Husbandry

Furcifer verrucosus

Ep 170: Researching Chameleon Species

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

Transcript (more or less)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Parsons Chameleon

Ep 169: Keeping Chameleons in Hybrid Cages

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

Transcript (More or Less)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Transforming a screen cage

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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crested geckos

Ep 168: Crested Geckos with TikisGeckos

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

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Plants and chameleons

Ep 167: Plant Keeping Basics with Bonnie Person

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

 


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Jacksons Chameleon with a Temporal Gland Infection

Ep 166: Temporal Gland Infections with Dr. Tom Greek

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Chameleon Veterinarian

 


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Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 164: The Early Chameleon Community with Jeff Hattem

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

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green tree python

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

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

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

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Green Tree Python husbandry

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

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

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Chameleon sleeping

Ep 159: Nighttime Temperature Drops with Petr Necas

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

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

Links for more work from Petr Necas

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

 

Petr Necas
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Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 158: Chameleon Health Points

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Chameleon husbandry is made up of many aspects including environmental conditions, nutrition, and emotional security. Everything we do that gets our husbandry closer to the optimal conditions strengthens our chameleon. Everything we do that is off weakens our chameleon. Today I talk about the cumulative effects of stress and how we should look at each one of these husbandry parameters.

Transcript (More or Less)

Chameleon husbandry is made up of many, many interlocking pieces from lighting, heat, air circulation, nutrition, hydration, emotional health, and the list gets quite lengthy when you start getting more detailed. And it isn’t just getting the individual values right, it is getting the values right in balance with the other values being right at the right time in the day and life. Wow, with such restrictions, how, in the world, can a chameleon survive in the wild?

Well, because they were not just thrown into the wild. They evolved within those wild conditions. And they grew to both work with and rely on those natural conditions. They have their instincts set up to allow them to negotiate within certain ranges of conditions and to move their bodies to fine tune their life experience.

The reason why they got the reputation of being delicate was that we took them out of this system they were optimized for and plopped them into completely foreign conditions and are requiring both their bodies and their behavior to adjust to and work within something completely different.

And it is our job to try and match the cage conditions as close as possible to the natural conditions they are built for. We start with a macro understanding of the home environment, meaning the weather patterns taken from some weather station somewhere in the general geographical vicinity and try to apply that to our cages. But they live in a rich network of microclimates and while the weather station may read 90 degrees F, the chameleon may be hiding deep in the shade where it is cooler. And they certainly do not bask at mid-afternoon UVB levels, so we rely on people who can relate the chameleon’s behavior first hand so we can extract what the chameleon may be using and what it may be escaping as far as the environment.  Temperature, humidity, UVB, nutrition, security,….

Your chameleon’s health is the sum of all these values. If they have a cold night and get deep sleep then they get five health points. If the humidity was low during the night and they got dehydrated they lose three health points. If water is provided to them in the morning they gain two health points, but not the full three because they went through the dehydration. They see a chameleon in their cage and the chameleon is bigger than they are and is blocking their way to the feeder bowl and they lose five points in stress. The last feeder left that they did snag was well fed and powdered with calcium and that gives them a positive point. The UVB bulb gives them UVB, but is very high level so 2 points for getting vitamin D, but losing a point for the body being stressed from defending against the intensity. And it goes on and on. Points given for conditions that match their ideal and points removed for things that don’t. Of course, this plays out every day in the wild, but, remember, in the wild they are under conditions that they have adapted to. We remove predators and parasites, but give them air conditioned air and a heat lamp in place of the sun. We give them all the vitamins and minerals we can think to throw at the wall, but we give them in amounts and balances that may or may not require the body to work overtime to process. So the point is that each one of these husbandry aspects adds or subtracts from your chameleon’s health. When our chameleon gets sick, sure, it can be because of one overwhelming thing such as a temperature spike into triple digits or being left in the direct sun for a couple hours.  But think of how many times you have seen bacterial infections. Bacteria are all around us and the chameleon’s immune system is constantly fighting it off. A bacterial infection occurs when something happens which weakens the immune system. This can be a break in the skin where there is a sudden surge of bacteria where there shouldn’t be, but something like a respiratory infection is generally when the immune system is weakened and cannot fight off the bacteria that are breathed in. The immune system weakens when their health points are below a certain level.

