Breeding

Veiled Chameleons and Bill

Bill Strand Interview on Animals At Home Podcast

I’d like to invite you to check out the Animals At Home Podcast, episode 92 where Dillon Perron interviews me about the chameleon community, Chameleon Academy, and Dragon Strand.

 

This is a very good interview where we touch on important topics regarding where we are going as a community. We talk about the Panther Chameleon Breeding Lifecycle project I have been working on where I am modelling a breeding model that is specifically designed for optimal chameleon care and breeder happiness/satisfaction. That is the way we can expand and maintain the experience and knowledge base in our community.

 

I got excited about the Animals At Home podcast when I listened to episode 86 with TC Houston where he talked about small batch breeding. This was about keeping your breeding operation purposefully on the small side. Although, if what TC was talking about was “small” then what I am talking about doing is “micro”! Of course, once you have the micro aspect down, scaling up to whatever is appropriate is no problem! But this episode resonated with me and I loved hearing the concepts I had been thinking said out loud by someone else. One of the most powerful discussion topics on this episode was the talk about reaching a critical mass with the size of community. To survive we need to grow. This applies politically, in buying power, and demand for basic infrastructure such as availability of vets with reptile experience. You know how hard it is to find reptile experienced veterinarians? This is because we are coming out of a time period where reptile experience was a side business and something taken on because of the vet’s personal passion. But the vet would have to see cats and dogs to pay the bills. When we grow as a community it becomes possible for vets to be dedicated to reptiles and that makes them better at serving us which makes us more successful and strengthens the community. So it is in our best interests to grow.

 

Next was episode 88 with Chelsea Isdaner where she talked about her breeding operation where she has her breeding group in naturalistic cages. Each breeder is treated as a pet. And this is the next step for us in the chameleon community. I think we have achieved the first step which was to make naturalistic keeping the norm for beginners. And we have achieved that beautifully. Now it is wide spread for chameleon cages to be lush with natural plants. The next step, in my mind, is to bring that into our breeding set-ups. We have done well mass producing panther chameleons in sterile, easy to clean environments. And this is necessary if you have a lot of breeders. I’d like to bring the spotlight to craft breeding where each breeder is set up in a large size cage filled with live plants and treated like a pet. My purpose in this is to raise the life quality of the chameleons and maintain the happiness level of the human. This strengthens our community.

 

So I invite you to listen to these episodes. You can get on the new wave as it builds! I’ll be doing a complete podcast episode fleshing out these thoughts soon so we can continue this conversation.

Ep 92: Bill Strand Interview

Bill strand

Bill’s podcast, YouTube channel, website, and care guides are a staple among chameleon keepers and he has been a catalyst in the movement towards natural keeping and breeding. In this episode, we discuss Bill’s history keeping chameleons, his caging company, Dragon Strand, and of course the Chameleon Academy.

Ep 86: Small Batch Breeding

We must re-think reptile breeding to promote methods that are both respectful to the reptiles we keep and that make our value clear to non-reptile-keeping folk. In this episode, TC Houston and I discuss the concept of small-batch reptile breeding and how it will save herpetoculture from self-destruction.

Ep 88: Breeding Reptiles in Complex Setups

In the episode, we discuss Chelsea's diverse group of snakes, DIY enclosures, and the process of advancing husbandry. She also talks about how she successfully breeds snakes in complex habitats and we analyze the myth that small snakes fail to thrive in large enclosures.

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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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Parsons Chameleon

Ep 169: Keeping Chameleons in Hybrid Cages

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We hear about screen cages and we hear about glass cages. But what are these hybrid cages? Today I introduce you to the benefits of keeping chameleons in hybrid cages, how to use them, and even how to make your own.

Transcript (More or Less)

Good morning, Chameleon Wranglers! Today we are talking about caging. Specifically, about that often overlooked middle ground between screen cages and glass cages. We call them hybrid cages because they combine screen panels and solid panels to bring out the advantages of both.

 

Now, to appreciate the hybrid cage we need to elevate ourselves above the screen vs glass debate and develop an understanding around what a cage actually is. Obviously, a cage is designed to be the borders of your chameleon’s world. This is what keeps him from being under foot when we walk in the door. But they also control the ventilation through the cage. A screen is, effectively, 100% ventilation while a glass or plastic or wood side is 0% ventilation. Here in lies the biggest confusion in chameleon caging. That is the need for ventilation. So let’s face it head on.

