep 172: Wrapping up the 2020 Chameleon Year

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We have come to the close of Season five of the Chameleon Academy podcast. In this final episode of the season I am going to review 2020 through the eyes of a chameleon keeper.

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

2020 has been a roller coaster to say the least. We have had some product introductions that have been significant for us and we have had this year to try them out. And it seems like at the end of every season I also leave off with some appeal to critical thinking and bemoan the lack of it in social media. This year is no exception! But let’s start with the results of those product tests.

 

Pro-T5 UVB fixture

One of the products that I most anticipated was the Arcadia Pro-T5 UVB light fixture. I have used and recommended the Arcadia UVB bulbs for years now, but the challenge was helping people use them effectively when the UVB output of the bulb could range wildly depending on the fixture that was used. Different fixtures would over drive or under drive the bulb. Different reflectors would produce different results. And so it was very hard to put together charts for people without solarmeters. I was very excited for the Arcadia Pro-T5 product because it was going to be a quality fixture, designed and approved by Arcadia to drive their bulbs as they should be driven. I am very happy to say that after testing them over this year that they have shown themselves to be everything promised and I will be standardizing all my caresheets and chameleonacademy.com information to center around this product. That is not to say other manufacturer bulbs and fixtures can’t work. In fact, I encourage you to get a solarmeter 6.5 and be able to test your lamp and fixture in real time and dial it in for your particular situation. And then you can use anything you want. But for the purposes of the Chameleon Academy I need a product I can standardize information around. And I need this product to be widely available and have a reasonable confidence that it will continue to be available year after year, because it literally takes me a year to test a product in multiple applications and then go through the laborious process of changing all the website pages and build guides. I not only need something that works – I need a product and company I can rely on! So this has been a perfect solution to my problem and I am going to be switching my information over.

 

Case in point for a product that has been a pain. I used to use and recommend the Odessyea multi-bulb T5 fixture for white light and UVB. Although it certainly worked and I still have some in use today, the quality turned out to not be so great in every case and it is no longer widely available. So now I am having to find a replacement and methodically switch over all the build guides and product links. Luckily, I found a great multi-bulb fixture in the Vivosun brand that is available on Amazon. It is a good quality fixture (as far as I can tell at this point) and each bulb has their own reflector so we don’t lose UVB energy. So I am very glad to be switching everything over to this fixture. As long as they don’t just disappear as a company all is good. They are a horticultural company so that is a relatively stable customer base. Here’s hoping!

Now, there has been another lighting solution that has piqued my interest that I tested this year and that is the Jungle Dawn LED light bar from Arcadia. And this is showing up in some of my build guides because the light is bright and white. It actually plugs into the ProT5 UVB fixture so you can daisy chain them together. The space savings on top of your cage is significant! They are a little more expensive than the T5 multibulb fixtures, but I can tell this is a technology that will be very useful to us chameleon keepers. Stay tuned on this one. I’ll be doing much more testing in 2021. But I can say now that my plant growth has exploded with the LED bar so I am excited to work with this product more.

RevitaliseD3

The other major change in husbandry recommendations is that I am switching the multi-vitamin in my supplementation routine from the Repashy Calcium Plus LoD over to the Arcadia Revitalise D3 product. RevitaliseD3 and Repashy Calcium Plus LoD are multivitamins. They give our chameleons, among other various vitamins, vitamin D3 and preformed vitamin A. We are careful with our recommendations because both of these vitamins are fat soluble so can be overdosed. The difference between these two supplements is the levels of D3 and A. They both give the D3 to A ratio of 1:10 as is accepted by our veterinary community at this time. But RevitaliseD3 is about a quarter of the levels of LoD. So there is a much wider buffer. The question, of course, is is it enough. So that is why I had to take the time to do the testing.

 

And test we do. You’ll notice that the Trioceros ellioti care summary for the Chameleon Academy originally came out recommending Miner-al. And that is because the foremost ellioti breeder, Michael Nash, used that supplement. I did not change the supplementation schedule on the care summary until Michael had used the Arcadia supplementation routine to grow up a female, nourish her through a pregnancy, and then review the health of the babies. Not until he reported back that the babies were very healthy did I change the care guide. Now, to be completely transparent, we can’t do that level of testing with every species. Sometimes we have to guess. Like I made up a care summary for Trioceros johnstoni. It has been decades since I kept this species and they are, as far as I know, gone from the captive community. So I have had to use what we use for the Jackson’s Chameleon. And that is a reasonable conclusion. But I can guarantee you that when they come in I will be testing and collaborating with others and the care summaries will get better each year as more experience is had. In fact, don’t get discouraged if a care summary changes. Be encouraged that you have a community’s worth of experience constantly shaping what is being presented at the Chameleon Academy.

 

I have been recommending the Arcadia EarthPro-A for many years now, but Arcadia did not have a product that provided pre-formed vitamin A. Despite trying to remove preformed vitamin A from the supplementation routine I was just never able to feel completely confident in doing that for my recommendations for the general public. Even though I had been able to raise healthy chameleons without preformed vitamin A in the supplement, the success me and other breeders had with this wasn’t totally reproduceable in the general populace and I can’t explain why. Why can I and other breeders raise generations without supplementing preformed vitamin A and random keepers get vitamin A deficiency? The answer, of course, is that there is something going on we are not aware of. And, honestly, it could be something other than vitamin A deficiency and the increased boost of vitamin A is just medicinal towards helping what ever is really going on. So this is a very complicated subject. And so, at this point, I want to keep some level of preformed vitamin A in the diet. I was excited to try the new RevitaliseD3 from Arcadia for two reasons. 1) The absolute amounts of D3 and A within RevitaliseD3 are about a quarter of what is in LoD. So that allows me to get closer to what we are presently presuming is the preformed vitamin A ingestion in the wild – which would be minimal, but not non-existent. And 2) I like the Arcadia EarthPro-A as the daily supplementation and there is a great advantage to be able to get both supplements from the same place.

