Husbandry

Pregnant Jackson's Chameleon

The Jackson’s Chameleon Pregnancy

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

Jackson's Chameleon Pregnancy Transcript (more or less)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Unfertilized ova

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Conclusion

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

 

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

 

Sign off

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

Thank you for joining me here

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Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 215: Using Wild Conditions in Chameleon Husbandry

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Those of us dedicated to the art of chameleon husbandry have recreating the ideal conditions as our primary goal. Determining ideal conditions starts with understanding the wild conditions our chameleon species developed within. But then it must be translated into an execution in our captive environment. Today I talk about how we extract ideal conditions from wild environmental data and what the limitations of doing that are.

Transcript (More or Less)

Hello Chameleon Wranglers! Today we are going to look at the process of sifting through all the wild environmental data from our chameleon’s home region to figure out what we should put on our care sheets. And we are also going to go head to head with the fact that there comes a time when we have to do further study within our captive environment. Don’t worry, I’ll explain what I mean by that in this podcast.

 

The Chameleon’s Original Environment: Our Most Valuable Reference.

It will come as a surprise to no one that the chameleon’s original environment, where they spent millions of years adapting to, and becoming dependent upon, certain conditions becomes the foundation of determining the ideal husbandry. But there is some extraction and analysis that we are required to perform. We are simply not able to recreate the wild conditions in their entirety. Not only do the weather patterns constantly change, the chameleon changes its position within those constantly variable conditions. So just determining what those perfect conditions are is immensely complicated because you have to understand all the micro-climates that a chameleon has access to.

For a very basic and simple example. It may be 95 degrees F outside at the weather station taking the data. But our intrepid chameleon has retreated back into the dense shade where it can be downright cool. I think it is obvious that the weather station data is of limited value. The data taken where the chameleon is throughout the day is much more valuable, and much less accessible. Even viewing the chameleon basking in 95 degree weather is not evidence that we should be giving them a 95 degree basking point or that ambient temperature should be anywhere near that. The ability to retreat into dense shade makes deadly temperatures just part of the every day life experience.

This is why the larger the cage you make it, and the more microclimates you can create, the more swings in ambient temperature your chameleon can handle. By restricting our chameleon from roaming far and wide we drastically cut down on his available options to regulate his comfort. It is important to know that if you go back to the home country which should have perfect conditions and put a chameleon in a cage out in the sun you will most likely kill it. Because, even the home conditions are not ideal. There will be unbearably hot days and extended dry seasons that will kill chameleons. So there is no such thing as ideal conditions in the wild. There is a fluctuation of conditions which, on the average allow the chameleon to find microclimates to sustain himself. So, what does this mean for us? Is there such thing as ideal conditions? And how can we figure out what those ideal conditions are?

 

Is there such thing as ideal conditions? The answer is yes. There is. Or at least, there are a set of conditions that we can recreate in captivity that are a close enough approximation to ideal. And we continue to refine these conditions the more we learn. Our measuring stick is vitality and longevity. When you hear people talk about male panther or veiled chameleons having a four year lifespan you know that the overall husbandry conditions were not ideal. But there was a time when this was an achievement. Today, seven years can be reasonably expected and ten years is for congratulations. But I am hearing reports of panthers and veileds that are living beyond ten years so we still have a lot of work to do! The goal is to bring ten year lifespans to the mainstream. This is why my care summaries on the Chameleon Academy website change every year or every time I learn a nuance or better way of describing a husbandry technique. It is because they are living documents. And they will be until the combination of environmental and dietary conditions have been hammered down enough that a ten year longevity is routine if you follow the care summary.

 

How do we determine ideal conditions?

Getting information from the field is critical to start us in the right direction. But we must then start testing. We throw out the extremes because it isn’t a stretch to know that those are in the tolerance zone. We look at the averages and start with those. The thing is that we don’t always get it right to begin with. In fact, all you old timers, raise your hand if you specifically kept your Jackson’s Chameleon from getting too cold at night. Where cold is in the 60s? Yep, I was part of the generation that put together the care sheets you have now through our mistakes.

So, that begs the question. If it is so easy to go off in the wrong direction, how do we determine what the ideal conditions are? And here it comes back to testing. We take the conditions we think are the ones we want to try and we try them. If the chameleons live long and healthy we have a data point that says these conditions are valid for X years of life. And then you or other people tweak those parameters and either they get better or worse or the same results. Okay, another data point. Because we are trying to figure out conditions that are average and will work for the most number of keepers we have to repeat this test over many individuals and over generations. This is not usually something a single breeder can pull off! This is a community efforts over years and decades. This is why it takes a great deal of time to come up with care sheet parameters. And this is a core reason why I started this podcast in the first place. I wanted to gather the experiences of people from around the world.

 

Captivity is different

In this exploration, we have to understand that we will be experimenting with things that go beyond wild conditions.

Even though the wild conditions are our gold standard there is only so far they can take us before we need to stop talking about them and bring them back to the vivarium to figure out how they relate to our situation. As an example, let’s circle back around to our good friend UVB.

How much do chameleons need? How is it connected to heat? How much do chameleons seek out UVB when it is separated from a heat source? How accurate can the chameleon gauge how much UVB they need? You would think that their body would have figured it out after all this time, but we have really messed that up with changing everything on them. We have taken the sun, split it into three separate lights and created heat and UVB gradients that they can move in and out of within inches on their basking branch. This is not natural so any natural gauge their body has now has to adjust to light sources that have different spectrums and intensities. We see this with heat bulbs. Chameleons will sit under heat bulbs that are too hot and burn themselves. And they will continue to do it. So there is something that is messing with their sense of self-preservation that works perfectly out in the wild. So, it is logical that we should consider that there may be similar issues with UVB. We don’t know. Maybe the spectrum of our lamps happens to correspond perfectly with what the chameleon’s body is looking for. Maybe the body is an excellent judge of vitamin D3 levels in the blood. We do not know and we need to be open to all possibilities.

 

Scientific papers give excellent insight, but because chameleons have their own mind and we have no idea why they choose to do what they do, we as hobbyists need to figure out how to implement the findings in our environments. When scientific papers are written regarding UVB or vitamin D3 these chameleons are forced into situations which remove as many variables as possible. So, figuring out how much D3 a chameleon needs to be healthy by orally dosing them with measured vitamin D3 may produce a number, but how useful is that when we, in the real world, are using powders of vitamin D3 and vitamin A which are dusted on insects. Powder is lost, the effects of the vitamins are different because they are given together, and the composition of the feeder insect may or may not change the outcome. So, once the scientists are done with their controlled experiments and extrapolations we have a lot of work to do on our end to figure out what it means in the real world of much larger cages.

Figuring out how chameleon behavior dictates the conditions we give them is a whole discipline in itself.

Do you want to see this happening in real time? I’ll let you in on something that will be changing in the coming years as far as husbandry. You will start to hear more about UVB doses. A UVB dose is the intensity of UVB, or the UV Index, multiplied by the length of time the light is given. So, if you use UVI 3 for 12 hours you have a UVB dose of 36. But the chameleon does not use the UVB light for all 12 hours. So, it is reasonable to have the UVB light on for only…what, 4 hours? 2 hours? I don’t know, but something less than 12. So, will a UVB dose of 12 instead of 36 give the same results? Is UVI 3 for four hours the same as UVI 4 for three hours? Presumably, there is a lower limit to where the UV Index just doesn’t energize the D3 synthesis any more. And we know we don’t want to give UVI 12 for one hour because UVB damages skin and organs. So there is going to be a working range of levels and lengths of time exposure.

The reason why you haven’t heard much about the concept of dose on this podcast is because it was an enormous effort to determine that UVI 3 over 12 hours was sufficient for Veileds and panthers. Adding the variable of time, in other words, changing the length of time instead of having it fixed, would have made it difficult to establish UVI 3 as a landmark. But now it is time to explore further. The next step is dose. Dr. Gary Ferguson’s latest scientific paper on chameleons experiments with different doses of UVB. One of Petr Necas’ YouTube videos on UVB speaks of a breeder in Europe who has experimented with doses in his colony. So the concept will continue to gain momentum. Expect it to be challenged as any new idea is, and should be, but there it is. You have a front row seat to the development of a new idea. And, yes, the caresheets of five years from now on the Chameleon Academy will be different. Because this is a good idea and I am going to work with it. It will be years before you start seeing this on the Chameleon Academy because it will take that long to lay down some guidelines that I could feel comfortable sharing with others to try. I am raising up my panther chameleon breeding group and, when they hatch, I will work with different values. I’ll work with females because my standard is the ability to lay completely calcified clutches of eggs with no dietary D3. If anyone out there wants to work on this before I have my group in place you are welcome to reach out to me and work with me on this. I know the key to solid reliable information is the patience to do it right. But I encourage those who are interested in such things and in a position to experiment now to go for it. I mean, once I come up with something it is only a data point until others reproduce it. So, I don’t mind being the one to reproduce your initial data. That will save time. We’ll need a handful of experimenters before we can be confident enough to put it in care sheets. Anyway, have fun watching the introduction of a new idea into the community! It is always a fun thing.

Now, I’d like to address two special cases. Both Veiled Chameleons and Jackson’s Chameleons have established populations outside of the natural range. And since both their natural ranges are either difficult or life threatening to visit, the idea is often floated to study them in their introduced ranges. This is not reliable, but it takes a little explaining as to why this is so it is worth spending the time on this now.

First, let’s talk about the Veiled Chameleon.

Example: Veiled Chameleon. Even just five years ago, the prevailing thought was that Veileds were harsh, arid conditions. High heat and high UVB. I spent years trying to find an eye witness to ask them what it was really like and when I finally did, I found a completely different story that ruined what I thought. It wasn’t harsh at all. It was actually a lush oasis. What I found, and you can follow my journey on this podcast because I published my entire exploration, is that they hatched at the beginning of the rainy season in valleys in the mountains which sprang to life with vegetation. They hid during the day’s sun. And in these mountain mountainous regions they experienced fog banks in the morning, mild temperatures, and cool nights.

