Science

green tree python

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

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

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

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Green Tree Python husbandry

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

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

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Panther Chameleons

Ep 145: The Panther Chameleon Species With Dr. Mark Scherz

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Dr. Mark Scherz joins me to discuss the different colors of Furcifer pardalis. Are they species? morphs? locales? The answers may not be ours yet, but Mark gives us discussion points to think about.

The Official Paper-Under-Discussion of the Episode

article on panther chameleon species

We don't dive too deeply into the paper in the first part of the two part series but here is a sneak peak.

Mark Scherz Blog and Website hub

Mark Scherz website

Do you see all those link icons? Go to the website and click on these to find his Instagram, Tumbler, Facebook, and other digital outreaches!

Awesome Madagascar Wildlife Posters

uroplatus poster

Mark has a poster for the frogs he encountered in Madagascar and the Uroplatus he encountered. Click. above to check them out!

Squamates Podcast

squamates podcast

You know I love podcasts! Well, Mark does too and he has his own. Check it out!

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making UVB work for chameleons

Ep 131: Making UVB Work For Chameleons

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There is a lot of information about using UVB with chameleons bouncing around the internet. But how is it in execution? Today I bring you a discussion with Pete Hawkins who has raised a female veiled chameleon with UVB light and completely without dietary Vitamin D3.

Check out the links below to learn more about Pete!

Pete Hawkins' Website
Chameleon Network Facebook
Pete Hawkins Facebook

Transcript (More or Less)

The whole purpose of providing UVB light is to allow your chameleon to make vitamin D3 naturally through their skin. Although it is common to give D3 through the diet, this is not natural and we can overdose if we give too much. How much is too much is unknown. But instead of researching to figure that out, we are going to focus on researching how much UVB a chameleon needs to do D3 synthesis. As with every exploration there needs to be a starting point. For this starting point I talk with Pete Hawkins who was helping test the Arcadia EarthPro-A supplement which has no vitamin D3. His task was to raise a chameleon completely on UVB with no dietary D3.

Now, I want to give an introduction to what constitutes data in the search for UVB answers. Because there is enormous ambiguity and almost no hard data people in the social media echo chambers have become quite attached to their personal views, which, frankly, are based on nothing more than ideas pulled out of the air. Hard data is very difficult to come by as it takes years to pull together. So, let’s lay the ground rules for what constitutes solid information in the realm of UVB. For us to have a valid test as to whether a certain level of UVB is effective a female chameleon must be raised with no dietary D3 and then lay calcified eggs. That would be the top test as to whether the UVB level was sufficient. And, I am reporting today that we have a data point that fulfills that requirement. It is only one data point and we in the community must continue to test. Although, I will say before I bring on the interview with Pete, I have duplicated his findings with a test of my own. So, like any thing we accept as fact, it must be repeatable. Perhaps after listening in you would be interested in validating the test yourself.

And this is what we need to do to slowly crawl forward. We put together a feasible hypothesis and test it. Pete decided UVI3 was a valid level and proved it out. Building on this I did a test with two pairs of veiled chameleons with one pair being raised up with UVI 3 and one pair with UVI 6 to see if there was any difference. There was none and I am raising up the babies from that test right now. In addition to the test I ran, I validated the test Pete ran.

And what is the significance of these findings?

Well, within our UVB husbandry there are two important levels. The first is the minimum effective level which is the minimum level at which the chameleon can successfully synthesize enough D3 to not only grow up strong, but create calcified eggs. The next level is the maximum safe level. UVB will kill your chameleon. It burns and will produce cancers just like in humans so we  do NOT want to give them more than we need to. Between the tests that both Pete and I ran we can tentatively place UVI 3 to UVI 6 between the minimum effective and maximum safe levels for Veiled Chameleons.

Since there was no benefit to increasing from 3 to 6 we should now turn our minds to refining the minimum effective level. Could we get the same results with UVI 2? Maybe UVI 1? And this is where we can grow as a community. Of course, this is where I am placing my efforts and will let you know what I find out!

At this point we experiment more. If this interests you at all then please contact me. The more experiments we have running the better our data. But it is a touchy topic to test. Failure to synthesize D3 results in Metabolic Bone Disease. So anyone working with this should be ready to spend the money for blood tests to verify D3 levels and have an experienced keen eye to identify when things are not working out.

For the rest of the community, thanks to Pete, we know that UVI 3 is a safe level for veiled chameleons to live without dietary D3. I have duplicated that result in two animals so our confidence can grow. It is true that any scientific study would scoff at using three animals as an indication of anything. But, I will say that our community has gotten into the most heated battles being 100% sure of UVB husbandry even with the loudest voices not even having the benefit of a UVB meter so I think we can agree this is a step in the right direction.

So, where do we go from here? I give you no action item. At this point I am just making you aware of what is going on that is pushing us forward. You are welcome to use this information however it most benefits you. And, for my part, I will continue to bring you the latest advancements from every corner of the chameleon world.

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fogging and airflow for chameleon cages

Ep 127: UVB For Montane Chameleons

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The major steps to creating a supplement routine that does not include vitamin D3 or vitamin A are to understand what a chameleon needs. And this is not an easy task. We hardly know what humans need, much less chameleons. So we will have to run tests and share with each other. As a refresher, vitamins D3 and A are on my hit list for removing from the supplementation because, as far as we know, they are not naturally ingested in the wild and by giving those vitamins orally we bypass the internal mechanisms that the chameleon’s body has to limit how much of those vitamins are stored. You see, D3 and A are fat soluble and if there is too much there becomes a toxic situation. We will first focus on vitamin D3 as it is quite clear how chameleons get D3 and we have the means to provide it through their natural path. Vitamin A is a mess and we will tackle that can of worms later.

Transcript (More or Less)

Chameleons, like us, manufacture vitamin D3 by using the energy they get from a narrow band of ultraviolet wavelengths. This is started in the skin and travels through the liver and kidneys to be changed around and end up in a form that allows the body to absorb calcium from the digestive tract. It is worth understanding this internal process, but to do so would means a lot of detail that I would rather not dive into right now. The important thing for us hobbyists to understand is that by providing the correct amount of UVB, we can remove vitamin D3 from our supplementation.

Now, let me be clear about this D3 mission. Vitamin D3 has been used as a supplement safely for decades. And, as we heard on the last episode, we have established baseline amounts that we can be comfortable as being both effective and safe. So if you currently have a routine that includes D3 you do not need to panic. The purpose of removing D3 is to move our husbandry art closer to perfection. For those of you that get bored easily, do not worry, perfection in the art of chameleon husbandry is far off into the future and I am sure it will not be achieved in my lifetime. So I, at least, will not be out of a podcasting job any time soon. But moving our husbandry closer to nature will provide to us answers to questions we didn’t know to ask and it is what the chameleon developed to need. We can either spend our efforts figuring out what a safe and effective diet of D3 is for each species or else we can figure out a safe and effective level of UVB and let the chameleon do what they naturally do. At least as close as is possible with our attempts to mimic nature.

So, this episode is about figuring out UVB levels. Once we get our UVB levels in the effective range we can do away with D3 in our supplement. To start this exploration we need to understand a couple of concepts about UVB.

The first is that safe and effective levels are two different things. The minimum effective level is the minimum levels that will energize the skin to carry out the D3 conversion process. The maximum safe level is the level you can provide without bringing on the detrimental effects of UVB. Let’s be clear. UVB will kill your chameleon. You know this as sunburns. UVB is that strange thing where there is a certain window in which it is lifegiving for the D3 process and then it becomes death-bringing as it produces burns and cancers. And so finding a balance in UVB is critical. It seems all of life is like this. You can actually kill yourself by drinking too much water. Luckily, the amount of water you have to drink to harm yourself is beyond what most of us could ever force ourselves into. UVB, though, is silent and does its damage before you are aware of it. So we have to be careful.

This is the way we will approach UVB. At UV Index 0 there is no UVB. No danger and no D3 conversion. As we increase our UV Index, this is the method by which we measure UVB, we get closer to conversion and closer to danger. The UV Index in the mornings, when chameleons tend to bask to raise their body temperature, is between 1 to 3. To put this in perspective, this is the level where the World Health Organization says it is safe for us humans to be outside with minimal sun protection. In the early afternoon to later afternoon the UV Index in the typical chameleon habitat climbs between 3-6. This is where the WHO says to start protecting yourself. Late afternoon is when you start seeing those UV Index readings that hit as high as 10 and above. This is where your skin will start burning. But somewhere in the progression, our skin started the D3 conversion and when it had enough it stopped D3 conversion. There was a stage where the UVB was unnecessary, because we had the D3 we needed, but our skin was able to defend against the UVB. And then there was the point where the defenses were breached and burning began. Chameleons are the same way. Each chameleon has a different level of defense to UVB. They will also have different requirements for UVB. This is why we need people dedicated to observing a species over many generations and testing different methods out to learn about that one species. We chameleon people have the situation where chameleons come from all elevations, a wide range of environments, and different places within those environments. We must be cautious when we give chameleon husbandry advice. We need to be giving species husbandry advice with only those that we know.

In an upcoming episode I am going to go deeply into execution of UVB on chameleon cages. In today’s episode I wanted to explore the needs of montane chameleons for UVB. Montane chameleons are much more sensitive to our supplements and develop edema and other nutritionally related health issues with a supplementation routine that a panther chameleon would be fine in. So the montanes, of which Jackson’s Chameleons are members of, are a great group of chameleons to work with to unlock these secrets.

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chameleon supplementation

Ep 125: Chameleon Supplementation Basics

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Supplementation is a complicated subject. We still don’t even understand what humans need for nutrition, much less what a chameleon needs. Most of what we do with chameleons comes from trial and error. The more trials, the more errors we can weed out. Today I start a series on the basics of supplementation so we can all understand what we are trying to do with all those powders.

Transcript (More or Less)

Nutrition is a rat’s nest of interactions between vitamins, minerals, hormones, and light, temperature, and stress. Our chameleons take in a variety of invertebrates and vertebrates that are composed of different nutrients both in body make-up and in their gut. Dust and pollen come along with these insects and through drinking. UVB and heat energies are absorbed. And water makes it all run. It is our job to provide all of this to our chameleon. With what science already has discovered we have a fairly good idea of what elements need to be presented to the chameleon. We can have this all available and let the chameleon decide what he wants and how much! It a ll sounds pretty easy! The good news is that, with a little thought, much of it is as easy as that. Give them a heat lamp and a good enough UVB source and they will regulate that intake. The bad news is that we still don’t know how to make our feeder items properly nutritious. See, it isn’t about just throwing all the vitamins and minerals we can into a powder and making them eat it. There is a need for balance and, in some very important cases, a danger in giving too much. And with very little study to go off of, we hobbyists are left to figure it out.

One way we make up for nutritional deficiencies in our feeder insects is to add supplement powders to the feeder insects. After we gutload them and make them and their gut as nutritious as possible, we add a layer of supplement powder to the outside of the cricket, or whatever insect we are using. The idea is that this supplement compensates for the lack or imbalance of nutrients. Let’s take the most common example. Crickets are the most common feeder insect in the US. This is because they are relatively easy to breed commercially. Luckily, they have been proven to be sufficient to power our chameleons. But crickets have way too much phosphorus compared to the calcium they offer. The latest science pins it at calcium needing to be twice the level of phosphorus for it to be beneficial and not detrimental. Because, just so you know what kind of tightrope over lava we are walking, too much is dangerous. Too little is dangerous. Off balance is dangerous. There are consequences to getting it wrong either way. So we need to add calcium to the crickets to counteract how much phosphorus they naturally provide. This is supplementation.

In the upcoming episodes we will be exploring various aspects of supplementation. I’ll share what we know and what we don’t know. It will be a winding road, but you all have done a pretty good job at sticking with me through all the curves of this fascinating, but sometimes crazy chameleon world. So strap in and let’s figure out where we stand on supplementation.

In this first installment I want to lay down the foundation from which we will go forward. I want to lay down the methods you can use to intelligently analyze a supplementation routine. Once this foundation is laid down we can effectively discuss the supplements out there and the routines to use them.

First, let’s lay out our major considerations when dealing with supplements. And I need to caution you on two things. First, there are many moving parts. I am going to do my best to simplify and generalize without going so far that the information is watered down. Hang on and let’s see how I do. My job here is to bring all the pieces into a coherent picture and distill it all into an understandable concept. To do this with nutrition will be my greatest challenge. Second, this topic is even more complex than can be explained and, unfortunately, more complex than we understand with today’s science. So please take this episode as a first most basic step. My goal for this episode is that you understand enough about nutrition that you can make intelligent decisions about your supplementation product and routine. Asking more experienced people for advice is helpful and where you should start, but nothing can replace the effectiveness of understanding it yourself and making your own decisions. We have done many episodes on nutrition so this is looking at it from another perspective. And, we will continue to explore this subject for the entire life of this podcast. This is a growing science and understanding will change! Now, as I said, in this episode I am going to be distilling things down into basics. We cannot ignore that all the items I do not talk about today also are critical for everything to work, but we need to start somewhere.