And those are material enough reasons to change my recommendation.

Just to be clear. I am reluctant to change any husbandry recommendations. There has to be a compelling benefit to my listeners and readers to do something like that.

 

Now, I just want to clarify the whole idea of giving vitamin D3 in the diet. You have heard me say over and over that diet is not a significant source of D3 in the wild and that D3 in the diet bypasses the body’s natural checks and balances so should be discouraged. And, yet, here I am continuing to recommend it. So here is the scoop. I have said occasional D3 can top off the internal stores, but now I am not really thinking this is a significant benefit. Although D3 is a fat soluble vitamin and so will stick around for a little while, the body has been designed to get topped off with D3 on a daily basis. It wasn’t designed to get a spike of D3 and then ration it over two weeks. So I am no longer saying that. But I have normalized dietary D3 in the diet to accompany preformed vitamin A. And here is a concept that I have been working with this year. Vitamin A and vitamin D3 seem to have an interaction. Unfortunately, the exact relationship is murky, but it seems like they really need to be together. There was a time when I tried to give vitamin A without D3, but that just isn’t holding up with further thought. So I have made it a point to include vitamin D3 whenever I provide preformed vitamin A. So, in my recommendations, the multivitamin is there for the vitamin A, not the D3. And the D3 is there to balance the A, not to actually make up for insufficient UVB.

 

RevitaliseD3 has been tested across a wide range of commonly kept, and rarely kept, chameleon species and has performed well. Thus I will be updating all the species care summaries and Chameleon Academy tutorials.

 

So does the old information just become obsolete? Of course not! Me switching the recommendation does not mean that Repashy Calcium Plus LoD or the older T5 fixtures don’t work. They all work fine! And if LoD is working well for you then there is no reason for you to change! Remember that I always need to push forward in both our husbandry understanding and in simplicity. Although my main goal is the best husbandry, I also have the pressures of explaining it in a way that the widest number of people will understand. So there are a number of forces on me that you don’t have to worry about. So, do not worry if you decide to not follow me on every parameter that has been updated. If what you are doing works then all is good! Just do your best to understand why I am doing the changes I am. Honestly, understanding why is more important than following exactly my path. The greatest gift you can give yourself is the confidence to look at the way five different people are doing something, understand why it works for them, and understand what works best for you. In fact, don’t change what you are doing just because I am changing. Listen to my reasoning and determine whether that reason is compelling in your particular situation. There are many ways to achieve the same result. We don’t all have to be wearing the same uniform.

 

Chameleon Academy end of year updates

So, I will be doing some significant changes in the Chameleon Academy recommendation and care summaries. One change that I want to bring special attention to is the lowering of Veiled Chameleon basking temperature to between 80 and 85 F and drastically reducing the feeding of your female veiled chameleons.

I did an episode about this during the self-isolation daily podcasts. We have an epidemic in our community of female veiled chameleons getting obese and/or having obnoxiously larger clutches of eggs. This all comes from the amount of food and the temperature that energizes the body. The body does need food and heat so we have to be careful how we play with those parameters, but basking temperatures down to the low to mid 80s with just a couple of food items every other day greatly reduces the production of infertile eggs that becomes life threatening. Well, by following these new husbandry guidelines, my female now lays zero infertile clutches. It is possible to have a healthy female veiled chameleon that does not lay infertile clutches.

This is something the advanced community is working to hammer out. So you’ll still run into push back of this from the people trailing the advancement. But this is a serious change. We have veterinarians recommending proactive spaying of female veiled chameleons and a laying bin is standard advice to female veileds just because they exist. I just have to say this is a very bad situation. The fact that the community accepts obese chameleons and female veiled chameleons so full of eggs their life is threatened is a huge red flag that something is wrong. Keep your eye out as we hammer out the specifics. And yes, this is proven. With reduced temperatures and food I have a female veiled chameleon that lays only fertile clutches of between 30 and 40 eggs. That is still too high of a clutch count, but it is down from 68 which I had before I change temperature and feeding. So I actually still have work to do on this myself. Like I said, we are still working on it. But this is one of the things that will save chameleon lives so it is worth getting it out there.

 

Critical thinking

Okay, the moment you are all waiting for. My annual talk about critical thinking. I could make an entire episode ranting and raving at the current state of information acceptance. The base problem is that the community looks for information without filter. The general community has gotten away from fact checking or even requiring that there be an experiment behind it. And I know this because I am on social media and am being constantly peppered with people speaking as if they are experts when I know they just heard this on a Facebook echo chamber started by one person who didn’t test out what they are now spreading. You as the community should ask the tough questions. Where did you get this idea? What did you do to prove it? What about all the data that contradicts what you are saying? Why do people more experienced than you say differently. This is where you get the ubiquitous, I am not stuck in the old ways. And let me tell you, if you accept that you are in for whirlwind of confusion because that is what every inexperienced cracker jack box expert says. When you ask these questions require substance in the answer and not just big words strewn together. Require that the person has actually done a test with real chameleons. Require that it is reproduceable and that the results have actually been reproduced. Remember the quality of your time in the community is 100% dependent on who you accept information from. And be aware that it takes nothing to come up with an idea that you think you are genius to come up with and to broadcast it with all confidence. And this is what happens all the time. This is how youtube researchers feel confident enough to argue with actual PhDs in the subject. It takes a long time and discipline to test something out. If your expert uses anecdotal evidence and case studies that were all over Facebook posts to dispute someone who has tested it out on actual chameleons then you are wasting your time pumping someone’s ego up in exchange for bad information. Only you can stop feeding the pseudo experts. Just ask pointed questions and watch the floundering and the referencing to unreviewable case studies that “everyone knows about”. It is actually kind of fun.