So, where am I going with all of this? I want to explain that this is why a full husbandry review is necessary when determining why a chameleon is sick. We would love to think that there is one smoking gun. The temperature. The UVB. The cage set-up. And it is very tempting to find the first thing that doesn’t match our caresheet, call it out, and exit victorious. And, while it is true that we can often find one huge discrepancy it is important that we find all the issues in the husbandry. That one huge item we found, be it the temperature was too high or the supplements could be off, may have been the major thing that pushed the chameleon over the edge, but there could be a handful of other things that helped nudge it to the forefront.

In addition, if you are doing something that goes against conventional husbandry wisdom like keeping chameleons together or not giving a nighttime drop to your montane chameleons, you need to know that the effects of doing that are cumulative over time. You can get away with it for a while. If we use the “health points” analogy, if there is not enough nighttime drop for deep sleep you may lose 2 health points for the first week, 5 for the next week, and 10 for the next week. The first day or two living in the same cage with a dominate chameleon will be just a stress spike. After a week it becomes constant stress. The deceptive situation is that you are not seeing this slow degrading of the immune system. And then, out of nowhere, your chameleon gets an infection. That is the point where all these trivial husbandry issues summed up together to become negative and the immune system could not compete with the bacteria or fungus or whatever is attacking.

Two big culprits of cumulative stress are cohabitation and nighttime drops. The reason these husbandry issues continue are because we want what we want. We humans want to have at least a pair, but would love a herd, of chameleons in one cage. Despite decades of experienced keepers saying don’t do it and it being an unnatural condition, we cannot escape that we want to believe chameleons can be kept together. And there is always someone who wants to give that part of us hope and keeps chameleons together. And it appears to work. And as long as the chameleons are under these conditions the health points slowly ebb. But this is not visible. And when things finally go downhill it is due to respiratory infection or some other condition due to a weakened immune system. Folks, all of us saying not to do it are not saying that because we haven’t tried. We aren’t saying it because we just aren’t smart enough to figure it out. We are saying it because of decades of watching it be tried and failing. There is no power conspiracy here. Just be careful of the relentless loss of health points as stress spikes become low grade, but chronic, stress

Nighttime drops are another one. Especially for Jackson’s Chameleons. Our caresheets require ambient daytime temperatures in the low to mid 70s and a nighttime drop to the low 60s or 50s. Inevitably, someone brings up Jackson’s Chameleons establishing themselves in Hawaii and saying that the temperatures do not match what they survive in Hawaii. First, I want to say, if you are going to model your husbandry after a set of wild habitat parameters, use the land they spent their entire pre-history existence evolving to live in. Do not use a geographical area that they have been introduced to and the new land’s conditions happen to fall within the chameleon’s tolerance range. Saying that a chameleon can survive conditions other than its homeland is only showing their tolerance range, not their ideal range. And, yes, they have reproduced in Hawaii ad nauseum. So what is going on here? The same thing that goes on in our cages. They are in a constant condition of gaining and losing health points. They are finding cooler microclimates inside leafy trees and they are losing health points if they do not sleep deeply. You can still reproduce even when you are not on the top of your game.

We could go round and round about what the adaptation to Hawaii means, but my specialty is captive husbandry. And I will tell you that in the confines of the cage space we have available to us, the important parameters are not the macro conditions, but the microclimates that they spend their time in. It is not the conditions they can tolerate, but the conditions that nurture them. And determining these microclimate conditions is not easy at all. How much UVB does a chameleon expose itself to? At what combination of temperature and humidity and sun exposure does overheating occur? For these kinds of things we take our starting points from nature, but we have to experiment in our living rooms. Because our cages are very little like the wild condition. We have a constant UVB that flips on in the morning, stays at a constant rate, and then suddenly disappears. Same with light. The humidity- it is often air conditioned out of the air. And breezes occur when someone opens a door, turns on a fan, or that air conditioner again. And, finally, they are restricted to a space of a 2x2x4’ cage to find their preferred microclimates. Yes, they may have higher temperatures than ideal in their adopted new land, or even in their homeland, but they have entire trees and bush thickets to find cooler microclimates. Yes, we try to give them microclimates in the cage, but why would you start out your gradient with a temperature that is something they are having to tolerate. You are wasting valuable space.