As we look at each of the components I will make a point of explaining how the chameleon gets this in the wild and what the danger of overdose is. These two items are related as if we provide the element as the chameleon would normally get it in the wild then we are able to use the naturally occurring checks and balances within the chameleon’s body to prevent overdose. If we provide the element in a different manner and we bypass the normal checks and balances within the chameleon’s body then we must be very careful not to give too much or we can kill our chameleon. It is that serious. In this overview, we will look at three main elements: Calcium, Vitamin D3, and Vitamin A. We will then take a look at the supplements available and do some real world analysis on what they offer us.

 

So, let’s jump in and start with the most important components to supplementation. The first is calcium.

Calcium is a building block for our bones and critical for proper organ function. It is so important that there is no debate as to using it as a supplement. Calcium is a curious mineral as it is so plentiful all around, but we are not sure how chameleons get their calcium. Insects are usually poor sources of calcium and vertebrates with those calcium skeletons are rare prey items. Whatever the source of calcium, babies need a lot of it and they provide the biggest challenge to explain how they get it. Possibilities include certain rare insect species and invertebrates which do have calcium, licking dust infused water from leaves, and eating insects which have plants that contain calcium in their gut. Whatever the path, one thing that is important to this discussion is that we know that calcium in the wild is ingested orally. So this means that our oral supplementation of calcium is giving it to them in a way that they were designed to take it in. And calcium overdose from calcium itself has not been a problem for us. I am sure we could give too much of anything, but our main problem with causing hypercalcaemia (which is too much calcium in the blood stream) is with too much Vitamin D3 which facilitates the absorbtion of calcium from the gut. Otherwise unused calcium is just flushed out of the system. We hear about how we humans can takes too much calcium carbonate (aka Tums), but I have not heard of creating hypercalcaemia in chameleons with just plain calcium. The take away here is that calcium can be dusted every feeding without it being a health issue. There are other things we will worry about.

Now, there is a balance we must be familiar with. And that is with phosphorus. This is also an important element in building our, and our chameleons’, bones. The thing is that calcium and phosphorus must be in a certain balance. You need to have a two parts calcium to one part phosphorus balance. Crickets, and many of our feeder insects, have a tiny amount of calcium, but a relatively huge amount of phosphorus. So our feeder insects are naturally high in phosphorus. How do we balance this out? We add calcium powder to the phosphorus high feeder. This is why calcium is supplemented every feeding in every routine I have done or have encountered. And it is important to understand this when shopping for a supplement. In some supplements, they brag about having the 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. Sound good? A perfectly balanced supplement! Well, no, because if you put a perfectly balanced supplement on an imperfectly balanced feeder insect you can never get the proper balance. This is why we need to be aware of what is important. And, don’t worry, at the end of this episode I will go over some major brands and we will discuss the pros and cons of each. We’ll tie it all together in the end.

 

So, do we need to supplement the rare feeder that has calcium, such as the Black Soldier Fly larva? No, you do not have the supplement calcium on BSF larva as they, as far as the studies we have available, already are balanced enough. It will not hurt anything to add more calcium to them, but I don’t for a totally different reason. The more powder we put on our feeders the more we throw off their hydration value. Chameleons get a significant amount of hydration from the food they eat and we throw that off with all this powder that they have to then use up their water stores to rehydrate. This is not a real problem to worry about because, unlike the wild, we provide plenty of water on a daily basis. But, it never hurts to give their body what they expect. I do not know how much value this actually brings, but if my chameleons end up living twice as long I am going to attribute it to this natural hydration and start my own chameleon husbandry cult. Stay tuned for membership information.

 

Any discussion about calcium quickly becomes a discussion about Vitamin D3.

Vitamin D3 is the main component that allows the body to extract calcium from the gut and bring it into the body. There the calcium is directed to go where it needs to go which is mostly to the bones where it is used for structure and is stored to be released as needed for proper organ function. Vitamin D3 is created in the chameleon’s body. The body uses the energy from a very specific narrow wavelength band of ultraviolet light and through a process which goes from the skin to the liver to the kidney, creates the end vitamin D3 product.

Vitamin D3 is a fat soluble vitamin which means it is stored in the body. Here is where it gets important. Vitamin D3 is manufactured by the body and stored. The body measures the levels of D3 and turns on and off manufacturing to maintain a certain level. The problem is that there is no mechanism for restricting the amount of D3 absorbed from the gut. This is not a problem in nature because there is very little dietary vitamin D3 around to be eaten. There are small amounts here and there, but not enough in the normal chameleon diet to require evolution to build a defense mechanism from dietary D3. Now, you see where this is going. By us giving dietary D3 we bypass the natural checks and balances and the chameleon’s body will store vitamin D3 into overdose. So if we give supplements that have dietary D3 then we are responsible for providing a safe amount. Except no one knows what a safe amount is for each species. And if we did, our delivery mechanism of powder on an insect which will fall off with a function of time is grossly inaccurate. That said, Vitamin D3 has been used in supplements for decades and has been used effectively and safely. It was dietary D3 that allowed indoor chameleon breeding before the advent of the UVB light.

Fat soluble vitamins such as D3 and A, which we will get to soon, can, when in excess, cause a condition known as edema. This is where the body reacts to the imbalance by retaining excess fluid. This is often seen as a bulging fluid collar around the neck. We got this a lot in montane chameleons such as Jackson’s Chameleons, any of the high altitude Cameroon species, johnstoni, etc.. Panthers and veileds seemed to have more of a resistance to this condition. So the dietary D3 which allowed indoor keeping of chameleons was causing issues in some species. The great news with Vitamin D3 is that we have enough UVB technology that we do not have to play that guessing game any more. With the powerful UVB lamps and the Solarmeter 6.5 to measure the effective UVB levels we can now tune our environments to where full vitamin D3 requirements can go through the natural channels. So you may ask, why do most supplementation routines we see include dietary D3 in them? Two reasons. 1) most people do not have solarmeters to dial in the levels so there is a level of nervousness and 2) for all of our collective bravado talking on UVB, there seems to be a lack of faith that it actually works and people want that safety net. To that I say, go ahead and have the safety net. Supplementation once or twice or four times a week according to species and amount of D3 in your supplement..I also want to add that you can get rid of D3 in your supplementation. People that provide a UV Index of at least 3 at the basking branch can do away with D3 in their diet . I know people will be nervous to try this without the D3 safety net. But I am not the only one who has done this successfully. You can too. It does take a little effort because you have to make sure that you are getting at least UVI 3 at the basking branch so there is some fine tuning that needs to be done. Chameleon keepers will recognize this as something we have to do with just about every other aspect of husbandry so this isn’t anything new. And this is where we should all be.

 

Now, to all you people out there giving advice, it probably is a good idea to keep a dose of a supplement with D3 in there one or two times a month just to make sure bases are covered. If you are talking to a beginner you need to have as simple of a routine as possible with the most margin for error. If you are only telling them the bulb strength to get like 5.0 or 12% and aren’t guiding them further then a safety net is a good thing. We’ll talk about specifics per species in a little bit. We have to take into account the amount of D3 as well.

 

And for those keepers listening who are invested in the art of chameleon husbandry enough that you have a Solarmeter 6.5 and are monitoring the UVB levels, I invite you to get a range between UVI 3 and 6 and back off of the vitamin D3. Try it. It works. And this removes an unnatural part of your husbandry. If you are going to go through all the expense and effort to set up a solid UVB system, you may as well get the full intended benefit from it! The ability for us to emerge out of giving D3 orally and into providing it through the natural means that the body expects is a victory for captive husbandry. Let’s take full advantage of it.

 

 

Vitamin A: Our final member of the big three is Vitamin A. Vitamin A is, by far, the most troublesome of our supplement components. And this will take a little explanation. You probably have heard of something called pre-formed vitamin A. This is vitamin A in what we call the Retinol form and can be used by the body to create retinaldehyde and retinoic acid which contribute to eye and skin health. Pro-vitamin A are things called carotenoids. The most famous of these being Beta Carotene. This is what gives carrots their orange color. And our bodies use Carotenoids to generate retinol. This is great for humans. We can eat pre-formed or pro-vitamin A. The danger with pre-formed vitamin A, or getting retinol from animal organs is that there is no checks and balances to ensure it stays at a safe level. Pro-vitamin A, though – the carotenoids, must be transformed by the body and the body will only do that when it is necessary to replenish the stores. Yes, Vitamin A, like D3, is a fat soluble vitamin so it takes a front seat on our watch list here.

Vitamin A, or retinol, is rare in insects as far as we know at this time. So it is assumed that insectivores get their vitamin A from ingesting insects that have eaten plants and the carotenoids within. And then the carotenoids are transformed into vitamin A and all is good. But, unfortunately, it cannot be that easy. In a 2002 study, Dr. Dierenfeld, with help from Dr. Ferguson who is well known in chameleon circles attempted to figure out the relationship of carotenoids and vitamin A in panther chameleons. The end result was unexpected that dietary beta carotene did not seem to be converted into vitamin A. This left big question marks as to how chameleons got their vitamin A. In a subsequent 2003 roundtable discussion printed in the Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, Dr. Ferguson hypothesized that female panther chameleons could be driven to eat vertebrate lizards for the preformed vitamin A to provide that within the eggs to give the babies enough vitamin A until they get big enough to eat vertebrates on their own. He emphasized that there is more investigation that needs to be made to determine whether and under what conditions chameleons can “do the vertebrate thing” and convert carotenoids to useable vitamin A.

 

Although vertebrate ingestion is certainly possible for panther chameleons and larger chameleon species that hypothesis gets improbable for the smaller species of chameleons. That does not mean that Parson’s Chameleons and pygmy chameleons do the same conversion so there is room for different methods across the different species. Does the fact that we know next to nothing about such a basic part of chameleon nutrition make you wonder how we are bumbling through this whole thing? Well, it is certainly an adventure!

 

Now, it is good to be aware that the 2002 Dierenfeld study which showed that panther chameleons did not convert beta carotene has been oversimplified across the veterinary community to the effect that allchameleons do not convert anycarotenoids and require preformed Vitamin A. It is true that this statement is valid within veterinary circles. The job of a veterinarian is not to extract the secrets of the universe. They need to get your chameleon back up to health. Up until recently, the only carotenoid used in supplements has been beta carotene. So, practically speaking, there would be no supplement available to their clients that would provide anything that would convert to vitamin A. With all the tools available to bring this chameleon back to health and maintain health, pre-formed vitamin A is the only thing that has been proven to work. So, until someone somewhere proves that there is a more effective method to cure and prevent the effects of vitamin A deficiency (this is called hypo-vitaminosis A) the veterinary community will continue to advise their members that chameleons cannot convert carotenoids.

 

That is what works for their purposes. We in the chameleon community have different purposes. We have more of a long term vision of striving to provide as natural of a husbandry as possible. Dietary pre-formed A is not, as far as we know, natural for chameleons. And this is more than just a high ideal we strive for. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin and is dangerous and deadly in overdose. By switching to the correct carotenoids we can use our chameleons’ internal system to ensure that they always have the exact level they need. No matter how much carotenoids we give them it won’t matter because they will shut off production when they have enough. Cracking this mystery has the direct benefit of healthier chameleons. Just as we have worked so hard to get vitamin D3 out of the diet, so we need to continue to work to get preformed vitamin A out of the diet. But, we are not there yet. So preformed vitamin A is something we still need to discuss on this episode.

