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 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!


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!


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

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.



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


Creating Your Chameleon’s Sanctuary Live Class


When we bring a chameleon into our home we are starting on an incredible journey of discovery. And to understand how to properly care for this miniature tree dragon we need to get into a different mind set than we are used to.

In this online course I will introduce you to using the cage to create a sanctuary for your chameleon. We will do away with the idea that the cage is for containing a creature and replace it with the perspective that the cage is the borders of a floating garden that nourishes the chameleon inside. For this we need to understand a day in the life of a chameleon and what we need to provide for our chameleon’s physical and emotional well being.

Chameleon husbandry is a huge topic and so we must take it one step at a time. This course is a high level look at chameleon husbandry and the mindset we need to have. We will focus mainly on the “Forest Edge 4+4” checklist which we can use to gauge the effectiveness of the cage interior. We will run through what a forest edge is and review the 4 Gradients (heat, UVB, humidity, exposure) and the 4 branches (perching, drinking, eating, sleeping). Using this checklist you can start evaluating cage designs with respect to the needs of the chameleon.

Sections include:

  • Understanding a day in the life of a chameleon
  • What is important about the cage itself
  • Introduction to the Forest Edge 4+4 components
  • How to plan and arrange the cage interior
  • Monitoring success
  • Using plants
  • Introduction to light and hydration

This class will benefit people wanting to come at their chameleon husbandry with the chameleon’s needs in mind.

Learn about the daily needs of your chameleon. Before we can set up the cage we need to understand what the chameleon needs from the cage. It is easy to set up the cage based on what we want, but this is often the opposite of what your chameleon needs.

Learn how to set up your cage to meet you chameleon's needs. I will go over basic methods for actually putting the interior together.  From branch uses and plant types to placement strategies.

Develop the "Sanctuary" mindset.  When we focus on our desire to see the chameleon we create a holding cell. But when we focus on providing our chameleon with what it needs we take a holistic view of creating an environment. By creating and maintaining a living environment, our chameleon has a sanctuary in which it feels safe and is nourished. This class is your first step in developing the Sanctuary mindset.

What is a Live Class?

A Live Class is a webinar where you register for a class and are able to attend on your computer or even smart phone. I will be presenting the subject live and will answer questions after the presentation. You will be able to select from three possible times to attend.

Each class is presented live on the designated dates. Once registered, you will be emailed a link that will allow you access to the live classroom. There is no software needing to be downloaded. The class is compatible with the major internet browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Internet Explorer) . There will be a live chat and you will be able to type in questions to interact

The class will run between 60 - 90 minutes with a question and answer section afterwards.


This is a chance to get more familiar with chameleon husbandry in a new format that is uniquely suited towards education.

How Do I Attend?

Join me one one of the three dates by clicking the registration bar at the bottom of this page. You only need to give your name and an email address to receive the classroom link.

Currently scheduled dates are:

May 5, 2020 Tuesday 10AM PDT

May 7, 2020 Thursday 6PM PDT

May 9, 2020 Saturday 10AM PDT

I hope to see you there!

webinar screen shot
chameleon sanctuary

Creating Your Chameleon Sanctuary

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Today I touch on a couple topics. I talk about the difficulty in beginners getting the right information, I revisit the Plants Alive! challenge, and I encourage us to see our cage as a sanctuary. I also announce that this will be the last daily episode of a chameleon keeper in self-imposed isolation. It has been a thrilling run of over one month of daily episodes! I will be going back to the week format where an episode is released every Friday.

branching in a chameleon cage

New 2′ x 2′ x 4′ Cage Build Guide Released

Dragon Strand Tall Screen Cage Build Guide

Tall Screen Cage

A new comprehensive cage build was just released which used the new Dragon Strand Tall Screen Cage System. This is the model I will use to teach the principles of how to set up a standard 2' x 2' x 4' cage.

The Dragon Strand Tall Screen Cage System is a full featured system which consists of a 2′ x 2′ x 4′ screen cage, six Dragon Ledges, a Hydration Mount for a mist head, a fitted Drainage Tray, and an additional screen floor.

