The most common chameleon to be kept is probably the veiled chameleon. But it is one of the most impressive of chameleons. Today I talk about what you should consider when considering a Veiled Chameleon.
Considering how wide spread veiled chameleons are one might think there isn’t much to think about when getting one. And, that is why so many people have trouble with Veiled Chameleons! So, this episode is going to parse apart the situation. I would love for people to be able to start off right with this incredible chameleon.
Transcript (more or less)
To start off with, finding a Veiled Chameleon won’t be an issue It is the most prolific chameleon to the point where vendors at reptile shows who have no business offering chameleons can purchase an aquarium full to sell over the weekend. Pet stores often have them and now that they are well established in Florida, wild caught individuals are available. All of these are of equal pet potential. They originate from a country called Yemen in the middle east, but we have not seen new bloodlines for many years due to armed conflict in the region. Thus what we have in captivity has been from a limited number of bloodlines. The specimens that have populated areas in Florida are from this genetic bottleneck, but do have natural selection. The genetics may be strained, but this keeps them from being weak. All in all, I would love for new bloodlines to be made available and I will be first in line when that happens.
The big issue with Veiled Chameleons is the price. The problem is with how low it is. What this means is that the only way to make money selling Veiled Chameleons is to cut your care of them to the bare minimum and rush them out the door as soon as possible. The number of veiled chameleons that grow to adult size under these conditions is a testament to their hardiness. But when you are looking for a veiled keep in mind that the cheaper the price, the rougher the life your baby has had.
Unfortunately, the wide availability of cheap veiled chameleons has made it difficult for serious breeders to give this species the attention they deserve. This is a case where the chameleon community has shot itself in the foot by price shopping chameleons. If we insist on paying corner cutting prices because that is what the meat market companies offer then we will remove the option for quality chameleons from reputable breeders. Occasionally, a reputable breeder will offer veiled chameleons as a passion project. If you are lucky enough to run across this opportunity, jump. Do not hesitate. Do not squabble about the price. Believe me, they could charge twice what the large companies do and they are still lucky to break even. This is because it takes time, space, and money to raise them up responsibly. But what you are getting is a superior quality chameleon. Both the mother and the baby were given the special attention that comes with being part of a reputable breeder’s program. And, yes, this does take some effort on your part. You have to be able to research the breeder to make sure they are reputable.
Just because the veiled chameleon is available to casual chameleon people, don’t let that dissuade you from being a serious chameleon herpetoculturist with the species. There are others like you and we all need to realize we are not islands.
Now the subject of morphs. The only reliable color morph I know of is, the Translucent or pied. This is where there are varying levels of white and pink blotches. If this is to your liking then getting a baby translucent will likely get you what you are expecting. There are many other morphs advertised like sunburst or lemon or high blue or high yellow or any number of creative names. It is more murky as to whether these are truly morphs you can count on. While some people say they got the color they were expecting, others do not. What I can personally say is that if there were established morphs of Veiled Chameleons that were true to color, I would expect that there would be an industry developed like we see with panther chameleons and a network of breeders specializing in certain morphs. We do not. Variations in color obviously happens. But it isn’t obvious to me that there are reliable true-to-color morph lines. I welcome the proof that they do exist and I would happily report that here.
The next consideration is the cage you buy with your Veiled Chameleon. We have an epidemic of ZooMed Chameleon Kits being sold with pet store chameleons. As enticing as the marketing and box text, and what the pet store employee says, the ZooMed Chameleon Kit is not acceptable for a Veiled Chameleon. Followers of this podcast will recall an episode I did previously where I said that the kit would work for small chameleons, including young Veiled Chameleons. Yes, in the academic sense it is true. But practically speaking your veiled chameleon will grow so fast that even if you did get it when it was small enough to live in the 16x16x30 cage included, it would out grown the cage so quickly it isn’t even worth getting it as a temporary cage. If you listen to those podcasts, my entire reason for doing those was to educate people with the kit as to how to create a stop-gap measure until they could get an appropriate cage set-up.
No matter what size or age your veiled chameleon, get the adult size cage and set it up as you would an adult. Your baby will flourish under those conditions. Once again, people selling cheap chameleons are conditioned to sell cheap equipment because the majority of consumers will not want to pay more for the equipment than they did the chameleon. It is a completely ridiculous standard. Very much like people refusing to pay more in shipping than they do the product. All these things are completely independent, but, in our minds, we base the value of the transaction by the piece which we deem the focus. Once again, if you are getting a cheap chameleon, do not let that devalue its life. Put your savings in equipment. Get the proper equipment as if the chameleon cost you $500.
Once again, people selling veiled chameleons are conditioned to offer you cheap and inadequate equipment because that is the kind of customer they are used to dealing with. Break that mold. You have a 7 to 10 or even more relationship with your chameleon. Treat the entire relationship with respect and your chameleon will thrive.
The Cheap Mindset
So, if the cheap mind set is what the reptile show vendors have for veiled chameleons, what kind of care do you think they got? Just look at the aquarium with wood chips on the bottom and two sticks thrown in for 30 veiled chameleons to crawl all over each other. This is pretty disgusting. The best option is to pass this up and do not patronize that business. If you have to choose one out of that mass of green bodies then pick the one most active. Everyone of them is in a state of high stress and adrenaline. The ones sitting still or with their eyes closed have used up all their energy. It is best to pick one that is still showing it has fight in it. And, if my Hunger Games description takes the fun out of it, then I am glad I have been able to communicate the situation they are in. These are animals that need their own space.
And to address the reason why people pick the calm ones. I know, you want one that will be passive and friendly. The bottom line is that is not what a chameleon is. You may get a chameleon that is not fearful of humans. Go ahead and stick your hand in the cage and see if any come towards you instead of running away from you. Select that one. But do not take the behavior of not running away from you as a sign they are friendly. They are likely at the end of their stress rope and have given up. This is not the same as friendly.
Now, I am not saying that you picking one that doesn’t run means they will die on you. While they could and not running is a bad sign, these chameleons often bounce back once they are in proper husbandry conditions. Of course, some just continue their crash. It all depends on the individual. To be fair, Veiled Chameleons are much more likely to be able to recover than, say, a Jackson’s Chameleon, but still, make wise decisions in your selection process.
The fact that people inexperienced with chameleons are able to sell veiled chameleons greatly increases the chances that they will try and sell you a pair or two females or two or more and tell you they can live together. This is incorrect. The number of chameleons you can come home with has to match the number of cages you come home with. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Male/female…two females…bonded brothers…a pair that has grown up together….no. If you want to dive into the details of cohabitation I have a podcast for that. I’ll link it in the show notes. But, spoiler alert, even though it explains all the reasons and details the end result is still, one chameleon per cage.
If you decide on a juvenile it is time to strap in your seat belt and get ready for a ride. Veiled Chameleons grow very quickly and can show mature colors at 4 ½ months. Your females can be laying eggs at six months. It is a good thing to feed your growing veiled chameleons as much food as possible, but to pull back when they are full grown. Obesity is a huge problem with Veiled Chameleons because they don’t have a stop signal when it comes to eating. – especially if they are kept hot like may caresheets direct. So, in addition to learning about general chameleon care, you need to get familiar with the special conditions surrounding Veiled Chameleons.
