Cages

Pregnant Jackson's Chameleon

The Jackson’s Chameleon Pregnancy

Today I talk about the pregnancy period of the Jackson’s Chameleon to help you understand the steps before the babies are born. The live bearing nature of Jackson's Chameleons can be a mystery, but there are things that we can notice. In this episode I talk about the different stages of pregnancy in the Jackson's Chameleon.

Jackson's Chameleon Pregnancy Transcript (more or less)

Today I want to talk about one of the mysterious happenings in a chameleon keeper’s life and that is live birth from a chameleon. It is mysterious because it often happens when we aren’t expecting it. The first cause is many people aren’t aware that live birth exists in chameleons. The second is that Jackson’s chameleons and other live bearing species are able to store sperm. This means that you are getting fertilization after the mating and the mating could have been long before you obtained the female. Surprise surprise!

 

There has been much attention on what to do with the babies when they are born because that is the big dramatic moment, but today I am going to focus on the 6-9 months before that and we are going to talk about the time that the female is pregnant. Now, first, terminology. In the community we often use the words pregnant and gravid interchangeably. As with all words, meanings evolve. Sometimes pregnant is used for livebirth and gravid for egg laying females, but this is not a official designation. In fact, live bearing females are doing nothing different except laying the eggs after the baby is ready to hatch. So, you can use whatever word you are comfortable with. As is always the case, when people get comfortable with a specific term and definition in their head they tend to become rigid in how they want to hear it from others so expect a certain level of confusion in the community. This conflict is can be filed in the folder of things we should not worry about but, of course, will fight to the death about because that is what humans are. So, in this episode, I choose to use the word pregnant when talking about live birth and gravid when referring to egg laying or live birth. But please understand, these subtle distinctions are my choice and not scientific convention.

 

In chameleons, gestation is a term that refers to the length of time between fertilization and egg laying. Remember that a live birth chameleon is just laying her eggs later in the process. They simply don’t calcify and are incubated within the mother’s body. So, is gestation and incubation the same for live bearing chameleons? We are having so much fun with word play and I haven’t even gotten to husbandry. So I’ll wrap this up by saying that I will refer to the time between fertilization and the birth of live babies as gestation.

 

So, let’s start with fertilization. It is common for chameleons to store sperm from one mating to be used later. It is unknown how long the sperm is good for, but it is long enough that a female could use the store of sperm a couple years later. And this comes from simple observation of how long my Jackson’s Chameleons have gone without mating and still producing babies. I do not know what an average is or what the maximum length of time is. Female live bearers have many secrets that they still keep. What we do know is that the number of eggs fertilized in clutches after the mating typically goes down.   So this probably means that the older the sperm gets the less viable they are. This has significance when you are actively breeding. There may be a short window where the female is receptive after giving birth and if you miss that she will just take matters into her own hands and fertilize herself with the results of a previous mating. So your female will go through the stresses of a reproduction cycle with less production of babies. If you are a panther chameleon breeder making a living on chameleons or just a rare species chameleon breeder you do not want your female wasting energy caring for a clutch that is half viable. On the other hand, my breeding strategy with Jackson’s Chameleons is to mate the females early in life when they are first receptive. This often around one year old, but is more dependent on size then age and depends on husbandry conditions. What this does is give me small broods of babies to care for. You see, as they get older and bigger, the female Jackson’s Chameleon will produce more babies. A first time brood could be between 8 and 12 neonates. A fully mature female once gave me 52 neonates. I actually give them one mating when they are first receptive and I let the rest of their life’s production rest on that event. I am looking for the decreased fertility to limit the brood sizes as the females gets larger. Jackson’s Chameleons are like any other chameleon in that the ideal husbandry for babies is to keep them individually. So larger broods are not always the blessing you would think! I specifically desire smaller broods because the fewer they are the easier it is to give the ideal care.

 

The first external sign that a mating has “took” or the female has started the gestation process is that she starts to get rotund around the middle. Jackson’s chameleons, particularly, have a rotund shape normally so it does take a trained eye to notice the difference in the early days. What we look for is the weight gathering closer to the tail end rather around the middle of the body. As the gestation progresses this becomes more and more obvious.

