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Ep 201: The Five Most Asked Chameleon Questions

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

Welcome to season six of the Chameleon Academy Podcast!

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

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

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

 

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

 

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

What are Chameleons Like?

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

So,

What kind of relationship can you have with a chameleon?

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

This all begs the obvious question,

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

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

 

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

 

The #1 question is Can I hold my chameleon?

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

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

 

But, here is the real answer.

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

 

Proposition: Stress kills chameleons. True.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Question 2: Will a chameleon bite?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Question #4 is What do they eat?

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

 

And, finally,

Question 5: Will a chameleon just die on me?

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

 

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

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

 

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

Closing

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Furcifer minor

Ep 172: Wrapping up the 2020 Chameleon Year

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

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

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

 

Pro-T5 UVB fixture

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

 

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

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

RevitaliseD3

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

 

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

 

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

And those are material enough reasons to change my recommendation.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Chameleon Academy end of year updates

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

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

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

 

Critical thinking

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

 

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

Closing

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

 

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

 

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

 


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crested geckos

Ep 168: Crested Geckos with TikisGeckos

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Crested geckos are common place pet lizards that are available from private breeders all the way to big box pet stores. They are hardy and so are quite popular. If you work during the day and come home right before your chameleon starts to turn in for the night you might find some enjoyment in this nocturnal gecko who is just getting started when the sun goes down! Today I am joined by David and Manny from TikisGeckos who got their start breeding crested geckos and now run one of the prominent reptile captive breeding facilities.

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Jacksons Chameleon with a Temporal Gland Infection

Ep 166: Temporal Gland Infections with Dr. Tom Greek

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If you are a keeper of the Jackson’s Chameleon, you may be familiar with the temporal gland. It is a gland at the corner of the mouth that seems prone to infection. When husbandry is off. This is a significant health issue with Jackson’s Chameleons and one that is worth being familiar with. If you do not have a Jackson’s Chameleon, fear not, the review on bacterial infections can apply to any of our chameleons, temporal gland or not. To review the Temporal Gland Infection, or TGI in abbreviation, I am bringing on Dr. Tom Greek of Greek and Associates Veterinary Hospital in Yorba Linda, CA which is on the edge of Orange County. He is one of those more-valuable-than-gold vets because of his extensive experience with chameleons.  I know this first hand as he has seen my chameleons from the Brookesia Madagascar stump-tailed chameleons to the giant Parson’s Chameleon for over two decades. Let’s bring him on and talk about Temporal Gland Infections.

 

Chameleon keepers are well aware that we need to provide the correct environmental conditions or else our chameleon’s immune system will be compromised, possibly leading to a bacterial infection. This is common to all of the species. Jackson’s Chameleon keepers have an extra area that is prone to these infections, but it shouldn’t be something that keeps you from considering a Jackson’s Chameleon. With all chameleons, proper husbandry will be what keeps them in health with or without a temporal gland. In fact, with the three Jackson’s chameleons I have had an issue with in the last year, they have all been in the lacrimal nasal duct, not the temporal gland. They are all treated the same way. And I know exactly what caused them – temperature spikes due to the recent heat waves. This of course has got me thinking that the days of easy outdoor keeping of Jackson’s Chameleons for me in Southern California may be waning. I used to have two cages for each chameleon – an indoor cage and an outdoor cage and it is time for me to return to that very good policy.

 

As for what you should do. If you have a Jackson’s Chameleon – or any chameleon – look for slight swelling along the lip line. If you catch it early, which let’s hope you do, it will be so slight that you wonder if it is your imagination. This is the perfect tie to go with your gut feeling that something is off. Check the other side and see if there is any difference. See if you can get him to open his mouth so you can see if there is any swelling on the inside. Here is the big problem with chameleon veterinary medicine. The condition is most treatable when you can’t be sure if it is really a problem or not. But if you wait until there is no doubt then your chances of beating it are reduced. So, this is where being laser focused on any subtle changes in your chameleon’s appearance or demeanor pays off. And I always say, I hate wasting money going into the vet, but the best news I can get is that there is nothing wrong. Now there is one caveat. And this is where it is tricky. You have to have a realistic sense of how good you are in determining something is off with your chameleon. A physical swelling is easy. The vet may be even better to diagnose it than you are. And, this covers the TGIs that this episode is about. But if we are talking about infections on a higher level then we are including in our discussion other infection areas. And if you see your chameleon being lethargic, sitting with his eyes closed, or nose pointed in the air he is giving behavioral signs of an infection taking hold. The infection may at such a level that your chameleon will be able to totally mask it at the Vet office. When your chameleon is hyped up on adrenaline he isn’t thinking about acting sick. So he could very well be acting totally healthy when your vet gives him an exam. At this time it may be a blood test that is needed to definitively prove thee is an infection going on. Experienced reptile vets will know how well reptiles hide their sickness and will consider your behavior report an important part of their diagnosis. And the broad spectrum antibiotics have a high level of safety. You definitely do not want to give medications unless they are needed, but the vet, may decide that the minor consequences of giving the antibiotic Baytril on a behavior-based suspicion are usually a better risk than waiting for more definitive physical sign. Once again, in the chameleon world, a reptile experienced, or better yet, a chameleon experienced veterinarian is gold. It is 100% worth it even if you have to drive a distance to get to them.

If you are in the Orange County area of Southern California, you have access the Dr. Greek. He is in the city of Yorba Linda.

