Husbandry

Female panther chameleon

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 verrucosus

Ep 170: Researching Chameleon Species

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When you step into the chameleon world you find yourself in an immense undiscovered country. You never realized how many species of chameleons there are! So how do you go about learning the species just listed for sale? Today, I take you along with me as I gather information on a rarely available Captive Hatched chameleon species.

Transcript (more or less)

Sometime last year I got the news that, a friend of mine, Shane Boyd had eggs laid by his pair of Furcifer verrucosus. This was exciting because F. verrucosus is almost extinct in the US captive community. There are a few left here and there, but the likelihood that they are reproducing is very low. Though I would love to be proven wrong so please let me know if there are some hiding out there. Furcifer verrucosus is a large dragon-like chameleon. It is one of the Madagascar chameleons that come from the harsh, arid south and west. Although they tend to be available as wild caught when Madagascar is exporting, they are just like every other chameleon. As captive hatched they are like a completely different beast and I let Shane know way back then to please let me know when those eggs hatch because I wanted to be first in line. Furcifer verrucosus is one of the largest of the chameleons and so raising one from a baby would be a special experience.

I have the benefit of many years of experience behind me and, in a yesteryear, imported Madagascar species, including F. verrucosus so I knew how special this was and I already know what I am in for a year from now. But even I run into species that I may have heard of, but would not know how to care for beyond a basic general idea. So I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to pretend that I am new to F. verrucosus, do some research, and take you along. This is how I do my research on species and these resources are available to you as well. We’ll do it on Verrucosus today, but the techniques can be applied to any species.

So, let’s start at the beginning. I run across a classified on Chameleon Forums by Shane Boyd from RGB Reptiles saying he has captive hatched Furcifer verrucosus. Hmmm, I have not heard of that one before. The pictures posted of the parents pique my interest. They are kind of rugged looking with a cool back crest. And there are some people asking if it is a cross between a Veiled and a panther. So, there are more people out there that haven’t heard of this species. Well, the fact that it is off the beaten path makes it a little more interesting in my book. And so, I decide to pull out the light of truth called Google from whence all knowledge resides. Let’s type in Furcifer verrucosus.  And the first thing I am going to do is going to look at the images. And…wow, this guy is kind of cool. Subtle greens but maybe some blues coming out in the chin area. Love the spiney back and the massive head. Looks like it is called the Warty or Spiny Chameleon. I can see spiny chameleon, but I can only guess the warty name came from the big scales on its cheeks. But no matter. I like the look of this guy. So I decide I am going to go to the next step. Clicking over in google to the text listing I see what is coming up. Now, you can always go straight to care sheets. But with these rare chameleons you need to be careful with what information you accept. I like to learn a little bit about their natural history before I look for care sheets and especially before I ask on social media. Knowing their natural history gives me a baseline familiarity that helps me pick out the people who know what they are talking about and get an idea of who might be trying to be helpful, but with a subject a bit out of their league. Of course, the most direct way, if you are getting a baby, to get information is to talk with the breeder. But if the chameleon is wild caught you don’t have that option. And, take it from a guy who did this all the time, the more you know going into the call with the breeder the more you will know what questions to ask that you may not have thought to ask before. So, even if you have a benefit of a breeder to talk with, this preliminary research stage is invaluable. So, let’s do a little research and see what we come up with.

Here are the digital places I go to get what I know to be good information:

First, check Chameleon Academy to see if there are any podcast episodes on this species. I interview people who have bred their chameleons and have a background to be giving advice. The big advantage is that I have vetted them for you so you know you are getting good information. But, searching through the Chameleon Academy Podcast archives, I do not have an episode on Furcifer verrucosus. Beyond the podcasts you have the following sites which have solid information.

 

Adcham.com – Adcham stands for Advanced Chameleon and was a group started on the listserves of the late 90s. This group was intended to bring together the experienced community to have higher level discussions. Many members of this group got together to create a website of the same name which would be a repository of as much information as we could stuff in there. What we ended up with was a massive amount of information. Although it is a couple decades old, most of the information is still good today. The reason why I bring up a website that has some years on it is that it has a pretty healthy collection of profiles of rare species so it is still a valuable resource. So it is a good place to search and I did find a very good species profile that was detailed and got me on the right track. Here I learn that there are two subspecies and that the gravid female has some spectacular colors. More importantly I learn about ambient temperatures in the 80s with a 15 degree drop during the humid night. Now, I always will cross check the temperatures and compare sources unless I am familiar enough with the sources to know I can trust it. So, a good haul of information. But, really, if you think about it, my purpose in doing this research is natural history. Since these are captive hatched one of my stops in my research period will be to communicate with the breeder and that will probably be my most reliable source of up to date husbandry information. So at this point I am digging around to make sure I ask the breeder intelligent questions.