 

Though I do want to say there is work done and there are successes on this front. We do know that other herps convert other carotenoids so it is not unrealistic to assume that chameleons would do so as well. It could be that it takes a combination, or balance, of carotenoids to convert. I have raised veiled chameleons up to successful reproduction using only the Arcadia EarthPro-A supplementation and gutloading. So there was no pre-formed vitamin A supplementation. Mario Jungmann has his complete long term breeding facility thriving on gutloaded insects and a mix of calcium and bee pollen. So it can be done. I am personally experimenting across different species using the Arcadia EarthPro-A, which specifically includes a wide range of carotenoids for vitamin A production. But you can’t judge a supplementation routine until you test it over multiple generations. And then you have tested it for only that species. And then individuals within clutches will respond differently so you need multiple generations to really get a feel for what is going on. So I will report what is working for me, but I am not to the point where I can speak with the confidence that someone like Ed Kammer of Kammerflage Kreations with eight years of experience testing one routine with one species under controlled conditions can speak.  But that is to be expected. Ed needs as bullet proof a system as possible for beginners to be successful. He is not interested in great ideas. He needs generations of proof. He will not get behind a supplementation routine until it has at least three years and two generations of success behind it. Me? I am working on the cutting edge where there is an enormous amount of ambiguity. Both have their place and their value. The veterinary community, Kammerflage Kreations, and this podcast. We all have different reasons that drive what we do. So when you go out into the social media jungle, realize that there are many ways that work for different purposes. Me being frustrated that the vet community gave this subject the broadbrush does not mean they are wrong to do what they did. It is saving chameleons lives and that is what they care about. That is their job! The Kammerflage routine that includes D3 and A has been refined over years and chameleon generations to provide the simplest way to raise healthy panther chameleons. My drive to get D3 and A out of our supplementations does not make that routine wrong. It is the most tested and proven out method we in the community have. And if I hit dead ends in my quest to rid us of D3 and A that does not mean I shouldn’t do what I am doing. All these approaches have their place in our community. And they are not exclusive. Ed Kammer and I just had a conversation about how we can reduce our dependence on preformed vitamin A. He is just as interested in giving better nutrition as I am. But I can tell you that whatever I/the community/whomever comes up with as a true step forward will go through two generations and three years of testing before he will publicly get behind it. And that is how it should be. I and the people who are dedicated to naturalistic husbandry are on the front lines testing these things out. We have the experience necessary to fix the plane while we are flying it. Ed is working with people who are just starting out with chameleons and need the sure thing. Do you want adventure and do you feel comfortable figuring things out? Well, you have come to the right place! Do you want security and the sure thing? Meet my friend Ed. We are all part of the same effort. And I don’t want to make it seem like I am the vanguard of this naturalistic diet movement. I talk a lot. I mean, that is my job here. But people like Arcadia’s John Courteney-smith have dedicated their professional lives to pushing us forward. It is no coincidence that John has been a frequent guest here. Our missions are closely aligned. The thing with John is, he is distracted by having to consider all the lesser reptiles. I am lucky that I am able to concentrate on chameleons – the purest manifestation of awesomeness.

 

Magnesium. Now I want to bring up one more part of this. And that is magnesium. Everything is complex. And there are many other interactions that are going on. So much so that your head would spin and I would break down sobbing into my keyboard trying to chart it all out. This is not simple. I’ll bring up one example and that is of magnesium. This little heard from mineral tells the calcium where to go in the body. Without the right amount of magnesium you get calcium deposits in strange places.  So it is very difficult to determine what the problem is without a bloodtest. Lack of one vitamin and overdose of another vitamin can have similar external effects. Do you see the danger of being so quick to diagnose vitamin overdose or deficiencies when you are not a vet? We have to be careful with what we do with a little bit of information.

 

So with that background, let's take a look at the field of supplements we have to wade through.

We start with calcium. This is the easiest. Just about every supplement manufacturer has plain calcium. The one thing you have to watch out for is that many manufacturers have two products. Calcium and Calcium with D3. Just make sure you are getting the right one for your purposes. Plain calcium is great for dusting every feeding because, we do not have to worry about overdose by giving calcium and we need to balance out the high levels of phosphorus in the most common feeder insects. So, not only is it safe, but it is necessary.

 

Now, while we are on the topic of every feeding supplementation I want to bring up bee pollen. Bee pollen has been a staple in the chameleon community forever. It is recognized as having an incredibly rich blend of nutrients that it is a chameleon super food. And, if you have ever seen how excited your chameleon is to snag a bee you can imagine that they ingest a great deal of bee pollen in the wild. You can use bee pollen as a gutload, but also as a supplement. It doesn’t stick by itself, but when you mix it with calcium it becomes a great powder. You have to crush it up. I put calcium and bee pollen in a mortar and crush it up with a pestel. My wife makes fun of me for not using premade powder, but I enjoy this connection with the ancient stone age chameleon keepers that crushed up their powder supplements for their chameleons. Never forget where you come from. Although, I admit to embracing my 21 century luxury and not grinding up limestone for calcium like they had to.

 

Though it does get easier than all this. The power I have been using for the last couple years is the Arcadia EarthPro-A. And since there are no fat soluble vitamins in this supplement I can safely use this every feeding with worrying about how much is going in. EarthPro-A has bee pollen and has been formulated to have a wide range of carotenoids. With the building blocks but none of the final form, it is safe to give every feeding. So that makes getting calcium and bee pollen in very easy. I’d like to clarify something. Arcadia EarthPro-A does not have preformed vitamin A. It has a wide variety of carotenoids that reptiles can use to convert to vitamin A. We’ll talk more about this when we talk about vitamin A because this is important.

 

Calcium is often included with other vitamins and minerals. If you are using supplements that have something in them besides calcium check for phosphorus. As we touched on before, calcium and phosphorus need to be in a 2:1 ratio. This is why we have to add calcium to crickets. But check the ingredients list to see if the supplement has phosphorus. Most d  o not.The noteable exceptions are ZooMed’s Reptivite product and RepCal’s Herptivite. Repcal’s Herptivite goes the beta carotene route so the only use for us is calcium and there are much better alternatives so this will be the last you hear about Heptivite on this episode. The ZooMed Reptivite doing 2:1 calcium/phosphorus ratio is personally disappointing because Reptivite without D3 is one of only two commercially available supplements that has Vitamin A, but not Vitamin D3. As UVB has solved our need for D3, I’d like a solution for vitamin A. Since it pains me to accept the phosphorus hit I mix in some of my Arcadia EarthPro-A or just plain calcium. But more on that later. The point is to watch the label for phosphorus. We chameleon keepers don’t want that in our supplement because we have an excess of it already in most of our feeder insects . Though I suppose I need to include the caveat, if your feeder insects lack phosphorus then go ahead and look into a supplement with a 2:1 ratio. ZooMed’s Reptivite would be the first place I would look for this.

 

But now it is time to get to Vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is easily found in supplements and it is added to calcium to provide the combination necessary for making the calcium useable. Obviously, I now run a D3 free household. I have supplements that have D3 in them for use only when I am experimenting, but I am for all practical purposes a D3 free Jurassic Park. If your adviser wants you to include D3 in your routine or you just want the safety net then you need to consider the amount of D3 you are giving. Excess D3 will cause problems including edema. And montane species such as Jackson’s chameleons are especially sensitive to these fat soluble vitamins. It appears that species such as panther chameleons, veiled chameleons, and carpet chameleons, can handle Repashy Calcium Plus every feeding. This means that they are given doses, if we can call it that, of 20k International Units/lb of D3 along with 200k IU/lb of Vitamin A every other day. This is from long term breeders keeping them under a variety of lights from T8 to T5.

And here is where we need to take a serious look at UVB. We know that UVB hits the skin, gets transformed, goes to the liver where it is changed some more, and then to the kidneys where it is changed again into the final form that is used in the body for the calcium absorption. If there is enough D3 in the system then no more is made. If we give dietary D3 we bypass this system and that is why we are working towards getting out of D3. But a question we also need to consider is whether the body reads the levels of dietary D3 and shuts down production if there is enough in the system regardless of where it comes from. This is a worthwhile question because if the body accepted the dietary D3 then, if you gave enough it wouldn’t matter what UVB light you are using. As long as there was less than “too much” D3 given dietarily you could have various levels of UVB and it wouldn’t result in overdose to have higher levels of UVB. It would just be more UVB that is being ignored by the body. Ed Kammer of Kammerflage Kreations tested giving Repashy Calcium Plus to chameleons under Reptisun 5.0 T8s and Reptisun 5.0 T5s, both in single bulb reflectors and noticed no change in outcome. One possible explanation is that the D3 levels in Calcium plus are sufficient or else the T8 light was enough to top it off. So going to a higher power UVB light had no effect because the body just ignored the more intense UVB. The significance of this is that you would have a certain safe area to work with as far as D3 supplementation and that we could take the Repashy Calcium Plus levels of 20k IU/lb   every other day as safe. Now, this is not meant as me giving a revelation and putting an axiom down in stone. When we talk about levels we have to talk about how many feeders per feeding, how soon the feeders get eaten, and how densely dusted the feeders are. This is a discussion for those of you that want to dig in and figure this stuff out. The one take away from this is that we have an idea of the safe levels and if your D3 supplement is 20k IU/lb or less it should be okay for panthers/veileds/carpets, and like species.

Jackson’s Chameleons are a different story. They tend towards edema at those levels. For Jackson’s Chameleons, Repashy Calcium Plus LoD only has 8k IU/lb and has been shown to work with Jackson’s a couple times a month. This amount is tribal knowledge. A long time ago I used Repashy Calcium LoD with Jackson’s Chameleons that were outdoors. I would never do that now, but there is situation where I was learning.  The chameleons were healthy and there was no edema. So this is where I am suspecting that higher UVB is not going to create a D3 overdose situation if dietary D3 levels are within the acceptable body level limits.

But please consider, if you are spending so much energy working the strong T5 lighting – especially if you are going to the higher powers of UVB  like 12% or 10.0– consider just putting this whole mess behind you and going full natural D3.

 

Okay, who out there has their heads spinning trying to hold this all together? Well, it is nice to have company.

Is anyone out there wondering what an International Unit is? You will love this. It is a measure of biological activity. So the mass of an IU of vitamin A will be different than the mass of an IU of vitamin D3. Don’t even try to fully grasp it at this point. It really doesn’t matter what it means as long as every supplement manufacturer is using the same system. This way we can make experiments and we know the relative strengths. That is all that is really important to understand about International Units.

I do want to say for vitamin d3 that It is also important to keep track of vitamin A in the supplements. We know there is an interaction between D3 and A so this is a possible characteristic we need to keep an eye on. If we have too much vitamin A it might skew our test with vitamin D3. And then we couldn’t recreate it with a supplement that had only D3. Once again we take our supplements as a whole and test them as they are as a whole.

 

Vitamin A is even more mysterious, but easier in some ways. When planning out your supplementation schedule look at the ingredients list. Some manufacturers include beta carotene in their supplements and call it vitamin A. We chameleon people, with what we know now, can’t accept that. Noteable products with beta carotene instead of vitamin A are Rep-Cals Herptivite (oops, I said I wasn’t going to talk about that one again) and Exo-Terra’s Multi-vitamin. Although having beta carotene is not a bad thing in itself and some supplements such as Repashy’s Calcium Plus and Fluker’s Repta Vitamin have both beta carotene and vitamin A so you don’t have to throw something out because it has beta carotene.

The same considerations we went through with vitamin D3 apply here as well. The Repashy Calcium plus and the Calcium Plus LoD that we have tested with those species listed also have vitamin A so the limits established there can be used as a foundation for figuring out vitamin A levels.

If you are going for a Vitamin D3 free routine then finding a supplement for A without D3 is actually challenging. You have two commercially made powders. Reptivite without D3 and repashy Vitamin A. Reptivite without D3 gives 100k IU/lb compared to Calcium plus at 200k IU/lb and Calcium plus LoD at 80k IU/lb. So Reptivite is on the lower end of these widely tested Repashy products. The other supplement available is the Repashy Vitamin A plus. No D3, but this powder has 2 million IU/lb so that is quite the leap beyond the 200k IU/lb reference level. I did use the Repashy Vitamin A for a little while. I would dust one cricket in this vitamin A, make sure it was eaten, and then go on with the standard everyday Arcadia EarthPro. I am now trying the Reptivite and cursing under my breath that they included phosphorus. I’d like to do a control group of some babies with and some without vitamin A. My last test focused on D3 and A just happened to be part of it. I’d like to specifically show to myself that I can use the carotenoids in EarthPro-A and get rid of vitamin A in our supplements. Yes I did it once under controlled conditions with four veiled chameleons. That is a good indication, but I do want to repeat this for more individuals over a couple generations. Ed Kammer has pretty much set the standard for how a supplementation routine should be tested. I think we all ought to step up to the plate and do the same with our favorite routine before we get too emotionally invested in it.

 

Okay, dust settles. What should we do. Well, let’s summarize

Calcium? Dust every feeding. Plain calcium is pretty much the same across the manufacturers. Pick the bottle with your favorite color. Successful breeders, including me, include bee pollen with the every feeding dusting. You can make your own by mixing calcium and bee pollen or just use Arcadia EarthPro-A for the calcium and bee pollen together.

 

Vitamin D3: I’d love it if we all provided between UVI 3 and 6 and did away with D3. If you want to have a safety net then a suitable calcium with D3 supplement can be used every month to every week depending on species. I actually like Repashy Calcium plus LoD because I can use it with my Jackson’s which is montane, but also with panther chameleons. Kammerflage has shown that Panther chameleons are able to take much more so I know I have a lot of room to work with and not worry about overdose. ZooMed Reptivite with D3 has just a little bit more D3 (and A) than Calcium Plus LoD. So they can be considered equivalent. Except that Reptivite has phosphorus. And yes, I’ll keep repeating myself because I am disappointed.

