Breeding

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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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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veiled chameleon

Ep 31: Finding Homes for your Baby Chameleons

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Today we talk about finding, or creating, good homes for the chameleon babies you raise up. A big part of this is setting yourself up so you do not get pressured to make a quick sale. That way you can be selective as to where you sell the baby chameleons you worked so hard to raise up.

Transcript (more or less)

Show notes :                                                       .

 

Business Insight for your mini-MBA lesson for the day!

Facebook operating expenses for Q4 2015 came in at $3.28 billion. That is about $1 billion per month. It takes a lot to run the social media platform that we all enjoy for free!

Facebook Expenses Q4 2015

Does anyone remember Border’s Bookstores? They and Barnes & Noble ruled the big box book stores until the Great Recession hit. Barnes & Noble survived and Borders didn’t. Borders went down for a variety of reasons. While we can look back and debate their decisions that led to not having enough money to cover their debt payments the fact is that they had become too big and didn’t have the money to sustain their debt payments. We can do the same thing on a personal scale when we breed too many chameleons and end up with more babies than we can take care of. But for those who would like to learn more about Borders and their fall, you can check out this link.

Five Reasons Borders Went Out Of Business

 


Show Transcript (More or Less)

Introduction

Hello chameleon wranglers, Today we are going to be talking about breeding project. More specifically, how you can best find good homes for your baby chameleons.

Breeding chameleons is an exciting project. And, if you are successful, you will soon find yourself in the position of sending your chameleon babies to new homes. And this becomes a point of great thought. How do I make sure I send these to the right homes? You have worked so hard to raise these chameleons up. And you now have a better appreciation for how much it really costs to do it! The last thing you want to do it send them off to a home where they will not get as good of care as they had with you.

And this is what today’s podcast is about. Finding the right home for your baby chameleons. Now, I am going to tell you something upfront. In the end, success in selling your chameleons probably won’t come as much from finding the right homes, but in your ability to create the right home! We’ll talk about both finding and creating.

 

Standards, Capitalism, and the Death of Idealism

But first, let’s talk about maintaining control of your standards. Let’s acknowledge that for some breeders, the standard for the right home comes down to whomever has money. This podcast is not for those individuals. That formula is pretty easy. Fill cages with as many females as will fit and push the females to produce as many clutches as possible. Females only need to live long enough to produce two to four clutches. Sell babies as soon as they can ship and not die. Sell retail whatever you can and wholesale out the back door whatever you can’t sell retail. You are such an awesome breeder that you have hordes of eggs in the incubator right behind this clutch. And why not? Chameleons are like printing money, right? You have to blow everything out quickly because you have those one or two or five clutches of eggs hatching right behind this one. Keep track of the number of babies produced in your mill because that is how you measure how awesome you are. You’ll need that number to bash anyone that suggests that your methods are suspect. Heck, you’ve produced 3000 babies to their 100. So obviously your husbandry is superior, right? Babies not selling quick enough? Lower prices! That is the capitalist way! You captain of industry, you!

As I said, this podcast is not for those individuals. They have it figured out anyways. This podcast episode is for the breeder that is looking to hang on to quality over quantity and realizes that doing both is exponentially more difficult. This podcast is for the breeder that is concerned not only about the quality of their chameleons, but the quality of the home their chameleons go to.

And, first a side note. Most breeders start off with a healthy dose of idealism and only become the mass producer when they fall into the trap of “more is better”. There is a market for mass produced chameleons. But it is a completely different world than producing and raising up the single clutch that was such a great experience that you wanted to do it again. It is too easy for the chameleons to start to become commodities. They become numbers. And it is much easier to produce 100s of babies than it is to properly care for hundreds of babies. You can get yourself into a bad place very easily. The bad place is that it is no longer fun and you are forced to sell without any knowledge as to where the chameleons will eventually end up. You start to become detached from the chameleons because you can’t focus so much on individuals. They are just bins of babies. Obviously, the tone in my voice implies I am not impressed with many of these operations. There are precious few that have been able to keep quality with quantity. Most compromise quality in hidden ways that you don’t see. I’ll leave it at that for now. My bringing it up in this episode is more to be a warning for the enthusiastic beginning breeder with visions of where they can take their hobby. Beware as you can easily scale up your operation and quickly lose the standards that you started with.