There is a unique feature of this screen cage in that the back panel is actually solid to protect the walls and furniture from mist overspray. So, in this cage build, I use each of these features to their full benefit, but it is written in a way such that the principles can easily be applied to any of the commonly available 2′ x 2′ x 4′ cages.

You can check out the 2' x 2' x 4' cage build here.

making UVB work for chameleons

Ep 131: Making UVB Work For Chameleons

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There is a lot of information about using UVB with chameleons bouncing around the internet. But how is it in execution? Today I bring you a discussion with Pete Hawkins who has raised a female veiled chameleon with UVB light and completely without dietary Vitamin D3.

Check out the links below to learn more about Pete!

Pete Hawkins' Website
Chameleon Network Facebook
Pete Hawkins Facebook

Transcript (More or Less)

The whole purpose of providing UVB light is to allow your chameleon to make vitamin D3 naturally through their skin. Although it is common to give D3 through the diet, this is not natural and we can overdose if we give too much. How much is too much is unknown. But instead of researching to figure that out, we are going to focus on researching how much UVB a chameleon needs to do D3 synthesis. As with every exploration there needs to be a starting point. For this starting point I talk with Pete Hawkins who was helping test the Arcadia EarthPro-A supplement which has no vitamin D3. His task was to raise a chameleon completely on UVB with no dietary D3.

Now, I want to give an introduction to what constitutes data in the search for UVB answers. Because there is enormous ambiguity and almost no hard data people in the social media echo chambers have become quite attached to their personal views, which, frankly, are based on nothing more than ideas pulled out of the air. Hard data is very difficult to come by as it takes years to pull together. So, let’s lay the ground rules for what constitutes solid information in the realm of UVB. For us to have a valid test as to whether a certain level of UVB is effective a female chameleon must be raised with no dietary D3 and then lay calcified eggs. That would be the top test as to whether the UVB level was sufficient. And, I am reporting today that we have a data point that fulfills that requirement. It is only one data point and we in the community must continue to test. Although, I will say before I bring on the interview with Pete, I have duplicated his findings with a test of my own. So, like any thing we accept as fact, it must be repeatable. Perhaps after listening in you would be interested in validating the test yourself.

And this is what we need to do to slowly crawl forward. We put together a feasible hypothesis and test it. Pete decided UVI3 was a valid level and proved it out. Building on this I did a test with two pairs of veiled chameleons with one pair being raised up with UVI 3 and one pair with UVI 6 to see if there was any difference. There was none and I am raising up the babies from that test right now. In addition to the test I ran, I validated the test Pete ran.

And what is the significance of these findings?

Well, within our UVB husbandry there are two important levels. The first is the minimum effective level which is the minimum level at which the chameleon can successfully synthesize enough D3 to not only grow up strong, but create calcified eggs. The next level is the maximum safe level. UVB will kill your chameleon. It burns and will produce cancers just like in humans so we  do NOT want to give them more than we need to. Between the tests that both Pete and I ran we can tentatively place UVI 3 to UVI 6 between the minimum effective and maximum safe levels for Veiled Chameleons.

Since there was no benefit to increasing from 3 to 6 we should now turn our minds to refining the minimum effective level. Could we get the same results with UVI 2? Maybe UVI 1? And this is where we can grow as a community. Of course, this is where I am placing my efforts and will let you know what I find out!

At this point we experiment more. If this interests you at all then please contact me. The more experiments we have running the better our data. But it is a touchy topic to test. Failure to synthesize D3 results in Metabolic Bone Disease. So anyone working with this should be ready to spend the money for blood tests to verify D3 levels and have an experienced keen eye to identify when things are not working out.

For the rest of the community, thanks to Pete, we know that UVI 3 is a safe level for veiled chameleons to live without dietary D3. I have duplicated that result in two animals so our confidence can grow. It is true that any scientific study would scoff at using three animals as an indication of anything. But, I will say that our community has gotten into the most heated battles being 100% sure of UVB husbandry even with the loudest voices not even having the benefit of a UVB meter so I think we can agree this is a step in the right direction.