Chameleonnews.com is another information ladened site. This was actually a regularly published digital magazine. It too has a number of rare species profiles. Though this source did not have verrucosus, it is well worth being on your list to review what is out there.

Now, there is a huge advantage to this being a Madagascar species. Because of this we can find some recent information on the MadCham website. https://www.madcham.de/en/furcifer-verrucosus/. This is a website run by people who take chameleon tour groups to Madagascar every year. And so they know what to look for. You’ll find daily temperature fluctuations, UV Index readings throughout the day and some incredible videos of the natural habitat. And from these I can tell that F. verrucosus does not come from the lush jungles we assume chameleons come from. This is an arid area.  This raises the question I did not think to ask the breeder before- what should the daily humidity cycle be?

The next site is chameleondatabase.com which is committed to posting wild chameleons from their natural habitat. From here I can get an idea of how they look in the wild as the photo galleries are arranged by location the photo was taken. By getting a feel for the color variations and the difference between male and female I am more confident talking with the breeder. More importantly, I do not have to waste the breeder’s time with the simple basics that can be found on line.

And this is a very important point. You get a limited time with the breeder. Make it count. With internet information overload it is easy to throw your hands up and just go to the breeder for a data dump. The breeder is obligated to do this as you are a customer. But if you have 30 minutes with the breeder you can get an overview summary of chameleon husbandry basics. Or you could get a detailed summary  of Furcifer verrucosus husbandry basics. Or you could have a detailed deep dive into the personality and husbandry differences between male and female and Wild Caught/captive hatched with a discussion about which supplementation routines were tried and the results of different vitamin A and D3 levels. The more prepared you are when you call the breeder the more information you will get that is not sitting on a website. So I encourage you to not waste your time with an experienced breeder making them go over what you can easily find with a little work. What you gain in convenience by making them give you the basics you lose in opportunity to get deeper knowledge. I mean, ask what you need to. Just make the best use of your opportunities as you can.

 

As far as research, social media is a dicey game. It works great if you put in the effort to identify the people who would have reliable information on the topic you are wondering about. And this goes for any topic, actually. People on social media love to answer questions whether they know the answer or not. Much of social media is you having people to speculate alongside you as to what the answer could be. It is great fun, but if you want real answers, ask certain people who you have identified through their posts are credible. And, once again, the chances of you getting a detailed response depends 100% on how much effort you put in ahead of time. Someone tagging me on a post asking about how to take care of a Jackson’s Chameleon will get a link in response. Someone asking my opinion on how if a male Jackson’s with a mild TGI really wants to mate a receptive female – is he contagious? Well then chances are higher that I’ll take a break from the alchemy and have a chat.

So say I have done my checking around for information and I feel like I can make good use of my time talking with the breeder, now is the time to send the email. Depicting an email over a podcast is immensely boring so we are going to do this contact the old fashion way. I am actually going to speak with him by voice. So here I am, intrepid potential keeper, calling Shane Boyd of RGB Reptiles to ask about his baby Furcifer verrucosus.

Okay, how did I do? Was I convincing as a beginning chameleon owner that didn’t have a, ah, few chameleons in my care? I do have a veiled chameleon so it is all true anyways.

So what you have there is a standard phone call with the breeder asking the basics. I asked general questions, but I integrated some sophistication from the research I had already done.

Now, I did actually get the baby verrucosus from Shane and I am excited to raise it up. One look at the different pictures on MadCham, Adcham, and even Google show that both males and female are attractive in this rugged sort of way. So either way I would have been having fun raising the baby up. They kind of look like elongated panther chameleons, but the round patterns on the flank are pretty distinctive. If you are interested in following the growth of this soon not-to-be-so-little tyke you can follow me on Instagram where he will be making a regular appearance.

If this discussion interested you in this species then now is an opportunity to get a hold of a very rarely available species for a price which is entirely reasonable. This isn’t meant to be a sales podcast so I’ll just say that if you are listening to this episode upon its release in November 2020 that you can join me in raising up a verrucosus by checking out Shane’s classified post on the Chameleon Forums or just contact him via his Instagram account RGBReptilesofficial or simply email him at RGBReptilesofficial@gmail.com. Of course, all of this is in the show notes along with pictures of my adorable baby verrucosus!