 

The common thought is that chameleons need ventilation. This is mostly true, but like everything, it is best that we understand what about ventilation chameleons need. What we are trying to avoid is stagnant air inside the cage. This is because we want the cage to dry out. Constantly wet surfaces are breeding grounds for bacteria, fungus, molds and just a general unhealthful environment. The best way to dry things out is to blow dryer air across it. Moisture evaporates and we have achieved our goal. What better way to do this than to have a fully screen cage with unfettered air movement? Outside of powered fans, that is the most ventilation you will get. But do we really need that much ventilation?

 

Ventilation affects your environmental conditions within the cage. The more ventilation the more the inside of your cage will match the room temperature and humidity. And the harder it will be for you to change those conditions. The more the required conditions of your selected species differ from the room you live in the less ventilation you want because you need to create a different environment inside the cage.

 

Temperature is often not an issue. Obviously, this depends on species and what your particular conditions are, but if you, as a human, are comfortable with the temperature there is a good chance your chameleon is comfortable too. The addition of a basking lamp gives the chameleon a warm up opportunity. And then the usual room temperature during the day and the common nighttime drop during the night is often to a chameleon’s liking. These are gross generalizations of course. Some people keep their home at 70 during the night and some people have their homes down to 50 degrees F. Consult your care sheet. But the general concept is the standard room temperature ebb and flow, with the addition of a basking bulb, suits many of our chameleon species just fine. This is why screen cages have been as successful as they have been.

 

This would be a very short podcast if that was all there was to the story. But we have places where temperatures are not ideal and this is where solid side caging rises to the occasion. The solid sides will hold in the heat and allow a higher temperature inside the cage than in the ambient conditions.

 

If we have lost ventilation so we can keep heat inside, how do we keep the conditions healthy? The answer is that if you fine tune the ventilation you can block enough air flow to keep in heat, but, at the same time, allow enough ventilation to prevent stagnant air. This introduces the concept that healthful air quality conditions can be maintained with less than 100% ventilation. In fact, it only takes a subtle air flow to achieve this result. This is an example of where we have taken an important concept, ventilation, slammed it all the way to the extreme, and lost the true nature of what we were trying to do.

 

Many of you know I have my own chameleon caging company. This year, 2020, I made a departure from the norm and my screen cage line was released with a solid back panel. So all sides screen and the back panel solid white PVC. It has been more common than I hoped it would be for people to be concerned that I was blocking airflow. So, there has been a lot of information lost in the community sound bite that chameleons need ventilation. You might then ask, how much ventilation do I need? Well, surprisingly little. Remember, we just need air exchange. Allow me to introduce you to the stack effect or, as we know it in the reptile community, the chimney effect.

 

This effect is discussed in the design of high rise building or when houses are interested in getting some natural ventilation. It is the recognition, simply, that warm air rises. And when the warm air rises, something has to take its place. That would be the air below it. So, you can imagine that if you have an enclosed space – say, a chimney, or a skyscraper, or a solid side cage – you could create an airflow by having an exit at the top for the warm air and an entry at the bottom for cooler air.  The warm inside air would rise and draw in fresh outside air. If this intake vent was to be placed near the floor of the cage then you will create an air exchange that goes through the entire cage. In fact, this is exactly what today’s terrariums do. They have air vents near the bottom of the cage and a screen top.  Our use of a basking bulb provides a perfect air warming up top and there is an airflow going on all day. Even without the basking lamp, the heating up of the air at the top of our cages by our light systems will do the job. So this is why the glass terrariums available today do not have the problem of stagnant air. Now, it is important that you verify that the glass cage you are getting has these vents as not all do, but the major manufacturers do. This was not taken into account when the screen cage sound bites were born because these vented terrariums are relatively new.

 

Now, hybrid cages. If glass cages now have the ventilation they didn’t before then why is that not the end of the conversation? Well, glass cages have size issues. They are very heavy and break. You can get glass cages at any size, but they become difficult to manage at the sizes needed for adult chameleons. So this is where hybrid cages come in. By integrating lighter acrylic and PVC sheets we can create a solid side cage that is in an acceptable size for our chameleons, is light weight enough to be handled by one person, and can be broken down to be shipped and assembled at the final destination. So this approach gives us chameleon keepers a chance to enjoy the benefits of a solid side cage.