All chameleons are susceptible to Metabolic Bone Disease. This is where animals do not get enough vitamin D3 and cannot absorb calcium. Bones are brittle and weak. So why do we see it in Veiled Chameleons the most? Well, it is the combination of 1) the chameleon growing so fast (so there is little time to figure out something is wrong) and 2) The veiled chameleon being sold to people with little to no experience and selling them cheap and inadequate equipment to go along with inadequate information. So, a bad start with a race to maturity that does not allow for a lot of time to integrate with the community and learn that something needs to change in the husbandry. The solution is a simple application of sufficient UVB light. Even if they are told this, how could they know that the UVB light they came home with in the Chameleon Kit is entirely inadequate? The lack of good information and the expense of proper equipment is a potent cocktail that spells trouble for newcomers getting their first chameleon. This is why listening to this episode and, at least knowing what you need to know, is so important at the beginning. And I wish I could get it in the hands of every new chameleon owner.
You can sex Veiled Chameleons from birth by the spur on the back of their back ankles so you have a choice between the two. Either makes a good pet, but the females are geared to laying eggs. They have to in order to make sure the next generation is safely in eggs under ground before the dry season comes. This genetic drive combined with the less than ideal husbandry given to them turns them into egg making machines. The excessive diet and heat supercharges their body into gaining unhealthy weight and activating massive amounts of eggs to be developed. And this can happen even if she is not mated. It is so prevalent, that some veterinarians are suggesting proactive spaying to avoid the stress of egg laying. While it does fix the problem it does not eliminate the cause of the problem. The cause is improper husbandry. And the reason why it is so difficult for the community to change their ways is because the unhealthy part of this makes them grow bigger and faster.
There needs to be an education that there is a good “big” and a bad “big”. Veiled Chameleons that are large in healthy proportions are no problem. In other words, they are long. Veiled chameleons that start having fat bulging out of the casques and large fat pads that end up restricting the oviducts are not only not healthy, but they can be deadly. If you have heard of egg binding, that is a condition that can be caused by overfeeding and overheating. Too many eggs and fat pads that are too big can easily equal your female chameleon’s death. This is a difficult thing to educate on because bigger and egg production have traditionally been markers of health in our community.
So you can see why it is so hard to get the community to change course from the advice they have been giving all this time. It is a lot easier to prove that overfeeding and over heating creates big chameleons and that high egg production is a sign of extra good husbandry than it is to put numbers to reduction in lifespan. So this will be a long road.
Add this this that we are still figuring out the right numbers to tell people. This revelation is relatively new so only the people on the cutting edge of chameleon husbandry are working with it. This is ambient temperatures in the mid 70s with a basking temperature in the low 80s and a couple of food items every other day for adults. But we are showing promising results as far as decreased egg production and decreased production of infertile clutches.
To be fair, this is something we need to proceed with caution. Cold and underfed chameleons will be stunted so, like everything, it is possible to go too far. So, this change isn’t something to be done without a firm respect for consequences. But we must go forward considering the health crisis we are experiencing in female veiled chameleons. It is so normalized that most chameleon keepers do not recognize obesity.
This particular episode was meant to help you make decisions in how to obtain a Veiled Chameleon. I’ll link to a flight of episodes in the show notes where you can dig deeper into all the episodes on husbandry which is part of the preparations that are appropriate to do before bringing one home.
Veiled Chameleon Mis-information
The last thing I need to prepare you for is that there is an unfortunate amount of misinformation about Veiled Chameleon natural history. It isn’t surprising considering that their native Yemen has been in civil war and you can’t just go visit their homeland. In fact, it took me years of searching before I finally found eye witnesses that I could interview on this podcast. And once I did, I found that much too many of my previous assumptions were wrong. Amazing what happens when you step outside the echo chamber of our assumptions and go to the source. I am going to list the major revelations, but in the show notes I will link to the interviews themselves so you can hear for yourself. Understand that this information is only slowly making its way through the community.
- Veiled Chameleons are not from hard arid lands. They come from high altitude mountain valleys called Wadis that are lush with vegetation during the wet season and get clouds of fog rolling into the wadis at night. The idea of hot and arid comes from photos and videos taken during the dry season when nature is killing them off. The populations literally crashes every year at the beginning of the dry season and is reborn when eggs hatch at the beginning of the wet season the next year. So, now you know why they have to grow as fast as they do.
- Veiled Chameleons are not a high UVB species. Like most chameleons, they get warmed up in the morning and hide from the hot afternoon sun. Veiled chameleons are healthy at a UV Index of 3 and there has been, to date, no evidence they need higher UVB.
- Veiled chameleons do not need high heat. If you want to check their weather conditions yourself check the weather stations for Ibb, Yemen. You will find a standard montane environmental condition on par with what you would expect for a Jackson’s Chameleon. The difference is that Jackson’s will die at higher heat and Veiled chameleon will just get bigger and unhealthy. We humans like bigger so we have made a negative a false positive.
This episode is not about diving into each of these issues. This is more of a warning that there is more misinformation about this species than there is for other species. So, you are lucky that you can start off on the right foot. When in doubt, listen to the people who have been there, not the ones who have just memorized internet talking points. It took me years to find eye witness sources to get my information straight. Take advantage of that effort and start off right to begin with. And don’t argue with people who haven’t yet updated their information. It will be a waste of your time.
I have integrated all the latest husbandry information on the Chameleon Academy care sheets and you are welcome to base your start there. A link in the show notes goes to a full description of husbandry.
And, this all gets you started on the right foot. Veiled Chameleons are great chameleons. The colors and casque are impressive. The personality is usually shy and defensive, but if we are getting a chameleon with the intention of letting him be a chameleon this shouldn’t be an issue. If you need to hold your chameleon to be happy then a chameleon is not the best choice. I have enjoyed working with Veiled Chameleons over these may years and have dedicated much time on the podcast to support the proper care of the species. Everything you need to have a wonderful, long term experience with your veiled chameleon is available to you. Your job is to make sure you get the best little guy or girl to start off with.
There are special considerations when buying each species of chameleon. But the Jackson’s Chameleon has more pitfalls than most. Today we will go into what to consider when buying a Jackson’s Chameleon and how to avoid making a mistake that could bring an unwelcome surprise or even heartbreak.
A fun video about finding my Jackson's Chameleon gave birth!
Transcript (more or less)
If you are listening to this while you are in the planning stage of getting a chameleon you will be well prepared to buy strategically. If you are listening to this after falling in love with a Jackson’s Chameleon while out shopping for dog food then things are a little more on the fast track for you! Either way, we will start at the beginning and cover all the bases.
First of all, in the market right now, circa 2021, you have ample access to two subspecies of Jackson’s Chameleon. The most common one is the largest, the Yellow-crested Jackson’s Chameleon. In the community we usually call them xanths after their scientific subspecies name xantholophus which, in latin, means yellow-crest. Nice how that works, isn’t it? The males are bright green with three horns while the females are bright green with no horns. And this is how most pet store people know Jackson’s Chameleons.
Xantholophus has an interesting background in that, in the US, we have a consistant supply of specimens that originated from Hawaii. Details are hazy, but there are rumors of now Jackson’s Chameleon populations set up on the US mainland specifically for supplying the pet trade. Details are hazy because the legality of this is questionable. But so is bringing them in from Hawaii. So there is some gray area here of which I do not have an answer. The significance to you making a decision on what chameleon to get is that the Hawaiian population is in a sort of genetic bottleneck as they all originated from a few dozen individuals imported there in the 70s and escaped. This has no bearing on their suitability as a pet, but if you have any aspirations of breeding your chameleon I highly encourage you hold out for a specimen from Kenyan bloodlines. These are harder to find as adults, but if you plug into the dedicated community, such as is on the Jacksons Chameleon Community group on Facebook, you will find that serious breeders tend to work only with the Kenyan bloodlines. Since Kenyan bloodlines are harder to find and more expensive to start with, a breeder with Kenyan bloodlines will be well aware of what they are doing and can share that with you. If the breeder is not sure whether they have Hawaiian or Kenyan then you should assume they are Hawaiian in origin.