So, where do we go from here? I give you no action item. At this point I am just making you aware of what is going on that is pushing us forward. You are welcome to use this information however it most benefits you. And, for my part, I will continue to bring you the latest advancements from every corner of the chameleon world.

making the chameleon kit to work

Ep 132: Making the Chameleon Kit Work

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Transcript (More or Less)

You just got home from the pet store or reptile expo with your chameleon and chameleon kit and the online community has passionately informed you of the things that need to change. You tally them all up and they amount to,…well, everything. And with ten voices chiming in from every corner, including that crazy guy who keeps telling you to go back in time and research more, what do you do first? In this episode you have one voice and we will get things sorted out in a orderly and logical fashion with a little learning fun thrown it!

Today my episode will be very specific. I am talking to the people who have purchased the Chameleon Kit from ZooMed. This is the set-up which is the most commonly brought home. It is not meant to be the final cage set-up for your chameleon even if that is the way it was presented to you at point of sale. I am sorry for how that works. We in the chameleon community welcome a great many people who are now having to deal with the realization that the advice they got upon purchase wasn’t the most solid.

ZooMed Chameleon Kit

If you were linked to this podcast it was probably from someone who wants to help make the transition from this simple set-up to something that will last for the chameleon’s long life time. After listening to this podcast episode I’d like to send you back to that person or group so you can continue the process. In this episode I am going to specifically work with what is in the kit and help you get it set-up as good as possible for your chameleon to be taken care of while you work on all the upgrades.

If you found this on your own then at the end of the episode I will refer you to other episodes of the podcast that will take you the next steps.

Chameleon are not that simple to set up. But if they are set up properly they are very hardy and enjoyable pets. The problem is that for pet stores and reptile show vendors to sell their chameleons it would really help if there was a cheap all-in-one boxed kit with a chameleon on the front that they could sell to you with your chameleon to get that money exchange and you on your merry way.

Enter the mechanisms of capitalism and lo and behold that product appeared.

Today I am going to talk about the one set-up the majority of new keepers are sent home with from pet stores and even reptile shows. The Zoo Med Chameleon Kit is a box that suggests it has everything you need and that is the way it is sold. So it may be a cold surprise when you are told that everything needs to change and then the advised expenses start climbing. And you are left confused as to what to do. Even if money was not an issue, who should you listen to? Pet store employee, who is trained to know the right stuff, tells you one thing and then internet mob screams something different.

It is not uncommon for people to have changed up their set-up three times and just gotten sick of hearing so many different opinions.

So that is what this podcast episode is about. Just me and you, your chameleon and the Chameleon Kit. And I will go through what is important and when so your little guy or girl can have the healthiest life possible. And, who am I that you should listen to me? Excellent question and definitely one you should be asking whenever accepting advice. That will help filter the cacophony of voices wanting the pleasure of your attention. My name is Bill Strand and I have been involved with chameleons for about 40 years and active in chameleon community education for 20 of those years. Part of that is continually diving into what we don’t know and challenging what we do know. And, with this podcast, you have found my main outreach to share chameleon related information. So, assuming that has passed the test for being worth the time to listen, let’s get on to helping you sort out that kit you have been sent home with.


First, Let’s go over what comes out of the box:

  1. Cage
  2. Vine
  3. Carpet
  4. Plant sprig
  5. Repticalcium
  6. Reptivite
  7. Thermometer
  8. Light fixture
  9. UVB bulb (13 Watt)
  10. Daylight Blue heat bulb (60 Watt)
  11. Reptisafe sample



The cage is a 16”x16”x30” screen cage. This is an excellent cage to start off with and is appropriate for a single chameleon up to about 4” in body length, or, what we call snout-to-vent. This doesn’t count the tail which tends to break the curve. There comes an issue if you purchased a chameleon larger than this or you have come home with a pair. Yes, the sales person should have known better, but here we are. We’ll look into this more after we go through all the other goodies in the box.


The next thing we have is an innovative light fixture which holds two lights. The lights included are the Daylight Blue 60 Watt basking bulb and a Reptisun 5.0 13 watt mini compact fluorescent bulb. This will be the subject of great discussion in a little while. For now, it is enough to know that chameleons need light to see, light to bask in for warmth, and UVB rays so their skin can create vitamin D3 just like ours does. Without vitamin D3 they can’t absorb calcium, their bones do not harden and they die a slow painful death so this particular issue raises a great deal of passion and urgency in the community. So, yes, we will discuss this in detail coming up.