And why would anyone resist a nighttime drop? Any one that seriously works with these higher altitude species would say that the nighttime drop is necessary or even critical. Well, simply because it is hard for some of us to get that low at night. Instead of paying the money for an air-conditioning unit or having the discipline to pick another species it is easier to decide they really don’t need that nighttime drop. And each night they don’t get good sleep is health points trickling away. And this isn’t hard to understand. You know how we humans get when we don’t have a good night’s sleep. It isn’t pretty. Take some of our recent summer months. One sweltering night being so hot that you are sweating onto the sheets and can’t get sleep because of swatting mosquitoes and the bags under your eyes could tell stories.  And after a week of sleepless nights you can’t decide whether you are the walking wounded or the living dead. Coffee is your best friend, but you are on a hair trigger temper. Yes, we survive, but every night you can feel your health points disappearing. Thankfully these heat waves go away and we get our health points back as we catch-up on our sleep again. And this isn’t just a game of logical leaps. You can tell how deeply your chameleon is sleeping. The warmer it is the lighter your chameleon sleeps and the easier your chameleon wakes up. You want your chameleon to have a deep sleep and that means cool, humid nights.

Like I said, the species that most gets the brunt of this ignoring of its needs is the Jackson’s Chameleon. If you have a Jackson’s Chameleon, I warn you against thinking it is okay to avoid a nightime drop. It will work for a while until they have worked through all their health points and then you get a Temporal Gland Infection…or your babies start dying off for no obvious reason. The two prime suspects in baby Jackson’s chameleons dying off: cohabitation and lack of nighttime drops. I can tell you from personal experience, when do I get a rash of infections? When we get the heat waves coming through Southern California. Life is perfect and Jackson’s thrive for most of the year. But when it gets hot the health points start to go the other way and a couple of infections crop up. I am on the look out and they get treated quickly. I have yet to lose one. And, really only one or two get them. So I could easily look at the ones that don’t and say they can handle the higher temperatures just fine. But that would be ignoring the overall trend that the instances of infections rise. And I have a big enough group that I can actually notice trends. Beware of getting husbandry advice that goes against the commonly accepted standards from people with one chameleon.

And, chances are that there is someone listening to this that will defend higher temperatures for Jackson’s Chameleons based on their interpretation of Hawaiian conditions. I only ask this. Before you make a logical argument that it is okay to keep Jackson’s at higher temperatures or without nighttime drops please try it out yourself in the captive cage environment and work out the issues. For those of us who have been working with Jackson’s over many generations and years we recognize that the nighttime drop and cooler daytime temperatures give the greatest success. This isn’t a game of what our chameleons can tolerate. It is a mission to determine what their optimal conditions are. I cannot think of any reasonable argument to include anything but the closest we know to optimal conditions when we give husbandry advice. So, when you bring up the Hawaii argument to say Jackson’s do not need a nighttime drop understand you are going to be shut down by the breeders who recognize you are suggesting sub-optimal husbandry. If you truly believe your position please put in the work we have and prove it over successful generations and side by side studies. I know that is a lot of work. But so much work has been put into supporting the need for a nighttime drop that it is appropriate that it take deliberate repeatable testing to modify that advice. That would expand our understanding of the species. Believe me, I would love to see that work done. But if you have just looked at numbers and have not gone through the effort of replicating what you are suggesting in the captive environment then go easy on your confidence in going against the best husbandry practices that we have come up with. We are always changing and growing. But we need to change and grow with a methodical approach. Get yourself some chameleons. Prove your idea correct. And then prove your idea wrong. If you can prove it right and can’t prove it wrong then you have a solid discovery to share with the community.