 

With that out of the way, I’d like to talk about the benefit of solid sides cages that will be valuable to almost every chameleon keeper. And that is humidity control. These latest caresheets are focusing more and more on high nighttime humidity - Up to 100% humidity. I can guarantee, unless you wake up to dew on the surfaces in your room, your house does not get to 100% humidity. So this is why we chameleon people mist and fog during the night. In a screen cage it is somewhat pitiful. Our fogger creates a column of fog a few inches in diameter that disappears quickly as it gets eaten up by the less humid ambient conditions. But put that fogger going into a solid side cage and you soon realize that, instead of pumping in as much fog as you can to hope to get barely enough, you now have to manage the fog input to make sure it does not get overwhelming. You can get the levels you are looking for with much less fog – or heat for that matter. The difference is, on one hand -with maximum ventilation- you are struggling to get enough. On the other hand, -with a network of solid side panels -you are now in a position to be giving too much. The advantage to the latter is that it is easy for you to reduce the fog or heat input.

 

And this is why you see so many advanced keepers using solid side cages. This is why I worked so hard to develop the hybrid cage designs for my caging company. It is because we now have control over the humidity levels and we are recognizing the huge effect this has on proper hydration and chameleon health.

 

Sounds wonderful…how do we set one of these hybrid cages up?

 

First, let’s talk about getting a hybrid cage. The most effective ones usually take the form of three PVC panels for the back and sides. If you just have this with a screen front then you are already gaining the benefit of the hybrid cages because you can trap humidity against the walls by creating a thick wall of live plants through the middle of the cage. So you see all this foliage, but there is a corridor behind that wall of plants that the chameleon can access. And this becomes a humidity trap that your chameleon will appreciate. If you add an acrylic panel to the front then you are increasing the hybrid benefit, but you will need to ensure there is a chimney effect dynamic. In my cages at Dragon Strand, this takes the form of an acrylic main door and a smaller screen service door at the bottom of the front. And that, combined with the screen top panel, gives me my chimney effect. Every year there pops up another cage manufacturer. If you are looking at the newest model, simply make sure there is a screen intake near the floor and a screen top to complete the effect.

 

Transforming a screen cage

Hybrid cages can be expensive. And many of you may not want to buy a professionally made one just yet. So there are simple ways to turn your present standard screen cage into a hybrid cage. You have two panel types to work with, clear and opaque. To make opaque sides go to the home improvement store and pick up some white PVC panels or coroplast, that’s the corrugated plastic sheeting that people use for lawn signs and such. Just get it big enough to fit your cage sides. Of course, you can do it in pieces if need be. All it needs to do is be solid enough to block mist. So, technically, you could accomplish this with a black trash bag. What material you use depends on how you want this to look. I strongly suggest attaching it to the frame instead of the screen. The less there is attached to the screen the better. So just get the pieces wide enough to go from frame to frame and attach them to the frame. Don’t be shy over using screws driven directly into the aluminum framing to hold a panel of PVC on to the cage. This is your cage. Go ahead and make it what you want it to be.

 

Clear panels are even simpler. You go to your home improvement store or just Amazon and get Shrink Film Insulator kits. This kit gives you double sided tape that you line around the cage panel frame and a thin clear film that you stick on to this tape. Cut to size and take a hair dryer to it. The heat shrinks the film tight and you suddenly have a clear front door to your screen cage. Although it sounds like you are hacking the cage, which you are, it doesn’t have to look like a hack job if you do it carefully. And it works well enough as far as the chameleon is concerned.

 

As far as clear vs. opaque, you can use either on any panel of your cage and realize significant humidity benefits. Now you can mist as much as you want without worrying about getting water on the walls behind the cage and now your fogging will be much more effective in raising humidity. If you were thinking about getting a hybrid cage you can always try it out this way before making the final decision. Obviously, the professional cages will look better, but it doesn’t hurt to try the functionality out first.

 

I like to use opaque panels on the sides and back. And then I have a clear main door. That leaves the flip-up service door and top panel being screen to provide that chimney effect we are looking for. You may be interested in making the sides clear as well using this method, but there is a pro and con to this. The pro is that it is a lot of fun doing the window film and you will have a lot left over so it just seems wrong not to use more. The con is that an opaque side actually adds an increased sense of security for the chameleon as they know they do not have to visually monitor that side for predators. Which is best depends on your situation and your chameleon.

