News & Updates

Neptune the Chameleon

Ep 216: Chameleons in Social Media

Today I talk with the creative force behind the Neptune the Chameleon show on YouTube and Tik Tok. We talk about what it takes to put on  show in good chameleon husbandry and what insights she has to the state of chameleon education on the frontier edge of social media platforms.

I highly recommend checking out the Neptune the Chameleon content. You can easily search for Neptune the Chameleon in YouTube, TikTok or Instagram. Or else click here

Neptune the chameleon
Neptune the chameleon on tiktok
Neptune the chameleon Instagram

Read more...
Jackson's Chameleon

Ep 215: Using Wild Conditions in Chameleon Husbandry

Listen Here!

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

Transcript (More or Less)

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

How do we determine ideal conditions?

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

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

 

Captivity is different

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

First, let’s talk about the Veiled Chameleon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, let’s talk Jackson’s Chameleons.

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

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

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

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

Conclusion.

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

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


Read more...
Furcifer verrucosus

Ep 214: Discussions on Chameleon Behaviors

Listen Here!

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!


Read more...
baby panther chameleon

Ep 213: Chameleon Behaviors as an Early Warning

Listen Here!

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.


Read more...
chameleon cages

Ep 212: Chameleon Caging Decisions pt 2 – Glass Caging

Listen Here!

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

glass chameleon cages
glass chameleon cages

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

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

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


Read more...
hybrid cages

Ep 211: Chameleon Caging Decisions pt 1 – Hybrid

Listen Here!

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

Links discussed

panther chameleon

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

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

Tall Hybrid

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

Parsons Chameleon

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

Transcript (more or less)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Read more...
Gecko people

Ep 210: Four Pillars of a Strong Reptile Community

Listen Here!

The reptile community needs to be strong. And to accomplish that we need to be strong in our smaller communities. Whether chameleon, bearded dragon, green tree python, tarantula, or dart frog or all the others we need to maintain a strong specialized community while, at the same time, realizing we are part of a larger national and still larger global community. Today I am going to talk about what it takes for us to make our specialized communities strong.

Transcript (more or less)

Good morning chameleon wranglers! I am sure, by now, you have noticed at the end of almost every podcast episode I close with the words “take care of each other and keep us strong.” Nice words, but what does that mean? What does a strong community look like? And, really, how do you measure strength?

I have been a part of and watched our reptile community for over 40 years. And I have noticed some patterns that I would like to share. For the purposes of this episode, the term “Reptile community” is used loosely to cover the wide variety of ectotherms that are gathered together under the umbrella of the word reptile as far as the pet community is concerned. These include reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates such as insects, spiders, roaches, bugs, isopods, crustaceans, and anything else that is cold blooded and not fish. And, carnivorous plants, you are big enough to do your own thing, but you are welcome to play in our yard any day. Those other things are not reptiles, but until you guys get big enough to have your own shows you are adopted by the reptile community and you can be part of us as long as you would like. Just know that, for this episode, if I say “Reptile community” I mean all the cold blooded odds and ends that make this world so incredible.

A community is only as healthy as its members allow it to be. If the recognized leaders maintain a strong example of how we should conduct ourselves the community will follow. You can have healthy community even with all the requisite human ego flare ups, personality conflicts, and disagreements if a core foundation of four pillars is maintained.  The four pillars are

  • Accurate Science Based Husbandry
  • Experienced Members
  • Community Size
  • Commerce

 

This is the Chameleon Academy Podcast and I specialize in chameleons. But this episode is 100% applicable to every other reptile, amphibian, or invert community from the huge bearded dragon and ball python communities to the budding draco and jumping spider groups. My home specialized community, chameleons, is somewhere in the middle. Everything I talk about for our specialized groups applies to the national and global community as well. And even if I give examples from the chameleon community, I suspect you will have direct parallels in whichever community you are from. Humans tend to be consistent in their habits.

 

First Pillar: Accurate Science Based Husbandry

The first is Accurate Science based husbandry. This is important because making what we are doing about the quality of life of the animal justifies us doing this at all. Our general standard for care today is much higher than it was 20 years ago. And it is lower than it will be ten years from now. A scientific approach implies that what we accept as proper husbandry is as accurate of a representation of what they need from their environment as possible. As we are still learning what that is, science based husbandry implies that we are constantly studying their activity in the wild, challenging everything we think we know with the new information we get, and testing any ideas in a reproduceable manner. This can be shown in the shift in keeping animals from viewing them as automatons where we give them the right carbon based input and they produce a lifespan to today where we are exploring their emotional health and recognize their importance as life on Earth.

A common vision of providing the most naturalistic captive environment possible will unite the community regardless of country or culture. By using nature as our highest authority we can bypass popularity politics. You know how humans like to form clans behind the loudest or charismatic personality? And when you join certain communities you are now one of them and you have other tribes you are against? I don’t know how to change that part of human nature! But I do know if those leaders have a common goal of the best husbandry that we can still have all those tribes and maybe get our deep need for conflict out by arguing how to pronounce the Latin names instead of the core basics of husbandry.

 

We can achieve this Accurate Science Based husbandry by applying critical thinking to the husbandry we embrace and the people we listen to. Challenging a new thought can simultaneously be critical and respectful. Leaders in the community should expect to be challenged when providing a new idea. And, on our part, the challenges we present to them should be meant to extract the truth in the statement and remove the chaff. This is not a pass/fail, but a sharpening exercise.

 

When I say science based I do mean what we work with comes from a study of the reptile’s natural habitat, but I also mean the application of critical thinking to our discussions as we study, challenge, and test ideas. It means we consider all ranges of hypothesizes and judge them based on their merit. I want to specifically bring that up because one way to link our diverse views, cultures, and perspectives is in a common way in which we will test and come to husbandry conclusions.

The scientific method is one that works and we can all agree on. It is a strategy that people of any country can use and understand.

 

The advantage of the scientific method is that no one has to believe anyone else. If I believe something I create a test and share the results. I also share the test approach so anyone can critique or replicate the test. And that is how we create a core of solid common information for our community. The more in sync we are in solid husbandry concepts, the stronger we are as a community. The responsibility of this one is on people like me and anyone else who is presenting information. And that is the main reason why everything I present has an explanation that you can review enough that you understand it and can test it (if appropriate) and make it your own.

 

And finally, one aspect of the scientific mind is that it is always pushing forward. This aspect of continually growing in knowledge and application gives our community an energy. For example, we are currently revisiting the husbandry of the Veiled Chameleon. Everyone thought it was easy, but we now know they are just extra hardy and can put up with varying levels of poor husbandry. We are learning more about UVB. About hydration. About nutrition. This increases our success with chameleons which makes it a more enjoyable passion. And, thus, one that people will stick with longer. We will get to deep experience and then community size next! All these pillars are intertwined.

 

Accepting a scientific approach that is defined by critical thinking is more than just a good idea, it is the one approach to information that will allow us to move forward in sync.

 

What can you do to make the community stronger? Simple, learn all you can from where ever you land in our community. If you are part of a group then you will be in a sort of echo chamber where the group leaders have directly or indirectly filtered out the information coming to you and you will be hearing the same thing over and over. When you step outside that group you may find the world has wildly different views. Quietly learn the different culture with an open mind. And, yes, this is exactly the same mindset used when you go to another country. Quietly learn their ways before loudly insisting yours is better. The difference between what we are doing and culture is that husbandry that has the purpose of taking care of a chameleon will have, most of the time, a measurable result. So you can respectfully ask questions. You’ll get good answers – or not. Make sure you dig down to the origin of the information to make sure you are getting the best representation of that approach, but the information will be there for you to make a decision as to what aligns with your desired approach.

 

Second Pillar: Experienced Members

The second pillar of a strong community is a deep base of experienced members. When we start off with anything we tend to simple concepts and be black and white about things because we really don’t understand the subject deeply. It is the experienced people that understand the nuances and are able to help our perspective so we understand the reasons and can make our own judgements. Experienced members anchor the community and take us forward in rational steps. They temper flashy trends and can see through simple hype.