Now back to those standards. A typical standard that beginning breeders start of with is wanting to make sure that the home their baby goes to is as quality as the effort put into raising this baby. I have to say that this is one of the first things to fall when reality comes a knocking. But it falls not because it is unreasonable, but because the breeders with those standards are not prepared to back them up with facility structure.

For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll summarize the three month panic again. That is when the chameleon’s anti-social nature spills into becoming overtly physical. Before the three month period, the dominance and bullying between babies is subtle and can go unnoticed by those not attuned to these interactions. At around the three month point, you will get more biting and tail nipping and there is noticeable physical damage. It is at this point that the typical breeder starts panicking because they don’t have the space to separate the babies and they start getting “B” grade animals which means damaged and they start noticing the submissive ones not growing as fast or not coloring up because they have accepted their submission. Now, let me say that each clutch has their own dynamic. I have had clutches that have kept the peace and have given me little problem. And then I have had clutches that thought they were in the Hunger Games. And, of course, you have every shade in between. If you have the Brady Bunch clutch then you talk about what an awesome breeder you are that you have no problems with co-habitation (it must be your natural skill). If you have a couple of bad apples (in other words, the combination of an alpha chameleon and another chameleon that disagrees with the social structure) then you can have problems that can seem to start overnight. And if you are not prepared with proper caging then the panic starts. You end up getting rid of them at any price as soon as possible and any standard you started off with has flown the coop in order to be done with the stress and cost of keeping the now juveniles.

So how do we avoid the three month panic? This is simple, but difficult to implement. You need a bank of cages for babies and a bank of grow out cages. The formula is simple. The length of time you can hold onto to your standards is in direct proportion to the number of grow out cages you have. A grow out cage is a cage big enough for your chameleon to reach at least young adulthood. You need to make sure you do not reach a point where you have to sell because you do not have the space. The more cage space you have the longer you can hold out.

Wait a minute, hold out against what? Isn’t it easy to sell panther chameleons? You see it happening all the time on Facebook. And, heck, some places have a waiting list! These things should fly off the shelves, so to speak! The truth is that until you have a reputation in the industry things will not be flying off the shelf. And if you lower your prices and sell in bulk then it is difficult for you to get that reputation because that is what many others are doing when they run into the same situation you find yourself in. To develop that critical reputation you need to differentiate yourself in some way. Selling your one clutch over, say six months is one way of doing that. Making it quietly known that you care enough that your babies will only go to quality homes will bring out people that care themselves. Don’t do this in a self-righteous sort of way, just make it known you would like to pre-screen your buyers.

So I am going to suggest that if you want to start a breeding business, keep it small and manageable. If you create an operation that centers around pushing one clutch at a time through and sell over three to six months you will be able to maintain quality. Every breeding operation has the 0 to 3 month caging taken care of. If you want to take a step towards differentiation then invest in a bank of grow out cages. The standard 20” cage will get panthers to about six months while the 36” can get them to about 12 months. These are not ideal dimensions, but if the chameleon grows up in their grow out cage from three months on then most will be used to it. Just make sure they go into a larger cage when they go to their forever home. To pull this off you would have to invest in a bank of 6 to 9 cages. The more cage space you have the longer you will be able to wait for the right buyer before compromising. And if you resist the urge to double or triple production you will be able to develop a strong reputation in the community for the highest standards. The fastest way to ruin success is to suddenly scale it upwards beyond your ability to maintain. This is a basic business trap and one that is fallen into by many businesses. Remember the book seller Borders? They went out of business while Barnes & Noble remained in business because Borders was in the midst of an expansion and then the recession crippled their ability to pay their loans. Of course, as with anything like this, that is an extreme simplification of the situation. And I will be easier on the Border’s executive team than the business pundits were and say I don’t know that anyone would have made a different growth decision with the information available at the time. But their growth became unsustainable. Don’t let this happen to you! That’s right. On the Chameleon Breeder Podcast you never know when you might get drama, poetry or even a mini-MBA class.

Anyway, it will take time for that reputation to develop, but be patient. Reputations that develop over time are the strongest – and they are the ones that are sustainable. The patient breeder will be able to put the proper value on quality and resist the rush to scale up operations by holding back ten females from the first clutch and jumping right into the 300 egg club. For those new to my unique observations, I have noticed a number of would be big time breeders bragging about having 300 eggs in their incubator before disappearing from view. Remember how it is much easier to produce eggs than it is to raise up babies to three months old? Just stay firmly grounded and you can avoid being eaten up by your own success! It is a real thing!