 

As the body grows outward more and more I often get the question as to how many babies she will have. This is a tricky question to answer because the same size could hold many smaller babies or fewer larger babies. So any estimate is merely an estimate. Do you see how hard it is to know everything about these chameleons even with decades of experience? Those decades of experience only shows us how little we know. The best way to be an expert is to breed Jackson’s once and then decide that is how every gestation should go! And stop there! By doing it again you will only see how different it can be! You know the old saying that a man with one watch always knows what time it is, but a man with two watches never knows what time it is? Yeah, it is the same with chameleons! This is why keepers with one chameleon can be so darn confident in what they know!

 

This is a critical time as far as nutrition. How you feed the mother during this stage dictates the health of the babies when they are born. So make sure all the nutrition bullet points are in place. These include the feeding of your feeder insects with a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and whatever the feeder insect naturally eats, if possible. What does a cricket naturally eat? What does a superworm naturally eat? How about a dubia roach? Yep, we chameleon keepers end up becoming invert husbandry nerds too! You can try pre-made diets. They represent someone’s research into what insects need. The problem is that there is so much we don’t know so there is a lot of guessing and throwing everything in there to try and hit the right combo. I have been trying Repashy Bug Burger, but how can these things be good for crickets, superworms, and dubia? How can one mix give such diverse feeder insects the nutrition they need? Well, this is all part of the research and exploration we are doing in the community. At this point, be generous in feeding your feeders. Ad I do it for 48 hours before I feed them off to make sure they had the chance to eat their fill.

 

And then there is supplementation. Dusting with calcium makes sure your chameleon is getting enough calcium. And your UVB needs to be on point. Jackson’s seem to be sensitive to the multi-vitamin powders we have in the community so we generally use low fat soluble dose powders like Repashy Calcium Plus LoD once or twice a month. If you have sufficient UVB then once a month powder dusting should be fine. That is providing the vitamin A.

Nutrition is a huge topic and one worth checking out past episodes on nutrition. But it could easily take over this episode because there is so much to talk about! So I will leave the topic of chameleon nutrition to your free time.

 

Does it seem like I am going over a mini run down of chameleon husbandry? That is because I am! You don’t take care of a gravid female any different than you would a non-gravid female. The only difference is that when they are gravid there is much less tolerance for cutting corners. And the consequences of doing so will stare you in the face when the babies are born. And since you are never sure when the female decides to start the next generation, you are just trapped into giving excellent chameleon husbandry all the time!

 

Different species have different gestation lengths. A Jackson’s Chameleon is between 6 and 9 months on average. But she can start a pregnancy when she decides conditions are right and she can delay birth if conditions take a down turn when time gets near. So, yeah, its a lot of fun making caresheets for this species.

 

As the months continue on you will see more and more of the unmistakable sign of the belly growing out to the side. You may see her actively basking her belly to provide the correct incubation. And you will notice somewhere along the way that her appetite is pretty healthy. Jackson’s females, especially the xantholophus subspecies, love their food and will even ignore the human hand to get at it. I can hold a female xantholophus on my hand and she will forget how annoyed she is with me at the sight of food on some flower. So, you will get used to a healthy appetite. And, go ahead and feed her all she wants. Once the body has decided how many babies to have the die is cast and that is your number. Feed her all the nutritious feeders she wants. It is all going to the babies.

 

Somewhere about now you need to start thinking about fruit fly cultures. It takes time to establish these and the babies will eat a lot. One of the biggest stress points for a new keeper of a clutch of baby chameleons is feeding them. And just buying a cup of fruit flies may get you a cup that will be blooming, as we call it, in a week or so. Which does no good now! The best thing is to start the fruit fly cultures now! We keepers of live bearing species never know when we are required to provide fruit flies so we have to be ready at all times. As for what do you do with mature colonies when you don’t have your babies yet? Well, that is why I advocate for chameleon people to get dart frogs in their life!

 

All well and good. But, seemingly suddenly, she stops eating. You panic because you know she is getting large and must need the calories! This is actually a warning sign that birth is likely within days. Now, I have to preface this with the following caveats.