So, enter in a second subspecies that has become more common lately called the Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon. This ones’ scientific name is Trioceros jacksonii jacksonii and it has a myriad of common names. It is called the true Jacksons chameleon, the Kenyan jacksons chameleon, the rainbow Jacksons, and, at one point it was called the willigensis jacksons chameleon. This was confusing because it sounded scientific, but it was never an official scientific name. We generally don’t like to use it because it tries to sound scientific and is deceiving. The males have three horns and a bright yellow and green flank with blue cheeks while the females mess everything up and show one or three horns. This is very important because anyone who believes that you can sex jackson’s chameleons by their horns will incorrectly identify a female Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon as male. This wouldn’t be such a big deal as the females are wonderful chameleons to keep. Except for the next big thing to take into account. And that is that female Jackson’s chameleons often come to you pregnant. And if they aren’t now, if they have ever been exposed to a male in their life, they usually will be later when you least expect it. Especially if you think it is a male! The universe just works that way!
So, before we even get into how to get a hold of a healthy chameleon you have to know what subspecies and sex you are even getting! And this can get tricky. The best thing to do is to go to the chameleonacademy.com website and get familiar with the photos there of males and females. Alternatively, you can go to the Jackson’s Chameleon community Facebook group where there is a team of Jackson’s keepers that can do an ID for you. As the care of the xantholophus and the Machakos Hills subspecies are essentially the same, the real importance in getting a accurate identification is for whether you have a female or not. Because that has important future significance with how much of a surprise a sudden baby-filled cage would be.
As far as pet potential, the choice between subspecies or male/female is a personal one. The differences in the subspecies are mostly cosmetic and you can decide whether you like color or size more. Both males and females make equally good choices. The males have the prominent horns which attract many people, but I have got to say that I greatly enjoy the personality of the female xantholophus. I have found them quicker to adjust to humans. I like the female Machakos Hills Jackson’s because they have the horns and interesting patterns. They are a little smaller so a standard cage looks bigger on them.
Of course, there is a major consideration with females with the possibility of babies in your life. The younger you buy her the more likely she will not produce babies. If you are buying an adult you are almost guaranteed to have babies come your way. It isn’t certain. It is just a high enough probability that you should be, at least, looking for physical and behavior signs that you should start preparing for babies.
The issue of whether you are ready to take care of chameleon babies is one of the more unique considerations that buyers of Jackson’s Chameleons need to consider upfront. Though this is true of any live bearing chameleon species, it must be highlighted more for the Jackson’s Chameleon because it is the species that commonly finds itself in big chain pet stores and other retail outlets that attract people who are the least experienced with chameleons or even reptiles. Most chameleons are egg layers and a long incubation period buffers beginners from suddenly finding a mini-horde of babies in their care.
The potential of babies may make you hesitate to take a mature female chameleon home with you and this is appropriate if you are not ready for that next step in chameleon keeping. But there are people like ten year old me who think having babies is a plus for getting a female. What could be more fascinating than raising up baby chameleons? The answer, of course, is that raising up baby chameleons is exactly the incredible experience you think it is! It is also an enormous amount of work and expense if you want to do it right. So, for those who are excited about the possibility of raising baby chameleons I will say this: I absolutely encourage you to get the experience of raising baby chameleons. It will truly be an incredible memory. But…and this is a big but….you have to commit to doing it right. The information is easily obtainable on chameleonacademy.com on how to do it. And I have podcast episodes on how to do it. And I will be doing more educational outreach to make sure the information is easy to get a hold of. So the information on breeding and raising chameleon babies is out there. Review it and know what you are getting into. Unfortunately, doing it right with chameleons is more involved than most people are willing to take on for a one shot experience. And if you cut corners you will, most likely, end up with dead chameleons. And that is not the positive experience you are looking for. So, go into it with eyes wide open.
The best approach to getting a Jackson’s Chameleon will surprise no one. Find a breeder and get a 4 month old juvenile. At this point you can safely get any subspecies or gender and be assured you will have a quality start. Recognize that there will be a higher price point for a captive bred specimen and price will increase with age.
Now, you may ask, why the four to six or even more months for a Jackson’s Chameleon when a veiled can be sold at six weeks or a panther at three months? Before I jump into that I want to do a sidebar here. Age of the chameleon really isn’t a good gauge of when a chameleon is ready to go. Each bay and each brood of babies grows at a difference pace. The most accurate way of determining when a baby is ready to go to a new home is vigor and body size. The reason we give it a month rating is because that is much easier to understand. That would be when a standard brood of babies would be ready if they grew at the average pace. But, really, the judgement of the breeder as to when the baby is well started is key. If someone is selling you a baby younger than four months then they should have a decent explanation as to why that shows they made a solid judgement.
And, here is the reason,
Jackson’s Chameleons grow at a slower pace and tend to be less hardy in the typical human house environment. Obviously, they are just as rugged as any other chameleon baby expected to survive in the wild, but they are less adaptable to the conditions we have in our homes. So there is this strange phenomena where some broods of Jackson’s have this die off at around the three month mark. Not everyone experiences this, but until we have a firmer handle on what is going on, the Jackson’s community is pushing for four months to be the standard.
What could be the reasons for this die off? It is almost assuredly two reasons. Cohabitation and lack of a nighttime drop. Babies born into captivity are usually kept in groups which causes constant stress. Jackson’s do not show stress as obviously as other species so it is often missed that this is happening right under our eyes. Add that to lack of good sleep if they do not have a distinct nighttime drop and you have stress points compounding on each other. The present working hypothesis is that the cumulative effect of these stresses becomes overwhelming at about the three month mark. Obviously, this will play out differently in each situation depending on how the babies are cared for.
With so many variables it is difficult to have long term testing to put numbers to these, but you can prove some of it out yourself. If you find yourself with baby Jackson’s Chameleons you can take out a few individuals, raise them in their own cage, and keep the rest in a group setting. You will see for yourself the difference after a couple months.
But back to you and your first Jackson’s! So, how can you avoid getting a stressed baby? Once again, work with a reputable breeder. Even if that breeder does do group raising, they should be monitoring the situation every day and removing trouble makers. It is this constant monitoring and care that you won’t get with the larger retailers selling babies…or even adults.
So let’s get down to brass tacks about finding a source for Jackson’s Chameleons. This species is widespread and has found its way into pet stores, reptile expos, and online retailers. Thus, I need to give you three major cautions about dealing with sellers of Jackson’s Chameleons.
With Jackson’s Chameleons there is an epidemic of babies being sold too early – especially from online companies. And there is a reason why live bearer chameleons are so susceptible to this. When the chameleons come into an import facility or are held for transport there will always be a female who gives birth at the facility. These babies are then sold as soon as possible which means too young and at a cheap price. There is nothing we humans love more than a cheap price! At least in the moment. You can easily guess the outcome. And this scenario plays itself out on a regular basis on the Jackson’s Chameleon Community Facebook group. A new member comes on wanting help with their baby chameleon that isn’t doing well. We do our best, but we watch as these new keepers learn the hard way how much a cheap baby chameleon is not a good deal. Of course, they are not to blame. How can these new keepers know the lay of the land and where the pitfalls are? The definition of being new is you don’t know the area!