 

Vitamin A: Obviously another one I am working to get out of the diet. I am currently working on figuring out if one or many of the carotenoids in Arcadia EarthPro-A will do the trick for us chameleon people. I am currently working with Jackson’s and veileds as my test groups. I’ll expand to panthers once I have the veileds down. It looks good so far, but I want to have a much better understanding before I claim any public victory. To give preformed vitamin A I have used Repashy Vitamin A under very controlled conditions of one well dusted feeder insect per two months because of it’s high levels. I am going to try Reptivite without D3 as well. It has a lower level of A so I feel like I have more control over amount going into the system. And, yes, I mix in plain calcium to balance out the added phosphorus in the Reptivite.

 

Magnesium: Both the Reptivite and Repashy Calcium Plus products have magnesium in them, but, for a regimen without D3 or A, Arcadia Calcium/Magnesium is a special blend developed to make sure magnesium is there in force. I do use the Arcadia product as that is best for my purposes. I have only recently become aware of magnesium so it is something I am keeping an eye on, but cannot say much at this time. Other than that the EarthPro-A and Ca/Mg routine is working for me.

 

How to advise

To close this up I want to talk about how you should go about advising other people about supplementation. If you have waded through this podcast and are still listening then you have shown tenacity. It is frustrating having so many questions and so few answers. So much of what we are doing is a guess. And the lack of solid answers leaves a wide open space for people to make up what they want to say is right.

So what can you do? Here are a few points

  • Stick to your experience. You have a supplementation routine. Pay attention to it and the effects on your chameleon. Speak about those experiences. With supplementation so confusing it is best not to decide that your experience with a few individuals equates to how chameleons should be globally taken care of. Speak truthfully and openly about your experience. Use words like “this is what works for me” instead of “this is the one true way”.
  • Realize your experience translates. If you use Repashy Calcium Plus and are trying to figure out how to help someone that is using ZooMed Reptivite, well then you can look at the ingredients of both and realize that Calcium plus = 2 times reptivite with D3 and A. Now you have a direct way to make your experience relevant to their situation. Just make sure you look at the units.
  • Acknowledge that different groups have different priorities. This is not a zero sum game. There can be multiple effective methods and approaches. If the end result is a healthy chameleon then it has achieved the definition of success in chameleon husbandry. Let it live and just concentrate on your own studies and experiments. If your method works for you then it has achieved the definition of success in chameleon husbandry and there is nothing that is taken away by other methods also existing.
  • The more you know the more you know what you don’t know. Just listen to the episodes where I interview the master level breeders. Do you notice none of them say X is what you should do? They just share what works for them. They don’t try and force anything on you or make fun of or disparage what other people have used successfully. Even when something is working for them they are hesitant to say this is the solution. Because they know there are many variables are at play. Just go back and listen to the interview with Frank Payne with Furcifer minor. I loved that episode because in it you could hear the humility of a true expert. Aspire to that. I’ll be publishing an episode with Ed Kammer of Kammerflage Kreations next week. You are going to hear the same humility from a man whose expertise could easily make him the world’s top authority in panther chameleon captive husbandry. And I can tell you he will be uncomfortable with that kind of praise because he knows how much he does not know and is careful to speak on only that which he has proven over and over again to himself. Imagine the community we would have if we all aspired to that.

 

Thank you for joining me here. If you came for answers then I have responded like a Madagascar exporter – sure, you can have five answers, but you also have to take seven questions and three unanswerable mysteries. At the very least, I hope you came away with an understanding of what is important in our supplements and things to look for. There are many opinions swirling around. It can be very confusing. But we will have more supplementation episodes where we will put some of these concepts into practice to try them out. And we can discuss the different aspects.

So, this week, take a look at your routine. You should be able to give it a high level analysis. Read the posts of others and analyze (to yourself) their methods. Before long you’ll find questions that come up to ask that will help you further your understanding. And that is how we learn from each other and move forward.

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Jacksons Chameleon and chameleon hydration

Ep 89: Naturalistic Hydration for Chameleons

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Transcript (More or Less)

Intro to Holistic Hydration

It is time to revisit our understanding of hydration in chameleons. We are well aware of hydration during the day, but that is only half of the story. Today we are going to talk about hydration over the entire 24 hours in the day to form a holistic approach to a captive hydration strategy.

 

Hydration is important Because

Hydration has always been recognized as a critical husbandry parameter. Proper hydration is the foundation that must be solid and in place before any sort of success with chameleons can be realized. The dangers of dehydration are not a surprise. A lack of this critical element leads to organs not functioning and a breakdown of bodily functions. Thus proper hydration must be at the forefront of our husbandry practices. As with all of our captive parameters, we take our cues from nature and do our best to recreate that in our homes. This is important because they spent 100 million years evolving within certain parameters. Some conditions they tolerate and some they depend on. Of course, to complicate things, they depend on certain conditions to a certain point and then they are just tolerating them. So we definitely have our work cut out for us to decipher this riddle. But as critical as hydration is to health, it is well worth deep study.

 

The complete hydration cycle

I want to start off this segment by reminding you that there are between one and two hundred chameleon species living from the deserts to the frigid mountain peaks and everywhere in between. There is no one chameleon environment. So we are talking in generalities and will put together a hydration plan that will work for just about any chameleon. But if you are getting a fringe species such as namaquaensis it goes without saying that you will be doing much more species specific research. Though for veiled chameleons, panthers, jackson’s and any species you are remotely likely to find in a pet store, what I talk about today will apply.

So, let’s start with the basics of hydration.Throughout the day, chameleons encounter moisture in four ways. Rain, dew, humidity, and food.

Rain is the most obvious. The rain level each species gets varies with environment. It is common for there to be both a wet and a dry season where there is a deluge of rain during the wet season and very little rain during the dry season. In some environments, the dry seasons are so traumatic to the environment that it can wipe out chameleon populations. Chamaeleo calyptratus is literally killed off by the dry season starving them and blasting them with sun. The entire world’s population of Furcifer labordi doesn’t even wait to be killed by the dry season. They just hatch at the beginning of the wet season, grow, mate, lay eggs, and then die before the dry season can kill them. Other chameleons brumate or hibernate to make it through the harsh dry season. But it is the milder dry seasons and the chameleons that go about their lives during these times that have puzzled us the most over the years. Why are our chameleons drinking so much during the day in captivity when they appear to have no rain in the wild? How do they get their hydration in the wild?

The answer is that there is a great deal that goes on during the night. The humidity spikes and the temperature drops. This lowers the dew point and water condenses on surfaces in what we call dew. Thus the chameleon wakes up to moisture available to be lapped up. This is not a totally satisfying answer as it is hard to imagine there being enough dew to be available to supply the same amount of water as some of the long drinking sessions we see in captivity. To address that we go back to what creates the dew in the first place – the high nighttime humidity. Reports from the field share that Even in the dry season, nighttime fog or mist rolls in and settles until it is chased away by the sun the next morning. The chameleon is immersed by the high humidity and breathing in the moisture. This is our most overlooked aspect of chameleon hydration. It is well known that we lose water through breathing. I was amused to find a UK government website educating about condensation and mold explaining to people that just by breathing they contribute  ½ a pint of water to the air each night. But what about reptiles? Do ectotherms – or cold-blooded animals – do the same? And who makes a lizard breathe into a breath analyzer? Well, who do you think? Our tireless army of scientists whose job it is to answer these kind of questions!! In conversations with Dr. Chris Anderson, he relayed that that there was a study where an anole species was measured to lose .43% of its body weight per hour through its breath. So I think it is safe to assume this dynamic is the same in chameleons. Here is where we need to pay attention. That high humidity surrounding the chameleon would reduce or completely halt the moisture loss during the night due to breathing. If the air is as moist as the lungs there just isn’t the water transfer from the body. And it can go a step further. The lung membrane can absorb and pass through medicines we nebulize and nicotine we smoke and, if there is a humidity imbalance between the air breathed in and the lungs we could even get moisture absorbed from breathing. The important dynamic here is that nature has given chameleons a way to not lose moisture during the night so the dew in the morning is really just to “top it off”. This explains why we see so much drinking in captivity during the day. They are trying to make up for the moisture lost during the night. In our indoor homes our humidity comfort level varies depending on temperature but hovers between 30 and 60%. Our heating and cooling tends to suck moisture out of the air so this creates a situation where the chameleon wakes up like we do – lighter due to water loss. You can do this experiment with yourself. Weigh yourself before going to bed and then in the morning before going to the bathroom and see that you lost weight overnight! I did this experiment with two male veiled chameleons. I weighed them just after they went to sleep at night and then just before the lights went back on in the morning. One slept under a fogger and one slept in normal ambient humidity that ranged from 50% to 60%. The dry male went from 45 grams to 44 grams – so he lost a gram, presumably through water loss because he did not poop during the night. The male that slept in the fog maintained his 52 grams all night. Now please understand that this was a standard kitchen grade gram scale so it is not worth calculating percentages, but it is enough to know that this phenomena is easy to check yourself.

 

How we can recreate this complete hydration cycle in captivity?

First let’s set up a target strategy and then we will figure out how to pull it off with the standard equipment available to us at this time. Midnight is as good as any place to start. We are looking for a fog bank to roll through our cage from midnight until early morning while the chameleon is sleeping. It is after midnight that it gets thick. When the chameleon wakes up we would like to have dew waiting on the leaves. The morning basking lamp needs to come on and start the drying process. One thing we have known for a while is that surfaces that are constantly wet will cause problems in the form of mold, bacteria and fungus. The cage surfaces absolutely need to dry out. And then, sometime in the middle of the day, let’s give an afternoon rain shower. Since we are dedicating ourselves to the study of their natural environment and conditions let’s time it so we give those afternoon rainshowers only during the months of their wet season. Research your species. For example, Veiled chameleons in Yemen have their rainy season from April through August while Kenyan species such as Jacksonii xantholophus actually have two rainy seasons from March to May and from October through December. Your love for chameleons is going to make you worldly without even leaving your home!

 

Fog at night

Okay, it is now time to execute on this. Our first task is to create a fog bank at night. This is going to be the most difficult part for those of us with screen cages. Screen cages are great to make sure that the cage does not get muggy and stagnant. It does this by air flow. Well, that works perfectly for our humidity if your home is between 90% and 100% relative humidity. Unless you live in a greenhouse I can almost guarantee this is not the case. So we are going to be fighting against the airflow. This is why you see many advanced keepers keeping their chameleons in at least partially solid sided cages. Solid sides cages give us the ability to control the humidity in our chameleon’s environment with the recognition that our humidity is not always best for them. But it doesn’t mean you have to throw away your screen cage. You can get more humidity control by enclosing sides of your screen cage. Anything from clear plastic painter’s tarp to cleanly cut plastic panels can be attached to the sides and back of your cage to give you a pocket to work with. I have found success going a step further and putting clear plastic on the front as well leaving only the bottom front service door and the top panel screen. This way I am able to keep my humidity in with just enough airflow to keep things moving.

The fog itself can be created with a humidifier. There are cool mist humidifiers that whip water into the air using a fan and there are ultra-sonic humidifiers that create a fog. Cool-mist can cover a larger area, but ultrasonic fog can be focused much easier. I use ultrasonic humidifiers in my set-ups. The fog coming out is so fine that it is easily breathed in and it takes a while before it starts getting surfaces wet. We have all night for this so I am in no hurry. The one thing you have to deal with concerning he ultrasonic fog is that it can be too focused and only affect a small area of your cage. The more ventilation you have the more this will be a problem. A fully screen cage can easily have a small beam of fog going through the middle of the cage and dissipating before doing the chameleon in the corner any good. I suggest adapting the cage to contain humidity rather than just humidifying the entire room. As cool as that sounds, take it from a guy who had this bright idea and turned his garage into a very cool fog bank, standard walls, paint, and everything else in the room is not meant to be immersed in fog like your chameleon is. I was very fun while it lasted, but this is the reason why it is good to listen to the people who have been around the block a couple times. You can avoid some of the learning experiences that have made us such interesting folk to talk with.