 

I won’t delve too deeply into this. Just keep your eye out. Look for the people that have actually done testing in the physical world. You’ll be amazed at how much less information you have to sort through. Just the simple test of how many experts hadn’t gone through a complete lifecycle and breeding before they started acting like an expert? Start with that and you’ll be amazed at how many names get filtered out. It is meaningless to name names because the names always change. They go away and are quickly replaced. We have to be better at parsing through the data. It is just like eating healthy. Junk food is everywhere and if you aren’t disciplined that is all you will eat. And sugar can be wrapped up in a protein bar wrapper. No one is keeping people from deceiving you. Only you can do that. So, for what it is worth, it is a skill that will only become more necessary as the social media echo chambers become more and more established.

Closing

2020 had some podcast milestones. Because of a time in April where I had a month and a half of doing podcast episodes on a daily basis we have over 70 episodes in season five. This podcast also passed over a half a million downloads. Not bad for a super niche podcast! But it is now time to take a break and spend time with family. You know how when you were growing up your parents always said sappy, ridiculous things like “all I want for Christmas is for us all to be together”. 2020 has been a year where that has hit home. And, this year, that is what means the most to me. Even if it is digitally.

 

In 2021 we will continue the journey. We Chameleon Husbandry Artisans can do nothing less. This is our passion. This is what we do. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for hanging out with me here. I love seeing forest edge, floating garden style cages becoming the norm. I love it when people say they learned it from the podcast or chameleonacademy.com. And I really appreciate you letting me know how much you have learned from this outreach. Please keep letting me know. But what is the most meaningful is when people who don’t listen to the podcast start putting together effective and beautiful chameleon cages in this style. That means enough of you listeners are doing it and sharing it, that it is rubbing off on the non-listeners. And that is the greatest satisfaction I can have.

 

And so I close off this season in a chameleon keeper style. Listening to Christmas ambiance music in the back ground while I catch sight of my baby veiled chameleon across the room snagging a black soldier fly. The dogs are curled up at the foot of the bed and my wife, Yvette, the phantasticus gecko girl, is bringing in the new babies she is so excited to have found hatched. For all the chaos and craziness, stress and worries, there are these little pockets of peace and joy. And we chameleon keepers have a prehistoric, mythical theme to our little pockets of peace and joy. It is a unique twist to life and I love being part of that. In these final weeks of 2020 I ask that you take care of yourself, take care of the people around you, and embrace the honor of being a caretaker of a very special mini tree dragon. I’ll see you in 2021.

 


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veiled chameleon in UVB

Ep 171: Transitioning from the Chameleon Kit

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The ZooMed Chameleon Kit is one of the most common starting points for chameleon keepers. But one soon learns that it must be upgraded. Unfortunately, this isn’t always expected by the new keeper. And it must often be done with an urgency that requires guidance. In today’s episode I review the transition from the Chameleon Kit to the final cage set-up.

Informational Links

Creating an educational structure for the Chameleon Kit has been a huge job. You can link here to the resource here!

Setting up and Transitioning from the ZooMed Chameleon Kit.

Transcript (more or less)

The Chameleon Kit from Zoo Med holds an infamous place in the chameleon community. It is the most commonly used cage for people just coming into the community due to the ease of carrying it at the retail level and the promised ease of having it all in one box. Although that promise is alluring, especially at the price it is offered, the dark side is that it truly is not an adequate cage set-up for most cases. Unfortunately, the consequences of using this cage kit inappropriately is serious sickness and death for the chameleon. Thus, we in the community devote an enormous amount of energy towards transitioning new keepers to their next cage set-up. This particular situation requires much more patience and finesse because the new keepers have been told that this is all they need. So they do not know the dangers in this cage kit and since they did all their research with the uniformed experts at the pet store they are leery of suddenly trusting random strangers on social media that come at them like rabid banshees telling them to spend more money.

 

This episode is about the transition from kit to forever home. This transition has three main parts

  • Assess Chameleon Health
  • Determine priority
  • Execute as funds allow.

 

If you are a new keeper then you are in the right place to determine a sane and planned way forward. You probably got peppered with random advice snippets that you are not sure how to stitch together other than starting over. This podcast episode is primarily for you.

 

The secondary purpose of this episode is for experienced members of the community who wish to be part of helping new keepers go through the transition. This will give you a structure that will allow you to do it in an organized and effective manner.

I need to lay the ground work before we go forward. So here is a summary of the situation.

The Chameleon Kit is a bundled product from ZooMed. A bunch of parts were thrown together to provide something that pet stores could sell chameleons. You can tell it was an afterthought as the kit pieces do not go together. You have suction cups for a screen cage and plastic vines that have no place to be hung.  You see these at the major pet store chains, reptile supply stores, and at reptile shows. It is the perfectly bundled and marketed product if you care more about getting a person out the door of your store rather than the long term health of the chameleon.

Now, to be fair, many of the items are useful, and with a couple additions, can provide an effective chameleon cage which can raise a healthy baby. Unfortunately, the kit maxes out at about 2.5” in chameleon snout-to-vent length. So this kit is effective for the couple months after you bring your chameleon home. Beyond that you have grown out of the gradients available. That wouldn’t be so bad if both the marketing on the box and the pet store advice were clear that this was a temporary solution. ZooMed actually says that when pressed. The problem is that people come away with the impression that this is all they need. Best of intentions aside, Whatever is going on between the customer asking for what they need and leaving the store or booth is that they are unaware that they will need to upgrade. And the number of them that come to us on social media with a chameleon that is already too big for the cage indicates that the good intentioned advisors are not starting off with the correct information to begin with. That is a separate problem that can fill much discussion time. For this episode let’s concentrate on the situation at hand which is a keeper who loves their chameleon and spent a healthy amount of money to get the set-up they have is now facing the realization that they will have to upgrade almost everything. Some are in a financial position to do so and only have to be proven that this new round of advisors know what they are talking about and some new keepers understand it, but do not have the budget to just replace everything right away. So, I am going to lead us through a systematic step by step transition where I explain why it needs to be changed and what the options are. I will pick the most basic and available equipment to provide the best transition target balance between cost and availability. There are any number of options out there and if you would like to explore them then more power to you! But I will present the emergency option for the worse case situation of the person whose chameleon needs to transition everything right now and the finances do not allow a single click ordering on day one.