Application process

So, say we have the breeding set-up that allows for a prolonged siege. We now have to figure out how to find the right buyers.

A typical approach to this dilemma is to create an application form and interview each person interested in buying a chameleon from you. This creates an extra layer of work for you and certainly weeds out a majority of buyers! Now, most people are not interested filling out an application and, unless you have a special species or bloodline, you may find few takers. And now you are surprised to find out that the number of people that applaud you for having such high standards greatly outweigh the number of people who will fill out your application and accept your judgment on their husbandry. Would you like to see this in action? I am sure there are others, but the one person I know who has a working, time tested application process is Elisa Hinkle at ChamEO. You’ll find it at chamlist.org. To adopt a rehabilitated chameleon you need to prove that you are knowledgeable and have the proper setup. You apply on a public forum, post images of your set-up and take feedback from Elisa and other forum members. How many people are willing to go through that? Well, if you want only the best then there you go. But you can go on and look at what she has to put into it and how few people make it through. She can do that though, because she has the caging necessary to hold the rehabilitated chameleons until she finds the right home for them. ChamEO is a working model of what it takes to maintain high standards. Now, you don’t have to have the rigorous standards that ChamEO has. ChamEO charges only an adoption fee of $25 so is a magnet for people wanting cheap chameleons. This type of person is not likely to spend what it takes to do a proper set-up or take their chameleon to the vet. Elisa’s mission is to place chameleons where they will have a high quality of life – not just to move inventory. So an intensive application process is necessary to ensure that the chameleon will not need to be rescued yet again.

Price

As you will be charging full price, most of the bargain hunters will not come your way. A, yes, you will be charging full market value because if you focus on quality then you deserve to be able to maintain the price.

Having a solid grow out focus in your breeding plan is also a good defense against the standard negotiator that wants you to sell cheaper in price. If you are not set-up for the long haul it is then much easier to fall into the trap of selling for less than they are worth. It is interesting how potential buyers will berate you for charging high prices and actually be offended that you had the arrogance to charge what you are. Somehow you charging what you determine they are worth is considered “greedy”, while them trying to get them below that value is considered “savvy”. This is a manipulation. Don’t fall for it. If someone is trying to hustle you…sorry, negotiate a better deal for themselves, then you are at liberty to say “no thank you” if you are not panicking for space!

You will have to stand firm. Nobody cares how much you invested into raising up the babies correctly. Facebook spends roughly $1billion dollars a month keeping Facebook up and running smoothly so we can share photos of cats with witty sayings. And when we see an ad we are angered and morally outraged that it is mucking up our personal space that, of course, Facebook is providing us free of charge. So, don’t expect buyers to care that you switch out your UVB bulbs every six months and purchase the best supplements. And, no, it is not fair that the community will talk about how husbandry is so important, then leave your fairly priced babies to go buy a lower priced chameleon elsewhere. It gets even better when they come back to you for advice and husbandry training because their chameleon from Acme reptiles isn’t doing so well and you seem to know what you are doing so could you please help? And, yes, I wish I was kidding on this one.

Finding New Homes

Once you have your internal structure set up for long term keeping you can hunker down and locate the right homes. Of course, you’ll have to be active about this. We will need to find, or create, the right buyers!

First- “Finding”.

Finding the home implies that a home with good husbandry is out there and you just have to match up the timing of your availability and their purchase window. And with the internet that is much easier than it used to be. Knowledgeable keepers tend to congregate in certain social media sites, but, then again, so do your fellow breeders who are looking for those same knowledgeable keepers. So there is a steady flow of chameleons being made available. Given enough time, you’ll find a buyer for your chameleons. But you do have to wait until there is the right intersection of demand and your supply. You can talk about your clutch on social media. In fact, the best way to prime the sales is to let people follow the clutch progress and post baby pictures. Let people know that you’ll take orders starting at 2 months of age for shipping at 3 months old. You can even offer a discount for people that pre-order up until the 3 month point. Maybe 10% or even 20%? This is not a lowering of price because the buyer is paying ahead of time. As long as the price goes up to market level at the three month point, which is fair, you have just run a pre-sales campaign. For the benefit of you receiving money ahead of time you give them a discount. That becomes a benefit to both buyer and seller. Just make sure you have a 100% refund policy if you are not able to ship for whatever reason. The point of this is to have as many sold at the three month mark as possible. Once you hit three months the price goes back to fair market value and you hold that price for a month or three. Since you are now growing out any left overs, at six months the price goes up 10% or 20%. Once they start showing their colors or horns or whatever the characteristic of your chosen species the 10% or 20% is appropriate.