Dew in Morning

You may get a layer of dew as a result of your humidifying efforts during the night. But I like to make sure by using a mister to lay down a coating of dew before the morning lights turn on. So 30 minutes before he lights come on I run the mister for another minute

Drying out during the day

So we went through all that work to humidify the cage and now we need to dry out the cage. Now you wish you had all that ventilation! As you may gather, our chameleon husbandry is always a give and take. There are no perfect solutions to our husbandry challenges! /any way you go you will have to compensate in some way. So morning is the time for the heat lamp to come on. By midmorning, there should be no wet branches. Constantly wet branches can cause foot infections and it will make for an unhygienic environment. Heat must be maintained at a safe basking temperature for the chameleon so if that is not doing the job then you must create more air flow. This can be done by using a fan. But create a gentle breeze. Point the fan so it blows across the top panel, not directly at the cage

Afternoon Rain shower

In nature when an afternoon shower is on its way the chameleon gets many signals. The sky darkens with cloud cover and barometric pressure changes. Granted, the weather tends to be harder to predict closer to the equator, but there are some rain drops and then more so when you gather all these bits of information together you pretty much have an idea there will be some rain. Our chameleons aren’t getting that warning when we suddenly flip on a misting system. One second your chameleon is comfortably basking and the next he is suddenly blasted with mist. If you are replicating an afternoon shower, let’s do our best to give some indication of what is coming. I have done this by turning off the heat lamp 15 to 30 minutes before my misters will go on. I might add in turning on the fogger right before the mister to further cool the area down. Even a two minute misting session is enough, but you can make it go as long as you want. If the chameleon has ample foliage to retreat into and you give environmental warnings then your chameleon will choose for itself how it wants to deal with the afternoon shower. After the shower and fogger are turned off I wait for another 15 minutes for turning the heat lamp back on if it is going back on.

And then we come back to the night time.

I have my misters set-up to go off for a minute after the lights are all off. This lays down a good start to the humidifying actions for the night.

I will also indulge my chameleon with back-up hydration. I firmly believe that we should replicate the natural cycle as closely as possible, which we are talking about now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t stack the odds in my favor. I will start a gravity dripper around 8AM that will run a couple hours until the water runs out. This is my insurance. By adhering to the natural cycles I make my husbandry as close to what their body was designed for. By adding in a dripper I am including a failsafe measure, just in case. This also helps me with live plants because I place the dripper over a different plant every day which ensures my plants get watered too!

 

Summary of schedule.

So lets summarize this ideal schedule

The chameleon goes to sleep.

I spray the cage down with the mister for a minute and put down a layer of mist

The fogger comes on around midnight and brings in the fog.

The mister goes off for a minute half an hour before lights come on.

Lights come on

Dripper starts dripping

If I am doing an afternoon shower I turn off heat lamps 15 minutes before the shower

I start the fogger right before the mister

Run the moister for 2 minutes

Fogger and mister go off

Heat lamp goes back on 15 minute after misting is completed.

Lights go off at night and we are back to the start.

 

Before we leave this topic I want to make a case for live plants as part of your hydration strategy. During the day we want the cage to dry out. We can give a humidity back-up by creating a dense network of live plants with appropriate branches to give access. Not only does this give them the important security of not being seen, but using living plants gives us a slight humidity pocket. During the day, plants move nutrients from roots through out the plant by a method called transpiration. The plant moves water to pores on the leaves and lets the water evaporate. This evaporation creates a vacuum in the plant’s vein system which draws the nutrients up. All of this evaporation gives us humidity. The more living plants the more humidity. Now, transpiration only happens during the daytime. Because of natural humidity in the air and the lack of sun, evaporation is much more difficult and the plant switches to guttation. Guttation uses water pressure from the roots to push the nutrients up as opposed to the transpiration pull we know and love during the day. But we are bringing in the fogger big guns to give us the nighttime humidity, so this is okay.

 

So what now? Are you curious enough that you would like to make your hydration a 24 hours strategy? The initial reports, including my own, is that under this regimen, chameleons aren’t observed to drink as much during the day. As side effect is there is also less water being put into the cage. But this really is a no risk thing to try. With the misting and dripper during the day your chameleon will have ample access to hydration. You wouldn’t want to cut back on these thing until you are sure that you are getting the same hydration levels as you were before.

 

New ideas.

So, at this time during this podcast I am going to switch gears and would like to use this as an opportunity to practice how to test new ideas. Be careful whenever testing a new idea so basic to husbandry. Many of us have developed and refined our other husbandry parameters alongside only daytime hydration. Even if this is an unnatural condition, your other husbandry parameters have filled in whatever was lacking. Make sure you don’t break something by fixing something else. This is the exact situation we had with the push for acceptance for solid side enclosures. You can’t just switch out your screen cage and replace it with a glass terrarium. You have to adjust every other parameter that was optimized for screen cages. Heat was more powerful because it had to be. Misting was more frequent because it had to overcome the ventilation. But in a glass terrarium those care parameters would overwhelm the system with deadly results. Likewise with night time hydration we must be cautious because every husbandry parameter is in balance with the others. It doesn’t mean we don’t change! It just means we are trying new methods fully aware that other of our parameters may be affected. So…let’s establish a process  Here is a template to guide your exploration of new ideas. You can use this to monitor the results of any husbandry parameter you want to test.

  • Understand what you want to accomplish. If the change you are implementing does not have a measurable change on your chameleon’s life then it is difficult to say whether you have been successful or not. There has to be some reason why you are changing a parameter and how you will judge success. Are you changing your supplementation? Your UVB bulb? The type of water? What problem are you solving? It is critical to be clear on this because our next task is…
  • How will you measure success? There has to be a way that you are measuring success or that it isn’t working so you can know when you can share this with others or, more importantly, know when to stop! Social media is filled with grand ideas spouted off with no concept as to whether they are appropriate for your particular situation. You need a way to gauge improvement or at least know when you need to protect against something gone wrong.
  • Know the limits. There can be too much and too little of everything. Know what the limits are so you can watch out for when you reach them. You may not know how big the tolerance zone is, but all the more reason to look at for it!

.

So what better activity for us to do together while we still have time is to apply these questions to this holistic hydration strategy. Let’s start with

 

What Do I Want To Accomplish?

By recreating their natural hydration cycle I am trying to prolong their lives. The idea is that by having them in conditions that are as similar to the conditions they evolved with their bodies will experience less long term acclimation stress. So, I am working on ways to extend the lifespans of my captive chameleons. I am going to go ahead and answer the other version of this question:

What am I trying to fix?

My chameleons appear hydrated with my current protocol so this is an important question. Since immediate health is not an issue this is a more long term answer. From the reports from the field, and the well known weather patterns we can tell that chameleons are not offered water every day in the wild. In fact, they go long periods of time without rain. So their natural method of hydration during these times is high humidity during the night and dew on the leaves in the morning. It is reasonable to assume that removing the night time conditions will force the body into a hydration cycle it was not optimized to work in.  Me dehydrating them during the night and requiring them to hydrate during the day is turned around from what they are used to. Now whether losing hydration during the night and having to replenish during the day is a stress or within their tolerance zone or completely irrelevant to them is hard to tell.   There comes a time where what we are doing everyday slowly extends their lives or slowly reduces their lifespan. And there is no way to do a “what if” and know how it would be if I made different decisions in my husbandry. If we as a community embrace this new idea and average life expectancies increase then we have some important information. But if you are trying something new and need to work things out then it is likely there is no history for you to reference. In a case like this, I will place priority to creating as natural of conditions as possible. And if I run across something that brings me closer to their natural environment that is within my reasonable power then that is a good enough reason for me, personally, to try it out.

 

Okay, So, my next challenge:

How will I measure Progress or Success?

If you are decreasing daytime humidity and increasing ventilation to correct husbandry so a respiratory infection does not come back then the end goal is pretty clear and defined! Moving your chameleon cage from the floor to the top of the dresser to stop him from continuously climbing the walls of his cage has a very quick measure of success and measure of progress. This is the advantage of fixing something that has an easily observed problem!  In the case of changing the hydration strategy, my end goal is pretty far out and, with my limited sample size, not definitive. If my chameleon lives 10 years instead of 5 to 7 years I don’t know if it was due to my genius hydration decision, winning the gene lottery which I had no control over, or that bite from the radioactive spider when he was two years old. So I will content myself with a more or less daily check that hydration levels are being maintained. Let’s finish this analysis exercise and then I will go into details on how I will measure my progress and the daily hydration levels.

 

Next is to determine the limits. If you are experimenting  with UVB levels then your limits may be the beginnings of Metabolic Bone Disease on one end and sunburn on the other. If you are working with supplementations you have Metabolic Bone Disease, eye infections, and a downward crash of health on the not-enough end and on the too-much end you have Metabolic Bone Disease, eye infections, and a downward crash of health. So, yeah, don’t screw up that one. In my case, I have dehydration on the not enough-end and over-hydration on the too-much end. No matter what the chances are that I will hit those levels I need to be consciously aware of what they are and what the signs of them are. We are pretty familiar with dehydration. The skin starts to look gaunt, the eye turrets sink in, and, when offered water, your chameleon will lap it up with urgency – well, at least the slow chameleon version of urgency. A healthy, hydrated chameleon does not go to water. They let water come to them. Dehydration will be my primary concern during my incorporation of new techniques. The other limit is over-hydration.

wait…over hydration? That’s a thing? We have all been battling dehydration so much we didn’t even consider over hydration.

I am afraid, like food, supplements, UVB, and anything else going into the body, there can be too little and too much water intake. And for us to truly be effective in evaluating new methods of anything we need to understand the extremes. So, even though over-hydration is not a common occurrence we need to do our due diligence and understand what it looks like.

Over hydration also takes a toll. The body bloats and the chameleon struggles to hold its  body upright. It will take on an overweight appearance. Over-hydration could happen if the chameleon is placed in a spray of water and has no way of getting out. Though they can stop drinking there is a reflexive drinking process where water will come in through the nostrils and the chameleon could take it in. As a daily occurrence this could, conceivably, be an issue. Now you may be scoffing at the odds against you thinking this could happen. But this exercise is not about convincing anyone of the likelihood of these happening, it is you coming up with every possible scenario that either of the extremes could be reached and watching out for them.

Perhaps our most important preparation for this experiment is to establish a measurement guide that we can use to get an idea on how hydrated our chameleons is from day to day.

So we need a measurement systems to watch our progress and use it as a guide to tell us when we need to make corrections. And we find those in feces and urates. The feces are the compressed brown portion of the poop. The urates are the white and orange portion.

Feces and urates are the results of the processing of all the food input. Everything the body needs from the food is removed in the stomach and intestines. What remains is the indigestible parts that will be compressed together in a tight, typically brown package to be jettisoned later. But there is another part to the waste process. The kidneys are also hard at work to filter the blood and keep it clean. In us humans, urine is produced to carry these toxins out of the body. In chameleons, a white sludge called urates is produced and tacked onto the fecal waste for the upcoming exit. As we experience ourselves, water is a necessary component for this processing and the amount of water in the urine and feces fluctuates with our hydration level. So too it is with chameleons – and this is our chance!

Water is used in the chameleon kidneys to produce the urates. The urates then go through the intestines and this is where the chameleon reclaims the water so as to not waste precious moisture. The amount of water reclaimed from the urates varies depending on the hydration level of the chameleon. The drier the environment and the more water is needed, the more water is sucked back out. When water is removed, the urates crystallize into an orangish colored substance. From field observation (P. Necas, pers comm), normal content of orange in the urates is 15 to 50% of the urates. If there is greater orange content then the chameleon’s body is wanting more moisture back and that is a sign that we need to provide more hydration in the appropriate form. If the urates are totally white then the body has more than enough moisture and Is actually rejecting the normal water reclaiming process. In this way, the urates can give us a window into our chameleon’s hydration level. Of course, nothing can be simple. How much orange should be present is subject of debate. It is common for veterinarians to advise to hydrate until urates are completely white. The logic is that if the body does not extract any water it doesn’t need to and your chameleon is hydrated. But this isn’t what is observed in the wild. So do we target our hydration to what is observed in the wild or do we decide to give it the ole superior conditions approach that we like to do in captivity to make our super specimens? And I fully admit that my personal decision to target up to 50% orange in the urates is based on the field observations of Petr Necas. And there really isn’t much more. He is one of the few field scientists that keep captive husbandry and field observations in mind at the same time to determine their relationships. I have asked a number of other field scientists and apparently, they had better things to do than observe the composition of wild urates. So, admittedly, the data sources are limited. In this case, which do you choose to trust? It is really up to you. Both measurement scales have been in use and neither has left bodies of chameleons in the streets. So, it is a subtle effect. But it is an important issue to consider.

Why would we do this? What is broken that we are trying to fix?

Half my listeners are excited for this new, more naturalistic approach. The other half are asking the glaring and completely valid question: why change how we do things? What is broken that we are trying to fix? The commonly kept chameleons are already living longer in captivity than they would in the wild. Do we really need to re-evaluate? The answer is, yes, at least some of us do. We need to constantly re-evaluate.  If you are listening to this podcast you have probably gotten the idea that we are on a journey. It is not me sharing end all be all chameleon secrets and extracting information from others. It is the record of my personal growth and the continual growth of our community.  I have invited you to come along as we explore this process via this podcast. But that means I am constantly growing and challenging my husbandry methods. It means I am striving to make my husbandry as close to what we see in their normal environment. We have multiple milestones ahead for our community. Our current husbandry is insufficient for successful breeding almost every species of chameleon. Granted, panthers, veileds, and carpet chameleons are doing pretty well. Parsons, quadricornis, Jackson’s, and even deremensis have had success. But shouldn’t we be logging many more species? So yes, it is still very much our responsibility to continue to push forward!