So, why don’t these places hold onto these babies longer? Well, that costs money and takes space. Unfortunately, $150 - $200 USD is about the minimum you can sell a baby chameleon for and hope to at least break even. Chameleon babies don’t like to be together and the eat a lot. So a breeder needs to have ample caging and a constant supply of food. This is expensive. If you are buying a chameleon for less than $150 then either the breeder is not making money and will soon fade away (because spouses are not impressed with a business that losses money) or else they are not caring for that chameleon for any appreciable length of time.
There are a few breeders of Jackson’s Chameleons. The serious ones breed the Kenyan bloodlines of the xantholophus. And since these babies grow slower and tend to be more sensitive than veileds or panthers, Jackson’s babies are usually sold at four months old or even six months old. At this point there is a respectable bit of money invested in this baby. Not only that, but there was significant money invested in the mother while she was pregnant. See, there is much more to a healthy baby than how it is taken care of once it is born. So, if you want a good healthy baby – and , yes, you do – plug into the Jackson’s Chameleon community, find a breeder, and be willing to pay the $150-$200. It is 100% worth it.
it is way too common for sellers to tell you you should buy a pair and that they can live together. Jackson’s Chameleons are much more subtle in their communication than, say, veileds or panthers. And so they appear to be living in peace. This is not the case and cohabitation is a stress situation which will lead to stress. I hate to say this, but I have even heard of breeders being unethical in their attempt to sell more chameleons. They would be immediately banned from any group I am in charge of, but there is nothing I can do about a reptile show. Unfortunately, this isn’t just from unethical people. It is also from people with the best of intentions that just got the wrong information. The reason why you should immediately go elsewhere is because someone that tells you Jackson’s Chameleons can live together is either trying to take advantage of you or else keeps their chameleons that way and your baby has been the result of a mother that was stressed during pregnancy. That is an unseen strike against you that you would never be able to know about. So it is best to steer clear of any entity that supports cohabitation of chameleons.
It is too common for pet stores and reptile show vendors to buy a bunch of cheap chameleons and throw them into a screen cage and sell them like fish in a barrel. This is an incredibly stressful situation and shows that these chameleons got no care before being presented to you. Yes, this is why they are so cheap. And when it comes to buying chameleons anything cheap should sound loud warning bells. The reason why anything is cheap is that no care has been given to them. The amount of care given to them is the quality you will be getting. Chameleons do their best to look healthy because that is survival to them. But you will often find a quick crash once they are alone in a cage in your home and they have spent their remaining energy trying to defend against all the chameleons they were stuffed in a cage with. Everyone loves to spend less money. When you are buying animals turn off the thrill of feeling like you got a good deal. It will trick you into a bad decision and there are no end to people that will love to take your money and run.
- Beware of cheap babies from big companies.
- Actively avoid people, even breeders, supporting cohabitation.
- Do not buy a chameleon picked out of a group cage.
I am a strong proponent of buying a captive born babies from a reputable breeder. But I would not be doing my job if I did not acknowledge the situation where you are heart set on bringing home the chameleon that looked you in the eye while pawing at the cage door.
At this point you need a general guide for picking out wild caught chameleons. So, here are a list of tips
- Know that if you get a female that the chances are you will have babies in your future. Female Jackson’s Chameleons have been some of the coolest chameleon pets I have had so there should be no blanket advice against them because of the baby potential. They have exceptional personalities. And it was always female Jackson’s Chameleons that got comfortable enough with me that they ate garden bugs while sitting in my hand. But the reality is that the likelihood of babies needs to be a serious consideration when getting a female.
- You will need to do a fecal check for parasites. Sometimes the establishment you are purchasing the chameleon from will have a phone number for a local reptile vet.
- Go for the feisty one. So many people want the calm one. Well, in the wild, calm ones don’t survive and it is the ones actively telling you they don’t like you in their cage that have the spunk to make it. My friend, Patrick Holmes, who works with snakes gave the hilarious story of how when he is picking out the baby snake to bring home he puts his hand in the cage and the first one to bite his hand is his choice. This is because the strongest of the babies will stand up to the king kong hand in their space. Jackson’s are a calm species so we won’t get them jumping out of the trees at us, but there is enough in them to gape and threaten us. Don’t get a chameleon if you want a good holding pet.
- Remember that the seller may be totally confident that you are getting a male, but you get babies the next month. Welcome to the Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon!
You should make sure that there are no wounds on the animal and no broken bones. Chameleons help with this as often a new injury will show up as a dark or sickly yellowish spot, but check that each foot has a strong grip and the tail curls with strength until the tip.
A chameleon with internal distress will sit with its eyes closed. This is often covered up by the high stress situation of being in a showroom cage with a bunch of other chameleons. So if you see a chameleon in a group cage with its eyes closed you know the situation is very bad.
We have actually been lucky with the quality of wild caught jackson’s chameleons. Whether Hawaiian or Kenyan they have not been the mess that other chameleon species have been. But this is 100% dependent on the people involved in the process and this can change at any moment. So, even if you have had a good experience or know people who have had good experiences with wild caught Jackson’s Chameleons, keep your guard up.
If you continue on with the plan to get a Jackson’s Chameleon the next steps are to review their care requirements and compare them to the environment in your house to make sure you are set as far as their needs. On the chameleonacademy.com website I have an extensive care section. And, in the show notes, I have a link to the Jackson’s Chameleon Community Facebook group where you can get more support.
In other news, I am having a blast with my Chameleon Academy YouTube channel. Although I have a number of educational videos planned I am just having a lot of fun making chameleon keeper vlog videos. You can come along with me as I go branch hunting, show you around my special bank of outdoor cages for pregnant livebearing female chameleon, and I even turn a Chameleon Kit cage into a very cool plant filled garden for a newborn Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon. Just search for Chameleon Academy on Youtube and you should find it. And I finally have T-Shirts and mugs available. If you go to the Youtube channel just click on the menu item that says Store and you’ll see the merch.
Thank you very much for joining me here! And it is time for me to get to work on the next podcast and video!
When you step into the chameleon world you find yourself in an immense undiscovered country. You never realized how many species of chameleons there are! So how do you go about learning the species just listed for sale? Today, I take you along with me as I gather information on a rarely available Captive Hatched chameleon species.
Transcript (more or less)
Sometime last year I got the news that, a friend of mine, Shane Boyd had eggs laid by his pair of Furcifer verrucosus. This was exciting because F. verrucosus is almost extinct in the US captive community. There are a few left here and there, but the likelihood that they are reproducing is very low. Though I would love to be proven wrong so please let me know if there are some hiding out there. Furcifer verrucosus is a large dragon-like chameleon. It is one of the Madagascar chameleons that come from the harsh, arid south and west. Although they tend to be available as wild caught when Madagascar is exporting, they are just like every other chameleon. As captive hatched they are like a completely different beast and I let Shane know way back then to please let me know when those eggs hatch because I wanted to be first in line. Furcifer verrucosus is one of the largest of the chameleons and so raising one from a baby would be a special experience.
I have the benefit of many years of experience behind me and, in a yesteryear, imported Madagascar species, including F. verrucosus so I knew how special this was and I already know what I am in for a year from now. But even I run into species that I may have heard of, but would not know how to care for beyond a basic general idea. So I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to pretend that I am new to F. verrucosus, do some research, and take you along. This is how I do my research on species and these resources are available to you as well. We’ll do it on Verrucosus today, but the techniques can be applied to any species.