Cage Accessories:

We have a handful of cage accessories including a nice long twisty vine, a spring of plastic plant, and not one, but two, carpets for the bottom of the cage. So we will have fun putting that together I am sure


Next we have some sample packs of powders. The first is Calcium without D3, Reptivite vitamin powder that does have D3, and a water conditioner.


And finally, we have a thermometer with a probe that can get wet. Party on, dudes!

And I have to mention that chameleons cannot be kept together in this cage. If they are old enough to be sold at the retail level then they are beyond the age that you can get away with keeping them together because they are babies. And there is no such thing as a bonded pair. This is just the inexperience, or greed, of the pet store employee talking. So if you have two either take one back or else prepare to set up two enclosures. This is beyond opinion. If you are unsure what to believe because the pet store person said they can be kept together (and deep down you want this to be true) I have to just pull rank here and say they are wrong. Absolutely wrong and I’d be happy to say it to their faces. I have an entire episode on co-habitation if you want details on this. Episode 107.

Okay, so you put this all together, throw some crickets in the cage, and life is good! But, there is a lot more to this podcast so this is the part of the movie where the hero finds out that all is not good and that a complete transformation is necessary. And like that hero, at the end of this movie, you will have travelled a fascinating road. So let’s take that first step.

First of all, let’s set up the cage you have and explain the equipment you are dealing with.

To start with setting up the cage, you assemble it according to instructions and then we have to do something with the inside. Just set the carpet aside. I have no idea why that is in this kit. A solid floor is a much better bottom for a chameleon cage. The floor to the cage is fine.

Inside the cage, the included vine will come in handy, but the sprig of plastic leaves is of very little use. In a chameleon cage we need to create a forest edge which means a open area for basking and an area with dense plant leaves that the chameleon can feel safe and hidden. There is no way to do that with what is included in this kit. So your first mission is to put a plant inside this cage that has leaves the chameleon can hide in and feel safe. Luckily, these kinds of plants are found in most indoor plant retailers. You are looking for one that, with its pot, reaches almost 30”, which is the height of your cage and has a lot of leaf cover. Specific species to look for that would do this are the Umbrella Plant (Schefflera arboricola), the Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), or the China Doll plant (Radermachera sinica). But it has to have a good head of leaves on it to be of use. So you may be spending $30 for a good size plant. This is worth it for what it does for the chameleon so budget for that amount. If you are unable to find a plant that is tall enough you can make a trailing vine like a pothos work by also buying a plant stand that will move the plant up and let it trail down. The plant species isn’t critical. It is the leaf density and if it is enough for the chameleon to hide in or behind. This will also be your drinking surface. Once the plant is in you can use that vine and wrap it around in side to give as much access to the cage corners as possible. And the plastic plant sprig? Hopefully you don’t need it, but it can provide extra coverage if your live plant is light on leaves in a certain area.

For branching you can get sticks from outside. How you mount these sticks depends on how long you intend to use this cage. If you have a carpet chameleon then you’ll be able to use this cage for its entire life and we can talk about permanent solutions to trick out the cage. If you have a  Veiled, Panther, or Jackson’s you will be growing out of that cage within single digit number of months so it would be best to simply buy the equipment you would need for the upgrade cage. For temporary set-up you can jam a stick in between the screen sides so the screen tension holds the stick in place and you can use push pins through the screen to hold the stick in place. Anything that puts stress on the screen which was not meant to be  lo0ad bearing is a hack and you would want to steer away from it for a set-up you intend to keep around for years.

Okay, now we get to the trickiest part of this and we will have to be clever as to how we execute this. The lighting included in this kit has a 13 watt compact fluorescent UVB bulb and a basking bulb. We need to arrange for the chameleon to have a basking branch that runs under both of these at a somewhat precise distance.