  • Not every chameleon listens to this podcast and know what they should be doing. Each chameleon is an individual and will do what they do. Sometimes it goes against what we expect from chameleon behavior. That is just part of what we are doing here. And we need to roll with the punches. Everything that I am laying out here is what we observe over a large number of Jackson’s Chameleons. This behavior list I am describing is an average across multiple species. But that does not guarantee that yours will adhere tot his 100%
  • There are other, non-healthy reasons why a female would stop eating. So make sure her eyes and other body signals are active and

But assuming everything checks out, a female suddenly stopping her voracious eating is a sign that birth could happen in the next two or three days. During this time you have your final checklist. Lots of branches for restless climbing all over while she births the babies. A Clear bottom of the cage. Nothing that gathers water. The babies will be deposited all over and will climb all over. They can easily drown so be a stickler for water in the cage. Remove any puddle, permanent or temporary.  Babies come out in a sac which they need to break out of. Don’t have an open cup or bottle of water or fountain, or any open water available.

 

Birthing almost always takes place first thing in the morning. The female will get restless and then start dropping babies. And, by dropping babies, I mean, well, dropping babies. It almost looks like she is dropping a poop, but then you see the poop struggling. This is the baby being woken up by the birthing process and breaking out of the membrane sack it is in. The mother does her best to drop them in different places. I am guessing this is to give the babies the best chance possible by helping them disperse. Babis seem to have the same programming so if they are kept in a certain area for whatever reason (like a cage), they will look for the same things. The first thing they look for is to disperse. So, in the first hours you will see them scrambling all over the cage walls looking to get away. They aren’t trying to get away from the mother. They are trying to disperse and make it harder for predators to get more than one baby. Once they have crawled around a bit, then their priority turns to being hidden and safe and at this point they start settling inside the foliage of the cage. Do you remember those pictures of a huge clump of babies sleeping in a ball? This isn’t a social behavior. This is all of them looking for the same things to be safe and meeting the rest of their brothers and sisters that had the same programming. This happens a lot in a cage because there isn’t far they can go and so when it is time to turn in for the night, all the babies are looking for the same thing and they find it on their own. They are not worried about the mother eating them and you don’t have to worry either. You absolutely should remove them from the mother’s cage within a day or so because we don’t know how long until the mother gets hungry and resists the maternal chemical wash in her brain. I, actually, have never seen a case where the mother has eaten babies left in the cage with her. I just can’t say it is 100% safe because I do not understand the dynamics behind what is going on to suppress the mother from seeing the babies as food. Though, of course, it makes perfect sense from an evolutionary standpoint.  The mothers that did see the babies as food did not pass on those genes so it was a self-limiting behavior!

 

Unfertilized ova

Now, during the birthing you may notice large yellowish blobs dispersed with the babies. These are unfertilized ova meaning they are eggs that were not fertilized with sperm, but was activated to go through the process anyways. I do not know how the body decides to do this or what criteria to use to determine the number. Perhaps it is actually dependent on the viability of the sperm and the female’s body did her part. Though I have seen some first broods having unfertilized ova so it is a complicated situation. All you need to know is that it is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

 

During birthing you may also notice babies not strong enough to make it out of their sac and the question always comes up as to how much you should assist them. And this is something for you to decide. How long they would survive if you help them is completely dependent on what the reason is they are having issues. For me, I choose not to help the process as not all babies are 100%. Some didn’t get enough nutrients or just plain aren’t strong enough. I have no way of knowing if that is something I could fix with proper care, but I choose to allow the birthing process to be a test of strength. Because this baby may grow up to be a breeder and I want the strongest genetics going forward. But this is a personal choice and I do not judge anyone who chooses differently. But one thing I do is I study each of the babies that are still born or weak and I try and find patterns. I assume this is something wrong in my nutrition of husbandry of the mother. While it is true that things happen that are out of our control and sometimes there are internal complications, I, by default, assume it is something in husbandry because that is the only thing I can change. I like things that are my fault because that means I can change the outcome next time.  So you’ll find I actually hope it was something I did wrong. Anyways, You’ll get live babies running around, bright yellow unfertilized ova on the ground, and weak or stillborn babies still in their sacks. You could get any of these, all of these, or just a bunch of babies running around!

 

The entire process will last a couple hours. She will drop one, move over, drop another, move over, and drop another. During this time she will take rest periods. You are welcome to remove babies during these rest periods, though be as non-intrusive as possible. Remove the babies at your leisure and when it is not disruptive to the birthing process. As I said, I have yet to see a mother eat a baby so I feel comfortable saying you can not worry about it. Of course, someone somewhere will have a story that contradicts me. But, amongst the circle of breeders I hang out with, their experience matches mine that we have not yet seen the babies being eaten.