Second is “Creating” quality customers.

Quality customers can be created. And this is a great use of your time as a breeder. Creating a new home for your babies is taking the raw material of enthusiasm in people new to the chameleon world and attaching sufficient knowledge to it. There are plenty of people that are entering into the hobby on a regular basis. If you become proficient at helping a newcomer along, then not only will you have a customer, you will have a customer educated enough that you will feel good passing along one of your babies. This is accomplished simply by education. Something as basic and obvious as care sheets do wonders. If you have a gift for writing consider a blog. You find the method that works with your talents and offer it up. If content creation is not your strong suit then you can refer them to this podcast. Or to the Chameleons eZine. Select out your favorite podcast episodes and eZine articles, compile them in an email and use that as a research guide. Face to face (or phone or internet or whatever) discussions should be part of the process. It is by communication that you get a feel for your potential buyer. By directing your interested party to places where they can get a solid education in the basics, whether your website or an educational website, you can create quality customer and your chameleon’s forever home.

Part 2: Selling at Reptile shows.

As a hobbyist breeder selling on the internet you really don’t get that much new-to-reptiles impulse buying. Sure, there are the water bowl, no UVB, and bath giving factions out there, but if they have found you they are usually plugged into the chameleon community at some level. So you may argue about their husbandry conditions, but at least they have husbandry conditions to argue about.

On the other hand, as we head out of Spring we are heading into reptile show season. We will be getting more families that are chameleon curious. With more exposure in recent kid films, chameleons are getting a higher profile in the general populace. This has its advantages and disadvantages. There is not much we can do when these families walk into a pet store. It is hit and usually miss as to whether the employees actually know what they are talking about. They are just repeating what hey have been told to say by the owner who is just repeating what he was told by the manufacturer’s representative that is selling nightbulbs with chameleons printed on the packaging. But when these families walk into a reptile show we have a golden opportunity to educate before they purchase.

We are on the front lines either helping them make that decision or, unfortunately, working with them after someone else has sold them a chameleon, or chameleons and sent them away with little more information than they started with. As I have a chameleon caging company, I get the customers after they have purchased their chameleons and I can tell the quality of information they get from the different chameleon suppliers at the show. Some I am impressed with and some I cringe. The worst thing that has happen to chameleons with regard to people getting them unprepared is the price of veiled chameleons. They are inexpensive to begin with, but by the end of the show some vendors, not relishing bringing home mouths to feed, will just blow them out sometimes for $25 each. This puts them squarely in the impulse buy range. And this is not theory. Inevitably, at the end of a show I will get a family show up at my booth asking for my cheapest cage. When I ask for what species they are buying for they give me a blank look and dig for their receipt to see what was written on it. Although if they are asking for the cheapest cage I have a pretty good idea what species it is and, by this time in the show, have a 90% idea of what vendors they are coming to me from. I say, no problem, just show me the chameleon and I can tell you. And they bring out two veiled chameleons. My heart sinks. They, of course, balk at cage prices because why would you pay more for the set-up then you do for the lizard? When you buy a couple of $25 – $45 lizards you certainly aren’t in the mood to spend another couple hundred dollars on the cage and lighting and watering system. Holy Moley, this cheap pet for my kids is getting pretty expensive! So I have the talk with them knowing that they should have had this talk before they purchased the chameleon, or chameleons, in this case.

The same dynamic that I talked about with your breeding set-up applies to shows. If you are pressed to make the sale and do not want to bring the chameleons home you have lost the ability to make sure they go to a good home. When the show hours are coming to a close you just stop asking the tough questions. And then they end up at the Dragon Strand Chameleon Cage booth asking for the cheapest cage I have that will house a brother/sister pair of veiled chameleons.

By the way, I sold this couple a nice sized cage and told them to return one of the babies. I can only hope they were able to.

Kids and Chameleons

But one thing that deserves close attention is how we mix children and chameleons. Those of you who have followed my writings in the years before this podcast will know that I have spoken and written of chameleons and children before. I’d like to revisit this topic here in this podcast as it is an important component when we are considering whether a new home is ready for a chameleon and if they will take good care of the little dragon we raised up from the egg.