So, let’s start at the beginning. I run across a classified on Chameleon Forums by Shane Boyd from RGB Reptiles saying he has captive hatched Furcifer verrucosus. Hmmm, I have not heard of that one before. The pictures posted of the parents pique my interest. They are kind of rugged looking with a cool back crest. And there are some people asking if it is a cross between a Veiled and a panther. So, there are more people out there that haven’t heard of this species. Well, the fact that it is off the beaten path makes it a little more interesting in my book. And so, I decide to pull out the light of truth called Google from whence all knowledge resides. Let’s type in Furcifer verrucosus. And the first thing I am going to do is going to look at the images. And…wow, this guy is kind of cool. Subtle greens but maybe some blues coming out in the chin area. Love the spiney back and the massive head. Looks like it is called the Warty or Spiny Chameleon. I can see spiny chameleon, but I can only guess the warty name came from the big scales on its cheeks. But no matter. I like the look of this guy. So I decide I am going to go to the next step. Clicking over in google to the text listing I see what is coming up. Now, you can always go straight to care sheets. But with these rare chameleons you need to be careful with what information you accept. I like to learn a little bit about their natural history before I look for care sheets and especially before I ask on social media. Knowing their natural history gives me a baseline familiarity that helps me pick out the people who know what they are talking about and get an idea of who might be trying to be helpful, but with a subject a bit out of their league. Of course, the most direct way, if you are getting a baby, to get information is to talk with the breeder. But if the chameleon is wild caught you don’t have that option. And, take it from a guy who did this all the time, the more you know going into the call with the breeder the more you will know what questions to ask that you may not have thought to ask before. So, even if you have a benefit of a breeder to talk with, this preliminary research stage is invaluable. So, let’s do a little research and see what we come up with.
Here are the digital places I go to get what I know to be good information:
First, check Chameleon Academy to see if there are any podcast episodes on this species. I interview people who have bred their chameleons and have a background to be giving advice. The big advantage is that I have vetted them for you so you know you are getting good information. But, searching through the Chameleon Academy Podcast archives, I do not have an episode on Furcifer verrucosus. Beyond the podcasts you have the following sites which have solid information.
Adcham.com – Adcham stands for Advanced Chameleon and was a group started on the listserves of the late 90s. This group was intended to bring together the experienced community to have higher level discussions. Many members of this group got together to create a website of the same name which would be a repository of as much information as we could stuff in there. What we ended up with was a massive amount of information. Although it is a couple decades old, most of the information is still good today. The reason why I bring up a website that has some years on it is that it has a pretty healthy collection of profiles of rare species so it is still a valuable resource. So it is a good place to search and I did find a very good species profile that was detailed and got me on the right track. Here I learn that there are two subspecies and that the gravid female has some spectacular colors. More importantly I learn about ambient temperatures in the 80s with a 15 degree drop during the humid night. Now, I always will cross check the temperatures and compare sources unless I am familiar enough with the sources to know I can trust it. So, a good haul of information. But, really, if you think about it, my purpose in doing this research is natural history. Since these are captive hatched one of my stops in my research period will be to communicate with the breeder and that will probably be my most reliable source of up to date husbandry information. So at this point I am digging around to make sure I ask the breeder intelligent questions.
Chameleonnews.com is another information ladened site. This was actually a regularly published digital magazine. It too has a number of rare species profiles. Though this source did not have verrucosus, it is well worth being on your list to review what is out there.
Now, there is a huge advantage to this being a Madagascar species. Because of this we can find some recent information on the MadCham website. https://www.madcham.de/en/furcifer-verrucosus/. This is a website run by people who take chameleon tour groups to Madagascar every year. And so they know what to look for. You’ll find daily temperature fluctuations, UV Index readings throughout the day and some incredible videos of the natural habitat. And from these I can tell that F. verrucosus does not come from the lush jungles we assume chameleons come from. This is an arid area. This raises the question I did not think to ask the breeder before- what should the daily humidity cycle be?
The next site is chameleondatabase.com which is committed to posting wild chameleons from their natural habitat. From here I can get an idea of how they look in the wild as the photo galleries are arranged by location the photo was taken. By getting a feel for the color variations and the difference between male and female I am more confident talking with the breeder. More importantly, I do not have to waste the breeder’s time with the simple basics that can be found on line.
And this is a very important point. You get a limited time with the breeder. Make it count. With internet information overload it is easy to throw your hands up and just go to the breeder for a data dump. The breeder is obligated to do this as you are a customer. But if you have 30 minutes with the breeder you can get an overview summary of chameleon husbandry basics. Or you could get a detailed summary of Furcifer verrucosus husbandry basics. Or you could have a detailed deep dive into the personality and husbandry differences between male and female and Wild Caught/captive hatched with a discussion about which supplementation routines were tried and the results of different vitamin A and D3 levels. The more prepared you are when you call the breeder the more information you will get that is not sitting on a website. So I encourage you to not waste your time with an experienced breeder making them go over what you can easily find with a little work. What you gain in convenience by making them give you the basics you lose in opportunity to get deeper knowledge. I mean, ask what you need to. Just make the best use of your opportunities as you can.
As far as research, social media is a dicey game. It works great if you put in the effort to identify the people who would have reliable information on the topic you are wondering about. And this goes for any topic, actually. People on social media love to answer questions whether they know the answer or not. Much of social media is you having people to speculate alongside you as to what the answer could be. It is great fun, but if you want real answers, ask certain people who you have identified through their posts are credible. And, once again, the chances of you getting a detailed response depends 100% on how much effort you put in ahead of time. Someone tagging me on a post asking about how to take care of a Jackson’s Chameleon will get a link in response. Someone asking my opinion on how if a male Jackson’s with a mild TGI really wants to mate a receptive female – is he contagious? Well then chances are higher that I’ll take a break from the alchemy and have a chat.
So say I have done my checking around for information and I feel like I can make good use of my time talking with the breeder, now is the time to send the email. Depicting an email over a podcast is immensely boring so we are going to do this contact the old fashion way. I am actually going to speak with him by voice. So here I am, intrepid potential keeper, calling Shane Boyd of RGB Reptiles to ask about his baby Furcifer verrucosus.
Okay, how did I do? Was I convincing as a beginning chameleon owner that didn’t have a, ah, few chameleons in my care? I do have a veiled chameleon so it is all true anyways.
So what you have there is a standard phone call with the breeder asking the basics. I asked general questions, but I integrated some sophistication from the research I had already done.
Now, I did actually get the baby verrucosus from Shane and I am excited to raise it up. One look at the different pictures on MadCham, Adcham, and even Google show that both males and female are attractive in this rugged sort of way. So either way I would have been having fun raising the baby up. They kind of look like elongated panther chameleons, but the round patterns on the flank are pretty distinctive. If you are interested in following the growth of this soon not-to-be-so-little tyke you can follow me on Instagram where he will be making a regular appearance.
If this discussion interested you in this species then now is an opportunity to get a hold of a very rarely available species for a price which is entirely reasonable. This isn’t meant to be a sales podcast so I’ll just say that if you are listening to this episode upon its release in November 2020 that you can join me in raising up a verrucosus by checking out Shane’s classified post on the Chameleon Forums or just contact him via his Instagram account RGBReptilesofficial or simply email him at RGBReptilesofficial@gmail.com. Of course, all of this is in the show notes along with pictures of my adorable baby verrucosus!