 

I do want to mention that all experience is not the same. For example: some keepers have been doing the same thing for ten years while another may have been experimenting with different techniques for ten years. Both have value as long as they speak to what they know and do not over extend. Being an expert in one aspect does not make you an expert in all facets of husbandry. Knowing the difference is critical for your experience to be relevant. And to our poor newcomers who are just trying to piece together this husbandry puzzle which has blow up in proportion compared to what they were told at the pet store, there are many levels of experts and I am sorry that the loudest ones aren’t always the truly experienced ones. It is too easy to get your first chameleon, be enthusiastic enough to memorize and repeat all the talking point until you are the go to person for information. You may be surprised that you can get a social media expert badge in about three to six months. I know you can’t research every name that pops up on your screen giving you advice with 100% confidence. The only way to sort it all out is with time. Just give yourself that time to learn the lay of the land before you pledge allegiance to one thought process or another.

 

So shouldn’t our pool of experienced people simply grow as the community gets older? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  There is significant attrition just because of…well, life.

Add to this that being active generally brings conflict. There is always someone who wants to challenge the big gun or be the only voice. So if you are the experienced person in the room you are the target. This is, again, just how humans work. And this is tiring. So they fade away and their experience is lost. Add to this the ability to memorize all the talking points and then have a three month old member of the community be listened to as a reliable source and there isn’t much incentive for the experienced person to duke it out.

 

Podcasting is one way to leapfrog this. On this podcast, I have specifically sought out experts around the world to come on. By listening to their interview you can extract the benefit they offer. Their experience can be recorded and referenced by anyone who wants to graduate from memorized talking points.

 

And that is why I work so hard on how I explain things. When people make their way to the digital doors of the Chameleon Academy I don’t want them to memorize the care summaries. I want them to understand why it is all being said.  And herein lies an aspect of my growth as a chameleon community educator. How well I communicate is just as important as the information I am communicating.  It is a challenge to condense a multi-facetted natural phenomena of which we have 25% understand of into a one sentence package with an infographic picture.

 

Now, a note for the experienced community. I get that you don’t have the time to jump into the chaos that is social media.

The absolute best way to communicate your experience is by example. Show pictures of your set-ups and your animals thriving. Show breeding success and share what you are doing regardless of what the admins or loudest voices are saying and don’t worry about the incorrect sound bites bouncing around. The proof is in the life quality of your reptiles. You may not change the people who are trying to be in charge, but those who see what you are doing will approach you and ask you questions. And that is the most effective use of your limited time. It means only be talking to the people who want to listen.

 

Third Pillar: Community Size

The third pillar of a strong community is the sheer number of members. The math is simple. The more people you have, the higher your purchasing power is and the higher your political power is. The more money the community spends the more services will be built up around that spending. The larger the reptile community the more Exotic veterinarians will be added to vet offices. You know how hard it is to find a reptile vet, much less a chameleon experienced vet? The bigger the reptile community gets the easier that will be. The bigger the community the more business can be supported beyond just critical medical services of an exotic vet. We can now support tour groups to Madagascar. Birders have been doing this for decades. And we can get businesses catered directly for us. Case in point, the chameleon community was big enough that the Dragon Strand Chameleon Caging Company was able to develop. Because of that, an entire new category of hybrid mid and high end chameleon cages was created. Before that it was cheap, screen cages only. So our size benefitted the community by creating product availability that did not exist before. Because of that, the community now has Dragon Ledges which is a patented Dragon Strand product that allows you to mount branches and plants to the sides of screen cages. We are big enough to support innovation that serves us specifically. Even more importantly, we are big enough to support innovation in features rather than in just cost savings. What that means is that a company can dump R&D money into a product to make it perform better and/or to make it cheaper. Mass market cage companies will almost always dump R&D money into making something cheaper. They are catering to the general populace who is not experienced enough to know what quality to look for. So their innovation is to make the product as cheap as possible. Companies from within the community are much more likely to invest money into making a better product. I know that is what I do. The size of our community directly affects the businesses and support that are tailored for our needs.

 

And politics, the reptile world is big enough to have USARK which is a political office that protects our rights to keep reptiles. And they have no down time. Take a look at their website and you can see what is going on all the time. There is a constant onslaught of legislation designed to criminalize reptile keeping. It is community size that generates enough money to keep USARK going and is able to create enough noise that politicians listen. Size is what allows us to fight back in what is literally a life and death fight for our community.

 

So there is huge benefit to us encouraging reptile ownership. Now, I understand that reptile or jumping spider or hissing cockroach keeping is not for everyone and I am not saying we should be out there recruiting. I am saying that when people show up on our social media doorstep that we treat them with as much respect as we can and welcome them into the community. We will always have those community members that need to put down the freshman class to feel like they know something. It is up to us seniors to temper that and be an example as to how newcomers should be treated. Here is where perspective comes into play. Social media has allowed us to sequester ourselves into corners where it seems like our little community is the entire world. And we play out all of our human drama within that confined space. All of the ego fluffing, jealousy, politics, good will, helpfulness, compassion, everything that makes up us as human beings is played out on this miniature stage as if the world around us did not exist. We fight each other because, well, humans fight. If we don’t have a common enemy to join forces against we find an enemy within our community because humans seem to need to always being fighting something. It is those of us who manage groups that have to have the perspective that there is a larger world around us that would like us to disappear. They are doing everything possible to choke us out while we fling mud at each other. It is up to us in the leadership roles to look outside our communities and keep the perspective that the more we work together and the larger our community is the stronger we will be to justify services, specialty products, and political protection.

 

Of course, how we grow is just as important as growing. Growing our community is an important part of our survival. But we must grow it the right way, with the welfare of the reptiles, amphibians, an invertebrates as our primary focus. Because that is growing in strength.

 

Fourth Pillar: Healthy Commerce

Healthy commerce is intimately tied into community size. The bigger the community the more money flows and the more we are catered to. But that is community size. For this last pillar, I want to focus on healthy commerce within our specialty or umbrella reptile community. These are the reptile breeders, the specialty accessory makers, the feeder insect breeders, and yes, the chameleon cage makers. When you spend money within our community it bounces around inside our community. I can tell you that when you buy a Dragon Strand cage, that money then goes to panther chameleon breeders for the subjects of my panther chameleon educational project. It goes to feeder companies supporting our community. It comes right back around and lets me do this podcast and video channel and chameleon academy website. If you purchase what you need from someone in the chameleon community then money stays within our community and strengthens numerous others in our community.  Because where do chameleon people spend their money? With other chameleon people and reptile focused companies! Because, yes, that also goes for general reptile companies.

 

Healthy commerce is also an important component to keeping experienced people in our community. Money is a sensitive subject. But it is highly relevant to the conversation of how we keep experienced people in the community long term. Money is why you have a roof over your head and internet to listen to this podcast. It is why you can create a slice of Madagascar in your living room. And one way to make sure people stay in the chameleon community is to encourage money to be made within the community. If someone loves chameleons enough to put 10, 20, 30+ years into keeping and breeding then how much more do you think they will be dedicated to staying an active part of the community if that passion for chameleons helps to put that roof over their heads?

 

Here is where we shoot ourselves in the foot. We self-righteously bristle whenever someone is making money off chameleons. Have you ever heard the phrase, “well, they are only in it for the money” whenever someone doesn’t get their way? Have a seat for what I am about to say next. Making money, meaning profit, is what makes a viable business. If you are giving away panther chameleons or charging less than it takes to run a breeding operation you are running a charity and your payment is in the community patting you on the back and saying you are such a great person for you giving up of your money so they can keep theirs. Because, in reality, people say “this breeder is only in it because of the money” usually because they themselves what to hold on to money because, you guessed it, they only care about money. It is amazing how many self-righteous statements are simply mirrors. I am harping on this because successful business is a community builder. It is what encourages people to stay in a community long term. How many of those people you know of that are still active in the community after ten years are breeders or have some other thing they sell? Quit a few. Obviously, not all, but I suspect you will find that a large number of 10+ year people who are active on a day to day basis adding to the community have a business tie. Can you guess why this is? It is because the reptile community, like any other animal, or craft, or other community that is composed of human beings, is a rough place to be. Fighting, drama, and back stabbing, oh my. People who stick around need a reason to stick around.

 

And I am not saying everyone gets out of chameleons if they don’t make money! What I am saying is that they fade away from active community involvement and stick to their own quiet, non-drama friends. So why does it matter? Why am I taking you down this winding path? It is because we need to have a healthy concept of money as to how it relates to building a healthy community. People who make money from a community stay in the community because they can justify the time they spend to learn and gain experience. So, maybe an example is in order. And we can make this a personal example. I will talk about me. Why do I do what I do?