Here is a quick introduction to UVB and UVB lamps. UVB is the wavelength of sunlight we use to create vitamin D3. It is also the wavelength that causes sunburn and cancers. So there is a thin slice of amount of UVB which we want our chameleon to bask in. Not too high of numbers and not too low of numbers. Artificial UVB lamps need to be used with care because each one has a different gradient that they produce. This refers to how quickly they change value. If I wanted my chameleon to bask in the UV Index level of 2 to 3, but not more than 6, I need to find a lamp which has a big enough space for my chameleon to fit its body. So the technology that really works well for us is the linear T5 UVB Fluorescent lights. I can raise it above the cage so that my basking branch starts at 2 to 3 and the top of the cage 6” up is still under UV Index 6. So I
have a gradient of 6 to 9 inches that I can use. The reason that the Compact Fluorescent Bulb that is included in this chameleon kit is so despised is because the top of the cage, right under the bulb, can be UVI 33 which is blisteringly strong. 1 inch down it is 9 which is still too strong. 2 inches down it is 4 which is starting to be useful. 3 inches down it is UV index of 2 which is good for babies. And 4 inches down it is UV Index of 1. So, yes, I can get my range of UVI 2 to 3, but it literally is only with a half inch slice of space three inches under the screen. And above that is at dangerous levels. So these compact bulbs do have a UVB gradient. It is just packed in such a small physical space that it really can’t be used effectively. So, until we get to the upgrade part, run and bend your vine so that the top of your chameleons head can be 3 inches from the screen top where the UVB bulb is. This will give you one small space in the cage where the UVB is good. Luckily, chameleons seem to be able to search out and bask in UVB so we will rely on our little friend to find that one sweet spot in the cage and get what he or she needs.

The heat bulb is also in the same situation. With 60W the useful distance is where you can hold the back of your hand under the light and it is warm and comfortable to you without being painful or uncomfortable due to heat. And you will need to run a vine at the distance that feels the best to you.

A word about the blue light. It is a daylight bulb, not necessarily a blue light bulb, but we really want white light. This blue light can be kept as a heat bulb for future use, but we will definitely be adding a fixture that has white light daylight bulbs in it.

And now we get to nutrition and those powders. The reptisafe water conditioner is…well, I have never used it. I don’t know why it needs to be there. You can use it by following the instructions or not. That won’t have an effect on your chameleon. Beyond that, you have two powders. The first is the ReptiCalcium without D3. This is just calcium powder. This is vitally important because our chameleons need calcium to grow their bones and for proper organ function. Our feeder insects, like crickets, are not only poor in calcium, but they are high in phosphorus. Our chameleons need a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio meaning we need to put enough calcium powder on the crickets to counteract the phosphorus levels. Now you next question is how much you need to dust. And this is not an exact answer and can’t be. With all the variables in how much is dusted, how much sticks, and how much as fallen off by time it is eaten there isn’t a good solid way to measure how much is needed. But, so far, us dusting our feeders every feeding with calcium has worked to raise healthy chameleons. So don’t worry so much about amount. The only thing you have to worry about is how much you feed your chameleon. If it is a growing baby then you can feed as much as they want every other day. If it is an adult you need to back off to 3 to 5 feeders every other day. As cool as they are when they eat and as much as they seem to just want to keep eating – especially the veileds- they are prone to obesity if we let them so we don’t let them.

The Reptivite with D3 is a vitamin powder. This is a tricky beast. It has vitamin A and vitamin D3. Both of those vitamins are fat soluble so there is possibility of overdose. So we want to give enough, but not too much. Now, because no one knows and our information is full of holes, it leaves room for people to have passionate opinions that are contradicting with warnings of horrible death if you listen to anyone else. So pick a routine that makes sense and stick with it even though other people are going to weep and gnash their teeth. I am sorry, but no one agrees so you will just have to pick one voice to listen to. Here is the difficulty. Your chameleon gets D3 from the UVB. Since the UVB is difficult to work with we don’t know if our chameleon is getting enough. We can use the Reptivite with D3 to supplement what he gets from the light, but with D3 from the light, his body will stop making it when he has enough. The body regulates how much it makes to keep it in the safe zone. When we give it through the diet we bypass the regulation and he can get too much. So how much more do we need to give? That is unknown so we have to make a guess. For veiled and panther chameleons, I am going to suggest you use the Reptivite once a week if this is a growing chameleon. I am more concerned with your chameleon, especially veiled chameleon getting Metabolic Bone Disease than I am a vitamin D3 overdose. So for now I am going to suggest you dust one feeding a week with the Reptivite with D3 while we are under the Chameleon Kit conditions. Once we upgrade your system we will rely more on the UVB bulb for D3 synthesis. Jackson’s Chameleons are much more sensitive to vitamins and will get fluid collars with too much so, for Jackson’s chameleons I’ll suggest doing the Reptivite every weeks instead.