Is this report of Veiled Chameleon environment 100% the best we will ever have? I don’t know. Maybe when the civil war in Yemen is over, more of us can visit the area and our understanding will improve. We will either confirm what we have heard from Petr Necas, Martin Wendche, and Petko Dvorak, my three eye witnesses to Veiled Chameleon’s in the wild, or we will discover a deeper understanding with more eyes and minds on the ground. But, the fact is, that these three eye witness accounts in Yemen are the best source of information I have right now.

But what about Veiled Chameleon’s in Florida? They have naturalized there so can’t we just study where they are in Florida and study those parameters? The answer is not really. We can learn more about their tolerance range. Meaning, the range of conditions they can adapt to. They, like any living being, can adapt to, reproduce, and survive various ranges of conditions. But there is a huge difference between what they can make a living within and what is ideal. Their home range is the standard. They have spent history evolving within those conditions. Some they develop the ability to tolerate and some they develop a dependance on. Which is which is our ongoing challenge to discern. Veiled Chameleons in Florida or Jackson’s Chameleons in Hawaii are examples of chameleons finding areas that are within their tolerance zone and they are able to reproduce, which is the driving force of all living animals.

So why can’t we use Florida conditions for Veiled and Hawaii conditions for Jackson’s? Well, you may or may not be providing optimal husbandry.

You see, in captivity we drastically reduce the options available to our chameleons. In the wild they have a myriad of microclimates to choose from. The weather station may say 95 degrees, but the chances are that the Jackson’s in the area has nestled himself in the deep shade. Looking at the thermometer as you drive or hike by the area where chameleons live is a deceptive analysis. You need to take the measurement from where the chameleon actually is. But, you say, you saw a chameleon basking in 100 degree weather! Okay, but how long did he stay basking in 100 degree weather? In the wild they have full autonomy to stay however long they wish and find a cool place to spend the rest of the day 30 seconds after you leave the area.

But in our home cage of 2x2x4 we drastically restrict their options. Yes, I talk about gradients and how we need to give our chameleons choices. But, even with the best we can do, what we can offer them is a sliver of a shadow of what they have available to them in the wild. So, this is why we are so obsessed with figuring out what the ideal conditions are. If our chameleon is only going to have a handful of conditions to choose from we are going to make those as ideal as possible. We want the absolute best conditions we can create. And these conditions are within our power. Why, in the world, would we settle for conditions in their tolerance zone instead of the ideal conditions?

This is why Jackson’s Chameleon keepers model their captive conditions off of the home turf of Kenya. This is why Veiled keepers study Yemen instead of Florida. We are certainly interested in their adaptations, but shouldn’t adjust care guidelines to adaptations.

So, let’s talk Jackson’s Chameleons.

The ideal conditions for Jackson’s Chameleons have been a focus for us due to the number of people who have been unsuccessful in keeping them long term. We always had information for their home range in Kenya, but we had work to do to figure out what were the important keys to keep them alive long term. To determine the idealized conditions, we start with what is measured in their home range and then do a great deal of trial and error. This, of course, takes years and years to pull out patterns. And we, as a collective community, have found that the most effective ways to increase lifespan in captivity are 1) Include a deep nighttime drop and 2) to keep them individually. When these two parameters are included in husbandry the death rate drops significantly.

This is why someone pointing out that the weather station in Hawaii, their introduced location, doesn’t go below the mid-70s is not a compelling argument to ignore the generations of experience we have had in captivity comparing longevity of chameleons with and without nighttime drops. Unfortunately, the effects of a nighttime drop are not easy to detect. It must be done over time and over many chameleons. Because a warm night does not kill a chameleon. It just exhausts them a little just like when we do not get a good night’s sleep. We don’t drop dead. But the effect is cumulative. Just like our personality after one bad night’s sleep vs. our personality after an entire week of not sleeping well. So, the minor effects of a bad sleep slowly build. And then a couple nights of a deep sleep will reverse the trend. So this experiment is very difficult to run. And this is why we don’t consider a chameleon staying alive for six months with no deliberate nighttime drops as evidence that nighttime drops aren’t necessary. We have years and generations of general consensus amongst experienced breeders that noticeable nighttime drops positively affect Jackson’s Chameleon health. I know it is difficult to produce a nighttime drop. I have to do it with a A/C wall unit. But we are not telling you to give nighttime drops out of some powerplay. That is just what we, the Jackson’s breeding community, have found works the best.

Now, the question will, inevitably come up, shouldn’t Hawaiian Jackson’s have evolved to the different weather conditions by now? Shouldn’t we use Hawaiian data for Hawaiian jackson’s?

This is a valid question and one we have to consider. Animals adapt to different conditions. Within every group of babies there is a variation in many aspects. Some are going to be less fearful of humans and some will be able to handle warmer conditions. Some will be larger, some more colorful, etc… If any of these traits make that individual more likely to breed over their siblings, then the offspring will have more of a chance to have that trait. Repeat this over multiple generations and you have a locale of animals that are adapted to different conditions. It is not a huge leap to consider that the ability to thrive without the nighttime drops would make some babies stronger than others. So, should we treat Hawaiian Jackson’s Chameleons different than Kenyan Jackson’s? It is an interesting idea. All it needs is evidence. At this time, we have evidence that this is not the case simply in the fact that all of this effort we, in the community, are spending to try and figure out how to keep them from dying comes, at least in the US, from working with Jackson’s from Hawaii. And we have found that when kept in captivity, a noticeable nighttime drop increases longevity. So we have already been testing with the Hawaiian population and they have not developed this change – as far as we can tell. It is always possible for this to arise. So those working with Jackson’s in Hawaii are encouraged to keep looking out for it. But you have to test in controlled conditions that other can recreate for it to start to compete with the conclusions we presently have after working with Hawaiian Jackson’s.

Conclusion.

Our goal in refining our art of captive husbandry rests on replicating the natural world that chameleons live in as closely as possible. But there will be compromises that will need to be intelligently made. Since we are providing those conditions with artificial means we will have to adjust the best way to use our lighting and misting and fogging tools within the context of the environment we create. Does this mean the basking bulb and UVB bulb are turned on for different lengths of time? Does this mean we use solid sides instead of screen? The questions go on and on. And, this is our job as caretakers of the body of chameleon husbandry knowledge. To expand and constantly challenge.

If you enjoyed this podcast I invite you to check out the chameleon academy channel on YouTube where you will see my bright shiny face, get to meet Yvette, my gecko obsessed partner in life, and get to regularly commune with my chameleons. Thank you for joining me here. I’ll see you next time!


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Ep 214: Discussions on Chameleon Behaviors

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Chameleon behavior is a window into what is going on in their lives. It is one of the ways they communicate with us if we have learned the language to hear what they are saying. Today I go over the basics of what behaviors mean. We will talk about the difference between a behavior that is showing an emotional issue and a behavior that is showing a medical condition.

Links from the episode

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I am now doing a second podcast called the Reptile Entrepreneur. If you have ever thought about starting a business in the reptile community then this is the show for you. I go over everything from manufacturing to breeding and various business topics. So far, I  have talked to Josh Dovenbarger who is a bearded dragon breeder and David Brahms who makes perches for the Green Tree Python community with 3D printing technology. You are probably familiar with Todd Goode who came on and talked about overseas manufacturing. Next Monday you’ll hear from Richard Clarke who is a patent attorney who gives us an introduction to how the patent process works. And soon I’ll be talking about starting a YouTube channel or even a podcast of your own. If you would like to be more deeply involved in the reptile community then I invite you to check out the Reptile Entrepreneur on any podcast app, YouTube, or, best of all, at reptileentrepreneur.com which will have links to everything!

Transcript (More or Less)

Introduction

Good morning, Chameleon wranglers! Today we are going to continue our exploration of chameleon behavior. We will talk about the difference between a behavior that is showing an emotional issue and a behavior that is showing a medical condition. This is somewhat part two of the discussion we started last episode. In that one we talked about being able to pick up on changes in behavior that indicated that something was off. We talked about increasing our sensitivity to what they are telling us. And this is an important skill because chameleons will hide any weakness. But if we learn the subtleties of their behavior language we can develop that skill. So, let’s talk about behavior and what it means!

The catalog of chameleon behaviors is extensive. So I have ot break it up into chunks. This episode cannot cover everything. I have selected to go over behaviors that could give you an indication of a possible medical condition. So, I won’t talk about the one handed chameleon salute or swiveling behind a branch or things like that. I’ll talk about things I would like you to be skilled in looking out for to save their life because they indicate something possibly serious.

At a basic high level, behaviors that show discontent are an increase in activity. While medical conditions are a decrease in activity. Makes sense, right? So, all we need to know is what the chameleon baseline is for activity and we can start to get a feel for what is above and below this. The natural state of a chameleon is staying in one place and only moving for heat, UVB, to get out of heat or UVB, or to get to where the food is. And if all those environmental conditions would ebb and flow perfectly and food would traipse on by on a regular basis, chameleons would be happy to sit in a safe and secure spot all day and night. Remember that chameleons are always on the look out for predators. Birds, snakes, larger reptiles, climbing mammals, even larger invertebrates  are always looking for a meal themselves. Just the act of moving puts the chameleon in danger. This is why they do that jerky back and forth movement when they walk. They are trying to look like something other than an animal that is good to eat. They figure they’ll take their chance with the leaf eaters. So, anytime they decide to go bask in the open to heat up or move to a better hunting location they are acutely aware that they are increasing their risk of being eaten. Not only by being more exposed, but simply by the act of moving.

 

What this means for us is that chameleon movement means something. It is a form of communication in itself. And we can get clues as to what is going on in their minds by watching when they move.

The question we keepers have to answer is whether the movement is because of a normal behavior, emotional need, or medical need. So, let’s look at those three things.

 

First, normal behaviors.