So that is how I do a basic research check of a species. If you are listening to this podcast you are much more plugged into the community than most people. It truly is overwhelming and confusing for people new to the community to figure out where the reliable sources of information are. In fact, they have yet to come to the realization that there are unreliable sources of information so they are caught unaware halfway down their research path. I am sure many of you know exactly what I am talking about because that is your story. In a way, I am lucky that I grew up with the community because I got each piece when it came out. Someone just starting out now is bombarded with everything the internet can throw at them. I remember last week reading a post by someone who says they did a lot of research and everything they said was exactly opposite of what was right. So much so that I considered whether they were a troll just trying to get a response. But, no, we have to recognize that you can do a lot of research and if you are I the bad part of town you will come away with some pretty atrocious ideas. But you are here now and now is a good time to start exploring some of the solid informational websites. Of course, add chameleonacademy.com to that list. right now there is a lot of basics and it is actually quite the job just to update what I released only a year ago! But I am working to methodically move forward as well and add on rare species profiles. So you can check back and see what has changed.
As for species research. It is valuable to listen to your breeder as the main source of latest information. You can follow that advice and go back to ask questions. If you are getting conflicting advice from the breeder and other sources don’t worry too much. There are different paths to success and different conditions lead to different paths. So, when you see apparent contradictions look deeper into who wrote it and why they may have different numbers. Did they do different research? Do they have different caging? Do they have different ambient conditions? They are many reasons that do not show up on the caresheet as to why those numbers were successful for that person. So follow your breeder’s conditions while you explore the rest of the opinions. Be critical of what you read. The loudest and most confident voice may not be the best for your situation. It doesn’t mean they are wrong within the context from which they are speaking. But they may or may not be the best for you. There definitely are some things being spread that are plain wrong and it doesn’t matter how you slice it. So, don’t think I am saying everyone can have their own way of doing things that are equally valid. But patrolling the interwebs for truth and justice isn’t your job right now. You are in data sifting mode to find the gold nuggets. And in this day and age that is enough of a project to keep you busy for a long time.
Thank you for joining me here to discuss species research. Getting a new species is a lot of fun and isn’t that hard with a little research up front. And doing that research up front can give you a sense of confidence that you can be successful with this new mini-tree dragon. Mainly, because you know what you have to do and all it takes is doing it!
If you are a keeper of the Jackson’s Chameleon, you may be familiar with the temporal gland. It is a gland at the corner of the mouth that seems prone to infection. When husbandry is off. This is a significant health issue with Jackson’s Chameleons and one that is worth being familiar with. If you do not have a Jackson’s Chameleon, fear not, the review on bacterial infections can apply to any of our chameleons, temporal gland or not. To review the Temporal Gland Infection, or TGI in abbreviation, I am bringing on Dr. Tom Greek of Greek and Associates Veterinary Hospital in Yorba Linda, CA which is on the edge of Orange County. He is one of those more-valuable-than-gold vets because of his extensive experience with chameleons. I know this first hand as he has seen my chameleons from the Brookesia Madagascar stump-tailed chameleons to the giant Parson’s Chameleon for over two decades. Let’s bring him on and talk about Temporal Gland Infections.
Chameleon keepers are well aware that we need to provide the correct environmental conditions or else our chameleon’s immune system will be compromised, possibly leading to a bacterial infection. This is common to all of the species. Jackson’s Chameleon keepers have an extra area that is prone to these infections, but it shouldn’t be something that keeps you from considering a Jackson’s Chameleon. With all chameleons, proper husbandry will be what keeps them in health with or without a temporal gland. In fact, with the three Jackson’s chameleons I have had an issue with in the last year, they have all been in the lacrimal nasal duct, not the temporal gland. They are all treated the same way. And I know exactly what caused them – temperature spikes due to the recent heat waves. This of course has got me thinking that the days of easy outdoor keeping of Jackson’s Chameleons for me in Southern California may be waning. I used to have two cages for each chameleon – an indoor cage and an outdoor cage and it is time for me to return to that very good policy.
As for what you should do. If you have a Jackson’s Chameleon – or any chameleon – look for slight swelling along the lip line. If you catch it early, which let’s hope you do, it will be so slight that you wonder if it is your imagination. This is the perfect tie to go with your gut feeling that something is off. Check the other side and see if there is any difference. See if you can get him to open his mouth so you can see if there is any swelling on the inside. Here is the big problem with chameleon veterinary medicine. The condition is most treatable when you can’t be sure if it is really a problem or not. But if you wait until there is no doubt then your chances of beating it are reduced. So, this is where being laser focused on any subtle changes in your chameleon’s appearance or demeanor pays off. And I always say, I hate wasting money going into the vet, but the best news I can get is that there is nothing wrong. Now there is one caveat. And this is where it is tricky. You have to have a realistic sense of how good you are in determining something is off with your chameleon. A physical swelling is easy. The vet may be even better to diagnose it than you are. And, this covers the TGIs that this episode is about. But if we are talking about infections on a higher level then we are including in our discussion other infection areas. And if you see your chameleon being lethargic, sitting with his eyes closed, or nose pointed in the air he is giving behavioral signs of an infection taking hold. The infection may at such a level that your chameleon will be able to totally mask it at the Vet office. When your chameleon is hyped up on adrenaline he isn’t thinking about acting sick. So he could very well be acting totally healthy when your vet gives him an exam. At this time it may be a blood test that is needed to definitively prove thee is an infection going on. Experienced reptile vets will know how well reptiles hide their sickness and will consider your behavior report an important part of their diagnosis. And the broad spectrum antibiotics have a high level of safety. You definitely do not want to give medications unless they are needed, but the vet, may decide that the minor consequences of giving the antibiotic Baytril on a behavior-based suspicion are usually a better risk than waiting for more definitive physical sign. Once again, in the chameleon world, a reptile experienced, or better yet, a chameleon experienced veterinarian is gold. It is 100% worth it even if you have to drive a distance to get to them.
If you are in the Orange County area of Southern California, you have access the Dr. Greek. He is in the city of Yorba Linda.
But even vets that say they see exotics are not always chameleon experienced. So I will be starting a veterinarian list on the Chameleon Academy website of offices that my listeners have verified are good chameleon experienced veterinarians. Not just exotics and not just reptiles, but chameleons. And I am looking for personal experience. I’d like for this to be a global resource so please share your vet names no matter which country you are in! If you are a vet listening and you are experienced with chameleons please get in contact with me so I can list your office as well. We are constantly helping people around the world find a vet. Bottom line – if you see chameleons please let me know. And I am confident that if you are listening to this podcast you have already shown an above average dedication to chameleons. Whether you are a vet that works with chameleons or a keeper that has a chameleon vet you are happy with, please email names and/ or links to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will create this resource for our community.
Thank you Dr. Greek for joining me here today and sharing your experience with the community. And, I personally thank you for the decades of being part of the community. And to you listeners, I thank you for joining me and Dr. Greek for our talk on TGIs. So go out into the world and keep a close watch on the jawlines of those three horned mini-tree dragons….Wow, you know you are part of a ultra-specialized community when that constitutes as a good sign off.
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.
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.
Trioceros ellioti is a small chameleon from Eastern Africa that is a livebearing species with the typical care requirements of montane chameleons. It is a charming species where the males and females are equally desirable as far as color and shape. Ease of husbandry and hardiness of this species make it a prime candidate for establishing in captivity. Today, Michael Nash comes on and shares his insight into breeding this species. It is hoped that this will help increase the number of breeders working with T. ellioti and raise awareness for this species.