 

But even vets that say they see exotics are not always chameleon experienced. So I will be starting a veterinarian list on the Chameleon Academy website of offices that my listeners have verified are good chameleon experienced veterinarians. Not just exotics and not just reptiles, but chameleons. And I am looking for personal experience. I’d like for this to be a global resource so please share your vet names no matter which country you are in!  If you are a vet listening and you are experienced with chameleons please get in contact with me so I can list your office as well. We are constantly helping people around the world find a vet. Bottom line – if you see chameleons please let me know. And I am confident that if you are listening to this podcast you have already shown an above average dedication to chameleons. Whether you are a vet that works with chameleons or a keeper that has a chameleon vet you are happy with, please email names and/ or links to bill@chameleonacademy.com  and I will create this resource for our community.

Thank you Dr. Greek for joining me here today and sharing your experience with the community. And, I personally thank you for the decades of being part of the community. And to you listeners, I thank you for joining me and Dr. Greek for our talk on TGIs. So go out into the world and keep a close watch on the jawlines of those three horned mini-tree dragons….Wow, you know you are part of a ultra-specialized community when that constitutes as a good sign off.

Chameleon Veterinarian

 


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Panther Chameleon

Ep 165: Chameleon Photography with Briana O’Brien

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Anyone who has tried to take a picture of a chameleon has found out that it isn’t that easy. They actively plot against you and your Instagram aspirations. So, in an effort to figure out how I can take better pictures of my chameleons I searched out the person who is not only the most prolific chameleon photographer of our time, but her work looks great. Perhaps some of that could rub off on me with just a podcast interview and ten short years of dedicated practice. Of course, I speak of Briana O’Brien who is the photographer from Kammerflage Kreations. She fills their social media accounts with a great deal of eye candy every week. Those with a photographic eye will notice an evolution of style, skill, and technique. So, can a talk with Briana change this iPhone wielding chameleon wrangler into a photographic artist? I will bring her on and we shall see

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Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 164: The Early Chameleon Community with Jeff Hattem

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Today I have the honor of sharing with you a part of our early chameleon community. A multigenerational breeding project in the US which started in 1967,.. It was modelled off of a German project that took Jackson’s Chameleons to the F3 generation and a Southern California reptile club decided to replicate the experiment. I will be bringing on Jeff Hattem who, as a young man, was part of this project. Please join me in a view into our past.

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Tyrone Ping

Ep 155: Tyrone Ping and South African Herp Photography

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Today I am joined by Tyrone Ping who is a herpetological photographer from South Africa who achieved his six year goal of photographing all the chameleon species of his home country. Tyrone comes on and shares with us a little bit about what life is like in South Africa and introduces us to his country’s chameleons and the adventures he has had recording them.

Welcome chameleon wranglers to the Chameleon academy podcast! I just had the most enjoyable interview talking with Tyrone Ping. It is such a pleasure connecting with chameleon enthusiasts from around the world. Tyrone hails from South Africa. This is where you find the diminutive  Bradypodion chameleons. So Tyrone’s personal goal to photograph each of the species of South African chameleons has made him a valuable source of knowledge.

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Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 153: Intro to the Chameleon Community

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Starting off with chameleons can be an intimidating time. Coming into the chameleon community you are bombarded with UVB, D3, gradients, and a wide range of passionate, yet contradicting opinions. Today I am going to review the basics to get you off on the right foot.

Welcome to those of you new to the community. This episode is going to condense what you need to start your chameleon journey into one powerful dose of audio goodness. The last time I did this was for episode 30 of this podcast. That was four years and 123 episodes ago. That puts our journey here on the show into perspective! So, obviously, we can’t cram 150+ episodes into one, but what I can do is ease the transition into this new world. This episode is for the person just starting out or the one who has been away for a while and wondering what has changed while they were gone. And it is a resource for social media moderators and advisors to link to when someone asks what they need to know about chameleons.

Links to More Information

The Original Chameleon Summary Episode!

If you had fun with this episode and want to listen to another just like it you can turn back the hands of time and check out episode 30. That was four years and 123 episodes ago and I have grown much since then. But there is still so much good information in there I thought I'd share it again!

Introduction to Chameleons

The Three Main Species of Chameleons!

The Veiled, Panther, and Jackson's Chameleons are the top three species you will run into and, really, could you ask for more? These are gorgeous species and wonderful chameleon pets! Here are the profiles for each for you to check out!

chameleons caresheets

Why we don't co-habitate Chameleons

Chameleons cohabitating

The Forest Edge 4+4 Method for Chameleon Cages

Here is where you will learn how to set up a chameleon cage properly!

panther chameleon baby

Making the Chameleon Kit Work

 

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Jacksons Chameleon eating from on hand

Ep 150: Breaking the Chameleon Rules

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Last week I talked about caresheets - how they were made and how we should use them. These provide guidelines for the husbandry. But then you see people breaking the rules. People you considered experts are doing it differently and then someone from left field is doing exactly what was said not to do and gloating about it. So, who do you listen to? Today, I talk about breaking the rules.

chameleons caresheets
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chameleon in a cage

Ep 149: Understanding Chameleon Caresheets

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When we start with a new reptile the first thing we do is search for a care sheet. These are summaries that give us the basics of what that animal needs to thrive. But it can be confusing when you get two or three caresheets and they contradict each other. In today’s episode I talk about how caresheets are constructed and how to navigate the information they provide.

chameleons caresheets
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