Before I go into what is normal chameleon behavior, keep in mind that chameleons are living beings and each is an individual. Just like us humans. So once I go over a generalized behavior list for a day in a chameleon’s life you have to account for individual differences in your specific chameleon. Every chameleon will have nuances. When 99% of the species acts a certain way it is valid to say that that is a characteristic of the species. But be ready for someone who has one of those 1% to burst onto social media proudly boasting that he has proven all the experts wrong! And then whole groups decide they are enlightened because they hold onto this obscure characteristic to redefine the species. Yes, some experienced people are done learning new things, but many of us use our experience to realize that there will always be that 1% that don’t fit our human need to define things definitively. And that the existence of the 1% does not negate the truth that the overwhelming number fall into the 99%. I am highlighting this because it is so easy to get confused on social media with every expert fighting for attention and using whatever methods are necessary to show how special they are.

One more point and huge danger area. Movement is 100% under control of the chameleon’s conscious brain. This means it is a behavior and behaviors and habits are constantly affected by the environment. Example, say your chameleon goes to bask every morning to warm up. One morning, while doing this, your chameleon notices that your cat has figured out how to climb onto the plant pot tower by the cage and has learned your chameleon’s habits and now makes it a point to be hidden in the houseplants waiting for your chameleon to come up and bask. All it takes is for this to happen a few times and your cat to do something, like lunge, to scare your chameleon and you, oblivious to all of this, are left to wonder why your chameleon doesn’t want to bask anymore. How do you defend against what you don’t know you are missing? That is a tough one. But we have to be very careful what assumptions we make about any judgement. Watch a lot of Sherlock Holmes movies. That’s what I do.

But this also comes to play in other ways. The more comfortable a chameleon gets in life the less they will need to find security. If they are comfortable with their cage they may stop hiding in the foliage to sleep. This is a normal progression in stable chameleon households. So you need to apply modifications to the general chameleon behavior I am presenting before you apply it to your unique situation. Use this as a foundation to build your own personal standard behavior set.

Here is the danger. You need to remove your layer of emotions that you project. If you are projecting human emotions onto your chameleon you are muddying the waters and you won’t be able to see clearly. Yes, all living things have variations on the same emotional set. The warning sign that you are stepping into the realm of projection is when you are convinced you have tapped into an emotion that has no relevance to a chameleon’s survival in the wild. And since people who have manufactured that special connection to a chameleon will have turned my message off long ago I can only say this to people who are trying to sort through all the information out there and figure out what is real. I know we want to love our pets and have them love us. And that is okay when it is all in our heads. But when those desires result in us justifying husbandry, caging, and handling choices, then our human emotional interpretations are compromising the quality of our overall husbandry.

The standard chameleon behavior is to sleep in a secure location. This means hidden in thick foliage on thin branches. In South Africa I found a Chamaeleo dilepis sleeping deep inside a big bush that had more than inch long thorns all over. There was blood spilt getting that one out for the sake of a blurry photograph. You can see pictures of them at the ends of long thin branches, presumably in a way to be able to detect snakes coming along the branch to get them. In your cage it would take the form of sleeping on the branches behind the plants. This is why I recommend lots of horizontal perching branches behind a thick middle layer of foliage. You want that security option to be available to them whether they end up using it or not.

They wake up upon lights on and make their way to the basking area where they warm up. Once warmed up they will leave the basking area and find where they want to hang out during the day. Often this is back inside the foliage where they feel safe. They will always be on the look out for food and predators. In the evening you may find them back out. This is looking for food before settling into their choice for sleeping spot. Kind of a simple life. And that is the way they like it.

Chameleons are intelligent enough to determine schedule patterns. If you feed them at the same time during the day you will find them waiting for you. If you feed them in the same spot every time you will find them waiting there for you. So you can establish this simple interaction. And you can take advantage of this. At the same feeding time you can start feeding time off by offering a treat by hand. Maybe a superworm or dubia or anything else that is different from your standard fare. Once hunger inspires them to take it from your hand you give them their regular crickets in your feeder run cup. This trains them that your fingers bring something good. The more gregarious chameleons will start getting their tongue shooting ready when you come into the room whether you have anything in your hands or not.

Another scheduled behavior you will see is that they will learn when the lights will go off. In the wild, they get into their sleeping spot before the sun sets. They want to be ready for darkness when it comes. In captivity, we tend to have sudden darkness when the lights go off. Eventually we will have dimming lights as standard husbandry equipment, but, for now, chameleons will figure out when lights out time is and go to their sleep spot an hour before. This is the one time where it is okay for chameleons to have their eyes closed while the lights are on. If they close their eyes a certain amount of time before lights go out every day then this is a sleeping behavior and not a medical condition you need to worry about.  Each chameleon does this differently. I have heard of chameleons doing this 30 minutes before lights out and one extreme case was two hours. But they are just following some internal switch and that switch is working off of unnatural signals so give them some leeway.

 

Emotional needs

There are two emotional needs that will drive behavior. Security and mating season. These manifest themselves as restlessness. A very common question from keepers is why their chameleon does laps around the inside of the cage. They crawl across the sides, up and down, and upside down across the top. This is a behavior of a chameleon that wants to be someplace else. Usually it is because their cage is too small or they don’t have enough plant cover to feel safe. But it can also be that their cage is down on the ground and they want to be higher or else they aren’t getting enough heat. There is something that is not right.

The most common misinterpretation is that the chameleon wants to come out and play with you. And this has led to many stressed out chameleons that just want to find a better place to sleep and end up having to play hand over hand run every time. So you think you have a loving chameleon that wants to play and your chameleon is insecure and stressed. A massive miscommunication. This is further complicated by the fact that occasionally, there truly is a chameleon that seems to want to come out and be with humans. This chameleon will be content in their cage, but then crawl onto your arm when you are doing maintenance, crawl to your shoulder, and then hang with you for a spell. Maybe eat a roach you offer from your hands. And then show no interest in going back in his cage. But once you get him back in his cage he happily settles back in. I presently have two chameleons just like this. And me, in all my cynicism and constant efforts to challenge the notion that they want to be out with me, has to cry uncle and accept that they just don’t fear me and have decided that food comes when I do so they want to hang out on me and see what appears. The problem is that the existence of these individuals does not mean that every chameleon can be this way. And it definitely does not mean that every person who says their chameleon loves them has a handle on reality. Do you know how hard it is to see these chameleon whisperers posting pictures of them with a stressed chameleon talking about how in-tune they are with nature? Remember there is a wide range of variation in individuals. So, it is possible that your chameleon is one of these outliers. It is not probable and you should never expect that you can look for and find one. Because if you interpret incorrectly your chameleon will suffer. But they do happen. And, that doesn’t mean that all of us saying that chameleons are not handleable are wrong. I have two that buck the trend, but I would be doing the community a huge disservice if I did anything that allowed someone to expect that friendly is what they would find when they got a chameleon.

Mating Season is a special case. You may notice your male chameleon suddenly becoming restless out of nowhere and you have no idea what has gotten into him. It is possible that the mating season bug has bitten him and he is now looking for a female. In this case he will be driven and there really isn’t much you can do to stop him searching. The immediate question is whether you should get him a mate and I would caution you against volunteering yourself to be a chameleon parent to 20 to 30 babies because of this. I know it sounds fun in the moment, but there are far reaching consequences to the decisions you make…and now I am sounding like I am giving a talk to my teenagers. This will subside. I had a couple  Jackson’s Chameleon males who would do this every Spring. I found they would especially do this if they could see other males and females in the area. The only problem is if they are damaging themselves by this constant activity. If they are in the typical screen cage and you are worried about injury on the screen would can line the inside with trellis or something which allows them to climb on something beside the screen itself. For me, they would do this for a week or two and then go back to normal.

Females may become restless and walk the bottom of the cage if they have eggs they want to lay. Although you should be expecting this if you introduced a male 30 days ago, some females, depending on circumstances, will develop unfertile clutches and, having never intended to mate them or even know what a gravid female looks like, you may be surprised by this. If your female chameleon suddenly becomes restless and crawling around the bottom of the cage then consider whether a laying bin would be appropriate. If she appears to have gained weight faster than you would have expected then this is a good thing to consider.

Changes in behavior can also signal nutritional or medical needs

The most common behavior that we see that sends up a red flag is a chameleon with closed eyes during the day. Any lethargy or closed eyes will send experienced chameleon keepers into a frenzied multi-pronged rehabilitation mission. The only exception was mentioned before and that is getting ready for sleep. We take this seriously because it indicates an internal distress and once it gets to the point where it is showing itself as closed eyes and lethargy we know it is far along. This is so serious that I dedicated the last episode to early warning skills.

Now, eyes closed could be other things as well such as physical trauma such as a scratch on the eye or debris in the eye turret or nutritional such as a vitamin A deficiency. So it is time for a vet visit to confirm in order to make sure your treatment is appropriate and effective.

Here are a handful of other behaviors we see that tells us something is off.

Eating soil. Geophagia is the action of eating soil and this is usually thought to be because of a deficiency of some mineral in the diet. It gets hard to treat this behavior if you already are giving calcium every feeding and multi-vitamin/mineral supplements every week or two. If you aren’t, modifying your supplementation routine is the best place to start. But sometimes we cannot figure out what is driving them to eat soil. I always say that the best solution is to figure out what stops the behavior instead of removing the soil to prevent the behavior, but I would also suggest removing the soil if they continue to eat the soil. On one hand, eating soil isn’t inherently dangerous, but with the potting soils we use with fertilizer balls and the possibility of impaction I actively discourage and prevent the eating of soil while I figure out what they are missing in their diet. Impaction is where they are not able to pass feces due to a blockage. This blockage could be because of a parasite load out of control or it could be because what they tried to eat clogged up the pipes. Soil doesn’t digest and break down so you can see where eventually there could very well be something that doesn’t go out the back door smoothly. Any dehydration will exacerbate the situation as well.