I have met some kids that, at 13 years old, are not yet ready to grow up and are holding on to their childhood as tightly as they can. I have also met 13 year olds that talk as though they have already lived a life. One kid came to an SBCK meeting, that’s a chameleon group meeting in Los Angeles, and had just gotten his first chameleon. He rambled off the species and subspecies and went into detail as to his husbandry practices. His father just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I have no idea…that’s all him”. This kid had it down. If you work a show, you’ll be dealing with families. So I’d like to discuss how to answer the question “are chameleons good pets for kids”.

This actually depends greatly on the parents. In the past, when I was faced with that question, I would run down a question list to determine whether the child was old or responsible enough. I now feel much better with replying with “Chameleons are great for kids, but not for teaching responsibility.” I am then able to enter into a conversation about what it takes to keep a chameleon and remove the child from the equation. The bottom line is that a chameleon, like any other pet, will enrich a child’s life and introduce that child to a world of wonder. The parent’s part in this is to take full responsibility for the care of the pet.

Teaching Kids Responsibility

I am not against using a pet to teach a child how to manage their time, schedule care, and contribute to something they value. The way it should be done, though, is for the parent to actively verify that everything is being carried out properly and be willing to step in on a daily basis to ensure proper care is given. An animal should not suffer to teach a life skill.  Each child will have a different level of maturity and responsibility.  That will change with experience, understanding, and age.  The parent can scale back their involvement as appropriate.

I engage the parent who has asked the question to measure their understanding of the commitment to the specialized care. It is wonderful to see a parent as excited as the child. If they understand the care and cost requirements I feel good that this will be a positive experience all around. But if the parent balks at taking care of the animal themselves I know that this is a situation where I should be discouraging the idea.

And a note to my listeners, If any of you are parents and have been tempted to get your kids a pet chameleon or are just wondering if you should give in to their requests, I will say that it will be a rich and rewarding experience for you both as long as you are on the same journey and you are both acting in your appropriate roles. Their role is to soak up diverse life experiences as they grow up and your role is to be by their side enjoying the world renewed through their eyes – and gently guiding them along the way. Chameleons are a demanding animal, but few other animals are so incredible. If you are right there with them in this adventure then, yes, chameleons are great pets for kids- As long as you take on full responsibility for the chameleon care.

Conclusion

So, to pull this all together. Finding the right home for each chameleon in your clutch is not always easy. But you can maintain the enjoyment of breeding chameleons and feel good about your selling the babies if you 1) set yourself up to be able to grow out a good percentage of your clutch up to 6, or better, 9 to 12 months old. And 2) restrict how many clutches you produce to one at time. That way you can concentrate on the clutch and truly enjoy watching them grow up and find new homes.

Because here is the bottom line. If you push your breeding project to the point where it is no longer fun then why do it? There is no one in the chameleon breeding world that is making a lot of money – at least not when they add up all the expenses involved. If you are going to be Joe Entrepreneur, chameleon breeding is a low ROI for your efforts. But if you keep your breeding project at a level where it is still enjoyable then you have won.

 

Thank you for joining me here on the podcast. If you want to continue the conversation and add your insight, join me on Facebook or Instagram. If you are in the Los Angeles, California area you could also drop by the South bay Chameleon Keepers meeting tomorrow on June 25, 2016. Information on all of these is in the show notes at chameleonbreeder.com. You can also find information on our podcast sponsor, the Dragon Strand chameleon Caging company. Dragon Strand has cages designed for keepers, Breeders, and display cages. Check out the new Large Chameleon Cage Kit that starts with a 48” cage in either screen, clearside, or Breeder series solid walls for visual isolation. All of these versions include five Dragon Ledges which are wall anchors that can support branches and potted plants. In addition the kit includes an extra floor panel that can facilitate a solid cleanliness protocol. See the website for more details.

 

That’s it for today!

 

And, for my special listener, Ann, consider this episode autographed for you!

 

You all have a great week. Now go and take a look at that incredible chameleon of yours. Spend a moment to be amazed that we can spend a part of our lives with a mini tree dragon staring back at us. I know I never fail to feel that sense of wonder when I spend time with my chameleons.

 

Until next time…that’s a wrap.

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