Who should try this? 

So, say you are sold. Who should try this? Is this expert level? Well, if you are listening to this podcast then you are a qualified candidate! There really is nothing hard about this. You are doing the same checks and balances on your chameleon’s health as you are with day hydration. It is totally laid out in this podcast how to do it. No tricks or expert experience needed. Assuming we continue the success we are seeing, this will slowly integrate into our community and become the norm. Work needs to be done to hammer out what differences in application there may be between species. I have tested this with Jackson’s, veileds, and panthers. My parsonii are already outdoors, but I look forward to testing them next winter. The ultimate test will be when the melleri keeping members of our community try this and report back on whether their Melleri still drink as much during the day.

We are still learning. My goal and passion here on this podcast is to explore these topics. If I go a year and have not changed any aspect of my husbandry for the better I am concerned that I may be growing lax. There is no glory in changing just to change. But we still have a long way to go to explore the true lifespan of our chameleons in captivity. There is still so much more to figure out.  I certainly do not have all the answers, but that is what makes this so exciting! I am really not sure what I will do once we have all the answers. I am pretty certain that is no time soon.

Epilogue

And there is another reason why we do what we do and always need to challenge ourselves. I have children listening to this podcast. I know because they write me. And to you young people, you guys are just starting out. You have forty years..give or take…before you are where I am. I’d like you to remember this moment. Chameleons are living four to seven years on average for the most common species. When you guys are starting your podcast or your video channel or whatever they are going to have in this future of ours I hope we have doubled that average. We already have chameleon outliers that reach those levels so it isn’t a leap to think we can bring up the average. There are a number of people working tirelessly to get our husbandry to that level. Our intention is that you inherit a community better than us seasoned individuals came into it with. You are going to have to be patient. We are still working through a number of these basics. We are struggling with our short sightedness, wracking our brains to unlock the secrets that are usually right in front of our eyes, and making mistakes. Case in point, you just listened to an entire podcast re-evaluating the hydration methods I thought I knew. If the previous methods were not totally right then how do I know this one is? The answer is that I don’t. But I am okay with no answer being 100% right. Just like most previous answers were not 100% wrong.  The answer is that just the act of trying out each and every reasonable possibility means we will move forward. The path may not be straight, but it will go forward. Even if it is to prove something doesn’t work. So, kids, if there is one thing you take away from everything you are watching please let it not be a collection of facts. We will certainly hand you the book of knowledge with our chapter as finished as possible. But please take from this not just the conclusions, but the quest. The drive. The humility. The insatiable hunger to learn more. And remember, every wrong turn and dead end is part of the process. Goodness knows, we have collected enough of those along the way. Please inherit the responsibility of creating a better world for the nine and ten year olds of your generation.  Now, you don’t get the book just yet. We, ah, “seasoned individuals” have a heck of a lot more to add to the chameleon book of knowledge. Just know that we know you are there. And we know we are creating the compendium of knowledge that you will inherit. We take this responsibility seriously. So kids – and that means young people and people young in chameleons -just hang tight and buckle up. This ride will be bumpy, but we are going to see and learn some incredible things.

 

 

References:

Labordi Longevity

https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/19/science/19angi.html

https://www.livescience.com/5000-creature-sets-record-living-fast-dying-young.html

 

Calyptratus Longevity:

Pers Comm with Petr Necas over podcast interviews.

 

Human breath gives moisture to the air

http://www.bolton.gov.uk/sites/DocumentCentre/Documents/Condensation%20and%20Mould.pdf

Loss of water due to breathing in Anolis

https://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00345791

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Chameleons and Stress

Ep 6: Chameleons & Stress

Summary: Explore the relationship between chameleons and stress.  We go over the three stress zones: Comfort, Tolerance, and Intolerance and then delve into different kinds of stress including stress spikes, internal physical stress, external physical stress, and emotional stress.  Most importantly, we go over the communication that chameleons give you that we often miss because we don't speak chameleon!  Well, then, here is a lesson in chameleon speak!  By learning the signs of stress you are well versed to eliminate it as much as is possible from your chameleon's life!                                               .


You can listen here:

Show Notes

Stress is a subject that is well studied and has many parallels.  A great place to start learning more is the American Institute of Stress.  This page has a great summary: http://www.stress.org/what-is-stress/

A pretty technical paper discussing how there may be a link to eradicating parasites in our bodies and the rise of certain diseases. Does the failure to acquire helminthic parasites predispose to Crohn’s disease?

The caging system described in the episode which allows a breeding pair of panther chameleons and 24 babies to all be housed individually and visually isolated from each other in 8 feet of wall space is the Dragon Strand Breeder Cage System.  Click the picture to be linked to the website.

Dragon Strand Chameleon Cages


Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Happy New Years 2016, Chameleon Wranglers! Welcome back to our weekly chameleon fireside.

Today we will talk about stress and chameleons. Stress is a major topic as we are constantly told not to stress our chameleons. But what does that really mean? It is important that we know what we are talking about!

Stress and the effects of stress are well studied. So if you want to continue to dive into understanding stress there are other sources. How many? I would say there are a plethora of sources. You can start at the American Institute of Stress and see how what I am saying for chameleons fits on the human function curve. We and chameleons may be different creatures, but we are made from the same stuff. The term “stress” as we use it today was coined by Hans Selye in 1936. The simplest definition was “The rate of wear and tear on the body”. This is of importance to us because the health of our chameleon is weakened with stress. When health is compromised infections and sickness can more easily set in and, if left to continue, the chameleon’s life is shortened to an untimely death. My hope in talking about this is to promote vigorous longevity as the standard by which we keep our chameleons. The detrimental effects of stress are slow and generally long term in nature so are often overlooked. Issues with the chameleon’s health are written off to bad luck or just “what happens”. I would like us to do better than that and do the best we can to understand chameleons for what they are. That is really the only way we can provide the best husbandry possible.

Before we get into this I want to make it clear that I am not trying to encompass the entire subject of stress here. I am focusing on understanding the stress levels that we need to manage for the best possible chameleon captive husbandry. There are actually good stresses out there. But I am going to focus on the stresses we need to worry about.

The Stress Zones

To set the groundwork for this discussion I’d like to create certain zones. These zones come from basic study of stress in humans. You can find all sorts of charts and I’ll include a good link in the show notes. I am adapting those concepts to chameleon husbandry. So my explanations here may be unique in their approach, but the concepts are hardly original.

Comfort Zone

The first zone is the comfort zone. This is the range of conditions that the chameleon would consider ideal. It would be a zone where all environmental parameters are perfect for the species, there would be no predators, no parasites, no competition for food, water, or great basking spots. Food coming by is of high nutritional content and possesses no biting parts or defense spikes. It is chameleon paradise.

This is just a concept. And it is probably good that we will never be able to reach our idea of chameleon “perfection”, because we may not actually know what is ideal. For example, everyone wants to get rid of parasites. And I can’t give any evidence that we should change that! But parasites and chameleons have evolved together and may be tied closer than we realize. In humans, there are theories that our immune system response to parasites also is a key to combating diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Perhaps our effective advanced world hygiene has robbed us of certain parasites which we depended on in some ways.   It is certain that there are relationships like this throughout the animal kingdom. I feel comfortable saying that we should get rid of parasites with the information we have now, but the more we learn the more we realize that there is no black and white in this world. Except that chameleons are awesome. The point is that we will be continually refining what the comfort zone actually is. But we have a pretty good idea of the basics and our job as chameleon keepers is to construct our husbandry to be as close to that chameleon comfort model as possible. Or, and this is vitally important, be consciously aware when we are choosing to deviate from that comfort model.

Tolerance Zone

The next zone is the tolerance zone. This is the zone that encompasses a normal healthy life. In humans, our tolerance zone is being hot and rolling down the window, getting the flu and whining about it for a week, or cramming for finals or that important presentation and not getting enough sleep. In all these cases, our bodies are presented with a challenge to the comfort zone and we take steps to bring us as close back as possible. We adjust the air conditioning. We take some medicine and rest. We sleep in over the weekend to get our strength back. With a chameleon they move themselves under the basking lamp, they get a dose of panacur to knock out the pinworms, and they get put back in their cages to wonder why this hairless ape is so amused by playing treadmill with them. The tolerance zone consists of stress spikes which are correctable and go away.

Intolerance Zone

The next zone is the intolerance zone. This is where the chameleon’s ability to absorb the stress conditions is exhausted. When the temperature is so hot that gaping, turning white, and hiding in the lowest, darkest place does not correct it the chameleon enters into heat stress and physical damage occurs to the point where death is possible and, if the stressor is not removed, inevitable. When there is a high parasite load and the chameleon struggles to get enough nutrients its body gets weaker and weaker to the point where it starts to fail. The host/parasite relationship is off balance and both will now die. The delineation between the tolerance zone and the intolerance zone is not set and clear. A certain set of conditions can be firmly in the tolerance zone for one day, but as it continues, they move into the intolerance zone. The slow slide of tolerance to intolerance is the hallmark of constant stress. It has also been termed “low grade stress” or chronic stress. This is why you can have people talk about how they can keep chameleons living together or feed them only mealworms. The stress of competition and malnutrition builds up over time. The longer it is in effect the fewer the number of chameleons that will be able to handle it.

I need to mention that there is always that one individual chameleon that hangs out with other chameleons, will eat only mealworms, and doesn’t care about your UVB light. He drinks from a water bowl and, as a hobby, collects different species of hookworms. He is the chameleon equivalent of the fast food eating, TV watching, chain-smoking, whiskey drinking uncle of yours that outlives your fitness coach cousin. Despite these anecdotal data points we will be discouraging mealworm-only diets and whiskey binges for both your chameleon and you.

Types of Stress

So now that we have our zones laid out let’s work on understanding types of stresses. And then we can put the pieces together for a whole picture.

Stress is the body’s way of driving you to change your situation. Chemicals are released in your body telling you that there is a condition, whether physical or emotional, that is not optimal for your life and it is requesting a change. There are four kinds of stress that I feel are relevant to chameleon keepers. And understand these are designations created by me to help explain how we should address this topic. Your vet will probably just call it stress. But to dive into understanding your chameleon and coming out of this with some actionable items in our husbandry we need to break it up and study the different aspects of it. This is important for us because handling can stress your chameleon, but it is not the stress that will be eventually bringing you into the vet. So that is why we as keepers need to have a deeper understanding of what we are doing and how it affects our chameleon.

The four stress conditions I would like to talk about are

1) Stress spikes

2) Internal physical stress

3) External physical stress

4) Emotional stress

Stress Spikes

Stress spikes are what keeps us safe in a world that wants to eat us. We would feel a rush of stress as the saber-tooth cat leapt towards us with mal intention. Well, at least our ancestors would have. Today we are more likely to feel stress spikes when we are late for work and can’t find our keys or we get cut off on the freeway. These are temporary flare ups of stress which go away relatively quickly. In the chameleon world, stress spikes come from things like taking a chameleon out of his cage when he doesn’t want to go, the dog running by his cage, a hawk flying overhead, the misting system suddenly turning on, the lights suddenly turning off,…and it goes on and on. Of course, fearing for their life has a much higher stress level result than the quick surprise of a mister going on. Normal life is filled with stress spikes of various degrees from annoyance to full on fight or flight. A chameleon is designed to withstand these stress spikes. Because, in fact, the stress spikes are the body’s way of ensuring their (and every other living creature’s) survival. Discomfort at the temperature is what drives a chameleon to seek out the heat lamp. There was a minor stress bump and the chameleon took action to bring his body back into comfort. A hawk flying by at low level will generate a huge stress spike that will shoot adrenaline through his body and you’ll get the immediate swiveling to get behind the branch or even a drop to the ground. In both of these cases the stress appeared, was dealt with and the chameleon goes on with life.

Occasional stress spikes are not what you need to worry about. If you need to medicate your chameleon, please do not refrain from doing so because you are worried about the stress of holding him or opening his mouth. Yes, you will be stressing your chameleon by holding him and sticking a syringe into his mouth, but it is for a greater benefit and that stress will fade quickly. This is the main key between stress spikes and low-grade, constant stress. The chameleon can do something about the stress spike to correct it. If the chameleon cannot be relieved of the stress – if there is no escape - then it is no longer a spike and becomes a constant stress. Constant, chronic stress is what will shorten your chameleon’s life. We will spend most of the podcast speaking about this stress.