I am involved in chameleon education because I love it. I have a passion researching all aspects of chameleon husbandry. And I have a special passion in taking those concepts and finding ways to present them so they are understandable. I love teaching. But there is a financial cost to writing and producing these podcasts, videos, and maintaining care summaries, hand outs, and a website with 259 pages and posts filled with the latest in chameleon information. And, yes, I have to update it on a regular basis to keep it current. That is an enormous amount of work. There is a direct financial outlay and there is a very real opportunity cost. That means there is a cost I pay by choosing to do this with my time instead of something that makes more money. And we make these decisions all the time. A breeder that houses veiled chameleons instead of higher priced panther chameleons is paying an opportunity cost of several hundred dollars per baby. A person spending 8 hours a day breeding chameleons and finds out they are making less than minimum wage per hour is paying an opportunity cost by choosing what they enjoy instead of what makes more money. A person working with chameleons when they have the option to work at a more lucrative job is paying an opportunity cost.

 

So fine, we got the basic business concept. But why does everything have to be a business and make money? Can’t I do something for fun? Of course. There is no reason for turning everything into a business. In fact, that is the fastest way for it to no longer be enjoyable! What I am getting at, though, is that the majority of people who stick around do have at least some profit from the community. And that, in a way is both an incentive and a trap. If you have a community business then you leaving the community is leaving your business. And if that business truly contributes to the bottom line then you are getting enough benefit to weather a substantial level of social media chaos and craziness. People that have nothing going to the bottom line from the chameleon community tend to take long breaks on a regular occasion the more experienced they become. The point of all of this is not to say you need to develop a chameleon related business, but I am encouraging you to actively support business by chameleon community members. Supporting businesses founded and run by active members of the reptile community is the single best way to make sure we have the right products and technology moves ahead

And, for goodness sake, don’t sabotage community member businesses because of petty social media fights.

This doesn’t mean that you have to pay more because someone in the community sells a more expensive product. Find the right product and right price. But one thing you can do to strengthen our community is to 1) actively support community businesses or, 2) if you just can’t stand the person, simply do not actively sabotage community members. I get it. Not everyone gets along. I have my handful of people I want to have nothing to do with. I don’t think there is anyone that doesn’t have a list of people they just avoid. But if they have a business within the reptile community I will support them, even if that support means I will keep silent when I could hurt their business with a snide comment on social media. A small side business is a very real way that experienced community members have a justification for being actively involved in community building. And that is a good and positive dynamic for us all.

 

And consider our responsibility surrounding where we spend our money. We literally create the community we pay for. Our disgust for inhumane treatment of herps and invertebrates is mere background noise until we speak with our wallet. We must encourage and enthusiastically support companies that are vocal about quality reptile care. We must acknowledge that our community’s past, and, unfortunately, present has reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates treated as throw away toys. It is our responsibility and mission to educate the buying community that this is not acceptable.

 

It costs money to properly take care of and breed reptiles. Do you want a community that has four to six month old captive born Jackson’s Chameleons available for $150 - $200 where they are well started and healthy? Or are the 3 week old babies born in the wild caught holding cell for $50 good enough for you? Do you know how much time me and my team spend on the Jackson’s Chameleon Community Facebook group with people who got a cheap Jackson’s chameleon baby and are asking how to save its life? Most of the time, you can’t. What a tragedy for both the chameleon and the keeper. Now imagine a community where businesses like that couldn’t sell enough chameleons to continue stocking them because too many customers demanded to see the breeding set up and get assurances that the mother had been properly cared for. We can create a community where the responsible breeder has a wait list while the meat market can’t sell. Is that optimistic? Yes, it is. Cheap things will always sell. And so there will always be a market for cheap reptiles. But we can shift things towards responsible breeding if we spend our money in the right places. Patronize breeders that demonstrate quality care for their animals. Be willing to pay for top care given all the way back to the mother when she was a baby. In fact, refuse anything less than a breeder that demonstrates top husbandry practices. It is critical that we see our money as a tool for creating the community we desire. Reptile keeping is a luxury and a privilege that is threatened by both politics and environmental crisis’. Financially supporting community member businesses, political efforts, and environmental healing is a part of taking care of our community in a holistic way.

 

Conclusion.

This podcast episode is for those of us in the reptile, amphibian, and invertebrate communities long term that consider this our home. We are the ones that are setting the tone for the entire community. If we value what we have we need to keep in mind the perspective that how we structure our interactions affects the larger picture. Are we fighting amongst ourselves or organizing donations to USARK or Eden Reforestation to restore the natural environments? Are we back stabbing and sabotaging or actively building up community members that are helping us have commerce that is specific to our needs? If you are a leader or social media influencer, how you conduct yourself will set the tone. People are going to look up to you and follow your lead. You can be a positive influence by making sure what you present is in keeping with pushing your community forward in husbandry. Get as close as you reasonably can to replicating the important parts of their natural habitat and share it as an example. Highlight experienced members that you respect and learn alongside with your audience or group. Show what it looks like to be patient with a newcomer. And verbally support the businesses within the reptile community that you frequent.  You can touch on these four pillars in your day to day interactions whether you are a podcast, video channel, Facebook group admin, Instagram account, or any other social media outlet member. We all have a part we can play to strengthen our local community and in turn contribute to the solid foundation of the entire national and global community.

 

So what now? Well, what is your part? You will have something that you are able to offer. Are you able to offer financial support? From USARK to Eden Reforestation to your local reptile rescue to the patreon account of a content creator that has made a difference in your life the opportunities are plentiful. Are you patient with gently explaining the same thing over and over again? I cannot tell you how much we need you on social media. Can you create videos? Would you like to host a podcast? Do you like to write? Do you understand Tik Tok? The more responsible, naturalistic minded content creators we have out there demonstrating proper husbandry the more reptiles will have a quality life. You don’t have to argue to be effective. Simply show what you do and be an example. Do you have an idea for a product that would make caring for your favorite species better or easier? Consider a side business catering to that small niche of the market. I don’t know what species you are thinking about, but there may be a bigger audience out there than you know. Try it. Do you need someone to bounce ideas off of? If you are truly serious about a product idea, podcast, video channel, or other outreach then email me at bill@chameleonacademy.com. I am not going to steal your idea. I will give you perspective from someone who has been there. I won’t do it for you, but I may be able to help bridge some gaps or brainstorm around stubborn roadblocks. It took me two years to actually start this podcast. I am presently struggling through a product design challenge. I have been there. I know the feelings of doubt and all the voices, real and imagined, that are pulling you down. I believe that the more people who get actively involved in products or content creation the stronger we are as a community. So yes, I will help you. Although don’t talk to me if you want to start a chameleon caging company. That would be a conflict of interest. But otherwise, I know how lonely it is when you don’t have anyone around you that sees your vision. And, generally, people are either good at product or they are good at marketing. It is rare to find both in one person. Believe me. In my professional life I run product marketing departments for consumer electronics companies. Good product marketing professionals are exceptionally difficult to find. So how hard is it to find someone who understands product, understands marketing, and understands the reptile market? I would be happy to provide basic advice, realistic encouragement, and cautions that could help you get passed what is holding you back and avoid pitfalls as you move forward. If you are ready to put it into action and need a little push, a little insight, a little perspective…the email is bill@chameleonacademy.com

 

We deserve the community we create. Whether through our money, time, or energy everything we do adds to or takes away from it. Realize that your contribution to the community, no matter what it is, is greater than the effort in itself. When others see what you are doing it encourages like behavior and your efforts are multiplied. Thank you for joining me here this week for this very important topic. Let’s make a better community.

 


Read more...
Jackson's Chameleon female

Ep 209: Giving Chameleons Natural Sunlight

Listen Here!

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

Transcript (more or less)

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

New ZooMed LED UVB

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

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

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

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

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

 

Panther Story update

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 


Read more...
Female Panther Chameleon

Ep 208: Chameleon Caresheet Confusion

Listen Here!

What do you do when the chameleon experts contradict each other? You just want to set up your chameleon right the first time. Why can't anyone agree on how to do it? In this episode I talk about how to reconcile different experts saying different things.