How about infertile egg production? That is a big one. Developing and then laying eggs is a major stress on a female’s body. Over feeding, over heating and then putting our female veiled chameleons through an egg production up to four or five times what their body is naturally expecting to do is a huge body stress. I wish we were farther along in dialing in the exact diet and temperatures, but many of us have been able to reduce or eliminate infertile clutches in our female veiled chameleons. My female has never had an infertile clutch. Unfortunately, she is still having much greater clutches than the target 20-30 so I am have not achieved the final goal, but it is easy to do by simply cutting back on how much you feed her and how hot you keep her. I am not giving you numbers yet because we are still working through what the numbers are. I do not suggest lightly the reduction of food and temperature because there is danger in too little and too cold and we have to find those limits. But I can tell you right now that the standard feeding and temperatures provided veiled chameleons right now are too much and too high. My caresheets are closer to where we need to be, but I know they are not the best numbers yet. As soon as I am personally confident that we have the right numbers I will change them. That needs to be done only after careful testing and replication of results. It will take time. But, excess weight and constant egg production of mega clutches, fertile or non,  is an obvious chipping away of the health points.

Anything else? Well, how about our humidity cycle? Our homes do not do well with close to 100% humidity at night. So all these chameleons in screen cages have a tube of fog to sit under if the keeper attempts at all to give them humid nights. Of course, since chameleons have been shown to be able to grow up and grow to what we presently consider to be old age using daytime misting not much thought is given to giving them what they naturally expect. I think we will be very surprised at how long they will actually live once we give them back the couple of health points they lose every night they dehydrate. Sure, they gain them back, or most of them, when the chameleon drinks in the morning. But just the act of losing and then gaining is a stress on the body which will shorten the overall life of your chameleon. That’s just the way life is.

So, ignoring the expected temperature drops, forcing social time on a non-social beast, ignoring the natural humidity cycle. Providing UVB that is higher than is necessary. Over feeding and over-energizing our chameleons. Stagnant air. Drafty air. Too hot, too cold.  All of these things take away health points.

Nutritious food, comfortable temperature ranges, constant hydration opportunities, a sense of security. These are all things that increase health points. The main point of this episode is to bring to light that each one of these husbandry items has a certain weight. Just because forgetting to replace your burnt out UVB bulb hasn’t killed your chameleon it doesn’t mean it hasn’t weakened your chameleon. Just because your chameleons have appeared to be living in harmony for the last six months doesn’t mean you haven’t been slowly reducing their immune system. It all adds or subtracts.

And this is why we dive into each species and learn their requirements and best practices. This is why we seek to determine what the optimal UVB level is for each species. And once we do that, we will go the next step of discerning what is needed for each life stage. This is our art and science. And if you love chameleons as much as I do, I invite you to get obsessive about what is optimal. So much of what I do here is refining things that aren’t necessarily broken. Someone might ask why we need panther chameleons to live more than five years. The answer is because they can. And all we have to do is do our job right as keepers. And I don’t mean get in fights with people with logical arguments over temperature ranges. I mean test things out and give hard repeatable benefits. One of our community’s greatest achievements in 2018 was the wide spread awareness of the naturalistic hydration approach. See episode 89. And 2018 was the first time much of the community learned that Veiled Chameleons are actually not from harsh dry landscapes and we got a first person account of the oases that they truly live in. Check out episode 86.  In 2019 it was the establishment of UVI 3 as the effective UVI for Veiled and Panther Chameleons. See episode 131. Pete Hawkins, Jonathan Hill, and I established that as a repeatable milestone. I also started working on awareness that we need to watch out for excessive UVB levels. See episode 127. 2020, this year, we have seen a breakthrough with incubation diapause from Frank Payne, (that was the episode for April 15, 2020) and serious work towards reducing clutch size and infertile clutches of female Veiled Chameleons with Mari Joki and people working with Petr Necas. (episode for April 6, 2020). Every year we are working on refining our husbandry and reducing the loss of health points. And, yes, we still have so much further to go. But that is why we need people willing to put in the work doing side by side studies. Talk is cheap, unless it is reporting hard work. The encouraging thing is that, as you can see, we are moving forward. Every year, for the past few years, we have made substantial steps forward as far as husbandry. And, if this podcast has anything to say about it, we will continue to make breakthroughs.

I’d like to thank you for joining me here. Thank you for joining me for these many years of podcasting about our chameleons and chameleon community. It doesn’t look like anything is slowing down. So buckle up and let’s see where we can take the art of chameleon husbandry!

 

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