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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

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! 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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chameleon with gout

Gout in a Chameleon

Sarge, the Kinyongia multituberculata, has a case of Gout

chameleon showing gout

Sarge is a Kinyongia multituberculata chameleon. This species originally comes from Tanzania, but Sarge is a captive hatched specimen that came to me ten years ago. This is a wonderful species and, if exports ever start again, it would be a prime candidate for a breeding project.

A few days ago i noticed Sarge favoring his left front foot and found a lump there. I made an immediate appointment with the vet to get it checked out. The next day I was with Dr. Tom Greek of Greek and Associates who quickly discovered it to be gout. Gout is a concentration of uric acid around the joints which causes pain. The causes of gout are not clear. Presumably, it has to do with nutrition, but it is also a common occurrence in chameleon old age. At ten years old, Sarge is at the upper end for small chameleons.

The ball of uric acid on his foot was lanced and emptied. He has been put on allopurinol which will help keep the gout in check. It is unknown why a ball of uric acid would form on only on one foot. But it is likely there is uric acid on all the feet. The Allopurinol will be a daily habit to help keep him comfortable into his old age.

chameleon at vet

Sarge getting weighed during his vet visit

Dr Greek DVM

Dr. Greek examining Srge

discolored chameleon skin

After the extraction of th uric acid, Sarge's skin showed the dark signs of distress. But these faded before the end of the day.

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baby panther chameleon

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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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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Sweet Pea

Ep 142: Sweet Pea, MBD, and the Will to Live

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Sweet Pea is a Veiled Chameleon with severe MBD. Through the dedication of Marianna Bolin, she was given a second chance for life. Today's message is for anyone who is caring for a chameleon with MBD. There are no sure things, but there is hope.

Beastmode Silks

Follow Sweet Pea & Marianna at the following links

Sweet Pea Facebook
Sweet Pea Instagram
ARAV logo

Through the ARAV you can find a vet that would like to see reptiles.

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Jackson's Chameleon female

What Sunken-in Chameleon Eyes Mean

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Chameleon eyes are a great resource for us gauging the health status of our chameleons. Sunken eyes are a huge red flag and the chameleon needs immediate attention. But what kind of attention is needed? Yes, we need to figure out what it means! And today I discuss possibilities.

The Best Resource on Chameleon Behavior

Gaping Jackson's Chameleon

Here is the link to the Chameleon Behavior section if you want to check the different behaviors and find what your chameleon has.

Chameleon Behavior

 

If you want to go directly to the Sunken-in Eye section of the Behavior section

Sunken-in Chameleon Eyes

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Jackson's Chameleon baby

What Closed Chameleon Eyes Mean

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The chameleon's eyes are one of the most significant gauges of chameleon health - both physical and emotional. Today I discuss what closed eyes can mean.

The Best Resource on Chameleon Behavior

Gaping Jackson's Chameleon

Here is the link to the Chameleon Behavior section if you want to check the different behaviors and find what your chameleon has.

Chameleon Behavior

 

If you want to go directly to the Closed Eye section of the Behavior section

Closed Chameleon Eyes

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