Link Resources

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

As many of you know, I just released a video component to the Chameleon Academy Panther Chameleon care summary. If you go to the Panther Chameleon page on the chameleonacademy.com website you will find a .pdf download of the care summary. You’ll find this care summary much different from standard care sheets as this one contains a level more information such as information on the cage interior, the lighting/hydration cycle, feeding quantity, and not only what level of UVB, but distance to the light fixture if you use a certain product. Backing that up is a webpage that explains every parameter on the care summary so you can understand it better. My vision for the Chameleon Academy has been that it would be a multi-media chameleon education experience so there is also a video companion tutorial and a podcast episode for researching on the go. So with this wealth of information you are confidently set to get your panther chameleon! Until, that is, you compare what I say to what your social media group says. And it doesn’t match up. And then your friend gave you a care sheet from the expert they say is 2nd to God in knowledge…and that contradicts both me and your social media group. So you pull up the care page on the website of the breeder from whom you have purchased a juvenile that will be ready in one short month! How can there be so many different opinions….no, not just opinions….deeply embraced convictions on the care parameters of one of the most commonly kept chameleons?

That is what I will discuss today. Even if you decide that you trust my information and want to go with it, we are a community and so you will have to deal with all these various view points when interacting. I am going to highlight the top six debate points you will find during your research into chameleon husbandry and your use of the care summary I just released. I will share the history behind them and the concern level.

 

Caging

First we have caging. There is nothing that controversial with my caging parameters. I do recommend larger cages for females. Many care sheets have males at the 2x2x4’ cage and the females at the 18x18x36”. My care summary has them both at 2x2x4.  Your female chameleon will appreciate the larger 2x2x4 cage usually recommended for males. But, if you set the cage up correctly, the often recommended 18x18x36 will work. Keep in mind, though, that these are all minimum sizes. No breeder will say you shouldn’t get a larger cage so even though what I say is a little different it won’t be controversial. You may run into the random social media expert that read a care sheet and didn’t understand the concept of “minimum”, but, by and large, going bigger is not going to raise any eye brows.

The point where there may be some confusion to work through is that I promote that cage type should be chosen with respect to your ambient room temperature. The closer your temperatures and humidity levels are to ideal the more screen panels. The further they are from what you are trying to provide your panther chameleon, the more solid sides. Because the average household has acceptable temperatures, but the panther needs higher humidity at night than most houses provide, I lean towards hybrid cages with mostly solid sides as my most common recommendation.

So, what do you when your breeder says that chameleons need a screen cage or else they’ll get a respiratory infection and die?

Well, here is another case where you have to choose who to listen to. And then stick with that information source.

Let me explain. There are many ways to get something done. Yes, some ways are better than others, but there are times when different ways can still get the job done even if some of those are better than others. And you have to pick what you are going to make work.

With the Chameleon Academy I am promoting a thoughtful and insightful approach to chameleon husbandry. Much of the husbandry I talk about is a bit more complicated than your standard husbandry advice. It requires more thought. It isn’t necessarily hard, but it does take some understanding. And, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that learning chameleon husbandry might take some thought and learning.

A hybrid cage will retain heat and humidity. That is the reason for getting a hybrid cage, of course! But it also means that you are able to over do it. So it requires you to develop the discipline to watch your heat and humidity levels. Well, mostly the heat. In a screen cage most people will struggle to get anywhere near the target humidity levels, but it will be hard to overheat or over-humidify the cage.  Because you are literally using your small heat bulb and humidifier to change the entire room environment. So you get a localized heat or fog cone with it quickly dissipating. And, so it is harder to over do anything. People have adjusted their care to account for screen cages. And this is one reason why you can’t pick and choose care parameters from different places. Someone telling you to use a screen cage will often also be telling you to mist regularly through the day. This is because your chameleon will need to drink during the day to make up for losing moisture during the night because the humidity was low. And this is how we all did it for many, many years. So, yes, it works! But do you see how one parameter was adjusted to make up for a deficiency in another? So, take some time and get comfortable with your information source and don’t be rattled when you run into five other perspectives saying they are the only one. And I will take the unorthodox approach and say between me and your breeder, listen to your breeder. Your breeder is the one that is meant to be there to hand hold you through the process. That is what they are there for. Pass on that only if you have a community or mentor that is willing to take the role of guiding you. And then don’t go back to your breeder and make them unravel everything you have done outside their care parameters. Every group has figured out how to make their method work and they may or may not be able to switch gears in their head. And this isn’t what you want in the first place. You want the person guiding you to come from their place of strength and that would be their method that they have perfected. So, back to cage type, if you are having trouble getting the humidity up with the screen cage your breeder told you to get then have the breeder help you figure out how to get the humidity higher. Though, yes, my care summary has been put together using decades of personal experience and incorporating input from around the world so, if I have done my job right, you will be able to study what I have written and understand it enough to make an educated decision on your own. But remember, this is one of those topics that people take personally. Most people in the community have heard of hybrids and glass and write them off as advanced caging. Some outright say anything but a screen cage will kill you chameleons. So there is a lot of drama surrounding this topic. And if you say you are using a hybrid cage to a person who only knows screen cages get ready for an uncomfortable exchange. It is like putting a Mac computer in front of a person who has used a PC all their life. Some will stumble through it and figure out how to get on the internet and some will just pull out the holy water and wood stake.

 

Basking Temperature and Length

There is a shift going on in the chameleon community which is touching panther chameleon care. We, and I mean we as in the general community are becoming more aware that hotter conditions, combined with high food intake is not healthy for chameleons. This, I think, takes a little history. As we grew up in our chameleon keeping we were desperate to keep them alive. This is in the 1990s. It was exciting to have chameleons live years. Then we went to the next stage of herpetocultural growth and wanted to be able to breed them. This happened quite easily with panther chameleons. So during this time we would be babying them and providing anything that would make them grow quick and large. This was, and still is, a common benchmark. Big is healthy, right? If you saw two panther chameleons and one was twice as big, that is the one you would want. Well, yes, and, back in the early days that would be a very accurate assessment! But now that we have gotten way past the stage of keeping them alive and being gitty that we successfully bred them we are turning our attention to refining their health. And we are finding that bigger is not healthy. Sure size is fine, but bulging fat pads are not. This is demonstrated most dramatically in Veiled Chameleons where over-energizing the females with heat and food makes their bodies overproduce eggs to a life threatening number. You have probably heard of egg binding. A common cause for death from egg binding is females whose fat pads have swelled and egg production is two to four times what it should be. The females become marble bags and have complications. This comes from over energizing the females body through heat and food. Although the condition is not as severe in panthers as it is in veileds, there is still that danger of over-engerizing the panther females. And so you will see care sheets run a wide range of basking temperatures from 100 degree F to 80 F. The higher the temperature the older the care information. This is a husbandry area we are still working on figuring out the right recipe of temperature versus food intake. I have chosen 85F to 90F because it is on the lower side and is well tested. In the coming annual updates I am sure that I will lower the  basking temperatures, but I can’t until I know what is safe. You see, lowering temperatures and food intake too far will produced stunted chameleons. And I need to know where that border is before my care information gets closer to it. I am actively doing extensive work with panther chameleon care parameters so as soon as I am confident I have a regimen that is as simple as possible without getting people too close to the edge I will adjust parameters. But for now, just be aware that there is a shift going on in the community and you will see various basking temperatures. 85-90 is a good safety.

You will also see talk about time that your basking bulb is left on. Reducing the time the basking bulb is on is a strategy employed by some sections of the community to prevent the over energizing of the female. I have been experimenting with basking temperature and lengths. So far, I have found slower growth, but no stunting yet. So there is promise that this is a tactic that can be used. I am not to the point where I think I can recommend this without beginners mis-stepping and having problems so I am still conservative on this tactic. You see, I am not only responsible for the information I provide, but how it is interpreted and executed by the readers. So I am careful how I present new methods. At this time, I advocate leaving the basking bulb on as long as your chameleon needs it. As I said in the care summary, this takes observing your chameleons behavior. In a hybrid cage you’ll probably have to turn it off after a morning warm-up. In an all-screen cage you probably can leave it on all day. But this is a parameter I really want you all to be mindful of. Watch your chameleon. Learn what they use and realize you can turn on and off the basking light as is appropriate for your conditions.

 

Humidity and Naturalistic Hydration.

Another shift in our community is the increased awareness of how humidity plays into our hydration husbandry. Most care sheets do not recognize nighttime humidity needs. This is where we follow the natural cycle of higher humidity, lower temperatures during the night and lower humidity/higher temperatures during the day.  I have called this the naturalistic hydration cycle and this is the prime example of how all care parameters are interlinked. The standard hydration method has been using a screen cage and misting multiple times during the day. This is what you will see from many breeders and social media groups. Since the humidity is standard low human house levels the chameleon loses moisture during the night breathing. This requires misting during the day to rehydrate.