 

The babies should be removed and, ideally, placed in individual cages. I realize that this is only starting to take hold as a breeder practice, but it is the best way and so I will continue to talk about it! Give the babies food ad libitum. Let them gorge themselves and grow as fast as they can.

 

Now, let’s circle back to the mother. She has been through a whole lot! Once the babies are removed and she is done with her ordeal then provide her with food and water and let her rest. You will know when she is done when she isn’t restless anymore and her rest period takes longer than usual. She has done quite a bit! Now you need to pamper her! You can feed her as much as she will eat for that first week after. Let her replenish her strength. So much of her inside body cavity was taken up by these babies so her stomach may react with a vengeance once it figures out it has all that space now. But you’ll get a feel for the situation as to when you should taper off the food. Jackson’s Chameleons are not as prone to overfeeding as Veiled Chameleons, but, even though the incidences are much fewer, it is still part of what we need to manage to be able to keep them in prime condition. Jackson’s are prone to gout, edema, and being over-weight so we need to e on top of our game here and not just give them what we think they want. Yes, I know they are irresistibly cute and you want to give them everything they ask for. But resist for their sake!

 

Conclusion

I have had females immediately go into another pregnancy and have babies six months later. The thing is that once you get the ball rolling with one mating, her body will then go on autopilot. In fact, you won’t be able to stop it. So, it becomes a normal part of keeping a female Jackson’s chameleons if she has ever had time with a male. That is just an aspect of keeping Jackson’s Chameleons that we need to understand and accept.

 

The live birth aspect of Jackson’s Chameleons is amazing and, if you are ready for it, one of the coolest things. If you are not ready for it it can be one of the most panic inducing things! And, Jackson’s Chameleons are not the only live bearing chameleon species. Presently available in the trade, Trioceros ellioti and Trioceros hoehneli are also live bearing. Should Tanzania ever export again you will see many other live bearing species.

 

Sign off

Through this podcast I hope you have been able to learn some of the signs of a gravid live bearing chameleon. And you can now be more confident as to what is going on inside the cage. Sometimes these behaviors can be confusing. But that is just part of what we take on when we step foot into this intricate world.

Thank you for joining me here

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chameleon cages

Ep 212: Chameleon Caging Decisions pt 2 – Glass Caging

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Good morning Chameleon Wranglers! Today we are continuing our conversation about chameleon cage type. Today we talk with Dr. Chris Anderson who shares his experiences in a wide range of conditions and why selecting glass sides enclosures was right for him.

glass chameleon cages
glass chameleon cages

Good morning Chameleon Wranglers! Today we are continuing our conversation about chameleon cage type. We chameleon keepers can select between screen and solid sides depending on how much air flow we need for our situation. The more screen sides we have the closer our cage interior will be to the ambient conditions in the room. The more solid sides you have the more you will be able to have control over raising the humidity and/or the temperature inside your enclosure. A combination of screen and solid sides is called a hybrid cage. In the chameleon community we do a subspecies type arrangement here where the PVC sided enclosures are called hybrid cages and cage’s with mostly glass sides are called “glass cages”. Today’s glass terrariums that have screen vents are technically hybrid cages, but we need to treat them differently because of the situation in the chameleon community where glass cages have been specifically stigmatized…inaccurately.

Dr. Chris Anderson is returning to share how he uses glass sides cages to house common chameleon species and breed the rarest.

As we touched on at the end, we, and others in the community, have been having this discussion for literally decades. The obsession with screen cages has proven difficult to shake. Screen cages have their place. Hybrid cages have their place and Glass cages have their place. It should not be an advanced skill to be able to choose which is most appropriate for your situation. That is a basic requirement of proper chameleon husbandry. If you are listening to 45 minutes of chameleon cage theory then you are in the upper levels of dedication. Make it a point to take your care sheet and compare it to your ambient conditions and decide, from that, whether you need more control over the enclosure environment. That is basic chameleon husbandry. That is the core skill and concept that has been so elusive to so many people wanting to be advisors. I encourage you to develop that skill for the sake of your chameleon.


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hybrid cages

Ep 211: Chameleon Caging Decisions pt 1 – Hybrid

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Deciding on a cage type for your chameleon can be confusing. You hear that chameleons have to be in screen cages but you have all these advanced users using hybrid or even glass cages. Today I am talking with Jonathan Hill of iPardalis about why he chose to use hybrid caging for his breeding program.