The first thing to do when analyzing the situation is to evaluate the chameleon’s health. Does this chameleon need to go to the vet? It would be sad to fix the equipment and find out that the chameleon had a medical condition that needed treating.

There are three medical conditions most encountered in the Chameleon Kit situation.

  • Metabolic Bone Disorder/Disease, often called MDB
  • Respiratory Infection or RI
  • Chronic Stress

Each has a varying level of urgency and seriousness. If you are a new keeper then find someone you trust and get an experienced eye on the situation. You can find briefs on these conditions on the Chameleonacademy.com/medical page to do some initial self-research. You’ll find pictures there to help you out. But nothing beats bringing on an experienced eye to your team.

Metabolic Bone Disorder, or MBD, is our layman’s term for nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (NSHP). This is where the chameleon does not get enough calcium in its body and its bones are rubbery, weak, and break easily. Imagine your skeleton not being hard. It wouldn’t be able to support your weight and the muscles would not have a solid anchor from which to work. This is a slow and painful death for your chameleon and sneaks up on the new keeper who doesn’t have a good reference as to what a chameleon should look like and happens over time so there aren’t always obvious warning flags. Calcium needs to be in the diet. And vitamin D3 needs to be in the body to allow that calcium to be absorbed. Add to that the necessity for Magnesium to be present, Phosphorus to be present, but in the right balance, and there to be the right amount of heat and water for the overall systems to run effectively.  This is a specific danger with the Chameleon kit because vitamin D3 is synthesized in the chameleon’s skin by exposure to UVB light. The only area that the included reptisun 5.0 T5 13W Compact Fluorescent Lamp provides adequate UVB is, literally, for a couple inches starting 2 inches below the light and then it quickly fades uselessly into the dark cage. So the new keeper knows they need UVB and they have checked that box with the UVB light included, but there was nothing to tell them to affix the basking branch – or vine – in the correct position. So the UVB is there, but useless. And here is the tricky part. There is a way for the Chameleon kit to provide a proper environment for a chameleon if it is set up a certain way. I released a podcast last season explaining how to do this and I have tested it myself. I am currently on my third chameleon being raised in the Chameleon Kit using this UVB so I know it works. But it only works for a chameleon under 2.5” in body length. Beyond that and you are pushing the limits on a number of different parameters. And this is a valuable part of the transition – how long do you have and how can you extend that time to give yourself whatever time you need to find the equipment and funds. All of this information is in the show notes of course so when you have time take a look at the chameleonacademy.com website

MBD happens over time so we most often see this condition with keepers that have had their chameleon in the kit for a long time and they come to social media because they finally determine that something is off with their little guy. It may be falling out of branches or not being able to use his tongue. Unfortunately, by this time the condition is advanced. Although we can stop MBD from getting worse, we cannot reverse the damage already done. We can help you set up a hospital bin and get calcium into your chameleon’s system, but the best approach is to get under the personal care of an experienced reptile veterinarian who can guide the process.

So our first step is to do an MBD check on the chameleon. The first symptoms of MBD are joints looking like Us instead of Vs. Or legs bending in the middle where there should be solid bone. The chameleon has trouble holding itself up off the branch when it crawls and may not be able to aim its tongue properly. In advanced cases, the limbs have multiple breaks that happen over sloppily healed previous breaks. Sometimes the jaw is not strong enough to close and the tongue pushes out. If you are seeing the beginning of these symptoms then you need to act fast on the transition. If advanced, you need to work on a hospital bin. If you have a baby chameleon and are posting on social media after having him for a week the chances are low that you have an MBD problem just yet. It is after a month of two that you could start seeing symptoms. I say could because the Reptivite supplementation sample that is included in the kit does have dietary D3 and that will help bridge the gap. We don’t like to rely on supplementation because giving D3 dietarily can lead to overdose, but in the case of the Chameleon Kit that danger is greatly reduced. Reptivite does not have excessive levels of D3 so there is wiggle room in its use. There is your one silver lining here! If you are helping the transition for someone else do the MBD test to ensure that is not on your plate of challenges. Ask for pictures of the elbows to look for unnatural bends, ask for a video of the chameleon walking across the cage, and get a close up of the jaw. If no MBD then breathe a sigh of relief and let’s go on to respiratory infections.

A respiratory infection happens when the body’s immune system is compromised and weakened to the point where the bacteria that is always around looking for an entry point, is able to breach the defenses and start a colony. The signs that you are dealing with a respiratory infection are lethargy, eyes closed during the day, napping, the nose pointed into the air, and sitting with their mouth open. The insidious thing with these infections is that your chameleon will do everything possible to hide their illness so you only see it when it has gotten so bad that they can’t hide it any more. Their eyes are their most powerful defense against being eaten and they keep watch every day of their lives for predators. So when they are napping during the day they are feeling so bad inside that they are willing to get eaten rather than open their eyes. This is why we moderators freak out when someone posts a picture of their chameleon with their eyes closed. And it is all we can do not to sound like a lunatic when we gently post an inquiry as to what is going on. This is an immediate trip to the veterinarian to get antibiotics. That is the only thing that will save your chameleon’s life. I know, you hear about the wonders of Manuka honey and other home remedies. And the miraculous recoveries attributed to them. I’ll not weigh in other than to say you don’t have time to experiment. Get to the vet ASAP and get antibiotics. Is this an emergency? Yes. The sooner you catch it the more of a chance you can beat it. But it is not easy and especially not easy if the chameleon is a baby or wild caught or in a stressful situation at home. Bottom line, if the chameleon ever closes its eyes during the day treat it like an emergency. I know you think it is an overreaction. You can quote me as saying it is not an over-reaction. As soon as you see signs of respiratory infection you have to trust that you saw it. Because your little guy will act all healthy hyped up on adrenaline at the vet’s office and you’ll be sent home with nothing to worry about. If you see eyes closed or an experienced member sees signs of a respiratory infection you’ll have to insist or else you’ll be starting much further along in the infection by time your little guy cannot muster the healthy act when taken to the vet. And what causes Respiratory infections and why would we specifically be looking out for these with the Chameleon Kit? Welcome to our third health check – chronic stress.