 

Once you have your hybrid cage in whatever form it is, you will need to adjust your husbandry. Remember that most google search and social media advice is for screen cages. You notice how most descriptions about chameleon husbandry usually do not worry about an off time for the basking bulb or the misting system or the fogger? And that is because in the realm of screen cages it really doesn’t matter much. As soon as you stop the cage environment quickly reverts back to the room ambient conditions. This is where you will have to be smart and understand why you are doing things. In a hybrid cage, both heat and humidity will build up. And that is exactly what you want! But I want to be clear, this isn’t a case where hybrid (or glass cage) keeping is more “advanced” than screen cages. Hybrid cages are more effective in providing proper husbandry. It is actually doing the job better Because it is not natural for the proper humidity level to be present only within a few inch diameter cone coming from the fogger. Although the chameleons make the best of it. It is interesting how they find where that fogger projects on even if you have the fogger on only during the night. Somehow they know where it will be and they fall asleep in that cone!

So, how do we set up a hybrid cage. It is actually the same as a screen cage. You have a basking bulb, misters, foggers, daylight and UVB. The major difference is that you will have to dial in the run time of the basking bulb and misters. With the basking bulb you will may now just leave it on a few hours in the morning. Just like any cage, there is no hard fast rule. The length of time depends on how cold the nights are, how cool the mornings are and everything else we need to take into account in any cage set-up. The only  major difference is that you introduce the concept of turning the heat lamp off when you have achieved your goal. Same with the mister and the fogger. What screen cage users will now have to get used to is the concept that they actually can reach the desired temperature and humidity targets! Consider that for a minute. Have you ever tried raising the humidity in a screen cage? If you have been a keeper for any length of time you have spend a great deal of time trying to reach the recommended levels. It is so frustrating that some people have given up trying to get it and switched to arguing that high humidity is not needed. Well, how about switching over to a hybrid set-up and see how chameleon husbandry actually is when you can reach the target parameters. And then you can see for yourself how much better the chameleons do when they have the correct hydration parameters. I have switched over not because it was the newest thing and I needed a change in my life. I have switched over to the naturalistic hydration that hybrid cages facilitate because I saw the difference it made.

 

The major skill that will have to be developed for solid side cages, both hybrid and glass, is measuring the temperature and humidity levels.

For temperature a simple thermometer will do. We are used to measuring the basking spot, and you should continue to do that, but you also keep an eye on the ambient temperature within the cage. This will now be different from the ambient temperature outside the cage. Once your cage has heated up to where it should be - you shut off the basking bulb. And now the equalization time period to where the inside cage temperature matches the outside depends on how much ventilation there is and the insulation properties of the materials used for the sides. There isn’t a formula – at least not a reasonable one that I can share now – it just takes you keeping an eye on things. Here is also where you have hopefully made the right decision as to the type of cage you get. You asked yourself how much insulation you needed and got the cage that offered that level of insulation.

 

The materials I use in the Dragon Strand cages are PVC and acrylic. These don’t have that great of temperature insulation properties. The reason is that the main purpose for these walls is humidity control. You will notice that the mist stays on the leaves a whole lot longer after your misting session. The Chameleon Academy species caresheets and website promote a system where you give a good misting at around 1AM and then start a fogger. You then fog until right before you turn on the lights in the morning, but you give one last misting session before the lights come on. All of that dew sticks around as the chameleon make its way to the basking bulb and the chameleon lives in a humid, dew filled world for a while. It is the solid walls that allow the dew to stay around. But then I hear from people in humid areas that there then becomes too much humidity. And to that I say, yes, we need to be careful not to overwhelm the system. But a hybrid cage does not create humidity beyond that which is given off by the plants and their soil. There is too much humidity in there only if we put too much in there. If you live in a high humidity area then maybe you do not need to fog as much through the early morning. Maybe the misting sessions to coat the surfaces with dew are ten seconds instead of 2 minutes. This is where you are now given control of the parameters instead of constantly striving to achieve them.

I hate to complicate things further, but there is a significant difference between creating a hydration cycle that mimics their natural conditions as the Naturalistic Hydration method does, and a hydration method that is designed to get chameleons to drink in front of you. Just a brief recap, the naturalistic hydration method we talk about mimics the natural conditions of high humidity during the night, up to 100%, and then lower humidity during the day. This prevents dehydration during the night via breathing. The chameleon then hydrates by drinking the dew in the morning and that, combined with the appropriate daytime humidity is all that is needed. A dripper during the afternoon provides a good check to see if the hydration methods are sufficient. If the chameleon drinks during this test period then the evening regimen must be extended in some manner. Please review this on the chameleonacademy.com website for details. But this is a method that follows their natural hydration and has a check and balance in the afternoon to make sure it is working so it a nice neat package of hydration that works exceptionally well in a hybrid cage.