In the naturalistic hydration method we provide high humidity during the night and mist so the chameleon can drink during the morning if he needs to. And this provides what they need so we don’t have to spray them during the day which they hate.

But to do this the fundamental core of our husbandry has to change. To raise the humidity we need to block off the ventilation to the point where we get enough airflow for air exchange and cage drying during the day. That allows our nighttime humidity to build up. And this requires a hybrid cage with solid sides. Then we can create a nice build-up of humidity at night. But a hybrid cage also holds in heat during the day so we now have to be mindful of heat build up from the basking bulb. This means we have to introduce the concept of reducing basking bulb on time and monitoring temperatures. That seems simple in concept, but going on social media you learn that this is for advanced keepers only. So there is a slow shift in understanding towards the naturalistic hydration. It is resisted by many, and not fully understood by others, so be aware that there will be a wide swing of opinions around humidity and when you should mist. Really, the best thing you can do for yourself is understand the different methods and make the decision for yourself. But, if you are still confused then go with the method advised by the person helping you along. Once again, I fully admit that the Chameleon Academy approach can be intimidating at first. I can say I have personally tested the naturalistic hydration over a number of years with many species and it is a better approach than the screen cage/daytime misting approach. I highly encourage you to use it. The naturalistic hydration method should be your end goal, and start here if you can, but it is something you can incorporate later if you wish.

 

 

Supplementation

Next, Supplementation. This is where we add mineral and vitamin powders dusted on the surface of our feeder insect and we add nutrition in this manner. The reason why there is a wide range of supplementation regimens is that we are still figuring out supplementation. We have a fairly good idea of what works, but we are quite primitive as far as understanding how much of what, and in what combination, is needed. And that gray area leads to a wide range of personal interpretations. This means that you are going to be exposed to the supplementation regime your information source tried and their chameleon didn’t get sick. That is the level of certainty we have right now.

The main area of debate is how much vitamin D3 to allow through the diet. In nature, chameleons get their Vitamin D3 from UVB just like we do. The sun’s light hits our skin and we use the UVB wavelengths to synthesize vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is critical because that is what lets us absorb calcium from what we eat. Without Vitamin D3 we don’t get calcium and without calcium our bones get soft and will break. It is called Ricketts in humans and Metabolic Bone disease in chameleons. So we need vitamin D3. For the longest time, both education about UVB and UVB bulb strength was lacking and so we had many horrible cases of Metabolic Bone Disease. This was solved by putting vitamin D3 into the supplements we put on our feeder insects. This was a wonderful solution except that there is a danger of D3 overdose because it is a fat soluble vitamin and excess amounts won’t just flush out of the system. There is a built in stop valve for D3 being generated from UVB, but no stop valve if it comes in from the diet. Therefore, if you give too much in the diet you could get hypercalcemia which means too much calcium in the body and life limiting things like calcium deposits on organs where they shouldn’t be. We want to avoid that. And with present UVB light technology we don’t have to use dietary vitamin D3. The one case where present information suggests we use dietary vitamin D3 is alongside giving preformed vitamin A. Honestly, I am still working through understanding how this works and how it applies to reptiles, but with nutrition that is a common state of affairs for us. Reptile nutrition is not the most funded area of science these days. I’ll link to an abstract about a study in rats where giving Vitamin A decreased the effectiveness of calcium absorption. So this is why more vitamin D is, most of the time, added to supplements with preformed vitamin A.  But, that is leading us down a rat hole, so to speak. Back to different supplementation regimens.

You’ll run into two main varieties of routine. One is the one presented in the Chameleon Academy which is calcium and bee pollen based for every feeding and then a multivitamin with preformed vitamin A every two weeks. You will run into many variations on this approach. The philosophy behind the academy approach is that we give calcium and bee pollen every feeding and simulate a random vertebrate every two weeks that gives a shot of vitamin A. The chameleon gets vitamin D3 from UVB every day as well and, if this is done correctly, there is no need to have D3 in the diet. The D3 in with the biweekly multivitamin is just there to keep the vitamin A company.

The other regimen you will run into with a number of breeders is using Repashy Calcium Plus every feeding. This has worked well over time and has been adopted as a much easier to remember supplementation schedule. Different supplementation routines are like fighting words in the chameleon community so prepare for strong feelings when you bring it up. I have linked a podcast episode that goes into the testing done by Kammerflage Kreations for them to decide on the Repashy Calcium Plus regimen. It is a thoughtful and well tested decision. If you are considering this approach then listen to the episode to understand what was behind it. I find myself in the strange position of recommending a different supplementation regimen while defending the use of Repashy Calcium Plus. And the reason why it is important for me to defend using Repashy Calcium Plus every feeding is because the methodical approach that went into showing that this is effective should serve as a model for how we test any supplementation regimen. My defense of using Repashy Calcium Plus is not because that is the supplementation I want to recommend, but I am defending the method used to test it. If we put in that amount of work into any of the things the community presents as facts we would have a much stronger community less able to be swayed by the latest loud voice that comes along. I ask that you take this to heart. I see so many half baked ideas being passed around because there was no critical thought applied to its creation or adoption as a sound bite.

 

Maybe one day there will be some repeatable test that will determine what the danger level is for daily vitamin D3 intake. And then this issue will be laid to rest (well, maybe). But, my message to you, who are just trying to make heads or tails of this subject is that both regimens work. If you want to use your breeder for support then go with the supplementation and UVB regimen that they suggest. If you want to go to a certain social media group for support then use their regimen. Just know you can’t go back and forth. Don’t use the social media regimen and then go back to your breeder if something is off. Get support from the person who you get advice from. If you are following Chameleon Academy advice and want to ask questions then my experienced team and I have camped out at the Facebook group, The Chameleon Enthusiasts to offer support. At The Chameleon Enthusiasts group the team is dedicated to helping across all supplementation routines. We make it a point to understand what is behind the supplements so we can offer an insightful analysis no matter which regime you are using. Just about anywhere else, a different supplementation routine will be blamed for anything going wrong without a critical analysis. And this is, yet again, the reason why you need to use the method understood by the breeder, mentor, or group that you will be interacting with. Understanding supplementation is challenging. One thing I will warn you about is any supplementation regimen that uses calcium plus D3. Both Fluker’s and Rep-cal calciums with D3 are way over the top with D3 and if there is going to be a supplement that tips the scales into overdose, it will be them. If you are told to use either Flukers Calcium with D3 or Rep-Cal Calcium with D3 then it is time to take a step back and re-evaluate.

 

UVB lighting

Next is UVB lighting. The Chameleon Academy care summary uses the T5 HighOutput fluorescent lights. This is the most common bulb used on social media so there shouldn’t be much of note there. ,Use the UVB chart on the Chameleon Academy care summary. If your breeder recommends using a T8 light, using a T5 light will not change anything other than give you better D3 synthesis at a given distance. So using the Chameleon Academy UVB recommendation will not interfere with any other care parameter that you find out there. And it will ensure good D3 synthesis no matter what the supplementations schedule.

There may be some people that are concerned about using a T5 light system with a supplementation regimen such as Repashy Calcium Plus that has vitamin D3 in it. This comes from a lack of understanding of how UVB and D3 works. I’ll try to give a summary example. The body creates only the amount of D3 that the body needs. Say the chameleon needs 10 units of D3 a day. The body will turn on the UVB conversion and make 10 units of D3 and then shut down conversion. It does not matter how intense the UVB light is after that. It cannot turn back on the conversion. If you then give 8 units of dietary D3 through your supplement then the body will only make 2 units from UVB. And it doesn’t matter how intense the UVB is. What I am getting at is that is if you give Repashy Calcium Plus it doesn’t matter if you use T8 lights or T5 lights. You will not cause a D3 overdose from using T5 lights. Now, going too high will cause other problems, but not D3 overdose. And Dr. Gary Ferguson did a study showing that panther chameleons will deliberately bask as long as they needed to get the UVB they need. So, using a T5 as directed on this care summary is compatible with all appropriate supplementation schedules. This, of course, assumes a proper supplementation schedule as discussed above.