So that is how I do a basic research check of a species. If you are listening to this podcast you are much more plugged into the community than most people. It truly is overwhelming and confusing for people new to the community to figure out where the reliable sources of information are. In fact, they have yet to come to the realization that there are unreliable sources of information so they are caught unaware halfway down their research path. I am sure many of you know exactly what I am talking about because that is your story. In a way, I am lucky that I grew up with the community because I got each piece when it came out. Someone just starting out now is bombarded with everything the internet can throw at them. I remember last week reading a post by someone who says they did a lot of research and everything they said was exactly opposite of what was right. So much so that I considered whether they were a troll just trying to get a response. But, no, we have to recognize that you can do a lot of research and if you are I the bad part of town you will come away with some pretty atrocious ideas. But you are here now and now is a good time to start exploring some of the solid informational websites. Of course, add chameleonacademy.com to that list. right now there is a lot of basics and it is actually quite the job just to update what I released only a year ago! But I am working to methodically move forward as well and add on rare species profiles. So you can check back and see what has changed.

As for species research. It is valuable to listen to your breeder as the main source of latest information. You can follow that advice and go back to ask questions. If you are getting conflicting advice from the breeder and other sources don’t worry too much. There are different paths to success and different conditions lead to different paths. So, when you see apparent contradictions look deeper into who wrote it and why they may have different numbers. Did they do different research? Do they have different caging? Do they have different ambient conditions? They are many reasons that do not show up on the caresheet as to why those numbers were successful for that person. So follow your breeder’s conditions while you explore the rest of the opinions. Be critical of what you read. The loudest and most confident voice may not be the best for your situation. It doesn’t mean they are wrong within the context from which they are speaking. But they may or may not be the best for you. There definitely are some things being spread that are plain wrong and it doesn’t matter how you slice it. So, don’t think I am saying everyone can have their own way of doing things that are equally valid. But patrolling the interwebs for truth and justice isn’t your job right now. You are in data sifting mode to find the gold nuggets. And in this day and age that is enough of a project to keep you busy for a long time.

Thank you for joining me here to discuss species research. Getting a new species is a lot of fun and isn’t that hard with a little research up front. And doing that research up front can give you a sense of confidence that you can be successful with this new mini-tree dragon. Mainly, because you know what you have to do and all it takes is doing it!

 


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Parsons Chameleon

Ep 169: Keeping Chameleons in Hybrid Cages

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

Transcript (More or Less)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Transforming a screen cage

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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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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Plants and chameleons

Ep 167: Plant Keeping Basics with Bonnie Person

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

 


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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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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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green tree python

Ep 163: Green Tree Python Husbandry Pt 2. with Patrick Holmes

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Good morning Chameleon Wranglers! We have been spending the last couple weeks studying the Green Tree Python. This final week we wrap it up by me asking Patrick Holmes to lead us through the steps for us to get started with this beautiful snake. One of the most interesting things about this interview, from a high level, was seeing the parallels between our communities.  You listen in you will hear some very familiar statements. Because they are the truth in all of our communities. Things like investing upfront in the genetics and health of the animal and proper set-up or else you will be investing that saved money in vet bills on the backside. Or else there being a distinct difference between stress spikes and chronic stress. Hmmm, are we seeing the dynamic of convergent evolution at play?

I invite you to listen in and enjoy the conclusion of our study into the Green Tree Python with Patrick Holmes.

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Green Tree Python husbandry

Ep 162: Green Tree Python Husbandry Pt 1. with Patrick Holmes

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Good morning, Chameleon Wranglers! Last week we were joined by Patrick Holmes for an introduction to the Green Tree Python. Today we start in on the husbandry talk. We will actually have two episodes worth of husbandry information. The reason for this is that we are not just listing off parameters for us to blindly follow. Patrick is one of those who values you knowing why he says what he says, and thinks it is important that we acknowledge other methods. Sound familiar? So, even if you never plan on getting a green tree python, the approach you are about to hear deals with issues we face no matter what reptile we keep. This is very much about the compromises and decisions we are faced with when we strive to recreate a natural environment with unnatural equipment on the other side of the Earth.

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Chameleon sleeping

Ep 159: Nighttime Temperature Drops with Petr Necas

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Nighttime drops are an important part of chameleon husbandry. Today, I talk with Petr Necas about understanding why they are important and what they mean for us providing the best captive care possible.