 

I need to explain the daytime hydration method because it is the old way, but still very common. And, spoiler alert, it doesn’t work as well with the hybrid cage. But since you will hear about it from many places we need to discuss it. The daytime hydration method is simply many misting sessions during the day. And the misting sessions are long enough that the chameleon settles in to drink. And this can take minutes of running away to avoid the spray and then finally settling in because they can’t get away from it. After a while of sitting in the mist they eventually start drinking. I don’t want to dive deep into the comparing these two methods because there is a lot to go over. I know it sounds simple, but every point ties into another and before long you have a huge mess of topics. But, suffice to say, that a hydration strategy that uses a behavior (ie drinking) to end the misting session and not a humidity level, could easily over soak a cage. If this were a good hydration method then it would be best carried out in a screen cage. We have moved beyond that to the naturalistic hydration method which I feel is far superior on so many levels so we can now use a cage which better facilitates the naturalistic hydration method. Wait a minute, you say, isn’t the chameleon drinking a good thing and what we are looking for? Well, kind of. A well hydrated chameleon will drink reflexively if they can’t get away from the spray. This does not necessarily mean they needed to drink. You can see how this becomes a never ending loop where the chameleon drinks because it is a reflex and so we spray more and they keep drinking and we spray more until they just can’t handle any more. Hydration and dehydration is a big topic which I have reviewed in other episodes. Suffice to say at this point that our goal is to have our chameleon

 

Before we close I’d like to go over a couple of miscellaneous topics pertaining to hybrid cages.

  • When you deal with glass , acrylic or any clear material, you will get some sort of reflection in certain lighting at certain angles. How much of a problem this is for chameleons varies with who you talk to. I have breeders that breed generations in glass or acrylic fronted cages with no reflection issues and then I get someone saying their chameleon is reacting to a reflection. Bottom line is that reflections are like anything else in chameleon husbandry. If you have them (and your chameleon cares about it) then you adjust to situation. Just like any other parameter. Move the lights right above the door, don’t have the internal lights on when the outside is dark, move a spring of leaves in the way if there is one particular spot that is an issue. Whatever it is, it is just another thing we deal with. The benefits of a hybrid cage are much greater than the challenge of dealing with a reflection.
  • You will see some hybrid cage keepers using fans to increase air circulation. Once again, this all depends on the type of cage and what kind of air circulation strategy it uses – or doesn’t use. There are many personal mini fans available or computer fans which can be placed in areas where they draw air out of the cage. But only use fans if you need it. If the minimum fogging and misting creates a situation where the surfaces inside the cage do not dry then that justifies creating more air flow.
  • Respiratory Infections. I have to include this because that is the most often sited reason for needing full screen cages. Solid sides do not cause respiratory infections. Stagnant air causes respiratory infections. As we have just gone over, If you ensure the particular cage you get has accommodations for it, we get the air circulation necessary to have a healthy environment.

In conclusion, the hybrid cage is the next step in our community’s caging future.  It gives us control over the humidity cycle which is the one parameter least given attention to in our recent past. And if you aren’t sure about them they are easy to mock up on your standard screen cage. Try it. We will be moving in that direction slowly but surely.

 

Thank you. Very much for joining me here for this discussion about hybrid cages. I have enjoyed my work with them and the results I have gotten. And I encourage all of you to give hybrid cages a try!

 

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Trioceros ellioti

Ep 157: Trioceros ellioti with Michael Nash

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Trioceros ellioti is a  small chameleon from Eastern Africa that is a livebearing species with the typical care requirements of montane chameleons. It is a charming species where the males and females are equally desirable as far as color and shape. Ease of husbandry and hardiness of this species make it a prime candidate for establishing in captivity. Today, Michael Nash comes on and shares his insight into breeding this species. It is hoped that this will help increase the number of breeders working with T. ellioti and raise awareness for this species.

If you would like to contact Michael about obtaining some of the babies he produces you may contact him at nashchams@gmail.com .

To learn more about Trioceros ellioti and its husbandry please visit the Chameleon Academy Husbandry guide which was based upon the experience of Michael Nash. You can find it here: Trioceros ellioti Husbandry Guide

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Chameleon Egg Diapause Experiments

Chameleon Egg Diapause with Frank Payne

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Chameleon breeder Frank Payne joins me and shares his initial results from diapause experiments he is running on chameleon eggs. Diapause is the cooling period during incubation and Frank shares what could become a valuable tool for breeders to control the hatching time.