So, bottom line, use the Arcadia ProT5 6% UVB on top of a screen cage with the back of your chameleon 6” from the top. Please review the care summary for details and asterisks and such.

 

Feeding

And finally, there is a feeding schedule that has feeding chameleons as much as they will eat until they are adults and then easing off to five feeders every other day. This is another case where we are trying to avoid unhealthy weight. My five feeders every other day is less than most breeders recommend, but still more than some care sheets. This is the exact same case as with the basking temperature where I want to see more cases of how people execute this before I go lower. I have had people stop giving food to chameleons that were behind in growth because of a general schedule meant for chameleons on the standard growth cycle. So I have to be careful and sensitive to how this information is interpreted. Five feeders every other day is effective, yet conservative. But you will see a wide range of advice out there.

 

So I hope that this helps ease you into the community and understand all the different opinions out there. It would be simplest if there was one care sheet we all agreed on and presented. But that isn’t the case. And beginners like to come onto the scene, collect caresheets, and then pick and choose parameters. So there is no way to keep anyone focused on one path. And, that makes sense. When you are new to the community you do not know where the best information is. Instead of telling you to just listen to my one way, I would rather explain why things are the way they are, share the transitions we are going through as a community, and have you understand why you are going in a certain direction. It is okay for you to do something other than what I am advising. Just know the options and know why you have chosen a certain direction. Every situation will be different from different environmental conditions to different social involvement. And all these different parameters go into what is best for you. And the best thing you can do for yourself is to be able to understand the currents, and chose the appropriate captain, and chart your own course.

 

This podcast episode is certainly a stand alone episode that can explain the confusing twists and turns when looking for information in the chameleon community. But from the top view, it is the next step in my project to document the panther chameleon breeding lifecycle. I presented the panther chameleon care summary and this helps you navigate the community while reading the care parameters. We will now slowly get into caging with a mindset for breeding. Though you’ll find I am going to be presenting a somewhat different approach to this breeding group. And I hope it is one that will resonate and, perhaps, inspire a new generation of breeders.

 

I am slowly getting my stride in integrating my podcast with my video channel outreach. I have ambitious videos that take a bit of work and so I am going to try an every other week approach so one week a podcast episode and the next week a video and so on. I appreciate your patience as I work through this new outreach and figure out how I can humanly produce the content on a reasonable schedule! But, so far, I am very happy with how I am being able to fulfill the multi-media vision I have for the Chameleon Academy.

 

And, finally, if you go to the chameleonacademy.com website home page there is a link to where you can pick up some chameleon academy merch. From T-shirts to hoodies and a coffee cup. So you can sport the rainbow panther everywhere you go and share this very special corner of nature that endlessly fascinates us!

And if you think about it, everything we are learning about chameleons and the amazing depth to which we learn it, is a part of nature that few people know exists. This is truly an amazing personal growth we are all undertaking. And, just doing this is a growth experience for me. It is exciting to think where we will be by the end of the year. And, all I can say, is this is a whole lot of fun and I am glad you are doing it with me! Now, let’s see if I can get the video out next week and then I’ll be back here on the airwaves the week after! And, if you snag one of those T-shirts or hoodies, tag me on Facebook or Instagram wearing it and let me know if I can share it on my account!

 

Take care and give your chameleon an extra special treat for me. I’ll see you later!

 


Read more...
Chameleon Egg Laying Bin

Ep 205: Creating a Chameleon Egg Laying Bin

Listen Here!

I take you along with me as I create an egg laying bin for a rare species of chameleon, Trioceros cristatus. By providing multiple egg laying topographies we can allow her to choose what feels best to her chameleon mind.

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

It has been an exciting week at the Chameleon Academy! I keep a rare species of chameleon from the Cameroon called the crested chameleon, or, more accurately, Trioceros cristatus. We have so few in the hands of experienced breeders that any success is celebrated in this very small community. It is a shy species, but what an impressive one it is. The female is bright velvety green and the males are a rich chestnut color with a blue crown above their head. Both sexes have a sail fin along their back. They are a little different as far as husbandry than your standard forest edge chameleon as cristatus happily spend their time closer to the ground and hiding away from bright lights. They are a lowland species so, despite their visual similarities to chameleons we equate with high altitude, cristatus are not interested in deep nighttime drops. The other interesting feature is their tail is shorter than most of the commonly kept chameleons. Cristatus is one of those species that is a good husbandry experience expander. It is similar enough in husbandry to the common species that it should be no problem for anyone to try their hand at it, but just different enough to be a new experience. Hmmm, I think I have let my affection for cristatus lead me on a bit of a tangent, but no matter, it helps you understand why I was so excited to see her pacing her cage in an obvious desire to find an egg laying site. Obviously, this was not a surprise. I had introduced a male to her a little over nine weeks ago, observed a mating, and had watched her grow with eggs as I made sure everything I fed to her was gutloaded and properly supplemented. So, yes, this was an anticipated event!

 

And so I wanted to take you along with me during the process of egg laying and then I am going to go into detail on making an egg laying bin. And this is perfect time because cristatus, and especially this cristatus, are a little more picky than a veiled or panther so I am going to share with you the egg laying bin strategy that has worked very well for me to coax some of the more rare species to lay. For another perspective of creating an egg laying from someone who spends more time with rare species than even me, go back four years ago and check out episode 76 with Carl Cattau. That is a great overview of the subject. The added value that this episode brings is that this one will be more of me bringing you along with me step by step as I carry out the strategy. And, I add in some insight I have gained over the four years since doing that episode.

 

One thing to start with is the whole trend towards using bio-active substrates, or even just soil substrates in a female chameleon’s cage. There are a number of reasons to do this that have nothing to do with egg laying. And there still is no necessity to have a soil floor with a chameleon, but I bring it up because if you have a soil floor then the immediate question is whether you need an egg laying bin. And the answer is no, if you maintain the soil in a way that allows it to be a good digging soil. This requires good drainage. Female chameleons will not lay their eggs in soaked soil so your substrate drainage needs to be dialed in with moisture input. For this episode, I am going to use the scenario where there is just the plain plastic floor that cages usually come with, but the principles and ideas are universal so you should be able to apply them easily to your particular situation.

 

First, it is important to recognize the signs that your female is ready to lay. This can be pretty straight forward for Veiled or panther chameleons. 30 days after mating you can expect an egg laying. This timing gets a little murky for other species that have the ability to hold eggs. I have had quadricornis and cristatus do this to me where gestation , the time period between mating and egg laying, is not necessarily consistent. The other very relevant case is with female veiled chameleons that often develop unfertilized clutches so you do not have a mating event to clock from. So, there are visual cues. As eggs develop you will usually see a female grow in girth. Sometimes you can see and/or feel egg shapes in the overly rotund torso. Other times, they can have stealth clutches where you are surprised they were carrying anything. Once again, that was with quadricornis in my personal experience. Veiled, panther, and cristatus have always been quite obvious to me. And you will notice the gravid shape growing and growing over the weeks. During this time the female will be eating as much as she can. And you should give it to her. I know you hear a lot about controlling feeder insect number and that is an important skill. But the major problem we are trying to solve is obesity in chameleons which overdrives the female’s body into producing more eggs than would be normal. This is often actually life threatening to the female so it is worth reading up on. Of course, I have some podcast episodes on this which I will link to in the show notes. But once her body has made the decision as to how many eggs to produce, it is healthy to give her what ever food she wants. She is now eating for 30 if you are lucky. If you grew up your female veiled in very warm temperatures and well fed then her body will take advantage of that and could give you 60 to 100 or so eggs. I know that sounds amazing, but the people who have tried to raise up a clutch of veiled chameleon hatchlings of 40 or more can attest to it not being the party the brochure promises. But once the number of eggs decision has been made it is time to give her what her body wants to develop all those babies. And scarf down the food she will do…that is until the eggs get sizeable enough that there is very little room left inside her body for food. And this isn‘t joking. Near the end of gestation there just isn’t room for food. And so going off of eating is a common behavior for females that will lay within the week. Not always, of course. Every female is different. So I am just presenting to you possibilities that often work. Jackson’s chameleons are notorious for this. They are livebearers, but when we get newcomers complaining that their female jackson’s chameleon was such a good eater until earlier this week we go into full baby care education mode.