Hunger strikes. A chameleon refusing to eat can be serious or it can be that they are just full. If they are not eating because of a medical condition like impaction or feeling horrible you are going to see other signs as well such as lethargy and eyes closed. But the most common cause of a hunger strike is that the chameleon is simply full. Chameleons really don’t use a lot of calories during the day. And we tend to feed them very well in captivity. We feed them so well that they are getting too many calories in some cases. When this happens they get pickier and picker as to what they eat. They are getting picky because they aren’t eating for survival. They are eating for pleasure and entertainment. It is the same as us eating dinner, being full, but making an exception for ice cream. Get a chameleon stuffed with cricket to where they couldn’t eat another bite and then get a shiny green bottlefly into their cage and you will see them totally ignore that they can’t eat anymore to get the prized flying green thing. If your chameleon is healthy, active, and not eating then simply skip feeding for three or four days. When you come back they should be ready to have their next meal. Don’t worry, chameleons can go a long time without eating. Three or four days is nothing for them. It makes them hungry, but is not dangerous at all. Just when you start feeding again, feed less than you used to.

Drinking Water. What? What is the problem with drinking water? That is what they are suppose to do! Well, I present this for your consideration. Chameleons will normally not have opportunities to drink water during the day in their native ranges. Sure, a rain storm provides it, but in the dry season rain storms could be few and far between. They are drinking dew in the morning and then getting moisture from their food. So why are they gulping water from your mister in mid afternoon? Well, this is a sign of dehydration. A chameleon that is enthusiastically drinking is dehydrated. They are usually reserved and you rarely see them drink the dew on the leave from your morning misting. Now, this is a new approach that is meant to match the hydration cycle from their native lands. This is opposite of the standard chameleon husbandry of the last few decades so this is controversial. I am not going to fight anyone on it. Take a look at the reasoning on both sides and you make your own decisions. You can go to the show notes reptileentrepreneur.com for some research links.

And finally, strange body movements. If your chameleon seems to be flailing its limbs around for no discernable reason or is grabbing its tail or other limbs then you are seeing signs that are common to a case of Metabolic Bone Disease. This is where a calcium deficiency causes limbs to be misshapen and can mess with control of those limbs. What you are seeing is a result of a nutritional disorder that will eventually kill your chameleon so all your concern is justified. This is time to get to a vet for some quick calcium in your chameleon and a husbandry review to make sure you have calcium in the diet and sufficient UVB shining down. And if you already have a UVB light then it is time to dig deeper and see if that UVB light really is doing the job.

Those are my chosen top behaviors run into by chameleon keepers that have significance. Of course, there are many others. On the Chameleonacademy.com website I have a whole section about behaviors trying to catalog it all for new keepers to be able to have a quick guide. Check it out if you would like to see what resources are available to you to dig deeper into this subject. And, if you have come to the end of this episode and want to dig deeper into understanding your chameleon you are seeing the top tier of keepers. Maybe you are just starting off and have a lot to learn. But you are on the path and are taking the steps forward. Don’t let the enormity of what there is to know intimidate you. To truly be experienced in the chameleon world it takes years simply to observe and live through the basic life stages. Get a juvenile panther chameleon and it will be at least two years before you are able to say you have witnessed the basics of their life stages. So, you have time. Lots of time. I encourage you not to get caught up in the accelerated pace you find on social media where you feel that pressure to memorize everything and start being the expert in month’s time. Where people are giving advice on raising babies before they have even hatched eggs. This is all a façade. This is the land of caresheets written by people who haven’t even seen a lifecycle of the species. It is all borrowed off other people’s work. So, my advice is to stay away from that rat race. Look at this as a five to ten year pilgrimage where you will absorb everything, try it out, and truly make it your own before bothering pretending you know what you are talking about.  This podcast is the deepest collection of chameleon knowledge from around the world that exists. There is literally no other resource that comes close to exposing you to the input and perspective from so many experts around the world. If you listen to one episode a week you will only be halfway through your five year plan by time you get to the end. Of course, I keep making them so maybe there will be enough to fill up the rest of that five year plan. But my point is that you have time. Don’t rush it. This is a wonderful corner of the natural world and, so far, there appears to be no end to what we can learn about chameleons and the natural world through our love for chameleons. So, relax…and take it little step by little step. Before you know it all of this will not only make sense, but you’ll be there alongside me working on the next steps for our community.

As a reminder, this podcast has a website home base where I have taken the chameleon knowledge combined together and made a substantial resource to study their husbandry. I was going to use the word “comprehensive”, but there is so much more that I have to do. I only need 72 hours a day to get it all done. Though there is something invigorating knowing that I can work on it for the next 30 years of my life and the action item list will still hardly have a dent in it when I finally pass it on to the next Chameleon Academy Headmaster. That day is decades away, but I know I will be busy every day until that point. Thank you for walking the path with me and joining me on this adventure. And now it is time for me to get working on the next episode because there is still so much more to do!


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Ep 213: Chameleon Behaviors as an Early Warning

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Chameleons have cryptic ways about them. And being mysterious is how they survive. But being cryptic and mysterious also hides illness and that is what we chameleon keepers want to know about right away! Today I talk about the subtle first behavioral warning signs of illness in chameleons.

Links from the episode

ReptileEntrepreneur ETB logo podcast badge 3000x3000

I am now doing a second podcast called the Reptile Entrepreneur. If you have ever thought about starting a business in the reptile community then this is the show for you. I go over everything from manufacturing to breeding and various business topics. So far, I  have talked to Josh Dovenbarger who is a bearded dragon breeder and David Brahms who makes perches for the Green Tree Python community with 3D printing technology. You are probably familiar with Todd Goode who came on and talked about overseas manufacturing. Next Monday you’ll hear from Richard Clarke who is a patent attorney who gives us an introduction to how the patent process works. And soon I’ll be talking about starting a YouTube channel or even a podcast of your own. If you would like to be more deeply involved in the reptile community then I invite you to check out the Reptile Entrepreneur on any podcast app, YouTube, or, best of all, at reptileentrepreneur.com which will have links to everything!

Transcript (More or Less)

Introduction

Good morning, Chameleon Wranglers! Oh, our chameleons can be tricky beasts to understand. And that is what we chameleon keepers strive to do better and better every day. And more than just an art that we hone, learning our chameleon’s ways to a deep level helps us keep our friends as healthy as possible. Because, the first sign of a health issue with a chameleon is usually a change in behavior.

Some of the most common ailments for chameleons start on the inside and the only way we can detect what is going on, outside of doing blood and fecal tests, is by micro-changes in behavior. Yes, they soon become obvious changes in behavior that unmistakably show a sick chameleon. But by this time it is late in the game. We don’t give up on them and they can be brought back, but if you can detect a growing problem before it becomes a big problem the chances are much greater for success. This is why developing a skill in understanding chameleon body language is so important.  But detecting that change in behavior is complicated by two major problems. 1) the chameleon naturally hides any sign of weakness and 2) chameleon behavior is a language all its own which is counterintuitive for human beings and needs to be learned!

Today’s episode is the start of a number of episodes where I am going to lead you through a checklist of items and tests that can help you determine if there is something wrong with your chameleon as early in the game as possible. I will start by going over what is considered normal behavior through out the chameleon’s day and point out different spots where behaviors of concern could show itself. The topic of chameleon behavior and health is a huge one and an important study since chameleons are so good at hiding signs of weakness. Today I’d like to start with the most challenging situation. That is when you are seeing behavioral signs of lethargy or eyes closed. These are signs something is going on, but aren’t necessarily the problem itself. So you have this limbo period where you know something is off, but you have to dig deeper to figure out what. To be sure, more symptoms are coming, but we would rather nip it in the bud before those symptoms of furthering development of sickness show up. So this episode is about that early stage where you have only subtle clues and no hard evidence.

I just need to warn you that interpreting chameleon behavior quickly becomes an art where you having a “feeling” that something is off is enough for you to take action. It starts off with big behaviors that are easy to recognize. As you get better at it and more in-tune with your specific chameleon you need to become more sensitive to your feelings. Because the things that are “off” will be difficult to put a finger on, but you just can’t shake the feeling that something is off. That is what will happen over the years. The longer you are at it the more often your feelings will be correct. How long that takes depends on how attentive you are to your chameleon and how much you are able to put aside the natural human part of you that interprets your chameleon through the filter of what we intrinsically grew up with in human behavior.   It just takes time and practice. This episode should get you off to a good start. Know that this podcast is also supported by a whole section on the chameleonacademy.com website. There is an entire page filled with each behavior and some information on that behavior. Your next stop after listening here is to check out the behavior page.

The first thing we need to do before there is any trouble is establish a base line for what a chameleon should be doing and what normal behavior consists of. If this is your first chameleon then you are starting from scratch. So, let’s start at the beginning. Generally speaking…and I say generally because every chameleon will have variations on this depending on personality and their external environment that they are working within. But we have to start with a baseline. A basic day in a chameleon’s life is to wake up and look for the first sun rays to warm up from the cool night. The cool night was important for their body to rest and now they want to bask until their body temperature rises to normal operating temperature. Eyes open upon first light and they make their way to where they think a warm spot is. They will come with dark colors to soak up as much of the warmth as possible and may flatten their body to increase the amount of surface area the light hits.

And here is where we do our first test. Does the chameleon open his eyes when the light comes on? This will be a common theme with chameleons. The eyes are the #1 communicator of chameleon health. While the light is on they should be open and alert. Deep in their DNA they know that eyes open and alert is the way to stay alive. They are always looking for predators and being hatched in captivity does not change this. Looking out for predators is instinct, not learned behavior. Although they definitely do learn to be more or less scared of people or animals, they always have the “on alert” behavior. Here is also where we run into our first culture shock. A chameleon with its eyes closed while the lights are on is either sick or has given up and is waiting for death. Humans, dogs, and cats close their eyes when they are napping during the day or when they are content. When you feel safe you close your eyes and embrace your loved one. Our hearts melt when our puppy feels so safe on our arms that he curls up and closes his eyes. That is the ultimate trust and many of us have the very good policy that if a puppy curls up in your lap and closes its eyes that you are now excused from getting up and doing anything else until that puppy wakes up. So, we come to chameleons with this in our background and totally misread the signs. A chameleon does not snuggle up or nap. A healthy chameleon will never close its eyes around you. Isn’t it suspicious that all of these chameleon whisperers that have a special bond with their chameleon somehow extract dog and human-like behaviors from their chameleons? Chameleons are not pack animals and have had no need or pressure or benefit to develop behaviors that endear them to each other….or us. So, either chameleons have developed latent behaviors all these eons just waiting to be pulled out when they became pets or else the human mind has interpreted behaviors through a filter that makes it happy. The problem with hanging onto the idea that your chameleon loves you is that you will be misinterpreting the signs and that can lead to the death of your chameleon. A chameleon with its eyes closed is giving you a big red warning sign that something is seriously wrong. So, if the lights come on and your chameleon stays asleep it is a warning sign.