Intro to Chronic Stress types

 

The next three types of stress are the ones you really need to look out for. They are the ones that exert a constant stress on the chameleon’s body. These are the stress points that the chameleon cannot get away from. This means it is chronic. A chameleon under constant stress will have a compromised immune system. A stressed immune system opens the chameleon up to illness. It is the exact same thing that is happening when we get sick from being cold for too long. It isn’t the cold that is making us sick. It is the body spending so much energy trying to keep us warm and failing that weakens us. The bacteria and viruses that are always around us, but have been fought off, find that this body is weakened and they are able to take hold. And, just like us, sometimes that infection is a minor annoyance which the chameleon fights off when conditions get better.   But in the case of a constant stress, the problem gets worse and the result is life threatening. As serious as these are, understand that the seriousness comes from the chronic nature. The silver lining of this is that this is not a cause for immediate panic. You do the best you can to reduce these stresses and watch for behavior that suggests that there is something you didn’t catch. You then put on your detective’s hat and figure it out. Chameleons are actually quite hardy and if you know the signs of stress, you have time to correct the condition. The reason why many people get in trouble is that they don’t know the signs and chameleon language so they do not recognize there is a problem until it is too late. We will go over the signs that there is trouble brewing and with this knowledge you’ll be able to recognize problems while they are still able to be reversed.

Internal Physical Stress

We will start with internal physical stress. This is usually in the form of parasites. This can also be bacterial or viral infection, broken bones, strained joints, or complications in egg development for example. Malnutrition (or obesity for that matter) also contributes to internal stress. But how you detect internal physical stress? Broken bones and any other kind of structural damage is pretty easy to determine as the chameleon will stay away from using the limb or body part and will move strangely or not at all. Discoloration of the skin is a dead give away of something going on beneath the surface. Fecal exams can discern whether there is a parasite load that must be dealt with. Studying the poop can give you an insight to malnutrition or dehydration. A good healthy poop is moist and tightly packed. A dry poop is a warning sign that the chameleon is not getting enough water. Smaller poops indicate not as much food intake. All of this is a prime concern to us as any of these stresses maintained over time will eventually cost your chameleon its health or life. The major sign that there is an internal stress that has moved into the intolerance zone is when the eye turrets start sinking in or your chameleon closes its eyes during the day. This is an immediate get-to-the-vet condition. But please use some judgment here. Sometimes chameleons will blink their eyes. Sometimes they need to flush out their eyes. The danger sign is when they are left alone, think no one is watching and their eyes are closed as if they are napping during the day. Napping is great for us, but is not a healthy chameleon activity.

External Physical Stress

These are conditions which affect the chameleon from the outside. You usually know these items as basic husbandry. But incorrect temperatures or other environmental conditions produce stress. And this is the exact same thing as you being too cold. You can handle it for a while, but just go to an office every day that is too cold and you end up getting sick on a regular basis. Your immune system has been weakened and finally, something bad took hold. Drafts are an example of external physical stress that could drive someone with a perfect cage set-up crazy. Especially if it is in the form of an air conditioner that goes on when the said keeper is at work. A regular blast of cold air day after day will become a health issue quickly and no images shared with your vet or across the internet will show this issue unless someone happens to catch the air conditioning vent above the cage.

Emotional Stress

Lastly, emotional or behavioral stress. This is stress that comes from the chameleon’s perception of the world. A sense of security will be different for each chameleon. Elements that affect security are cage interior design, cage placement, and interaction with other living creatures. Chameleons are prey animals and have a need to feel protected. Even predators need a safe place to sleep when they are feeling vulnerable. A chameleon’s cage is their most significant source of security. They will soon view their cage as their bush. It is their territory. A chameleon comfortable in their cage will have no problem with you walking around outside, but as soon as you open the door you are now in their territory and you will illicit a response appropriate for how much they fear you. A new wild caught will likely rush into the safety of the leaves or puff up and try to scare you away while a captive bred that knows you well may excitedly come closer in anticipation of the special silkworm treat that your fingers always bring. Make sure your cage has a leafy area that the chameleon can retreat to that hides him from view (more or less). As he gets used to you and the environment he will use it less and less, but the knowledge that he has a safe place will help him feel secure. This leafy retreat also serves as an early health warning. A chameleon that is usually basking and out in the open waiting for that silkworm now spending time in their so called “safe spot” is a great way for you to pick up on that your chameleon is getting sick. This is an internal physical stress, but we are using the emotional psyche of the chameleon to hide when sick to our benefit. In fact the best way to tell if your chameleon is not feeling well is a change of normal behavior. This is why you being attuned to your particular chameleon’s behavior is so critical because every chameleon is different. But the only way you can see a change in behavior is if you create areas of the cage which allow different behaviors! If your cage is just a network of perching branches with a dripper in the corner your chameleon is on display all day and you will get sick signs much later into the sickness because the chameleon has the pressure to be in the open and show its strength. The bottom line is to construct your cage interior to give that emotional retreat.

Your cage placement is important as well. You need to be aware of what your chameleon can see and what is happening around it. Birds and cats eat chameleons. Placing your chameleon cage next to your loveable pet parrot and your cat’s favorite napping spot may make for a human “Awwww” worthy Christmas card, but you just filled your chameleon’s life with predators in close proximity. Don’t do this to your little guy. Yes, chameleons are impressive in their ability to realize they are safe in a cage, but you know they will flinch whenever the bird stretches its wings or the cat wakes up. Just think about some alien putting you in a cage and letting you float in a tub with great white sharks. This is what we often ask our chameleons to do without thinking about it. Also consider what kind of activity goes on around the cage. Placing the cage near a kitchen door which opens many unpredictable, without-warning times through out the day is a poor placement. Surprises and even anticipation of surprises are a stress. While a door opening would be considered a stress spike, constant stress spikes become a chronic stress condition.

And, just a side note, throughout this podcast I am giving examples of stress causing events. I am going into detail as to what they could be to effectively communicate the concept. Every chameleon is different and every situation is different. Please do not go away saying that Bill said that opening kitchen doors is a chameleon stressor and beat down anyone who has a cage near a kitchen. You will run into the guy who everytime he comes out of the kitchen feeds his chameleon a special treat. This guy has just turned a surprise stress situation into an excitement situation. What will or won’t stress your chameleon depends on the individual skittishness or shyness and what an event means to that particular chameleon. And this is always changing as the chameleon grows. Please just take the concepts and apply it to your situation.

Height is security for chameleons. Notice how they tend to like to crawl to the top of your head? One way to help your chameleon feel secure in his cage is to place it high enough that the chameleon can perch above all the activity. Dogs or small children running around suddenly have much less effect on your chameleon because they feel they are removed from it all. Placing the cage on a dresser can make all the difference in the world! You’ll notice that a newly acquired chameleon higher up than you will display more annoyance than fear when you put your hand in its cage. If you are at eye level you have a higher component of fear involved.

And then there are stresses from interactions with other living creatures. I hope it is obvious that chameleons should not be playing with your other pets. It could be a tragic mistake to think that the affection your cat or dog shows you applies to all living things. But there are two common interactions that we as a community commonly subject our chameleons to. Those are interactions with human and with other chameleons.

We will start with humans. Since your pet chameleon will be interacting with you to some degree it is important that you learn the signs of fear in chameleons. Fear is the stress that we will be dealing with when we interact with our chameleon. We are predators and they are prey. We humans with our big brains have created this concept of a “pet” and need to be patient while chameleons catch up to this bizarre notion. And, not only do we expect that the chameleon be okay with captive life (which, if we do our job right, they adjust to beautifully) we now want to handle them! Boy, evolution spends millions of years firmly ingraining survival red flags into the chameleon’s gut instinct and we decide that we are going to toss those out the window! So, pull up a seat and get comfortable. We need to set the stage for this topic.

Human Interaction

First, let’s understand that there are fundamental differences between us and chameleons and our world views.

Holding and touching are human bonding elements. We see this in many pack animals. Dogs, cats, parrots, and elephants to mention a few. These social relationships are strengthened by touch. Our culture clash is that chameleons are not social animals in the way we are. They are solitary animals and in their language, touch does not mean affection. There is no reason for a chameleon to have developed a sense of relationship, as we know it, with other chameleons and especially not with humans. These other animals make great pets because they have the sense of family that they can transfer to include humans. Chameleons start off with a huge handicap in this area. Dogs grow up being nurtured by their mother and enter into a pack structure. It doesn’t matter whether that mother is a dog or you. The community structure is ingrained. Being nurtured is being licked. Whether that is with a dog’s tongue or a human hand it is still nurturing. There are so many similarities between a dogs view of relationships and a person’s view of relationships that the combo is almost intuitive. We agree on what these actions and structures mean.

Chameleons, on the other hand, have no concept of family as egg layers have no idea where they came from and live bearers disperse as soon as possible.

There just is no parallel in a chameleon’s experience to slightly tweak to include benevolent humans. The only natural category we fit into, as far as a chameleon can see, is a predator. To bring in the stress zone concept, we could say that any relationship skills and ability to relate to you as a pet keeper is working within the tolerance zone part of the chameleon psyche. It is foreign to them. We are working with the ability of the chameleon to suppress its natural signals to escape. It is actually pretty impressive that they can do this! We really push it when we handle our chameleons. Being in the hand of a predator is the last thing before being in the mouth of a predator. At least that is the instinct they are born with. We want to reprogram them. And each chameleon will adjust to this differently. Exceptional individuals completely lose their fear of humans. I have seen them and they are a joy to have around! But that is not common. Most individuals can lose their fear of humans, but retain their discomfort of being handled for long periods of time. Some individuals just cannot put aside their instinct to defend themselves against a larger animal and you get a fight or flight response every time you come near. Luckily, the most common chameleons available in the pet industry fall into the middle ground.

So go into the idea of handling fully acknowledging that you are no longer working hard to bring your husbandry closer and closer to that chameleon comfort zone. We are deliberately taking an unnatural and stressful situation and our goal is to reprogram the chameleon to move the interaction as far away from the intolerance zone as possible. It is important to realize that this is what you are doing because you cannot take it personally when the chameleon reacts poorly or progresses slowly. Every chameleon will react differently to taming and you will have to be attuned to chameleon language to make it work without over stressing your chameleon. If handling is important to you then you need patience, an understanding of stress signals, and to accept your chameleon’s ability or inability to meet your desires. Since this is an episode about stress I will leave the actual taming techniques for a later episode. Today I will give you the signs of stress which are born of fear. But before we get into that I’d like to put this into perspective. The stress associated with handling or going through a taming session falls under the stress spike category. If you are in tune with the signs of fear and stress then you will be able to adjust your handling sessions accordingly.   If you know and respect the signals your chameleon is giving you then handling will not be a health issue. Just be sensitive to what your chameleon is telling you. So here are your signs of fear or emotional stress in chameleon language

1) The Chameleon Salute. This is where the chameleon brings his front leg up close to his body. This is a usual first sign of fear. Often the chameleon will be leaning away from you while it is doing this.

2) Gular out. The gular is the pouch of skin in the throat area. Chameleons can puff it out to look bigger and it often has bright colors so a chameleon can use this as a warning sign to other chameleons that he means business. Unfortunately, to humans it just means he is showing off his beautiful colors and he looks really really cool! Thus the problem of speaking different languages!

3) Flattening body. Chameleons flatten their body to make their profile look bigger. This is a common tactic in the animal world. Looking bigger is an attempt to scare away another creature or make you look too big to eat. When a chameleon flattens their body at you they are trying to scare you away.

4) Gaping. Gaping is when they hold their mouth open. This is an obvious threat precursor to biting. Chameleons usually don’t want to bite and will give as much warning as possible to avoid having to do so. Well, most do. I have had some chameleons that seemed to like the taste of me and would go straight to biting. They didn’t bother with trying to scare me away and at times I suspected they may have been trying to draw me in.

5) Bright colors: Those bright colors we love so much are actually there to scare us off and let us know what a tough guy the chameleon is. It is unfortunate that chameleon language for “get away from me” is so beautiful to our eyes.

6) Darkened colors: On the other side of the color spectrum is the darkening of colors. The darkened colors are a sign of submission. This is a chameleon that has accepted defeat. This is usually done in response to a dominance contest with another chameleon, but can happen with you. You may see this response when every time the chameleon tries to get away you corral it back and the chameleon finally accepts that any attempt at escape is futile. The subsequent darkening of color or, worse, closing of eyes, is unfortunately, not contentment with being where ever it is you have placed it, but resignation to the fact that it cannot escape.

8) Swiveling away. This happens if you have the chameleon on a stick or are trying to get it out of its cage and it doesn’t want to come. The chameleon will swivel itself around the stick to put the stick between you and it. They will flatten their body to the point where there are two eye staring back at you from either side of the branch. Once again, it is unfortunate that this display of fear is so cute to us. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and chameleons are from Saturn.