If you would like to contact Michael about obtaining some of the babies he produces you may contact him at email@example.com .
To learn more about Trioceros ellioti and its husbandry please visit the Chameleon Academy Husbandry guide which was based upon the experience of Michael Nash. You can find it here: Trioceros ellioti Husbandry Guide
If you are interested in getting a chameleon, this episode is for you! We condense the most important points about chameleon keeping into one hour of listening! Now, understand that this is a high level overview. Each one of the topics reviewed could easily be an entire episode on their own! But this episode gets you started with some answers, but mostly to let you know the right questions to ask.
Transcript (more or less)
Welcome to your weekly dose of chameleon talk! Today we are going to go back to the beginning and talk about the most basic things one needs to know about a chameleon. This is to answer a question I got on Instagram from trippin.zen which said “Hey, I’m a sophomore in high school and I want to get a chameleon, but I don’t know much about them. Is there anything in particular that I should know?” Now that is a loaded question! And what is awesome is that you are asking it before you get your chameleon!
When you are into chameleons you don’t realize how much of a lifestyle it becomes and how much you come to just instinctively know. So much of what I do is second nature because chameleons have been a part of about 80% of my living years. But I got to experience the beginner intimidation when I got some dart frogs for my son who decided he loved frogs. Of course, he couldn’t have fallen in love with panther chameleons so I could justify a “one of each morph” collection under father/son bonding. No, that would have been too simple. So, dart frogs it is. They are incredible creatures! And suddenly I realized I have no idea how to take care of something that lives on the ground…and drinks from a bowl. Do dart frogs drink? Do I use UVB? Is keeping them in group something they like or just tolerate? Should I give dietary D3? I knew nothing. At least my chameleon experience allowed my to ask the right questions, but I was sitting at the start line trying to figure out which way to point my car! So this episode is for trippin.zen and all those out there that are curious about chameleons and are trying to figure out what questions they should ask. By time this episode is done you will have the basics and be able to function in chameleon land.
First, a note of caution. There is great debate on most things in the chameleon world. We are really still finding out so much about these guys. We have entered into a period of chameleon husbandry where we have been able to reliably breed and raise up chameleons to what we believe to be old age. But just because we have achieved longevity and apparent health doesn’t mean we know the optimal conditions. It just means we have stumbled upon acceptable conditions. And I bring this up not to confuse you, but to help you from being confused when you go searching for information and run into people hotly debating some nuance of husbandry. What are you to do? You hardly even know what they are talking about much less understand what the difference in opinion is! Our husbandry knowledge is continually growing. So what I am going to give you in this episode is the basics of chameleon care. I am going to give you what we know works by long term practice. If you start here then you will be following what has worked successfully for years. But that doesn’t mean we just accept it and refuse to change! It just means for you to start here and once you are comfortable with these basics then you can consider building on these basic guidelines and making discoveries of your own.
I would also like to make it clear that this episode is going to be giving you a high level overview. I will be touching on a wide range of subjects so cannot dive deeply into any one. You will be getting basic answers, but the real value of this episode is going to be to let you know the questions you should be asking!
To kick this off I am going to start with a list of Chameleon Frequently Asked Questions. Now each one of these questions is worthy of an entire podcast on their own! But since you need a quick fix I am going to limit my answers to five sentences maximum!
You will be able to find much more information as you dive further into previous podcast episodes, but you need answers now to determine if you want to invest more time. You will need patience with just about every other aspect dealing with chameleons so let’s indulge in a little immediate gratification right now.
Here are Frequently Asked Questions answered within five sentences! My daughter will be helping out by asking the questions
Can I tame a chameleon?
To some extent. Their natural (and very healthy) fear of humans can be lessened - especially for the person that cares for them and becomes familiar to them. Each individual chameleon will have its own level of tolerance to human interaction. Chameleons are still very much wild animals. While some adapt amazingly to life with humans, most retain their natural desire to be left alone.
How big of a cage do I need?
For most commonly kept chameleons (Panthers, Jackson’s and Veileds) 2’ x 2’ x 4’ high is a good budgetary space allocation. Babies can be grown up in smaller cages, but from the beginning, plan space for your adult cage. As far as your chameleon is concerned, bigger is almost always better. You can go shorter if you go wider. Chameleons live horiztonally and will appreciate more width.
How long do chameleons live?
This depends on species. Smaller species may live two years while larger species could easily live over ten years with reports up to 20. Panther and Veiled chameleons, the most commonly kept, will live about five to seven years. But we are finding that the more we figure out about husbandry, the longer our chameleons, even our “short lived” species, live.
Will a chameleon just die on me?
No, despite their reputation, chameleons don’t just drop dead. There are specific reasons why they get sick and die. We have a pretty good handle on what those reasons are and how to keep them alive for many years until they are in their old age. You getting your chameleon to live into its old age is what this podcast is all about!
What do chameleons eat?
Chameleons will eat anything that moves and fits in their mouth. There are a couple species, like the veiled chameleon that will take bites out of your cage plants, but chameleons are predominantly insectivores. So the quick answer to this one is insects and insect-like things. Crickets, flies, worms, roaches, stick bugs, praying mantises, snails, beetles, black soldier flies, roly polys, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, crane flies, etc…
Are chameleons noisy?
Chameleons don’t make noise the way we think about it. The crickets that you feed the chameleon may chirp if they are mature males, but chameleons themselves have no vocal chords and, by nature, try to be as unnoticed as possible! They will not be disturbing your sleep or your quiet study time.
Do chameleons smell?
Chameleons don’t really produce odors. Even poop at the bottom of the cage dries quickly and will not stink up the house. The exception to this is creating “poop soup” with standing water on the bottom of the cage or in a fountain. Obviously, this is not a proper or desired husbandry condition! Under proper husbandry conditions, a chameleon set-up will not produce odors.
Do chameleons carry disease?
Chameleons are reptiles and standard washing of hands after handling the chameleon must be a habit. While salmonella can hitch a ride with any reptile, chameleons are not common carriers of zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that jump from species to species. But please do not eat while handling chameleons and always wash your hands when finished interacting with them. Make sure your kids and friends wash their hands too.
Do chameleons bite?
Yes, chameleons have teeth and can both bite and, at times, break skin. Most chameleons will not bite, but until you know the chameleon and it knows you, it is wise to be cautious. Do not worry. With all the gaping and “hissing” and posturing that happens before hand, a chameleon bite is rarely a surprise! A bite usually happens when we insist on picking the chameleon up after it has made it quite clear that social time is not on the chameleon’s list of things they want to do today.
Can I hold a chameleon?
Yes, chameleons may be held. But a chameleon should not be considered a “holding” pet. Different chameleons take to holding differently. Most tolerate handling, some hate it, and very rare individuals actually seem to enjoy having their humans take them out. But, please don’t cuddle your chameleon.
Do chameleons change color to match their background?
Chameleons change color to communicate their moods and to regulate their temperature. Unfortunately, the erroneous idea that the color change is for deliberate camouflage is widespread and can be found in even biology text books. I have had people argue with me that chameleons DO change color to match their background – while I was holding a green chameleon against my yellow T-Shirt. Deep seeded beliefs are more powerful than any evidence! Some color palettes tend towards natural browns and greens, but, we do not observe the color changing as the background changes.
Can I keep more than one chameleon in the same cage?
No. More details on “co-habitation” later. The simple answer is no. Some people, for various reasons, want very much to have this be a yes and will tell you yes (especially if it means you will buy a second chameleon from them). Still, no… don’t do it.