 

Now, let’s talk about warning signs. When we are monitoring behavior we often pick up on changes that are subtle enough that we aren’t sure if we actually saw something. If your chameleon takes a little longer to open their eyes in the morning it may be the start of something serious. It also may be that they are recovering from something they ate that soured their stomach. They live life in all its variations just like we do. So we are looking for as many pieces of data as we can, but we piece them together to form a course of action. What this means is that your chameleon keeping its eyes closed more than usual one day isn’t a concern until it happens another day and then another. By three days it is time to go to yellow alert. But if the chameleon is acting fine, alert, active, and aggressively hunting through out the rest of the day we keep that concern in the back of our mind and look for other clues. If it is something wrong then another behavior should pop up that shows us the direction whatever is going on will take. Chameleon keeping is a constant watching for clues and putting scenarios together. Most of the time these variations in behavior pop up and then go away before enough behavior data points add up to a vet visit. But you have to be good enough to pick up on these behavior clues so you catch them before a big one hits. Noticing eyes closed, lethargy, and the occasional pop during breathing is well past the time a chameleon keeper should have started the chameleon on antibiotics. Not noticing anything until the chameleon is sitting with nose up in the air, gaping and eyes closed means your chameleon’s chances of survival are diminished. And there is no way around learning the subtleties of chameleon behavior language. It is just a necessary part of what we do.

I am making a big deal about the point where your chameleon wakes up because if there is subtle discomfort starting internally, your chameleon may first show that by waking up more slowly. The next step will be napping during the day, which we know is not napping, but it is dealing with internal distress. Just remember. Eyes open is survival for a chameleon. For them to shut their eyes during the day time means that whatever is going on inside them has more pain and discomfort than the need for survival. But, if there is any disturbance, they will resort right back to that survival instinct and will pretend there is nothing wrong. This is why you can tap the cage and they will pop back to looking healthy. You need to trust what you see when you slowly slip into the room. And just to warn you, if you catch something early enough your chameleon will be able to dedicate the energy to looking healthy and presenting them to the vet may or may not be useful. If you have caught it early enough your chameleon will put on quite a show of strength for the vet which can easily get you sent home with a nothing is wrong note. Here is where it is invaluable to have a relationship with your vet where they know you know what you are talking about and that your analysis can be trusted. We do not want to give antibiotics if we do not need to. But if you have detected something that says we have the start of a respiratory infection then your vet can decide that what you saw before your chameleon was riled up was warning enough that action needs to be taken. And here is where trusting your feelings comes in. If you catch an infection early enough there will be some doubt in your mind as to whether something is really going on. And if you decide to trust that feeling and get your chameleon on antibiotics then you have to run the entire course of medicine and that may knock out the infection right away and you will never see the symptoms getting worse. Which means that the absolute best case scenario is that you never have confirmation that you were right. The only way you can validate a feeling is to not follow the feeling and then see signs of a worsening infection. So, how do you hone your skills if the only way to learn whether you are right or not is to allow your chameleon to get sick?

Well, when you are starting out, you will have many feelings that something is off. As a doting parent, the slightest side eye look and you are on social media asking if your chameleon is dying. In the beginning, I suggest waiting until you have confirmation with another symptom before acting on the feelings. Because, in the beginning, you will have many false alarms as you hone that skill. Over time you will learn what is and isn’t a real case. Once you are to this point that is the time to trust your feelings. I want to caution you, I know it sounds great to think of yourself as being so in-tuned with your chameleon that you what your feelings to be confirmed and will look for evidence to prove it and will ignore evidence that disproves it. That I can do nothing about. That is human nature and you have to be the type of person who isn’t doing this for ego’s sake. Put yourself through rigorous serious training. Be glad of mis-interpretations you do because you will learn from them and that will make you better in your art. Deluding yourself into thinking you are a chameleon whisperer before your time will only slow your progress.

 

So, say we think our chameleon was a little too slow in waking up or we think we caught him with his eyes closed when we walked into the room. What other things can we use to confirm that this is really something to be concerned about? The first is by looking for more of the same. More time spent with his eyes closed. Maybe it is taking longer and longer for him to wake up or you now notice time during the afternoon that he is sitting with his eyes closed. An increase in time with eyes closed is all you need for confirmation. If you notice a discernable increase in eye closed time then this has graduated from a feeling to having hard evidence. It is time to act.

So, what are the next steps? Behavior is an indication of internal discomfort. If you do not yet have an external sign of what is going on, there are a couple of options to consider

By far, the most common is infection – and this can be bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitic.

It also could be an obstruction – either egg binding or impaction. Another option could be nutritional, but we often see external indications of these effects. Of course, you can go deeper and deeper into this and add poisoning and other fringe cases. They are rare, but they do happen.

Let’s look at infection. This can be bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitic. And this is where you need to partner with a vet. A fecal exam is your best indication that there is a parasitic infection. A bacterial infection can start showing itself as a swelling, but one of the most common chameleon ailments, a respiratory infection, starts showing itself as the chameleon with its nose in the air and/or mouth open to breath. What is going on is that the infection is blocking the ability for oxygen to be absorbed in the lungs. The nose up straightens the air tube running from the mouth to the lungs allowing a more direct path for air and the gaping allows more air to be sucked in. You want to catch it before it gets to the point where your chameleon has his nose in the air, gaping, and eyes are sunken in. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done before the nose in the air symptoms to confirm a bacterial infection outside of doing a culture test or checking white blood cell count. Bacterial infections take many forms and can be many places, but if there is no swelling around the mouth or swollen eyes or other external sign, it is most likely in the lungs. That is the one internal organ which has constant contact with the outside world through breathing.

Fungal infections often will show as growths on the skin. And viral infections are tough to diagnose.

Blood tests can help point in a certain direction if you have a vet that knows how to read them for reptiles.

The challenging thing is that all of these very different health issues have completely different cures. And you don’t want to waste time applying a cure to the wrong problem. At best it wastes precious time. At worst it make the problem worse as medicines are a stress on the body. We don’t like giving medicine in a shotgun approach because every medicine needs to be processed by the body. If it is knocking down an infection then there is more good than bad. If there is a viral infection and you give an antibiotic then the medicine will not affect the virus at all and the body will divert resources from the immune system fighting the infection to the liver and kidneys to process the antibiotic. Add to that the stress of administering the medicine and you have a strong argument to figure out what is causing the problem before administering a cure.

 

Something is wrong – what now?

Okay, so you have determined that your chameleon has something wrong. What do you do while you are waiting for another symptom to appear? The first is to get a fecal test done. This can get results within days. This will tell you if parasites could be causing problem. Make sure you ask the vet office to check density of whatever parasites they find. This will let you know how serious the problem is. Even if it is a substantial load and it looks like we have our smoking gun, keep in mind that your chameleon could have both a parasitic infection and a bacterial infection. You may have to treat both. Hopefully, your vet will be able to keep an eye out for multiple simultaneous health issues.

Now, I have built this entire episode around the single case of chameleons with their eyes closed more than they should be and no other symptoms. This is a unique limbo time where we know something is up, but the symptom we observe isn’t a good identification of the problem. I’ll talk about other health concerns in future episodes, but it is worth mentioning other reasons why eye can be closed where that actually is a direct symptom of the problem. Eyes might be closed due to vitamin A deficiency or because of physical trauma. Vitamin A deficiency will usually be seen in both eyes. With internal distress the chameleon can open its eyes and pretend to be healthy if he is not too far gone. With advanced vitamin A deficiency, the eyes will open with difficulty depending how far along it is. If it is only one eye that is closed then you may be looking at your chameleon hitting the eye against something or they got a foreign particle stuck in the eye. This is, as you would expect, rare. But you can keep it as a possibility and is worth getting checked by a vet with their specialized equipment. Just a snap shot of eyes closed during a bacterial infection is somewhat similar to the advanced case of vitamin A deficiency. So closed eyes requires a bit of thought.

I ended up talking about closed eyes a lot because it is the most obvious behavioral warning sign. But remember that we started talking about the normal day to day habits of your chameleon. Once you truly get to know your chameleon you will get to know their habits. And, with this familiarity, you will get tipped off that something is wrong even before the eyes start closing. This is taking the illness detection one step deeper. If you notice that your chameleon is changing their habits in a way that keeps them hidden more than usual then that is a warning sign. Spending more time under the basking lamp is a micro change in behavior that could be a warning. Keepers are able to hone their skills to this level of sensitivity if they have a situation like a home office where they are in the same room as their chameleon and are able to look over on a regular basis each day. For example, it would take days of regular observation for me to notice something different about the behavior of my chameleons in the densely planted outdoor enclosures. But I was highly attuned to the chameleons in my home office. I had their densely planted enclosures across the room, but visible from my desk. So I was highly attuned to any movement or behavior. And, you noticed I keep saying densely planted to describe my enclosures whether indoors or out. That is just to normalize the fact that all chameleon enclosures should be densely planted! But also it points out that, if you have a home office situation, you can track your chameleon’s daily motions even in a densely planted enclosure where you can’t see them all the time. I got to know the routines of the two chameleons in my office intimately. So if there was any change in behavior such as lingering before coming up to bask or retreating back to the shelter of the leaves when they would usually lounge around up top and watch the world set off a warning signal. Most of the time it was nothing. In fact, with these two, there was never a problem that progressed to the eyes closed stage. But there were many times where their behavior changed slightly and I noticed. And this meant that I was able to detect potential problems before they even got to the eyes closed stage.