9) Running away. Running away is kind of obvious. But with chameleons it is a little complicated. They know that their best defense is to stay still and hope they are not seen. They know they are not built for escape via running away. So it is important that you not use a chameleon NOT running away as a sign that they like where they are. Give a chameleon a path of escape and leave the room. If you come back and they are staying put then you can say they like where they are.

10) Dropping and/or Discing. Some of the more skittish chameleons will jump off your hand into free space. This is a defense mechanism that gambles that the fall is better than the sure thing of being eaten. If your chameleon is willing to jump into the unknown and take its chances with a fall then you know you have a long road to taming this guy down. Some species, like quadricornis and montium will actually roll up in a tight disc shape and get some gliding action on their way down. It is very cool to see, but I don’t recommend trying it out.

11) The Double Chameleon Salute is where the chameleon rises both front legs up close to his body and is swaying on his back legs at this point the gular (his throat) is usually puffed out, his body is flattened, and he is probably got his mouth open and looking like he might bite. And, yes, biting is next.

12) Biting: Yep, good old fashion biting. It is the universal language for get away from me! Chameleons can and will bite. They have teeth and can draw blood. But, as scary as being bitten is for most people, remember that chameleons usually give many warning signs before they bite. You will encounter behaviors on this big long list we have just gone through before you get the bite so if you are understanding chameleon-speak – and we just went over the basics – you are not going to have to worry so much about a surprise bite. It will usually happen when you have ignored the previous signs.

13) Eye Turrets sunken in. We can learn so much about our chameleon by its eyes. The eyes and the eye turrets are windows into your chameleon’s health. Eye turrets starting to sink in is your warning sign that you have started to step into the intolerance zone. Whatever is currently happening should have stopped long ago.

14) Eyes closed. Anytime your chameleon is sitting with its eyes closed and it is not dark and time for sleeping be very concerned. This is a chameleon shutting down due to stress whether it be emotional stress (they have given up trying to escape) or internal physical stress (it is so painful inside). You need to either get them away from the external stress source or take care of the internal condition.

So, to sum up, handling is, usually, just a stress spike. It is a stress, but not one that will land you in the vet’s office unless you just ignore all the stress signs and totally overload your poor chameleon. Know the signs of stress and fear and manage them appropriately for what you are trying to accomplish. When worked with slowly and patiently with respect for not going to far at once, chameleons will tame down to a reasonable level which, of course, is determined by each individual chameleon’s ability to adjust.

Stress from Other Chameleons (Co-habitation)

Our other major interaction situation is co-habitation. This is where two or more chameleons are put in the same cage. It is natural for when two chameleons meet to establish which one is dominant and gets to keep the bush. That is just what they do. The one that loses the dominance contest needs to go and find another bush. Depending on how aggressive the two individuals are the dominance contest may be short and unimpressive or it may end up being a spectacular display of colors and physical attacking. It is widely accepted that you can’t have two males together so our husbandry problems usually come from housing a pair of chameleons together, multiple females together, or a clutch of babies.

These situations are generally discouraged due to the raft of complications that they can cause. As with the discussion on handling, this episode is about the stress, not the techniques in managing cohabitation so my purpose here is to give you the warning signs. If you have chameleons of any age in the same cage you will have to be well versed in the signs of trouble. The reason why this is critical is because co-habitation stress is a chronic stress. It is in the living space of the chameleon and they cannot escape it. And that really is the crux of the problem. The problem with co-habitation is not when chameleons are around each other, but when they can’t get away from each other. The reason is simple. When in a dominance battle, the winner knows he has won when the loser shows submissive colors and leaves the area. If we have stuck these two chameleons in the same cage, the loser can show as much submissive colors as he or she wants, but can never finish the contest by leaving the bush. The dominant one is under low grade stress as every day he has to continue fighting and the submissive one is under low grade stress because he or she cannot leave and let the battle end. This is why free range set-ups work for chameleon groups. Whenever squabbles arise, the submissive one can give the victor all the signals that he has won and the contest can be ended to the satisfaction of both parties. Everyone can go on with their lives. This is not the case for chameleons sitting in a cage. Even with equal basking, water, and feeding stations, co-habitation is not advised because you don’t know when one of the two decides they are done being in the same space. You could have two individuals that seem to be compatible one day not be compatible for whatever reason. These reasons could be anything from coming of some age to going in or out of a certain season for mating. Chameleons in the wild can be found around each other, but they also have complete freedom to get away from each other. We cannot remove that one important aspect of that interaction and think we will be successful! The typical scenario is that the pair or group appears to be getting along, but that dominance battles are being fought on a non-physical level. If the two or more chameleons come to an agreement of who is in charge, are happy with it, and the winner backs down then you have a peace of sorts. If there is constant question as to who rules the roost or the dominant one does not get the right signals that he has truly won (remember that “leaving the bush” is the official close of the contest) then your chameleons may be locked in a silent, but real tug of war. This tug of war takes a toll on both parties.

Now I realize that most of the breeders here use the bin method to raise babies. For those new to this, the bin method is where a clutch of babies is raised in groups. The breeder has a number of bins or cages that are used to separate the babies as they grow up so the babies are around like-sized cage mates. The reason the sorting is done is because babies bully each other. Babies naturally grow at different rates, but that is compounded by whether the baby is part of the alpha dominant group or the submissive group. The babies are constantly shifted around to make sure the weaker ones don’t waste away and/or die. Raising babies together is a skill not in proper husbandry, but in making sure that the group dynamic does not get out of hand. Nipped tails, minor bite marks, and slower growing individuals are all signs that chameleon nature did not sign up for close quarters.

This podcast is about best practices. So I can only hesitantly support bin raising or any kind of co-habitation. Few people go through the expense to individually raise babies. But I can tell you breeders of parsonii certainly find a way! While not ideal, bin raising of babies has produced quality babies for may years. I have done it often, myself. Yes, babies have squabbles and some get damaged, but it overall works good enough and a breeder skilled in recognizing trouble signs and moving babies around can avoid major incidents.

Whether babies or adults you may find yourself in a situation where you need to keep chameleons together for at least a short period of time. This could be the three months it takes to raise babies up before going to new homes, an impulse buy, or any other unexpected event.

Rest assured that co-habitating chameleons do not self-combust immediately and some can adjust to varying degrees. For the purposes of this podcast I want to give you signs of stress and dominance play. Once you have that information and you know what is going on between your chameleons you can make the appropriate adjustments.

So here is your list of signs to watch out for. Note that all of these can happen for a variety of reasons. If they happen once they are merely a stress spike. If they happen repeatedly to the same individual you can suspect you have a targeted victim and that this victim is living with a chronic stress situation.

And I need to make this clear. I am giving you these stress signs so that you can recognize things that are going on before they get to the point where damage is being done. There are many signs of trouble that happen before you get to physical confrontations that you can head off serious trouble before it happens. But I would not feel good about this information being used to specifically make a forced long term co-habitation situation work. That scenario is usually tied to production of eggs for a business. I am not thrilled when business interests try to justify compromised husbandry practices.

That said, remember that there are times when you may choose to do something besides what we know are best practices. That is not always bad. There are always things to be learned by trying things differently. By knowing the stress signs you can make sure that your chameleons aren’t needlessly suffering. Here are some communications regarding stress and dominance play.

1) Climbing the walls of the cage: Chameleons should not climb the walls of their cage. They will do this for the first few days in a new cage, but, if the cage is set-up appropriately, the chameleon will settle in and stay comfortably on horizontal branches. If the chameleon is scaling the cage walls then they are trying to get somewhere else and there is something wrong with their cage or its location. If you have a group situation and one chameleon continually is scaling the cage walls then you have one chameleon trying to leave the situation. This is a clear sign that your chameleon needs another living area.

2) Always perching below the other: If there is a situation where one chameleon constantly is perching lower than the other you have a dominance structure established. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless this is accompanied by other items on this list. If both the dominant one and submissive one are content with the hierarchy then you may have a time window of peaceful co-existence. But watch out for some of these other signs that the dominance battle is not truly over or has reared its ugly head again.

3) dark colors: The submissive one out of a dominance battle signals to the victor that they won by displaying dark submissive colors. They are also suppose to leave the area. If the submissive one will not break out of the darker colors you may have a situation where the submissive one will be continually bullied until they leave the bush…which of course can’t happen so if one of your chameleons is constantly in darker colors you may have a lingering dominance battle.

4) the dominant one eats first. Does one chameleon always have to be the first to eat? It may even go as far as the dominant one eating all the food so the submissive one goes hungry. Or that the dominant one eats the food the submissive one was eyeing. You’ll see this when you introduce a female to a male for breeding. Let a cricket go near them and see who snags it. If the male snags it then you may have chance at a good mating. If the female snags it in front of the male then you may have a female that is letting the male know this won’t be easy.   This is one of those things that is not 100%, but try it a couple times and see if you get a pattern. Sometimes there is a stand off for some reason between a male and a female and neither moves. If you see this let a cricket go running up the side of the screen cage. I have had that break the tension as the male snags the cricket and then goes to successfully mate the female. Just a tip to try.

5) the dominant one climbs over the other. We see a dominant chameleon climbing over a submissive one in many scenarios. We see it in babies and we see it in females that do not feel like breeding. If you are wondering if this is bullying behavior or not then just observe whether it is consistently the same characters involved in the incidents.

6) stealing food from another’s mouth. Stealing food from another chameleon’s mouth can be just being attracted to an insect and not caring that another chameleon already caught it, but if it happens continuously between the same individuals you know something more is going on.

7) tail nipping. Tail nipping is when one chameleon will follow another and bite the tip off of the tail. It is not uncommon for “B” grade chameleons to be sold with nipped tails. This happens more often with babies as they are kept together more often, but this happens with adults living together as well. I usually hear about a particular trouble maker in a certain group that gets a taste for tail tips and becomes a repeat offender.

8) Bite marks. If you see faint black rings on a baby chameleon those are probably bite marks from a sibling. The good news is that these marks usually go away after a shed or two. So, even if you get a baby with a black, mouth shaped ring on them, it is not a reason to get too excited. Babies shed often and, unless the bite was deep, it will disappear soon enough.

9) Eyes closed. As stated before, when the eyes close during the day you know the situation has progressed too far. You have trend far into the intolerance zone and things are physically breaking down. Find the stress point and remove it immediately.

10) Losing weight. The trouble with low grade stress is it is something that happens over time and is not the direct cause of death. So your chameleons live together for 9 months seemingly fine and then one gets a bacterial infection. If it happens over time and it is subtle how can you know it is happening before the infection stage? Well, first of all, don’t put yourself in that position – keep your chameleons separately! But one of the most valuable habits you can get into is weighing your chameleon on a weekly basis. It is by this practice that you will be able to measure your chameleon’s relative health with respect to time. Anytime your chameleon is losing weight you have your early warning sign.

I would not be surprised if there are other examples of dominance play that you all have witnessed. If you have something not on my list send me an email! Keep your eye out for signs of building stress to nip it in the bud. And let’s work on bringing our chameleons as close to the comfort zone as possible. My episode today is not meant to say what should or should not be done in handling, caging, or other aspects of husbandry. My purpose was to expose chameleon communication the best that I have been able to uncover in these decades of trying to figure them out and to figure out where I can get better in what I do. Take these data points and apply them to your chameleon husbandry and see if any of them can help make your care better. And if I have missed something here, please let me know! Although do not confuse being able to keep chameleons alive with success in husbandry. Chameleons are fighters and will live through an amazing amount before dropping off. “Still breathing” was the standard of success in the 80s. We have moved on from that and have learned enough that we can have chameleon quality of life as our target standard. That is what I am really interested in discussing.

And we’ll close up there. Thank you for joining me in this extra long episode. I considered breaking it up into a two part series, but it all tied in so tightly that it had to go together. If you are interested in some links to the topics presented then you can find them in the show notes at chameleonacademy.com. Look for episode 6.

The reason I can sit and put together an hour long educational episode is because of support from the Dragon Strand caging company. Creating designs specifically to reduce stress in chameleons has allowed me to study this chameleon behavior in depth. I designed the Breeder Series of hybrid cages specifically for breeders to be able to keep their breeders visually isolated and even to raise babies up individually to avoid nipped tails, bite marks, and the effects of bullying. The cages have screen fronts for ventilation, but solid sides to keep them from being affected by others next to them. You can even have a breeding pair of panthers and 24 babies raised individually in 8 feet of wall space with a couple racks and the Breeder series cage systems. Look in the show notes for pictures and links or just visit dragonstrand.com

Have a great New Year’s day! We have many things planned for this podcast in 2016 and can’t wait to get to them! So hold on, chameleon wranglers, this ride is just beginning!

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