Final thoughts

Nighttime drops are tricky because they aren’t always easy for us to provide. Many of us live far from the equator and so our temperatures are either too hot or too cold through much of the year. Without a temperature controlled reptile room our base environmental conditions to work from are the house ambient conditions. Those do not always offer a nice 15-20 degree F drop at night. This clashes with our love for montane chameleons. Our most common Jackson’s chameleon, the xantholophus, or yellow-crested Jackson’s, start in above 1500 meters in elevation and Veiled Chameleons are higher up at around 2000 meters. Although we are proud of ourselves with keeping a chameleon for four to five years of age, that is an achievement only when compared to the woefully short captive lifespans of the 1900s. But we should be shooting for lifespans of 7 years, ten years, or even greater. And this takes a different mindset. To realize our chameleon’s full lifetime potential we need to be smart about what we accept as proper husbandry. And this is difficult. If panther chameleon babies routinely and conveniently accept being raised in groups and the effects on them are not measured in the first six months, but in the last years of their life then how do you prove this to a community that places a high value on efficiency of production? If we want a veiled chameleon, but do not want to put in an air conditioning unit that gets their nighttime sleep into the 50s F then it is much easier to listen to the multitude of voices saying they never gave their veileds a nighttime drop and their’s lived just fine – and you find out that their’s lived just fine for a full four years then you start to see how all of the compromises of conditions that we accept and we justify with the phrase “and they are doing just fine” are really shortening their lives. But this exercise is futile directed at other people because you will not be able to put a finger on the effects. All of this is cumulative and proof of longevity is a ten + year project. No, the most effective way to explore longevity is to turn the light on yourself and dive into each and every aspect of your own husbandry. Don’t waste time chiding people on social media. Use that energy to refine your own husbandry. Your long lived chameleons will be the undeniable proof of your methods. And before you go thinking I am telling you all what you should do, I produce a show that drives our chameleon husbandry forward. It is my job to explore and present the best we know and the mindset we need to have. But this is all a message to me as well. I would not be doing my job if I waiting until I had all my husbandry dialed in before I presented this information. I am struggling with the same things you are and to live up to what I passionately present here. I just moved and my entire hydration cycle has been knocked out of whack. I am still working on getting all the fogging set back up. But that doesn’t mean I excuse it by saying “oh, they are doing just fine, I guess it isn’t that important.” No, I know I better get that back up because there is only a certain amount of buffer time I have before I will see the effects at the end of their lives. And it is my responsibility to present the best information whether I am living up to it or not. Obviously, it would be a ridiculous for me to go through all the work putting together this show and not following what is presented so, I guarantee you I am implementing what we have here. But I just want you to know that me passionately saying that chameleon’s need a nighttime drop does not mean that I do not understand the struggle of providing it. I struggle with living in a hot, dry climate. Just like other people struggle with being in a cold climate that, during summer, literally does not have a nighttime. And you thought your problems were bad? We all have challenges based on our situation. So none of this is preaching. On this show my roles switch between being the information summarizer, the voice of the listener asking the questions on everyone’s mind, and the presenter. But, off microphone, I am a hobbyist trying to bend my conditions for chameleon longevity just like you.

One important part of the interview was when we discussed how the wild is different from captivity. This is particularly relevant when entering into the discussion about introduced populations. I am regularly challenged when I say Jackson’s Chameleons need cool daytime temperatures and a nighttime drop by people pointing to the population on Hawaii. To this I say that we are already challenged when we try to create a natural environment in a small space. There are already compromises we cannot avoid. We do not have an entire tree and forest’s worth of microclimates to offer. We want to be as natural as possible, but without all the exposure and hiding options we do not want to replicate the temperature highs or the afternoon UVB intensities. Hawaii is not their home. It is in their tolerance range and they have adapted as best as they can. They have done a good job of it. But don’t use that Hawaii for Jackson’s or Florida for Veileds and panthers to argue proper husbandry. It is merely showing their tolerance range and, as I have said, they have many more options in the wild to hide away from the conditions you think they are “fine with”.

If you are interested in learning more about Petr and his work with chameleons check out his website chameleons.info. of particular value are his experiences with Chamaeleo calyptratus as he is one of the few people who has visited their natural home range in Yemen. To get a deep dive on that information you can visit his website or listen to my multi-episode interview with him regarding the Veiled Chameleon starting with episode 86.

In captivity, we are striving for providing the best care possible for our reptilian friends. With all the compromises we take on, we must stack the advantages up the most we can. And we do have some powerful tools on our side. We offer a predator and parasite free life. We offer consistent and, hopefully, nutritious food. Medical care is there the second they need it. So the name of the game is to offer way more benefits than compromises. And we are doing a good job of that as we see lifespans creeping higher and higher. We are on the right track and we are making progress. The deep and rejuvenating rest provided by a nighttime temperature drop is a valuable tool in our mission stack the odds in the favor of a long chameleon life.

Links for more work from Petr Necas

Chameleons.info is a website blog where Petr shares his world travelling experiences with chameleons. This is a valuable exposure to the wild conditions of chameleons.

 

Petr Necas
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