Now, as you may be thinking, how do you figure out what is wrong at this stage when we can’t even be sure at the eyes closed stage? Well, it is the same thing. You need to do tests or wait for more behavior information. The point is that you are now on alert and you are actively looking for those signs. Though chameleons hide their weakness, this is only effective to people who do not know their individual behaviors.

So, how do you develop this level of sensitivity? This requires daily observation without interaction. Remember anytime you interact with them they snap back into putting on a strong face mode. But if you have them in the same room as you while you are doing desk-type work then they settle in with your routine and you can start to notice things. Sticking your face to their cage and asking who’s a cute chameleon kind of messes everything up.

Conclusion

Observation is the critical component of maintenance of your chameleon. Even if you followed the caresheet exactly, a caresheet can only give the idealized and generalized care parameters. You must then develop the skills of observation to determine what your individual chameleon needs in your unique situation and change to match what they tell you. And learning their language is a skill in itself which takes time and practice. This is an important skill because the better you are at it the earlier you will catch signs of illness. Early treatment makes for successful recovery.

We will be talking more about detecting illness here on the podcast, but, in the meantime, check out the behavior and medical pages on the chameleonacademy.com website where you can see a visual list of what you can expect when learning chameleon language.

In other news, I am now doing a second podcast called the Reptile Entrepreneur. If you have ever thought about starting a business in the reptile community then this is the show for you. I go over everything from manufacturing to breeding and various business topics. So far, I  have talked to Josh Dovenbarger who is a bearded dragon breeder and David Brahms who makes perches for the Green Tree Python community with 3D printing technology. You are probably familiar with Todd Goode who came on and talked about overseas manufacturing. Next Monday you’ll hear from Richard Clarke who is a patent attorney who gives us an introduction to how the patent process works. And soon I’ll be talking about starting a YouTube channel or even a podcast of your own. If you would like to be more deeply involved in the reptile community then I invite you to check out the Reptile Entrepreneur on any podcast app, YouTube, or, best of all, at reptileentrepreneur.com which will have links to everything.

Thank you for joining me here. The art of chameleon herpetoculture has many layers and it is a constant growth process to peel each one away! In doing so we become better chameleon keepers and our chameleons are able to enjoy healthy longevity.


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chameleon cages

Ep 212: Chameleon Caging Decisions pt 2 – Glass Caging

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

glass chameleon cages
glass chameleon cages

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

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

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


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hybrid cages

Ep 211: Chameleon Caging Decisions pt 1 – Hybrid

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

Links discussed

panther chameleon

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

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

Tall Hybrid

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

Parsons Chameleon

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

Transcript (more or less)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Veiled Chameleons and Bill

Bill Strand Interview on Animals At Home Podcast

I’d like to invite you to check out the Animals At Home Podcast, episode 92 where Dillon Perron interviews me about the chameleon community, Chameleon Academy, and Dragon Strand.

 

This is a very good interview where we touch on important topics regarding where we are going as a community. We talk about the Panther Chameleon Breeding Lifecycle project I have been working on where I am modelling a breeding model that is specifically designed for optimal chameleon care and breeder happiness/satisfaction. That is the way we can expand and maintain the experience and knowledge base in our community.

 

I got excited about the Animals At Home podcast when I listened to episode 86 with TC Houston where he talked about small batch breeding. This was about keeping your breeding operation purposefully on the small side. Although, if what TC was talking about was “small” then what I am talking about doing is “micro”! Of course, once you have the micro aspect down, scaling up to whatever is appropriate is no problem! But this episode resonated with me and I loved hearing the concepts I had been thinking said out loud by someone else. One of the most powerful discussion topics on this episode was the talk about reaching a critical mass with the size of community. To survive we need to grow. This applies politically, in buying power, and demand for basic infrastructure such as availability of vets with reptile experience. You know how hard it is to find reptile experienced veterinarians? This is because we are coming out of a time period where reptile experience was a side business and something taken on because of the vet’s personal passion. But the vet would have to see cats and dogs to pay the bills. When we grow as a community it becomes possible for vets to be dedicated to reptiles and that makes them better at serving us which makes us more successful and strengthens the community. So it is in our best interests to grow.

 

Next was episode 88 with Chelsea Isdaner where she talked about her breeding operation where she has her breeding group in naturalistic cages. Each breeder is treated as a pet. And this is the next step for us in the chameleon community. I think we have achieved the first step which was to make naturalistic keeping the norm for beginners. And we have achieved that beautifully. Now it is wide spread for chameleon cages to be lush with natural plants. The next step, in my mind, is to bring that into our breeding set-ups. We have done well mass producing panther chameleons in sterile, easy to clean environments. And this is necessary if you have a lot of breeders. I’d like to bring the spotlight to craft breeding where each breeder is set up in a large size cage filled with live plants and treated like a pet. My purpose in this is to raise the life quality of the chameleons and maintain the happiness level of the human. This strengthens our community.

 

So I invite you to listen to these episodes. You can get on the new wave as it builds! I’ll be doing a complete podcast episode fleshing out these thoughts soon so we can continue this conversation.

Ep 92: Bill Strand Interview

Bill strand

Bill’s podcast, YouTube channel, website, and care guides are a staple among chameleon keepers and he has been a catalyst in the movement towards natural keeping and breeding. In this episode, we discuss Bill’s history keeping chameleons, his caging company, Dragon Strand, and of course the Chameleon Academy.

Ep 86: Small Batch Breeding

We must re-think reptile breeding to promote methods that are both respectful to the reptiles we keep and that make our value clear to non-reptile-keeping folk. In this episode, TC Houston and I discuss the concept of small-batch reptile breeding and how it will save herpetoculture from self-destruction.

Ep 88: Breeding Reptiles in Complex Setups

In the episode, we discuss Chelsea's diverse group of snakes, DIY enclosures, and the process of advancing husbandry. She also talks about how she successfully breeds snakes in complex habitats and we analyze the myth that small snakes fail to thrive in large enclosures.

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Jackson's Chameleon female

Ep 209: Giving Chameleons Natural Sunlight

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Summer is approaching and it is time to take advantage of natural sunlight for your chameleons. Today we will talk about take your chameleon outside safely.

Transcript (more or less)

We talk a lot about getting your chameleons outdoors for natural sunlight and breezes. And, for good reason. Chameleons thrive outside. Of course, it needs to be done right or else this could be a very bad thing for your chameleon. Back in 2016, which was the previous decade, I did an episode on outdoor caging where I went over types of cages and techniques. It was a meaty episode and the information is still good today. But I feel it is time to revisit the topic and add in some answers to questions that how popped up since.  Considering the season, this is an especially good time to do it!

 

There is something different about being outdoors. We can feel it. Chameleons respond to it as well. One of the foundational skills in our art of chameleon herpetoculture is the creation of a healthy, vibrant environment within our homes. It is not an easy task! The better we are at what we do the better our environments replicate what is found in nature. We have come far, but we have far to go. I don’t think anyone disputes the benefits of exposing our chameleons to natural, unfiltered sunlight. Though that comes with caveats to make sure the chameleons do not die from a simple day in the backyard. Yes, on that downer of a sentence we have to be aware of just how dangerous the sun is if we do it wrong. So, let’s not do it wrong!

 

Before we haul our cage outside and give our chameleon some natural sunlight goodness lets go over some concepts.

First, Indoors keeping vs outdoors keeping. Nature is a wildly diverse number of conditions with a myriad of microclimates for an animal to choose from. Even in a desert, animals take shelter underground and inside cacti. If you took a weather station in Las Vegas, Nevada and replicated those weather patterns in a cage you would kill any animal that has thrived in that area for longer than humans have gambled. This is why captive husbandry is so challenging for us to figure out. We are having to determine what the ideal conditions are for an animal that spends its day moving amongst microclimates. In the chameleon world the difference between indoor and outdoor keeping can be seen in the Jackson’s Chameleon. Care sheets talk about cool temperatures and a deep night time drop. But whenever those parameters are mentioned there inevitably will pop up some person saying it is all ridiculous because Jackson’s Chameleons live in Hawaii where you don’t get those conditions. And then we have to explain that 1) Jackson’s Chameleons do not live at the weather station, 2) the microclimates they can find are different than the weather station, and 3) outdoors is absolutely different from indoors keeping! This is the problem when people have data and don’t have the context. Here’s a simple example. Two days ago it hit over 100 degrees F at my house. Standing under the sun was very uncomfortable and I stood there only to do this test because of how much I sacrifice for my art. I then moved myself to a completed covered patio. So I had a concrete slab with a roof overhead. Great ventilation. But it felt stuffy and the heat went from burning to oppressive. And then I moved into the shade of a huge ash tree. And it turned into a wonderful summer day to enjoy the birds singing. It was still warm, but very comfortable. I noticed cool breezes and I just wanted to sit down and stay for the afternoon. What changed? I found a comfortable microclimate. The weather app data didn’t change, but I was able to choose a place that was much different from what the weather data was reading. And this example is a way to understand outdoor keeping. The closer we get to outdoor keeping the more advantages of microclimates we can use.

With indoor keeping we reduce choices dramatically. Our house filters out the highs and lows of the outdoor temperature swings and the limited cage space reduces the microclimates to one or two. This is why we insist on the ideal conditions for our caresheets. Because you are picking around two microclimates for your chameleon to live its day in. Don’t pick conditions on the edge of what they can tolerate because the ability to deal with conditions on the edge of their tolerance zone is much less when they are forced to live it every day.

 

So, what does this all have to do with bringing your chameleon outdoors? When we bring our chameleon outside  we obviously have to limit their movement or else we will not have a chameleon any more. So we have to be very careful how we expose our chameleon to the natural sun. Taking my example of the 100+ degree day. If I put my chameleon out in the sun I would have an overheated and soon dead chameleon. If I put my chameleon under the patio I would have an uncomfortable chameleon unless I added on cooling by misting. If I put my chameleon under the shade of the Ash tree I would have a very happy chameleon. At least until the sun moved to a position where it shown directly under the tree and the shade disappeared. So, our outdoors strategy needs to have both a position and a time element to it.