Links discussed

panther chameleon

Jonathan Hill runs iPardalis. The special value he offers is panther chameleons individually raised. Click the link to see his availability!

One of the early articles discussing the issues with focusing on screen cages only.

Tall Hybrid

Although the cages Jonathan referenced in this episode where the Dragon Strand Nursery Cages, the most common hybrid cage used for single adult chameleons is the Tall Hybrid Cage System.

Parsons Chameleon

This links to a podcast episode that discusses keeping chameleons in hybrid cages.

Transcript (more or less)

If you have been around chameleon keeping for any length of time you will hear that chameleons need to be housed in screen cages or they will die. Though if you have listened to this podcast for any length of time you will probably run into me saying this isn’t true. So, what do you do when so many of your social media people can’t see beyond screen cages and say anything else is for experts? Well, I have presented frequently that the cage type you select should depend on the ambient conditions. The closer your ambient conditions are to the conditions on the care sheet for your species the more screen panels you use. The further away they are the more solid sides you use. So, if your conditions will sustain chameleon life then use a screen cage. I use screen cages extensively for my outdoor keeping. But indoors I need some modification of the conditions. There is no way for me to effectively get the humidity close to 100% at night. I can put a fogger on the cage and give my chameleon a small cone of fog to find a way to sleep in, but that situation begs for a better solution. A hybrid cage is a cage that incorporates solid panels to block airflow and screen panels to provide airflow. By strategically positioning these you can provide enough ventilation to provide an effective exchange of air and drying out of the surfaces during the day while still maintaining enough control over ventilation to keep your fog in at night. To go further in the hybrid direction you can utilize appropriately sized glass enclosures.

I have done may episodes where I talk about cage selection theory. But the use of hybrid cages and especially glass caging is still considered for experts by most of the community. While there are more elements to watch out for, it is because you are giving a more complete husbandry to your chameleon. You cannot say that a full screen cage is just as good if you are disregarding the humidity and hydration requirements of your chameleon.

I am going to take a different approach this time. This is a two part series in which I interview two breeders that made choices to use specific caging. This episode I will be talking with Jonathan Hill of iPardalis who started off using screen cages, but transitioned to the hybrid caging style. We will learn about how he started and the decision process he went through to switch his entire operation to hybrid cages.

Before I bring him on, I’d like to make it clear. This is, in no way, saying everyone should be using hybrid cages. The cage type used, screen, hybrid, glass, or whatever is dependent 100% on how close your ambient conditions are with your target environmental conditions. The reason why I have such a focus on hybrid and glass enclosures on this podcast is not to get everyone to use them. It is to educate the community on the different applications of screen, hybrid, and glass enclosures so you can make the right choice for the right reasons.

Honestly, we shouldn’t still be having this conversation. We are literally having the same conversation. That we were having in 2002 when I published the article “Up North” Caging in the chameleonnews.com  website. The fact that so many social media voices have so tightly embraced old information and will not move forward is disappointing.

And now, I’d like to bring on Jonathan Hill from iPardalis. Perhaps there are parallels in the process he went through that may be helpful to you today.

There we have one breeder’s experience. I specifically chose Jonathan because I know he went through the thought process of balancing out the needs of his chameleons with the environmental conditions. He went through the exact decision process that many people should go through. Although I say my intention is not to push any one cage type over the other, the fact is that most households will better be able to provide proper chameleon husbandry with a hybrid cage. The major indicator is with humidity levels. Measure them day and night and if they are not what the care sheet says then you need to adjust your chameleon’s environment. A hybrid cage allows that. A screen cage does not. So when would a hybrid cage not be appropriate? If you have naturally high humidity and warm weather then you will want to have a screen cage. A hybrid cage holds in humidity and heat. If you already have it then you don’t need to hold it. But, remember, you have to measure what is in the room. If it is hot and humid outside, but you heavily air condition inside, then you may not have screen appropriate conditions. And for a deeper discussion into these aspects I invite you to join me for part two of this series where I bring back on Dr. Chris Anderson where I discuss deeply his use of glass caging from Florida to South Dakota.

If you are interested in learning more about the gorgeous panther chameleons produced by Jonathan You can drop by ipardalis.com or check out the show notes where I will link to his website.