There are two types of stresses. Stress spikes and Chronic stress. Stress spikes are being taken out of the cage and given a visual examination, shown for a couple of minutes to the neighborhood kids, and a hawk flying over head. Stress spikes are harmless because they come and go. Chronic stress is the killer. This is when they are held and played with for a long period of time This is when they are housed with another chameleon. This is when the cage does not offer enough foliage for them to feel secure. And all of these things add up to the point where the immune system is weakened. Now you are seeing the connection to the above respiratory infections. If you have a respiratory infection the antibiotics are only a temporary fix until you remove the cause of stress. If you do not have a respiratory infection then this step is preventative. The signs of a discontent chameleon are many and it really helps to have an experienced person to help out. Some common signs are constant crawling on the screen like they just can’t feel safe. Or constant cowering in a corner as if they are scared of something which can be as frightening as the family cat or as hideous as a certain color plastic bag. It could be the ceiling fan. This is detective time. Keeping more than one chameleon in the same cage is a huge long term killer of chameleons. If someone says you can keep chameleons together seriously reconsider purchasing from them. This will kill your chameleons. I know, there are some advanced keepers that bend these rules. You will kill a lot of chameleons before you get to that level. Get there first and then you can play footloose and fancy free with the husbandry rules. Even if you do not see signs of stress, but there are common stressors that are pointed out, like ceiling fans, cohabitation, the sun through the window, and AC vent above the cage, a cat or bird nearby…take care of them proactively. And yes, seeing the world through your chameleon’s eyes is a whole new world and a whole new language to learn. It does not come easy.

Giving your chameleon a sense of security in a screen cage which is too small will be a challenge. If your chameleon is feeling threatened his sense of safety will be when he can hide in foliage. This means that there needs to be enough plants inside for him to feel like he is hidden. And with a screen cage where he can be seen from all angles this becomes a tall order. But there are things that you can do. I absolutely love this idea I got from Uli nunn. When she has the people she is working with remove all their fake plants from inside the cage to be replaced by living plants she has them hang all the fake plants along the outside of the cage to provide a visual barrier. If you block the sight path of the chameleon you block the attack path of the predator as far as your chameleon is concerned. I have accomplished this by attaching pieces of PVC or coroplast to the side of the cage. Anything that blocks their view will calm them down. You can also try raising their cage up above your head level. Chameleons are very visual animals. Block the number of sides that they have to keep watch at and they calm down. Put them above all the action and they will calm down. So these are some tricks of the trade. Though, just a note, if you block the line of sight through the side of the cage, don’t place the cage where you will be suddenly appearing at the front of the cage as you walk by and freaking the poor guy out because of you surprising him.

Of course, there could be any number of medical issues other than these, but, for your initial checklist, these will cover the majority of what we see coming in. You can get right on to the equipment transition, but that must be in parallel with treating the medical condition or there will be no chameleon left to enjoy your final cage.

When we get to the transition of equipment, the two biggest items that need to be changed are the cage and lighting system. It is fashionable to switch out the UVB light as the top priority, but the T5 systems available will overpower the small Chameleon Kit cage. For example, the Arcadia 12% T5 in a ProT5 fixture can put out higher UVB at the screen top than has ever been recorded on Earth in nature. You can test this yourself. A UVI of 43 is the highest measured on Earth on a volcano in Bolivia. A ProT5 12% can clock out UVI 50 at the screen top. Allowing your baby chameleon to crawling on the screen top and expose their belly to this radiation is scary. But this is what is done day in and day out because of a general lack of understanding of UVB strength.

Ideally, you would upgrade both cage and lighting fixture at the same time. There are many combinations of cages and lighting systems that work. The one that does a very nice balance between economics, availability, and functionality is the combination of a Reptibreeze XL which is a 24” x 24” x 48” screen cage, a vivosun quad T5 fixture, and an Arcadia 6% UVB bulb. Of course, I have links to all of these in the show notes.

Here is the point where some insight into how the product works will help you determine the urgency of the transition. You are able to make the kit work for chameleons under 2.5” in snout to vent length. If the chameleon is that small then it is a relatively simple matter to set up the cage as described in the show notes. It doesn’t mean that you call it a day. Even if this is the case, it won’t be long before the chameleon grows to 2.5”. It just means that you do not have to panic buy. It is always good to know the urgency of each piece of the transition so that you can make rational decisions when faced with things such as financial constraints or equipment shortages. Can you wait two weeks for the item to come back into inventory, or is it urgent enough that you go to plan B? There is power in understanding the urgency. You are able to set a realistic priority list.

If you can upgrade only one at a time then I would upgrade the lighting system first. You can make a powerful lighting system work with the small cage by suspending it above the cage a few inches. In the case of a 6% bulb I suggested above, yes, it is quite high measured at the top of the screen, but you quickly get into the reasonable range. So if you are putting the bulb directly on the cage top this is the bulb to go with. If you are electing to go with a 12% bulb then definitely check into the strength with your Solarmeter. I keep my 12% bulbs four to six inches above my cage tops. They are my favorite bulb because of how big the UVI 3-6 range is, but they are just over powering if you put them directly on the top of the cage.

In any of these case makes sure the cage has a thick foliage layer to provide an escape from the UVB. And here is where you have to be smart about adding a powerful UVB bulb to the Chameleon Kit. There is limited space and limited options. Make sure that the cage has a dense foliage layer that allows the chameleon to get out of the UVB. And I am meaning dense enough to block that light. T5 bulbs are very powerful. They are meant to punch down to reach a bearded dragon at the bottom of a cage. Not for a chameleon inches below. So we have to be smart about how we use this tool. The plastic plant sprig included in the kit is not sufficient for blocking this light! You need a dense plant coverage for protection. The smaller the cage the more difficult it is to get the right plants in there so you’ll have to be creative.  Take a look at the pictures in the show notes to get an idea of what it takes.