 

Okay, enough of outdoor theory. Let’s talk practical application. We have two scenarios to get our chameleon some outdoor benefit. We have bringing their indoor cage outside temporarily and having a special cage constructed for outdoor use.

 

Having an outdoor cage built specifically for the purpose of outdoor time is far and away the ideal and well worth the cost and effort. Both for the health benefit of your chameleon and the enjoyment level for you. The bigger the cage the more benefit and the greater the enjoyment. Here are the basics.

 

The most important aspect of outdoor keeping is to have a soil base. Ideally, directly on the ground, but otherwise on a planter box. I have done both. I have built cages directly on the ground and I have build planter boxes specifically designed to allow me to use commercially available screen cages. One of the most useful designed I share all the time is one where I have a planter box on wheels that I place a standard 2x2x4’ tall screen cage on. It works very well to allow me to roll it in and out of the sun and shade as is appropriate for the season. And this is a perfect demonstration of how the bigger the cage the more I can let the chameleon take care of himself. I live in Southern California so I have the opportunity to keep chameleons outdoors most of the year and some species all of the year. If I am keeping a Jackson’s Chameleon in a 4’ x 4’ x 6’ heavily planted cage on the ground he can stay outside all year. I just have a sprinkler system on timer and put in food a three times a week. The temperature can swing from the upper 30s to the 100 degrees and he will be fine. Obviously, it I much more complicated than this. I have mostly clear skies during the day so there is usually the opportunity to bask even on cold days so this would not work as well in areas that have extended cold, cloudy spells. So, please don’t take what I am saying here as a recipe. It is meant to communicate concepts. The point is that with that large cage he has all the microclimates he needs to take care of himself.

 

The next step down is my planter box cage on wheels. I have a 2x2x4’ tall screen cage onto a planter box with 1’ deep of soil. This is all on wheels so I can move it around. This is a much smaller space and it has enough microclimate range that I can figure out the right place for it once a day. If it will be cold or into the upper 70s then the cage can be in full sun. There is enough foliage in that cage to offer protection from the sun. If the day will be between 80 and 90 then I place it so it is half sun and half shade. Over 90 degree and the cage is fully shaded. My favorite placements are where the cage gets morning sun and then shade during the afternoon. Sometimes I put one of those portable canopy tents up with the cages under that. The cages get morning sun and the afternoon sun is blocked.

 

One more step down is moving the indoor cage out for a little bit of time. This requires constant supervision to make sure the sun isn’t directly hitting the cage in a way that your chameleon is getting baked. There is a danger in the typical solid floor that screen cages come with. And that is that the sun will reflect off the floor an so the chameleon is getting sun from the top and sun from the bottom and you can see how there is zero gradient there and no way for your chameleon to escape the sun. That is why the soil floor is so useful for creating gradients. It acts like a heat sink. Keep in mind though, that your cage plants and system has been built around a relatively weak lighting system up top. The plants have grown to those light levels. If you put them out into direct sun, depending on the temperature, intensity of when you do it, and how long you do it, you could easily burn the leaves. Plant leaves grow to adjust to the light levels. You will notice that the more intense the light the smaller and lighter color the leaves are. The lower the light levels, the larger and darker the leaves are. This is in response to how much the leaf has to work to get enough light to feed itself. It is light being in a dark room and then suddenly the lights come on. Our eyes that have adjusted to the dark are blinded until we can adjust. Plants adjust by growing new leaves so the ones that are already grown will be burned by dramatic increases in light intensity. Ie…the sun.

 

If you do want to use your indoors cage outdoors for a couple hours, the best way to do this is to put the cage out in the morning when your chameleon is wanting to do the initial warm up. Let him do that with the natural sun. This is when he would be getting his main dose of UVB anyways.

 

Now, let’s talk UVB and D3. If your chameleon is getting natural sunlight, how should that change how you supplement him? It shouldn’t change anything. Your chameleon cage has a UVB light giving him the UVB he needs to synthesize D3. Replacing that with the sun is simply that – replacing it. So just supplement as you normally would. Of course, this assumes you are up with the times and offering sufficient UVB to your chameleon. If you have a husbandry routine that relies on vitamin D3 in the supplement then, yes, you don’t have to have D3 in the diet any more as your chameleon will synthesize it naturally. And I include this scenario just to be comprehensive. With the UVB technology we have today you don’t need to be relying on dietary D3. I don’t see any effort being spent further determining the required and safe dietary D3 levels when we can just use the natural UVB method that has its own shut off.

 

You will get some UVB in the shade, but it is greatly reduced. But that is okay. Chameleons do not need bright UVB all day. I know the caresheets all say keep the UVB on 12 hours a day and your favorite social media group will be highly agitated if you only give UVB a couple hours a day, but a morning warm up in direct sun is going to do the job of giving them their daily D3. This can also be a morning UVB basking inside the cage. So do not worry about the UVB levels under shade if you have your chameleon out when it is too hot for direct sunlight. Even with indirect sunlight there will be a little UVB and even with very low UVB, there is still benefit to the natural breezes.

 

A quick way many people use to get natural sunlight to their chameleon is to just take the chameleon out and put him in a garden tree or bush. The need for supervision here obviously jumps exponentially. It is not just the slowly moving sun and overheating that is the danger. Now we add in escape and predators.

Back in the 70s, a pet store owner in Hawaii imported about three dozen Jackson’s Chameleons and put them in his nicely planted back yard to recover. When he went to retrieve them he found they had disappeared. Fast forward to today where Jackson’s chameleons are firmly established on a number of the Hawaiian islands. Chameleons may move slow, but they move fast enough that you being distracted by that YouTube video is all it takes for them to have found new digs or hide themselves. Have you ever seen a chameleon when it wants to move? Yeah, not as slow as you think. And once they are gone, they are exceedingly difficult to find. Taking a flashlight out at night is a better bet than trying to find them during the day. But it is best to avoid the situation all together and keep an eye on your chameleon. Though, the easier it is to see your chameleon the less protection he has from the sun so you have to find the right balance.

 

The other new complication is predators. You standing guard is a pretty good deterrent against the standard neighborhood cats or your dogs. But scan the skies. There are certain falcons that would love to try a chameleon meal and it was heartbreaking listening to a community member describe how he helplessly watched a falcon take off with his chameleon. The chances of a bird taking your chameleon are pretty slim with you standing there, but increase as you put a chair out and catch up on what the Kardashians are doing these days. I often put chameleons out on a bush when I am trying a mating on neutral ground – meaning outside of either the male or female’s cage. And for them to feel comfortable and concentrate on each other I have to be physical away from them. This decreases how I am able to react to any bird of prey that notices a wildly colored head bobbing morsel. So I sit myself down on a chair near by and have a chink of branch or something that I can throw at a bird. Now, I am not thinking I am going to hit a bird. All I need to do is have something big enough that it spinning through the air will surprise or distract the bird from completing its dive. Will it work? Well, I haven’t had to use it yet so I am hoping the hypothesis is sound and it will be effective should I need it one day!

 

Another question that comes up is whether it is okay for your chameleon sunning itself to enjoy the occasion snack flying by. Concerns center around pesticides and stinging insects.  I have not yet heard of a chameleon being negatively affected by pesticides from eating an insects or being stung by a bee or wasp. I, personally, have feed wild bugs for decades with no problem at all. The only reason why I do not make a blanket statement is because there will always be special considerations. If you live in a heavily agricultural area where there are great amount of pesticides you’ll have to make your own decision. I still don’t see a problem with feeding wild insects, but we are getting out of my realm of experience and expertise so I respectfully acknowledge my limitations in being able to give advice for extreme examples. With bees I have no problem. I used to be concerned, but my Jackson’s Chameleon who had climbed out of my reach just sat there ignoring my worried face while it sat and picked off bees like he was in a candy store. I often wonder how they would fare with a mud dauber wasp that has that multi-directional stinger. Is that a danger? I assume that if the chameleon got in the standard first bite it would be over, but if it missed the first bite would that split second give the mud dauber the chance to bring in the stinger? I don’t know the answer to that question and would welcome the experience of anyone who has been seen that. But, generally speaking, my perspective is that I encourage as much wild insect feeding as possible. The added diversity of diurnal, meaning daytime, insect prey is a valuable addition to my chameleons’ healthy diet.

 

So, there is an overview of getting some natural sun. The benefits are real and I would encourage you to offer it to your chameleon when the weather is good. And if you at all can swing it, have a large permanent outdoor cage for your chameleon to be in during the months of the year that are good enough weather for your particular chameleon species. I used to have both an indoor cage and an outdoor cage for each chameleon I kept. My collection has expanded a bit, but I am actively working on bringing it back down because the most enjoyable chameleon keeping time period was when I had that arrangement. Besides, it is so cool trying to find your chameleon in a huge cage. I would see them when they were basking and then they would be out of sight the rest of the day. There is something very satisfying about being able to see those natural behaviors.

 

Okay that is the talk for today and everyone is welcome to go on with their chameleon keeping lives. But if you feel like sticking around and going to the digital coffee shop on the other side of the Wi-Fi we can sit down, relax and shoot the breeze about current events.

Doot doot doot la la la humming  and moving chair out pouring coffee

 

New ZooMed LED UVB

Well, have you seen the news about UVB LEDs? We have a couple of companies, including ZooMed that are talking about releasing UVB LED products. These are of particular interest as they would be a way of giving solid UVB with lower power consumption. Sounds like a good idea! The problem is that manufacturing a reliable UVB LED has been challenging. And it just doesn’t seem like the technology is ready for prime time. But suddenly we have these companies talking about real products that they will, presumably, mass produce. Okay then… I suppose we can give them the benefit of the doubt and let them show us what they can do!