Thank you for joining me here. And, mostly, thank you for being so interested in learning and moving yourself forward that you’ll hang out for 30 to 45 minutes listening to these deep dives into our community. An educated community is a strong community. And it is great to have you along on this journey of growing in the art of chameleon husbandry. Take care of yourself, take care of your family, and take care of those chameleons!  I will see you in two weeks for part two of this topic.

 


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Chameleon in Hybrid cage

Chameleon Cage Type: Screen, Hybrid, and Glass

Panther Chameleon Cage

Which type of cage you use for your chameleon – Screen, Hybrid, or Glass – can be a controversial topic. A significant segment of the community holds to the thought that chameleons need screen cages or they will die. This is simply not true. In fact, in most cases, a hybrid cage is more appropriate. A hybrid cage has mostly solid sides with special vents or screen panel configuration to encourage airflow. The truth is that the closer your ambient conditions are to what your chameleon needs, the more screen sides you’ll want on the cage. The more you have to change the ambient environment, the more solid sides you’ll have to incorporate.

Most care information available is for screen cages. Although there has been a significant adoption of solid side cages in the advanced community it isn’t because using them is so hard. It is simply that the experienced community knows what the best tools for the job are and are not swayed by the hype. I have often said to go with the cage type your advisor is most comfortable with. But when you have your feet under you and are able to understand your cage system then look into hybrid caging. In most cases, you will find your ability to create the proper humidity ebb and flow much easier!

The key to making solid side cages work is that you learn to monitor your heat and humidity. While screen cages are easier in the respect that they don’t store heat and humidity, they are less effective because you are unable to control the ambient conditions of the chameleon’s cage beyond the localized areas in front of the basking bulb or fogger.

The glass vs. screen debate will continue for long time. Perhaps the compromise of the hybrid cage will serve as a bridge for future chameleon community generations to see the cage types not as competitors, but as tools to be used where their advantages contribute to better chameleon husbandry.

Conclusion

I do not specify a cage type on the Chameleon Academy Care Summaries because the cage type will depend on your environment. A person in hot, dry Arizona with the air-conditioning running all day may not use the same caging as someone in humid, cool England. There is a false comfort in choosing to listen to an “expert” source that gives you a simple answer without taking into account the details of your particular situation. Unfortunately, doing it right is not simple. You have to think about conditions. While the ability to do this should be every chameleon keeper’s goal, there is no doubt that this is a skill to be learned that is beyond most people just starting off. We all start at the beginning and there is no shame in that. So the best course of action is to find a mentor or advisor that has kept chameleons in your general area and has dealt with the conditions you will face. And do what they have been successful with. Although I would cringe at advice given by people who say to only use screen cages, I also acknowledge that screen cage husbandry has been made to work. If you are surrounded by people saying to use screen cages only then you will probably be okay doing what they do. If their chameleons are alive they have figured out how to make it work. Just keep in the back of your mind that there is far to go and much to learn on the subject of chameleon cage types. But that can be for another day!

Further Research

There are, of course, many resources for continued research on the subject. A good start are two podcasts on both glass and hybrid caging.


 

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Female Ambanja Panther Chameleon

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Chameleon Cages

Minimum Female Chameleon Cage Size

Panther Chameleon Cage

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

One is minimum size for females.

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Female Ambanja Panther Chameleon

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veiled chameleon in UVB

Ep 171: Transitioning from the Chameleon Kit

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

Informational Links

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

Setting up and Transitioning from the ZooMed Chameleon Kit.

Transcript (more or less)

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s summarize our steps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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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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Plants and chameleons

Ep 167: Plant Keeping Basics with Bonnie Person

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When you look at my social media accounts you will see many pictures of lushly planted chameleon cages. But I went through a long education about plants and how to take care of them to be able to do that. And I am finding I still have some basic questions so I can be better at what I do. And what do you do when you have questions? You ask an expert! And even if you think you have some advanced skills, often the best place to start is at the beginning. So that is what I have done. Bonnie Person runs Verdant Vivariums which is a greenhouse that serves the reptile community with exotic plants. She would know the context from which I ask these questions. And I go to the ground floor with my questions. So if you want to figure out why you can’t eve keep pothos alive or just want a better grasp on plants in general then sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview about the basics of plant care!