In summary, if you are upgrading the UVB, but not the cage, make sure the chameleon has an easy way to get out of the UVB light. Once you get the larger cage this becomes an easier task.

Now, considering I am producing this episode smack dab in the middle of the Covid pandemic, we have had unpredictable supply issues. So what if you can get the cage, but not the UVB bulb? This is where we have to take stock of everything that we have at our disposal to make this work. In this case, it is simple to set the kit UVB compact fluorescent to work by making sure your chameleon’s back is 2 inches below the bulb. But what if the casque of your male veiled chameleon is now rubbing the top panel screen? If your chameleon is over 2.5” in snout to vent length it is difficult to find a working balance. In this case it is time to fall back on that Reptivite with D3. Using this every feeding can make up for what he isn’t getting through UVB. Reptivite has 10k IUs/lb of D3 which is half of what you get with Repashy Calcium Plus and just a bit more than what you give with Repashy Calcium Plus LoD. So it is well within the reasonable range and the danger of overdose with D3 is low. Unfortunately, this may cause issue with Jackson’s Chameleons and other supplementation sensitive species and they may develop edema. We are still getting to the bottom of how that works. But hopefully the dependance on dietary D3 is a temporary condition until you get the final UVB bulb and fixture. And I use Reptivite with D3 as my example because that is the sample that is included in the kit and might be what they bought to replace the small amount included. If you have taken the role of transition guide then you can use the supplementation schedule you are familiar with as long as it is inline with the group you are part of. I actually don’t like Reptivite that much because it includes extra phosphorus. That doesn’t work so well when we are using it on crickets that are already so high with phosphorus. As important as it is for us to keep calcium and phosphorus in balance, adding phosphorus is going in the wrong direction. So I would actually encourage moving on from there. Plain calcium every feeding and Repashy Calcium Plus LoD as the multivitamin is a good regimen. If you need to do a vitamin D3 bridge due to insufficient UVB then Repashy Calcium Plus is a good one to bring in. A number of panther breeders use Calcium plus every feeding so our confidence in its safety is high.

My personal preference is the Arcadia brand products EarthPro-A and RevitaliseD3, but they are designed for systems which have a strong UVB system so if you transition to them use the Repashy Calcium Plus as your D3 bridge if you are concerned about the amount of UVB that the chameleon is able to get.

Now, I want to bring up a consideration that is just a hypothesis and we are still working on figuring out. There are some experiences and reports that suggest that switching between supplementation regimens may cause some edema. Keepers are quick to place blame on one or the other supplements, but when other keepers have used them long term it just doesn’t hold water. A gradual transition over a month or so is a good idea. But you do what is necessary depending on the situation. If you haven’t noticed, this podcast isn’t really good at laying down black and white directions. I offer understanding and hope to create a generation of thinking keepers and advisors!

So let’s summarize our steps.

  • Evaluate the chameleon’s medical condition and act accordingly
  • Stabilize the situation and make sure the kit set-up they have is as good as it can be to get through the transition.
  • Determine the priority of the transition depending on the size of the chameleon, the funds available, and the equipment availability.

So there is a little structure here. Some checkboxes. But the fact is that you can only be slightly effective if you don’t understand the pieces. If you have a knee jerk reaction that everytime you are faced with the Chameleon Kit you tell them to get T5 UVB lighting and then you do a self-congratulatory victory lap the chameleon may be dying from a respiratory infection or may now have the added stress of being blasted by UVB because there isn’t any cover in the cage. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And social media has made it very easy for people to pick up snippets of information and then broadcast those snippets outside of context. I would like very much to create a generation of advisors that have context. Each situation will have common elements, but will also be different. Please treat them as such.

The onslaught of the Chameleon kit does not appear to be slowing down. In fact, it will start to get worse. I am seeing other companies putting together kits which may not be much better. So buckle up Chameleon wranglers, we have an adventure ahead of us. It is easy to say things like CFLs give off no UVB or that the Chameleon Kit is a death kit. That is fine. These over generalizations get the point across. But if you are dedicated to chameleon husbandry enough that you are willing to sit through podcast episodes then you are the type of chameleon husbandry artisan that we need to bring insight and perspective to the community. You are the type of person we need to jump in when someone shows up with the Chameleon Kit or one of the many knock offs coming our way and approach this new keeper with empathy and kindness. This is more than just an opportunity for you to show off how much you know. This is an opportunity for you to help someone take their first steps into the next chapter of their chameleon keeping experience. And it isn’t an easy transition because it is a splash of cold water in the face that there even is a transition necessary. And this is why it is so hard. It is more than just memorizing the talking points. It is treating each person that comes to us as a new story. We do Chameleon kit transitions multiple times a week.  That is why I am putting so much effort into these resources. But the new keeper has no idea about this and is coming in fresh. They did their research as far as they know and have arrived. It is like finally getting up to the top of the hill and they are about to see that here is another mountain peak behind it that is even steeper to climb. The community needs advisors and mentors that are willing to step in, unjaded, and gently guide the new keeper through the transition.

So, this is my part. I am producing resources and information. Keep an eye on the chameleonacademy.com website as there are a number of resources I am working on. Releasing this podcast is actually just one of the items on my checklist and is just part of a much bigger picture. So there is much more to come to prepare us for being more effective in helping new keepers with this very important transition. This is a long term condition. Of course, everything we learn going through this process will be applicable across the board. If you are adept at personalizing the Chameleon kit transition to each individual case that comes to you then you will have developed a rare skill. Instead of having a mob milling about looking for new keepers to “process”, I’d like to see a cadre of chameleon husbandry artisans constantly on the look out for new chameleon kit keepers so they can practice their skill at pulling out the nuances of the situation and personalizing the experience.