ZooMed has announced a 9W LED bar that supposedly produces pretty strong UVB. This product is not available anywhere yet. So, all we know is that the marketing department has been hard at work. There is no indication as to what the engineering or manufacturing teams have been up to. So, let’s assume the marketing team has been fed the right information. This UVB intensity looks like it is supposed to rival their T5 High Output lights. So that is a pretty high bar. Obviously, I will buy one as soon as it hits the shelves. Everything we have heard so far about the technology is that it is not ready for prime time. So here are your possibilities. 1) ZooMed is trying to get attention by promising a product that won’t be ready for months or who knows how long. In my professional life I do Product Marketing so I know this strategy well and it drives me crazy. It is used for attention and to gauge market reaction. 2) ZooMed will release a product before it is ready and deal with the aftermath. I know this strategy as well and, yes, this drives me crazy too. There are always unpleasant things that come up in production, but I never support doing it on purpose. Or else 3) ZooMed got it done.

Now, this is in a mini LED bar format so you are going to screw it in to a horizontal A socket. ZooMed has a 12” and 18” Naturalistic Terrarium Hood product where the 12” holds one LED bar and the 18” hold two LED bars. This LED bar does have a combination of 6500K LEDs for white light and UVA&B LEDS for the UV light so it is trying to be an all in one solution.

Obviously, I’ll be able to talk more about it once I have it. But, first impression is that I am not sure at this point that we will be using this particular product much as chameleon people.  It all depends on how much light really comes off this bulb. The spot light effect of the UVB means you will get intense UVB in a focused area of the cage. As chameleons can detect UVB and will seek it out to bask, this may work. But I don’t see the white light portion of the bulb being anywhere near what we need to light our cages. Most minimum cage sizes are 48” tall so we need some healthy light output. Our current LED bar offering, which is only white light, is the Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED bar. I have used this since it was released and have grown beautiful flowering vines in my chameleon cages. But the Jungle Dawns are 22” of densely pack LEDs so this UVB LED technology may or may not be useful to us as both UVB and white light. That said, UVB LED technology would, in subsequent form factors, be amazing if they do work so we should keep an eagle eye on this technology. Once they work out the bugs that go along with any new product I am confident we will see more form factors.

Obviously, I will report back as soon as I know more. And if any of you see it available, drop me an email to make sure I see it too!

 

Panther Story update

In other news, there has been a lot going on on the chameleonacademy.com website. I have updated the chameleon cage safe plant list with the report that the Hoya plant has been eaten by a veiled with no ill effects. For those who don’t know, I keep a Chameleon Safe Plant list and I have a special designation which is “Veiled Tested” by each plant that the community reports has been eaten by a veiled chameleon with no ill effects. Now, we do have to acknowledge our limitations. There are, I think, 900 species of Hoya. So we need to be realistic in how scientific this is. I have used carnosa, obovata, pubicalyx so that leaves just 897 species to go. But, it is far and away much better than just reprinting the safe plant lists for cat and dogs and relabeling them Chameleon safe plant lists. You can use the Chameleon Academy plant list and know that what is on here is a result of use with actual chameleons. You can access the new plant list by going to the URL chameleonacademy.com/plants.

 

I am also slowly and methodically building out the chapters in the panther chameleon story where I am documenting a breeding lifecycle of the panther chameleon. I say methodically because I am producing webpages, podcast episodes, and videos for each chapter. By the end you will have a complete multi-media chameleon husbandry guide. A lot of fun, but a lot of work. My approach is that I am going to keep two pairs and keep this breeding project small. Each adult breeder will be kept as a pet in a naturalistic cage and the babies raised as individually as possible. And I say “as possible” because another purpose of me documenting this project is that I want to show all the things that could go wrong and 1) how to plan for and head them off before they happen and 2) what to do when you find yourself in a bind with something you didn’t plan for! So you’ll get to see me planning for the babies all through incubation and then you’ll see me figuring things out on the fly as unexpected things come up! The most valuable thing about experience is knowing what to do when the unexpected happens. Panther chameleon breeding has become a recipe of sorts, but that means it is easy for people to get started and get in over their heads quickly. Hopefully, this series will flesh out keeper’s understanding of their panther chameleon and breeder’s ability to maintain the enjoyment in chameleons that inspired them to start breeding in the first place.

 

And, finally, I just want to say how much I love working with brightly lit cages. When I started this podcast back in 2015 it was still common for chameleon cages to be dark caves with a small lit area up top. Now, there are so many bright light options that we can use people are easily starting to put in passion flowers or mandevilla or other flowering vines that were usually considered outdoor flowers. And I, for one, love this trend. This is great for the chameleons as well because they are finally getting brightly lit cages. Sight is very important to them! Anyway, I am sure I’ll be talking more about that topic in some official podcast coming up, but for now I am just going to encourage you to get that quad bulb fluorescent fixture or that LED bar or both. I did a YouTube video on putting together a 2x2x4’ tall cage with a quad bulb T5 HO 6500K fixture. Don’t settle for the dual bulb fixture! Screen cages are a little difficult. Even with bright light up top they leak light like a sieve. I use white sided hybrid cages and I love how the light is kept in the cage. You can retrofit your screen cages to capture some of that glory by putting white coroplast or PVC sheeting on the sides of your screen cage and then you can retain your hard won light. Anyway, take a look at the Chameleon academy Instagram account and you’ll see picture of what the inside of cages could look like.

 

Okay, I thank you for hanging out with me here. It is time I go work on a video. I hope you have a great week and I’ll see you back here either in a week or two I am still working on that production schedule and my videos are still taking too long. But I am getting a little better! See you all next time!

 


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Chameleon UVB Measuring with Solarmeter 6.5

Chameleon UVB: What is UV Index (UVI)

UV Index

UV Index is a measurement system used by the World Health Organization to determine the likelihood of getting a sunburn. It measures the wavelengths of light that come from the sun that are in the range that cause sunburn. As these are the same wavelengths that we use to synthesize vitamin D3, the reptile community has adopted this measurement system for our UVB needs.

Previously, we used a system that measured the energy hitting a certain area and that is where you see the units of micro-watts per square centimeter (µw/cm^2). When you review the past works of Dr. Gary Ferguson and other scientists you’ll find all measurements done in this system. The meters that are used to measure UVI and µw/cm^2 measure different wavelength spans so there is no direct conversion between the two.

For context, here are some prominent UVI levels

UVI 0 = Nighttime

UVI 3 = target basking for Veiled & Panther Chameleons

UVI 11 = Human skin burns in 10 minutes

UVI 13 = typical daytime maximum for lowland Madagascar

UVI 43 = maximum natural UVI recorded on Earth

 

UVB technology today can expose chameleons to UV Index levels from UVI 0 to UVI 160 depending on the distance from the bulb and the filtering. It is important that we use UVB correctly!

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Female Ambanja Panther Chameleon
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Veiled Chameleon

Chameleon UVB: How Much UVB Do Chameleons Need?

Introduction to the Chameleon Caresheet Question Series

One of the more confusing things in the chameleon community is when advice doesn’t line up and experts disagree. What do you do when you are just trying to figure out what to do for your first set up? Whenever I update a care summary there is always feedback from people who see something that appears to be different from what they have been told already. And this is confusing to them. And, rightfully so! It would be great if all the experts agreed on care parameters and just stuck to one thing! Reality is so much more fuzzy. Care parameters presented are not always well thought out and there may be different perspective on others. So it may be that the different care sheet parameters are not as in conflict as they first appear!

So I am going to be focusing on a number of care parameters in the Chameleon Academy Care Summaries that you may find are different from what you see running around the great digital world out there.

 

Chameleon Caresheet Parameter: UVB Levels

UVB is light that is outside our vision, but is critical for both our and our chameleons’ life. It is the energy that our bodies use to synthesize D3 which, in turn, allows us to absorb calcium. Without this we cannot build strong skeletons and the lack of calcium eventually leads to death. The question then becomes obvious – how much UVB does a chameleon need?

UVB for Panther Chameleons

There have been a number of attempts to determine the UVB needs of chameleons by scientists and serious hobbyists. The Ferguson zones have become a standard in the reptile world. The Ferguson Zones are a collection of charts that indicate the calculated UV Index levels that each reptile species needs considering their habitat and habits. This has served as an invaluable base for us to continue work from. And we in the chameleon community have continued that work. We have tested the effects of certain UV Index levels over the breeding lifecycle of both Veiled and Panther chameleons. Using the benchmark of females needing to calcify an entire clutch of eggs as our golden test, breeders have determined that 12 hour exposure availability to UV Index 3 produces completely calcified clutches of eggs. Note this only has shown that UVI 3 is an effective level. Further work needs to be done to determine if this level is actually higher than necessary or if 12 hour exposure is longer than necessary. In these tests, the chameleons were allowed to regulate their exposure on their own so we do know that UVI 3 over 12 hours is beyond what is necessary. It is an exciting time that we have discovered this much and that there is so much more to discover in our reach!

Although UVI 3 has been determined for Panthers and Veileds, there is still much work to be done to determine the target UVI for every other species. High altitude species such as Trioceros hoehnelii seem to want higher levels of UVB and lower altitude species such as Trioceros cristatus prefer lower levels. Preference will be a function of altitude as well as what level in the forest the chameleon inhabits. So each species is an opportunity for discovery!

Conclusion

Once the required UVI level has been determined the next major question is how to implement UVI 3 with the myriad of bulb and fixture options available. The Chameleon Academy Care Summaries are unique in that they specifically show one scenario that will work. They pick one fixture and bulb and shows the distance they need to be. You can use most any other combination of fixtures and bulbs if you have a UVB meter to dial it in. The determination of UVI 3 as a successful level should be taken not as the final word. It is only the first stab. We know it is effective for Veileds and panthers. But we do not know if lower levels would be just as effective. And this is worth figuring out as if we can use less energy to get the same job done it is worth it. Once the chameleon is done manufacturing D3 it goes into UVB blocking mode. If we can give them effective UVB exposure and also remove the excessive UVB that is simply wasted then we are on the right path to optimizing our chameleon husbandry.

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Female Ambanja Panther Chameleon

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