Reptivite also has pre-formed vitamin A. This is another one we have to be careful not to overdose, but once a week at the levels in Reptivite should be fine for this short while. Now, one thing I do not like about Reptivite is that they include a perfect balance of Calcium and phosphorus in that 2:1 ratio we want. Unfortunately, this means we can’t put it on a cricket and have a balance. It shouldn’t be a big deal if you are doing it once a week, but if you want to make me feel better, mix in an equal part of that plain calcium and then there will be calcium enough to counter act the phosphorus in the cricket.

Does this sound all complicated? Yeah, I am sorry. It is. But let’s make it simple. Feed every other day. Dust all feedings with calcium except for the weekend feeding that is dusted with Reptivite with D3. Unless you have a jackson’s chameleon in which case you do the reptivite every two weeks.

For both of these make sure you are feeding your feeder insects fruits and vegetables and grains to ensure they are not just empty shells when you feed them to the chameleon. This is called gutloading and it is very important. The powders are supplements. Not meal replacement shakes.

To make this a complete summary, let’s talk about hydration. You may have gone home with any number of hydration devices or plans. The most common are a hand spray bottle or a dripper. Either of these can be used for now. If you are hand spraying then a spritz on the leaves every morning and afternoon should provide the water he needs. I always use a dripper to make sure he is getting enough. If he drinks from the dripper then I know I need to spray the leaves more. Don’t spray your chameleon as he won’t like it. But go ahead and keep spraying until he stops drinking if he starts drinking when you are spraying. There is no drainage tray included with this cage and that means an automatic misting system is probably not a good idea unless you get a tray to put under the cage to catch the water. The company does make a substrate tray, which will catch water, but this is not the appropriate accessory. You don’t want to catch the water inside the cage. It needs to be caught and stored outside the cage so it can’t mingle with the poop and make a disgusting situation. There are trays specifically made to be drainage trays, but these take some money and I am going to suggest that you not accessorize this cage, but start your plans for the next stage as quickly as possible.

We do have one last piece of equipment. The thermometer. This can be hung in the cage and you can monitor your ambient temperature. This allows you to track conditions and know whether you are meeting the needs of your particular species.

So this is what we can do with the cage as you have it out of the box. I took the challenge of figuring out how to make this work with as little excess items to purchase as possible. The things we couldn’t do without were the plant and the hand mister.

So, now that your chameleon is as set as is possible with what you have it is time to start the transition to a better set-up. The first two things that you will have to upgrade are the cage size and the UVB light and the supplementation. And they all three pretty much have to go together. The size and strength of the UVB light and fixture you get will depend on which cage you plan on graduating to. And the supplementation routine is directly related to the UVB and who you are talking to.

At this point I will let you go back to your social media group or the other episodes of my podcast for how to put together your forever cage. And I do this in recognition that this learning process is more comfortable when you have people helping you in real time. If you have people guiding you as to what needs changing then follow their guidelines. It is important that you follow only one person or group’s recommendations because getting a second opinion will just give you different results. And beware of husbandry by consensus. You cannot consolidate the ten different opinions you get off of a Facebook question into a coherent plan forward. Half the people who respond to your picture just want to be heard and have no idea what they are saying. And it is difficult for you to separate out the people that have experience. Well, unless you research the names. I invite you to listen to the previous episodes in this podcast. I go deep into topics, and you will definitely get a feel for what sounds right and what sounds off in the real world. If you want to check out more of these podcasts, I suggest starting with episode 113 which will lead you through selecting a proper chameleon cage, 114 which talks about creating an effective interior and 115 which is about maintaining the chameleon cage. And then just go back to episode 1 and listen on the way to work. By time you catch up your head will be filled with what we in the chameleon community know at this point.

Even if the first steps into the chameleon community were a little rocky, this is an amazing journey. I hope you are able to discover the beauty and wonder that I have in these mini tree dragons.