I just completed giving a five week Chameleon Kit Zoom class for influencers across the groups and the various social media platforms. I learned a lot from going through that process and am working on refining the materials. When I have bolstered up the materials, I will do another class round and open it up to people who resonate with my vision of what we can be as a community. So, keep watching the Chameleon Academy social media for announcements.

In other news, we are quickly coming to the end of season five of the Chameleon Academy Podcast. We have about two more episodes after this. I traditionally take a couple months off between seasons. This gives me time to refresh. Although it always takes the form of working on different projects so there really isn’t down time involved! I am not sure what I would do with downtime anyway. I don’t work well with downtime. I am excited to spend this time growing the chameleonacademy.com resources, refining the Chameleon kit Transition Guide course work, and developing some other ideas so we can hit the ground running in 2021.

 


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Furcifer verrucosus

Ep 170: Researching Chameleon Species

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When you step into the chameleon world you find yourself in an immense undiscovered country. You never realized how many species of chameleons there are! So how do you go about learning the species just listed for sale? Today, I take you along with me as I gather information on a rarely available Captive Hatched chameleon species.

Transcript (more or less)

Sometime last year I got the news that, a friend of mine, Shane Boyd had eggs laid by his pair of Furcifer verrucosus. This was exciting because F. verrucosus is almost extinct in the US captive community. There are a few left here and there, but the likelihood that they are reproducing is very low. Though I would love to be proven wrong so please let me know if there are some hiding out there. Furcifer verrucosus is a large dragon-like chameleon. It is one of the Madagascar chameleons that come from the harsh, arid south and west. Although they tend to be available as wild caught when Madagascar is exporting, they are just like every other chameleon. As captive hatched they are like a completely different beast and I let Shane know way back then to please let me know when those eggs hatch because I wanted to be first in line. Furcifer verrucosus is one of the largest of the chameleons and so raising one from a baby would be a special experience.

I have the benefit of many years of experience behind me and, in a yesteryear, imported Madagascar species, including F. verrucosus so I knew how special this was and I already know what I am in for a year from now. But even I run into species that I may have heard of, but would not know how to care for beyond a basic general idea. So I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to pretend that I am new to F. verrucosus, do some research, and take you along. This is how I do my research on species and these resources are available to you as well. We’ll do it on Verrucosus today, but the techniques can be applied to any species.

So, let’s start at the beginning. I run across a classified on Chameleon Forums by Shane Boyd from RGB Reptiles saying he has captive hatched Furcifer verrucosus. Hmmm, I have not heard of that one before. The pictures posted of the parents pique my interest. They are kind of rugged looking with a cool back crest. And there are some people asking if it is a cross between a Veiled and a panther. So, there are more people out there that haven’t heard of this species. Well, the fact that it is off the beaten path makes it a little more interesting in my book. And so, I decide to pull out the light of truth called Google from whence all knowledge resides. Let’s type in Furcifer verrucosus.  And the first thing I am going to do is going to look at the images. And…wow, this guy is kind of cool. Subtle greens but maybe some blues coming out in the chin area. Love the spiney back and the massive head. Looks like it is called the Warty or Spiny Chameleon. I can see spiny chameleon, but I can only guess the warty name came from the big scales on its cheeks. But no matter. I like the look of this guy. So I decide I am going to go to the next step. Clicking over in google to the text listing I see what is coming up. Now, you can always go straight to care sheets. But with these rare chameleons you need to be careful with what information you accept. I like to learn a little bit about their natural history before I look for care sheets and especially before I ask on social media. Knowing their natural history gives me a baseline familiarity that helps me pick out the people who know what they are talking about and get an idea of who might be trying to be helpful, but with a subject a bit out of their league. Of course, the most direct way, if you are getting a baby, to get information is to talk with the breeder. But if the chameleon is wild caught you don’t have that option. And, take it from a guy who did this all the time, the more you know going into the call with the breeder the more you will know what questions to ask that you may not have thought to ask before. So, even if you have a benefit of a breeder to talk with, this preliminary research stage is invaluable. So, let’s do a little research and see what we come up with.

Here are the digital places I go to get what I know to be good information:

First, check Chameleon Academy to see if there are any podcast episodes on this species. I interview people who have bred their chameleons and have a background to be giving advice. The big advantage is that I have vetted them for you so you know you are getting good information. But, searching through the Chameleon Academy Podcast archives, I do not have an episode on Furcifer verrucosus. Beyond the podcasts you have the following sites which have solid information.

 

Adcham.com – Adcham stands for Advanced Chameleon and was a group started on the listserves of the late 90s. This group was intended to bring together the experienced community to have higher level discussions. Many members of this group got together to create a website of the same name which would be a repository of as much information as we could stuff in there. What we ended up with was a massive amount of information. Although it is a couple decades old, most of the information is still good today. The reason why I bring up a website that has some years on it is that it has a pretty healthy collection of profiles of rare species so it is still a valuable resource. So it is a good place to search and I did find a very good species profile that was detailed and got me on the right track. Here I learn that there are two subspecies and that the gravid female has some spectacular colors. More importantly I learn about ambient temperatures in the 80s with a 15 degree drop during the humid night. Now, I always will cross check the temperatures and compare sources unless I am familiar enough with the sources to know I can trust it. So, a good haul of information. But, really, if you think about it, my purpose in doing this research is natural history. Since these are captive hatched one of my stops in my research period will be to communicate with the breeder and that will probably be my most reliable source of up to date husbandry information. So at this point I am digging around to make sure I ask the breeder intelligent questions.

Chameleonnews.com is another information ladened site. This was actually a regularly published digital magazine. It too has a number of rare species profiles. Though this source did not have verrucosus, it is well worth being on your list to review what is out there.

Now, there is a huge advantage to this being a Madagascar species. Because of this we can find some recent information on the MadCham website. https://www.madcham.de/en/furcifer-verrucosus/. This is a website run by people who take chameleon tour groups to Madagascar every year. And so they know what to look for. You’ll find daily temperature fluctuations, UV Index readings throughout the day and some incredible videos of the natural habitat. And from these I can tell that F. verrucosus does not come from the lush jungles we assume chameleons come from. This is an arid area.  This raises the question I did not think to ask the breeder before- what should the daily humidity cycle be?