 

The real indication is the change in behavior. Your female will usually like to warm up and be near the top of the cage or in her favorite resting spot in the leaves. You will then start to notice that she is hanging out near the bottom of the cage. And she is getting restless. And this is what happen with my lady cristatus. Cristatus likes to warm up and then hide in the foliage like any chameleon, but they are heavily on the hide-out side. I may see my female cristatus basking once a week and the rest of the time she is slinking about the underbrush of the cage. And this is a characteristic of cristatus. That is just what they do. All well and good, until early this week she started pacing the branches near the bottom of the cage and climbing the walls. So I knew the time was here.

 

Now, I also knew she was a picky egg layer. I know this because I already went through this with her before. The last clutch I got from her took the entire week of her digging test holes and then finally laying. I was using a simple container with digging soil, but didn’t get fancy. This time I decided to get fancy just in case. And, yes, I will explain what I mean by that.

To lay eggs, chameleons are looking for soil which they can dig through, has the right moisture content, and has a hard surface to lay against. That hard surface could be anything in the Earth including just compacted earth a couple inches down from the surface. They have also been known to target root balls of plants. Honestly, I am not sure if they really are looking for roots or roots just happen to be in the area. Because I used to run a large scale breeding facility where egg laying females would be released into large outdoor enclosures over 20’ x 20’ floor space. There was vegetation and open area. There were areas with what I thought was perfect egg laying sand/soil mixture and there were areas that I didn’t bother to replace soil. And it bothered me that I couldn’t get them to lay in the perfect egg laying areas. They kept finding untouched area where they could only dig down a couple inches. And it was up against hard surfaces.  And I am embarrassed to say that I did not learn my lessons right then and there with the most perfect communication I could have been given by what the chameleons chose when presented with wild options. I went on after that to do the ill advised things that many people are still doing like giving deep soil container for veiled chameleons to tunnel through. And, yes, I had tunnel collapses and was wondering how it made sense for eggs to be laid so deep. How would the babies dig out this far and what possible purpose would being 12 inches below the surface hold? It wasn’t until I was doing the interview with Carl four years ago for episode 76 that everything came rushing in and my observations all started to make sense and I figured out that I was forcing my ideas of what chameleons should need onto them and not listening to them. Since then I have slowly given my chameleons less and less soil depth to experiment. I started with 8” and have worked my way to 6” and now am trying 4”. Of course, species makes a difference. My Parson’s female appreciated more depth than my panther female, but not as much as I had thought. The pattern is, once I took away my interpretation of what should be, is that my chameleons were looking for a hard surface about half their body length deep to lay eggs against. So I came up with a laying bin design that I am using with all my females. It is working very well. And that is the design I am going to go over in this episode. But I can guarantee you that four years from now I will be doing this episode again and sharing with you the improved design.

 

And I hope you have become comfortable with that by now. This podcast was never meant to be the presentation of the end all be all information. It has always been a quest to learn more and figure things out. I know it is fashionable on social media to be an expert. That is not my gig. I will present what I know and share the confidence level associated with that, but you listeners to this podcast are on the journey of exploration with me. And I hope you value that we are doing this together and you are pretty much figuring all this out with me. My forty years of experience has served me well not to know the secrets of the universe, but to point my efforts in a useful direction.

 

So, let’s address how that approach is different from the standard, don’t fix what isn’t broken. When people find a way that works there isn’t much motivation to change it unless there is a demonstrated benefit. Example, if you are a panther chameleon breeder and giving your female panthers 8” of moist sand to lay in results in the successful laying of a clutch of eggs, why change? Doing the same thing for ten years achieves the goal. And this is why it is tricky when people say they have been doing chameleons for ten or twenty years. Sounds Impressive? Well, it is if they have been using that time to refine and challenge everything they are doing. It is less impressive if they are doing the same thing now as when they started. Honestly, I keep throwing around the 40 year experience stat specifically to stop people trying to use their 10 or 20 years as a resume point to prove they are right to say their way is the best way. No, my 40 years is only as valuable as how far I have come. Not in how much I have done the same thing over and over. So if your female panther is working twice as hard as she needs to to lay eggs you are not going to measure that by successful clutches laid. The value for challenging that is going to come from this inner drive to make life better for the chameleon. That is what I push for here. I agree that any change should have a measurable effect, but I argue that getting the same results with less physical outlay from the female chameleon is a measurable result. Anyway, the reason why I am going through all this philosophy is because the chameleon community is mostly stuck in the 8” or more depth for egg laying containers. So  expect push back if you stroll into those digital halls with what I am sharing on this podcast. That goes for many topics. But, if you are a long time listener you already know we are constantly pushing the boundaries here! So, let’s get on with the laybin.

 

The container

First, the container. I like using a clear sweater box about 16” x 12” and 7” high. But, Bill, if it is clear, won’t that freak her out when she digs to the side and sees light coming through? Yes, and that is a great reason for using solid side containers. But, I kind of want to be able to see where the eggs may be so I know where to dig. I have had some females that are so good at hiding their tracks that the only sign that I have that something happened is a bunch of dirt on the top of her head as she looks at me from her branch pretending she didn’t just lay a clutch of eggs. And carefully excavating the entire bin to ensure that eggs aren’t damaged once you find them is monotonous work. I will say that I have never actually broken an egg doing this, but I don’t want that first time. So what I do is I get a clear sided container and I duct tape a few layers of black trash bag around the sides so they block out all the light. Once she has laid I can easily rip off the plastic and see where the eggs are. Well, as long as she laid them against the sides or bottom. This isn’t 100% so other measures will be used.

 

I make sure there is plenty of drainage in the laybin. I do not want water to pool at the bottom of the laybin. Remember the female will likely dig to the bottom. If she finds a water layer then she won’t lay there. This is the draw back of having your bioactive or substrate floor in your cage unless you have external drainage. Having a drainage layer like the dart frog people do at the bottom of the soil layer may cause complications when it comes to egg laying. It really all depends on your water management. For my temporary laybin I drill a number of hole in the bottom to make sure no water will pool when the misting system kicks on.

 

The under ground topography

On the inside of the bin I am going to add some features. I want to be clear that most breeders are highly successful without going through the twists I am about to present. But they can do that when they specialize in one species. This is why egg laying bins from breeders are so simple. They have figured out the essence of what the species is looking for and have optimized their husbandry. My approach here, though, is how to approach an unknown species and giving enough options that it will result in her finding what she is looking for a successful egg laying. And this works for you while you are starting out with a species that is new to you. After a few successful egg layings you can start removing the features that are not necessary. But, for me, with a picky rare species, I am going all out!

 

So I know they are looking for a hard surface to lay against and I want to give them all the options possible in the small space at the bottom of their cage. I am planning on offering a soil depth of between 4 and 6 inches. This depth works for most species. On one side of the laybin I am going to put 2” of smooth rocks on the bottom so I get only four inches of soil depth. In the middle of the laybin I will have 6” of soil depth and on the other side I am putting in a live plant with the roots. This way she has a number of options. You are absolutely correct that she will have no idea where to dig to find the different underground topographies, but I wanted to make it so if she didn’t find what she wanted after digging the first hole that the second hole she dug would provide to her a different topography. And then a third hole would provide yet another choice. What I did last time was just digging soil in a basin. Every time she dug a new hole she found exactly what she found the time before. Eventually, she dug a hole that was tolerable and laid the eggs. So, I guess that was successful egg laying.  But I would rather she be happier about her choices and lay sooner than when the eggs won’t stay in any longer. This is how you get them laying on the top of the dirt or just pushing them out any old place in the cage. All of us breeders encounter this one time or another – especially with the rarer species. We just try very hard not to. Not the best husbandry experience.

 

Soil composition.

So, how about the soil itself? I like to ues a 50% soil and 50% sand mixture that I throw together in rough measurements and mix together. More soil or more sand doesn’t matter. Just as long as the hole will hold its shape and not collapse in on the chameleon. But, remember, we want a hole. We do not want tunneling. I have to say this because there is still a number of people that embrace the chameleon having a deep enough bin that the chameleon can tunnel. This is the husbandry trap of thinking that what you observe them doing is an indication that they need to do it. In reality, the behavior you see may be them confused and just trying to make sense of the strange conditions they find themselves under. Tunneling is when the female just can’t make sense of things and just keeps digging until she runs into something that triggers the “this is good” signal in her lizard brain. Stop it before it gets that far

At this point, I have put my stones in on one side and the plant in on the other side. I then start mixing my soil in the middle and fill in the rock side - and then the plant side and then the middle. Once I have the laying bin full I then carefully spread a thin layer of soil across the top until it is a uniform dark coat. I then sprinkle just enough sand that I create a thin layer of light colored sand on top of the dark soil. What this does is allows me to see where the soil was disturbed so I know where to start digging. They sometimes do such a good job hiding their dig site that it often is impossible to tell where they laid the eggs.