 


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Nepenthes and chameleons

Ep 160: Nepenthes Tropical Pitcher Plants with Jeremiah Harris

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The Nepenthes Tropical Pitcher plants are one of the most striking plants we can include in our chameleon environments. Their leaves sport ornate carnivorous pitchers at the ends and they add a flash of adventure to our plantscape. With me is Jeremiah Harris to share his expertise in this exciting genus!

Thoughts from the podcaster :)

Chameleon owners have long been fascinating by the Nepenthes tropical pitcher plant. Though there wasn’t much overlap between the two hobbies mainly because screen cages and our selected temperature ranges for chameleons weren’t a perfect match. But with the increased awareness and execution of naturalistic hydration cycles, solid side cage, and a little help from Nepenthes hybridizers, these carnivores are now hardy in our cage environmental ranges and easily found online or public nurseries. As we shift our focus from just caging. Chameleon to creating a sanctuary environment which includes a chameleon we are expanding our focus to include interesting plants. And, Nepenthes certainly are at the top of those charts!

To introduce us to Nepenthes, Jeremiah Harris, a lifelong carnivorous plant enthusiast joins me. His greenhouses are things of wonder and just looking through his social media accounts, which are linked to in the show notes, you can imagine getting lost for days just peering into all the nooks and crannies, so to speak. So I am going to bring him on and we are going to hear all about these fascinating plants from a man who loves his plants like we love our chameleons!

Well, it is time for me to expand some species in my chameleon environments! Now, I want to address the most common question once more.

Nepenthes send out long leaves that develop literal pitchers at the end. These pitchers contain liquid which digests insects, or any other animal that falls in. Now, the initial response from chameleon keepers is to ask why you would include a plant in the cage that will eat your chameleon. The answer is that we wouldn’t. If you get good enough raising up your nepenthes that it produces pitchers actually big enough to trap your chameleon then you are quite accomplished and, hopefully, have the common sense to remove one of the two from the cage. If the chameleon can fit in the pitcher then you have an issue. Although chameleons would not be attracted to the sweet liquid like insects and mammals I really don’t want to get an email from someone who put a baby chameleon in with a mature Nepenthes 'Miranda' and then one day couldn’t find their chameleon. For almost all cases, you will be fine, but discernment is required.

If the theme of this podcast of creating beautiful vibrant, living environments for your chameleons resonates with you then take a look at adding a Nepenthes. They are sold as Monkey Cups at home improvement stores so they are easy to get a hold of. Humidity is the biggest challenge in areas that are dry. But if you are embracing the naturalistic hydration cycles you have what you need to keep these common hybrids happy. They were developed to be hardier at easy to reproduce conditions! So that is right up our alley.

I highly recommend following Jeremiah on social media. If nothing else, just to be exposed to the rich variety of pitchers in Nepenthes. Like chameleons and all of these outer fringes, there is enough diversity that you spend your life studying them and getting to know the characteristics of each species. Check the show notes for those links!

Thank you for joining Jeremiah and me here today! What I would really love is for you to tag me and Jeremiah on cages that you add Nepenthes to! They may take some skill to get them in the area of your cage that has just the right microclimate, but this is the fun of what we do. I look forward to seeing the results!

So, go out into the chameleon world and make some gorgeous environments that make people’s jaws drop even before they see the chameleon!

N. bongso 900x1200S

Nepenthes bongo

Holding a N. truncata x ephippiata 900x1200s

Holding a Nepenthes truncata x ephippiata

Nepenthes edwardsiana

Nepenthes edwardsiana

Nepenthes veitchii

Nepenthes veitchii

N. veitchii ‘Geoff Wong’

Nepenthes veitchii ‘Geoff Wong’

Nepenthes edwardsiana

Nepenthes hamata

Nepenthes truncata 900x1200

Nepenthes truncata

Nepenthes veitchii K

Nepenthes veitchii K

Nepenthes veitchii x boschiana

Nepenthes veitchii x boschiana

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branching a chameleon cage

Ep 146: Branching Your Chameleon Cage with Alec O’Brien

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Chameleons perch on branches. They spend their lives on branches. So it is actually pretty important for us to give them the right branches. Today I go over branch functions, how to select the right branch for the right purpose, what woods to use and how to mount them in the chameleon cage. Alec O'Brien then joins me and discusses how he sterilizes his branches.

ReptiBranch

Reptibranch

If you would like to learn more about Alec and Reptibranch then head on over to Instagram and watch him build this up.

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