The next site is chameleondatabase.com which is committed to posting wild chameleons from their natural habitat. From here I can get an idea of how they look in the wild as the photo galleries are arranged by location the photo was taken. By getting a feel for the color variations and the difference between male and female I am more confident talking with the breeder. More importantly, I do not have to waste the breeder’s time with the simple basics that can be found on line.

And this is a very important point. You get a limited time with the breeder. Make it count. With internet information overload it is easy to throw your hands up and just go to the breeder for a data dump. The breeder is obligated to do this as you are a customer. But if you have 30 minutes with the breeder you can get an overview summary of chameleon husbandry basics. Or you could get a detailed summary  of Furcifer verrucosus husbandry basics. Or you could have a detailed deep dive into the personality and husbandry differences between male and female and Wild Caught/captive hatched with a discussion about which supplementation routines were tried and the results of different vitamin A and D3 levels. The more prepared you are when you call the breeder the more information you will get that is not sitting on a website. So I encourage you to not waste your time with an experienced breeder making them go over what you can easily find with a little work. What you gain in convenience by making them give you the basics you lose in opportunity to get deeper knowledge. I mean, ask what you need to. Just make the best use of your opportunities as you can.

 

As far as research, social media is a dicey game. It works great if you put in the effort to identify the people who would have reliable information on the topic you are wondering about. And this goes for any topic, actually. People on social media love to answer questions whether they know the answer or not. Much of social media is you having people to speculate alongside you as to what the answer could be. It is great fun, but if you want real answers, ask certain people who you have identified through their posts are credible. And, once again, the chances of you getting a detailed response depends 100% on how much effort you put in ahead of time. Someone tagging me on a post asking about how to take care of a Jackson’s Chameleon will get a link in response. Someone asking my opinion on how if a male Jackson’s with a mild TGI really wants to mate a receptive female – is he contagious? Well then chances are higher that I’ll take a break from the alchemy and have a chat.

So say I have done my checking around for information and I feel like I can make good use of my time talking with the breeder, now is the time to send the email. Depicting an email over a podcast is immensely boring so we are going to do this contact the old fashion way. I am actually going to speak with him by voice. So here I am, intrepid potential keeper, calling Shane Boyd of RGB Reptiles to ask about his baby Furcifer verrucosus.

Okay, how did I do? Was I convincing as a beginning chameleon owner that didn’t have a, ah, few chameleons in my care? I do have a veiled chameleon so it is all true anyways.

So what you have there is a standard phone call with the breeder asking the basics. I asked general questions, but I integrated some sophistication from the research I had already done.

Now, I did actually get the baby verrucosus from Shane and I am excited to raise it up. One look at the different pictures on MadCham, Adcham, and even Google show that both males and female are attractive in this rugged sort of way. So either way I would have been having fun raising the baby up. They kind of look like elongated panther chameleons, but the round patterns on the flank are pretty distinctive. If you are interested in following the growth of this soon not-to-be-so-little tyke you can follow me on Instagram where he will be making a regular appearance.

If this discussion interested you in this species then now is an opportunity to get a hold of a very rarely available species for a price which is entirely reasonable. This isn’t meant to be a sales podcast so I’ll just say that if you are listening to this episode upon its release in November 2020 that you can join me in raising up a verrucosus by checking out Shane’s classified post on the Chameleon Forums or just contact him via his Instagram account RGBReptilesofficial or simply email him at RGBReptilesofficial@gmail.com. Of course, all of this is in the show notes along with pictures of my adorable baby verrucosus!

So that is how I do a basic research check of a species. If you are listening to this podcast you are much more plugged into the community than most people. It truly is overwhelming and confusing for people new to the community to figure out where the reliable sources of information are. In fact, they have yet to come to the realization that there are unreliable sources of information so they are caught unaware halfway down their research path. I am sure many of you know exactly what I am talking about because that is your story. In a way, I am lucky that I grew up with the community because I got each piece when it came out. Someone just starting out now is bombarded with everything the internet can throw at them. I remember last week reading a post by someone who says they did a lot of research and everything they said was exactly opposite of what was right. So much so that I considered whether they were a troll just trying to get a response. But, no, we have to recognize that you can do a lot of research and if you are I the bad part of town you will come away with some pretty atrocious ideas. But you are here now and now is a good time to start exploring some of the solid informational websites. Of course, add chameleonacademy.com to that list. right now there is a lot of basics and it is actually quite the job just to update what I released only a year ago! But I am working to methodically move forward as well and add on rare species profiles. So you can check back and see what has changed.

As for species research. It is valuable to listen to your breeder as the main source of latest information. You can follow that advice and go back to ask questions. If you are getting conflicting advice from the breeder and other sources don’t worry too much. There are different paths to success and different conditions lead to different paths. So, when you see apparent contradictions look deeper into who wrote it and why they may have different numbers. Did they do different research? Do they have different caging? Do they have different ambient conditions? They are many reasons that do not show up on the caresheet as to why those numbers were successful for that person. So follow your breeder’s conditions while you explore the rest of the opinions. Be critical of what you read. The loudest and most confident voice may not be the best for your situation. It doesn’t mean they are wrong within the context from which they are speaking. But they may or may not be the best for you. There definitely are some things being spread that are plain wrong and it doesn’t matter how you slice it. So, don’t think I am saying everyone can have their own way of doing things that are equally valid. But patrolling the interwebs for truth and justice isn’t your job right now. You are in data sifting mode to find the gold nuggets. And in this day and age that is enough of a project to keep you busy for a long time.

Thank you for joining me here to discuss species research. Getting a new species is a lot of fun and isn’t that hard with a little research up front. And doing that research up front can give you a sense of confidence that you can be successful with this new mini-tree dragon. Mainly, because you know what you have to do and all it takes is doing it!

 


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