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Female Veiled Chameleon Feeding

April 6: Female Veiled Chameleon Feeding

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We are making progress in our drive to determine the feeding schedule and husbandry to maintain healthy female veiled chameleons through their lives - especially including egg laying. By controlling their diet and conditions we can reign in their body's enthusiasm for making eggs. By providing greater than ideal conditions their body creates more eggs than are healthy. Today I share progress made by Mari Joki from Finland.

Mari's Recipe

Veiled Chameleon Eggs

The following are the care conditions that Mari Joki used to produce a reasonable size clutch of Veiled Chameleon eggs. This is still at the point where we need more people to use this information to replicate the results. Please contact me at bill@chameleonacademy.com if you try this recipe out or if you have one of your own that has been successful.

Mari Joki Husbandry Recipe

Ambient Daytime Temperatures: 22-24 C

Basking Temperatures: 28-30 C

Nighttime Temperatures: 15-16 C

Hydration: Night time fogging

UV Index at Basking: UVI 3

Supplementation: Arcadia Earth Pro A and pollen with every feeding

Feeding Schedule:

0-3 Months: Ad Libitum

3 Months* forward: 2 feeders every other day

Females 4 weeks before mating until egg laying: 4 feeders every other day

*Note that babies graduate to the reduced diet when they are well started as per breeder's judgement. This is, on average, three months. But babies are evaluated individually.

This schedule is the baseline. Each individual is monitored to ensure they are slowly gaining weight as is appropriate. If they are too skinny or losing weight then their intake is increased.

Laying Bin: 10cm deep; 4 inches deep

Diet:  BSFs, silkworms and moths, crickets and banana roaches, a superworm every now and then.

It is important that we continue this work for the sakes of our female veiled chameleons. MBD is, arguably, the biggest killer of veiled chameleons. Next in line would be egg laying complications. And these complications are, overwhelmingly, due to inadequate husbandry. If you would like to join in figuring this out please share how you got a clutch in the 20s or 30s.

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Furcifer minor laying eggs

Ep 76: Chameleon Egg Laying Sites with Carl Cattau

Summary: Welcome, chameleon wranglers, to a two part series on egg laying and incubation! For these topics I have brought back Carl Cattau for a an interview type discussion. When it comes to a female chameleon successfully laying eggs your job is to provide a sufficient site that meets with your chameleon’s approval. Unfortunately, Their only way of communicating to us is either to lay eggs… or not. I have chosen Carl to join me in this discussion because he is on the forefront of getting rare species to lay eggs and hatch. Getting a species to hatch that has books written about it and Facebook pages dedicated to it is certainly an achievement, but when a species is first imported and we have to figure out how the females think. Or what combination of temperature, moisture, and diapause to incubate at we rely on pioneers like Carl who spend their time at the edges of what we as a community know. And that is one reason why this is a discussion rather than a tutorial. We are talking about a subject where the body of knowledge is scarce and the answers are oh so slowly being coaxed out. This is the exciting stage. This is where the common knowledge of tomorrow is created. It is happening in real time. Let’s listen in as Carl and I discuss laying sites and what it takes to create a space where the female will give us those precious eggs.


Season 1 Archive
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Keeping Chameleons in Glass Cages

Ep 53: Keeping Chameleons in Glass Cages

Summary: Welcome back to season 2 of the Chameleon Academy Podcast! We are going to kick off the new season with an episode about keeping chameleons in glass terrariums. Glass has gotten an undeserving black mark in the chameleon community. Dr. Chris Anderson keeps chameleons in glass terrariums exclusively in both his lab and personal collection. He comes on and tells us how to determine if a glass terrarium is right for your conditions and, if so, how to go about setting up a chameleon enclosure which retains both heat and humidity.


You can listen here:


To start off, here are some reference articles about keeping chameleons in glass terrariums.

Dr. Chris Anderson:

For everyone who knows you can't keep chameleons in glass

Frank Payne:

Keeping Chameleons in Glass Enclosures

Chameleonnews.com:

Up North Caging

Dragon Strand:

Screen vs. Solid Side Cages


If you are interested in the glass cages themselves, here are a couple of the larger ones that can accommodate a standard sized chameleon.

Zoo-Med 36″ tall Skyscraper Terrarium

Exo-Terra 36″ x 18″ x 36″ Large, X-Tall Terrarium

Season 1 Archive
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