 

Okay, so I made my laying bin and put it at the bottom of the cage. There are sticks leading down to the bin to make it easy to access. To help me know where she laid, I have clear sides to view the lower layers. These, of course, are wrapped by a few layers of black trash bags to block out light during the egg laying process. The surface is light and dark coded so any disturbance will be obvious. And then, I got myself a WiFi security camera that I will set up to monitor the egg laying site. So I am ready for whatever happens. I just have to hope it all goes well! So I place the laying bin in the cage and went to go get the security camera to set up. And, well, when I got back she was already in the bin. Yikes. I guess that didn’t take long. I quickly set-up the camera, but I had to do it outside the cage so I didn’t bother her which gave me a less than academy award winning clarity of picture. Oh well.

Now a word on cameras and privacy. The biggest problem with chameleons not using your perfect laybin is privacy. They are in an incredibly vulnerable position on the ground digging a hole. A laybin in an open area situated where you and the three family dogs can watch the action has a low probability of success. When I have a laybin in a cage I put visual barriers all around and leave only a peephole where I can keep track of things without disturbing her. My new security camera solved this and was wonderful. I didn’t even need a peep hole. I watched the whole thing on my phone with no disturbance. And, of course, now I am obsessed with this and will be setting one up in all my cages so I can watch my chameleons do nothing all day.

 

Anyways, the camera picture had something to be desired. At least I was able to view where she was digging. And dig she did. She was ready and dug one hole in the middle, laid her eggs, and covered them up. Success! I gave the hard working mother a long misting session and a buffet of crickets, roaches, and superworms.

 

So, post game analysis.

First of all, camera was a great idea. I watched it happen in real time. I knew exactly where she laid. Next time I’ll get it inside the cage with better lighting.

The sand and soil disturbance method was also effective. Although, in this case, there wasn’t much subtlety. By time she was done with it, the bin looked like a land mine had gone off. She dug a huge hole and only filled it back in half way. So, there wasn’t much challenge in knowing where to dig. There was none of that stealth I talked about with this dig.

So, how about the clear sides? This didn’t work for me this time. It has worked perfectly every time before and showed me exactly where the eggs were. This time, however, none of the eggs were touching the sides or bottom or even on the rock layer. So, so much for giving me a text book success story for my podcast and video! I feel I need to do this again and prove the worth of this genius method!

 

She dug in the middle area where it was six inches deep. She really made a mess of the hole so I don’t know what that was about. Was she unhappy with it but happy enough to not abandon it? Could I have done something better? I do not know. But she did deposit the eggs about four inches down counting from the top of the soil to the top of the egg ball. But let’s be careful how we interpret that data. Does that mean it was a perfect laying site or that she was simply able to make due? This can only be answered by providing different test sites across the years and putting together patterns. This is why we chameleon people need patience!

 

So, let’s recap. I went the extra mile on this one. Is that necessary? The answer is that it usually is not. My last Veiled chameleon laid her eggs in a wheelbarrow with plain dirt in it. I just picked up her cage and put it on top of the dirt. She laid and we all went on with our lives. I did a fancy laybin for my female panther chameleon and she, for the third time, thumbed her nose at my fancy offering and laid, instead, in her pothos pot. Or her polka dot plant pot. Or, literally, anywhere other than my perfectly made laybin. My Parson’s female laid her eggs in the dirt floor of her outdoor cage. No special soil mixture, no root ball, just against the planter box wall. So, no, it really isn’t that complicated. Once again, what I presented here was a laying bin configuration that covers a variety of options and puts them into one bin. You may go your entire panther chameleon breeding life without having a single female that protests against being asked to deposit her eggs on top of a bed of vermiculite, in nice neat rows one inch apart. But if you run into a species you are not familiar with then it is good to have options to try with them. This is exactly what I did to get my deremensis to lay for me for first time. But, boy was deremensis a puzzle for me. We were providing laybins with different soil compositions, we were starting holes for them,…sometimes we try everything. Eventually, my deremensis just laid in the plain dirt and I never figured out what the fuss was about. But it is good to have these options available to us so we are ready if we need them. And if Tanzania ever opens up and someone has a gravid Matschiei I want you to have the greatest possibility for success because I would love to work with that species. See…I do have hidden motivations for building the best possible educated chameleon community. Better availability of captive hatched rare species for me!

By the way, when I talked about the female panther chameleon laying eggs in nice neat rows one inch apart I am making a joke about the debate between leaving them in a ball like they were laid and separating them out in rows. I have tried both methods and haven’t yet seen a difference in end result. Having eggs clumped together tends to get them all hatching at the same time, but I haven’t figured out what benefit there is to that in captivity. I’ll keep experimenting with it. It is the more natural way to have them in a ball, but I am unaware of any problem that needs solving in the way chameleons hatch out. But this is purely a personal judgement. If you incubate them in a ball more power to you. If you incubate them in rows, two thumbs up. Peace everyone. As always, I’ll keep you in the loop as I explore this. Feel free to enlighten me to your truth.

 

So there you have a simple laybin project. All of the parts can be found at your standard home improvement center. And, of course, a simple container 4 to 6” deep of soil or sand/soil mixture will work as well in most cases. But it would be a very short podcast if I just said that! Nope, the underlying lesson here is not just making a successful egg laying bin. It is attacking a problem creatively. It is the skill of see that there is an issue with something like egg laying and then putting together a number of options that let the female teach us what she needs. And it is up to us to put aside what we think we know and accept what we are taught. Compare that to the many other responses to egg laying for the species and we start to put together a picture that can be replicated with other keepers. And, finally, care sheets can be put together that will actually work in 90% of the cases. This is how we build community knowledge.

In the end, I was able to recover twenty beautifully calcified eggs which will go into the incubator right next to the 21 she laid earlier this year. Yes, she has been busy. Let’s hope all goes well and there are baby cristatus greeting me by the end of the year. We have a small Facebook group specializing in this species called the Trioceros cristatus community if you are interested in getting involved with this chameleon species.

Wrapping it up

It has been an event filled week at the Chameleon Academy. If you go to the home page of the chameleoncademy.com website you can find a link to our apparel storefront where you can get shirts, hoodies, and coffee mugs with the rainbow panther chameleon academy logo. It is very cool seeing people starting to show them off on social media. Please tag me if you do!

And I am starting in on a project I have wanted to do for years, but now it is time. I am going to be documenting each step of a panther chameleon breeding lifecycle. I’ll be recording it in written word, Youtube video , and podcast audio. Each media will have a different perspective on the topic and will complement each other. The first step is to select the locale and genetics to be used and I am deep into that. If you would like to follow along, go and subscribe on the Chameleon Academy YouTube channel. The first video, Selecting your Panther Chameleon, is out. That was the companion video to last week’s podcast episode. I am very excited to do this project and I think it will be a lot of fun to bring you along.

I think what this will accomplish is highlight the immense amount of experience that going through an entire breeding life cycle of a species entails. This is why you can’t be an expert by just memorizing the care sheets and what people are saying on social media. You need the experience to back it up. And, if you stick with me for another two years, you can be virtually by my side as I start at ground zero and build up a personal panther chameleon breeding project. A Story of Panther Chameleons will follow my obtaining one or two pairs of panther chameleon juveniles, sharing basic panther chameleon husbandry and growth milestones as they grow up, documenting the breeding process once they mature, and then we will spend the incubation time discussing baby care and the pros and cons of being an official breeder. The project will end when the babies  hatch out grow to the age I got the parents at in the next couple months.

I have a playlist set up on my YouTube channel and a special section on the website to document each chapter. On YouTube you can subscribe and if you want notifications of when the new videos are up you hit the little bell icon by the subscribed button. Of course, there are lots of chameleon related videos there as well outside this project.

Thank you for joining me here. I look forward to these new projects and am grateful that I can make these community projects. It is simply more enjoyable that way. And now, it is time for me to get to work on finishing the video companion on YouTube for this laybin episode so you can see what I did. I love the stuff I keep busy with! Take care, and I will be back next week!

 


Read more...