Should I get a baby or an adult? The age of the chameleon is less important than the life experience. Adults are more likely to be wild-caught meaning they will be more difficult to acclimate and will probably have parasites and life injuries. Captive bred chameleons, whether baby or adult, will be more used to humans and should have reduced or no parasites. A three month old baby chameleon is typically stable enough to go to a new home and should be able to be raised without issue. A well started (typically three months or older) captive bred chameleon is the ideal starting point.
Should I get a male or a female? Male and female chameleons are the same as far as pet potential. A lone female chameleon may produce infertile eggs, but if she is healthy these should be passed without issue.
So there are some of the basic general questions. Let’s dive down into specifics.
First let’s talk about Caging.
The most general purpose chameleon cage for a chameleon the size of an adult Panther, Veiled, or Jackson’s Chameleon would be the all screen 24” x 24” x 48” tall cage. But the bigger the cage the better! The enclosure must be big enough so that the chameleon may move freely from a warm corner with a basking light to a cooler area. (This is known as a temperature “gradient”). Chameleons are horizontal animals so you can go lower in height but you then must go wider. Screen cages will work for most cases as most chameleons, once warmed up, are comfortable in the same temperature ranges we humans are comfortable in.
If your house stays cold or very dry then you will have to consider glass or solid side enclosures to keep in the heat and/or humidity. I am fully aware of the gross oversimplification soundbite that glass causes Upper Respiratory Infections or URIs. I don’t want to derail this section so I will address that community favorite mantra later.
The cardinal rule in enclosure environments is this: The bigger the enclosure the more temperature/humidity gradients can be created. Gradients allow the chameleon to take care of himself. The more your chameleon can take care of himself the less you have to worry.
When setting up your enclosure interior, have a number of horizontal perching areas linked by vertical or diagonal climbing branches. Branch diameters can range from where the chameleon can just encircle the branch with its foot to where it can get half way around. This provides a nice variety of arboreal pathways. Branches can be secured with zip ties, a hot glue gun, fishing line, push pins through the screen, or Dragon Ledge supports which can hold potted plants as well. Methods that put stress on the screen are less desirable because the screen is not designed to hold weight and bumping a branch that is held in by a pushpin or thumbtack will rip the screen. Fishing line to the cage frame is better as long as it is not relying on the screen itself for support. The Dragon Ledges from Dragon Strand cost some money, but are the best tool for the job.
Enclosure placement in your house is important. Avoid drafty areas and areas where they might be harassed (or just checked out) by other pets. Chameleons derive security from height so you can take advantage of this by placing the cage on a dresser and making the highest perching branch at least at your head level. The height of the cage itself is less important than the height of the perching branch relative to the action outside the cage.
When you are starting out there is no reason to put any soil, wood chips, or moss on the floor. A bare floor is easiest to clean and a substrate usually has little benefit for a chameleon.
So, bottom line: Most keepers of most chameleons will find the standard 48” tall screen cage sufficient. Different manufactures call it different things. Just look for the 48” height. Once again, that doesn’t mean this is the only cage size that will work, but in this podcast I am giving you the most tried and true solution! If I had to pick one that had the widest application, the 48” tall cage is the one I would recommend.
Plants have five purposes in a chameleon cage
1) They provide the kind of hiding locations that chameleons are used to. This is to create your exposure gradient. They will want the option to be hidden from view and from UVB.
2) Plants also provide a drinking surface for water droplets to gather and 3) the wet soil provides a source of humidity. 4) Plants provide climbing surfaces as well. And Finally, 5) there is the aesthetic side to plants. Never disregard the value of a beautiful looking cage. It doesn’t matter if the chameleon can’t use it. If it makes the cage more beautiful then it has value to you.
Common plants used in indoor cages include ficus benjamina trees and umbrella plants or schefflera arbicola for centerpiece plants and pothos and spider plants for hanging vine plants. And these do not take the place of solid horizontal branches, by the way.
Look at pictures of cages that other keepers have put together to get your ideas.
As far as what plants are safe: We in the chameleon community have unofficially decided that we will use the poison charts for dogs and cats. There is no basis for this other than we humans want answers and if there are no answers then we’ll find something to grab on to. There are no studies regarding what plants are or are not poisonous to chameleons. It is quite the leap of logic to decide that what is poisonous to a cat or dog is poisonous to a chameleon. The safe plant lists that we see come from what is safe for warm blooded dogs and cats. You can find lists for horses and birds. You can find edible food charts for herbivores such as tortoises or iguanas, but you will not find a list of what ornamental plants are poisonous for chameleons. So when anyone asks if this X plant is safe what we are really telling them is whether it is safe for a dog or cat. It is a game we play and, because no one has much better of a system, no one can really stand up and replace this system with a better one. But perhaps the lack of poisoning cases gives us a clue that we are being more restrictive than we need to be. Pothos is listed as a poisonous plant, yet is a staple in chameleon cages. We do not have a rash of chameleons being poisoned- even with the people that complain that their veiled chameleon is chewing on the pothos. To be poisoned two things must be in place. 1) the plant must actually be poisonous to the chameleon. And 2) The chameleon must ingest the poison in enough quantity for it to be detrimental. Veiled chameleons will chew on vegetation, but other species generally do not. So, adhere to the dog and cat poison lists if it makes you feel safer. Just realize that just because it is safe for a dog or cat doesn’t mean it is not poisonous for a chameleon. So these lists are really a false sense of security. But we are not getting a rash of poisoning cases from following the lists and we are not getting a rash of poisoning cases from the people who ignore the list. So, at this point, pick what restriction you want to place on yourself knowing that no one really has answers to the question “is this plant safe for a chameleon”. A lot of people think they do, though, so if you just want to go with the flow then go to the show notes at chameleonbreeder.com and I will point you to a link that you can reference when you are plant shopping. Although I will concede, by the community gathering around the present poison lists of which plants to select and avoid we are doing a crowdsource type test on that list. While we cannot use the lists to definitively determine what plants are poisonous to chameleons, the fact that we are sing the plants on the list and are not seeing poisoning is a test in itself saying that these plants are safe in a chameleon cage. So, in a very real way, the boundaries we have placed upon ourselves has created an anecdotal long term study on the dog and cat poison lists. A very interesting situation indeed. And by this time you are strumming your fingers and saying – just give me the bottom line!!! Fine, use umbrella plants and pothos and you’re good! They do well in standard cage lighting and provide a great combination of drinking, hiding, climbing, and aesthetics. Just make sure your misting nozzle is pointed to water them too.
You will need one cage per chameleon. Although many sellers and, unfortunately, some breeders, will sell you a pair of chameleons and say they can live together, this is setting you up for potential trouble before you are ready to recognize it. Chameleons do not get lonely and will be very happy without another chameleon in their lives. Chameleons may not be aggressive in an obvious manner towards each other, but they do play power games and over time in this stressful environment the loser will grow up slower and with a weakened immune system. Early death is a possible result. But it often is a long term issue so people do not connect the health issue with the cohabitation. Yes, people will claim they have done it. They will post pictures of chameleons together. But don’t do it yourself until you have enough chameleon experience under your belt that you can recognize the subtle signs that they are not getting along. Bring them together just for mating. All three of you will be much happier.
Chameleons acquire several things from unfiltered sunlight: visual lighting, heat, and invisible ultraviolet (UVA +UVB) rays. Unfiltered natural sunlight is best for supplying these needs, but there are acceptable lighting solutions for indoor keeping.
Visual Light: A 6500K fluorescent bulb from any home improvement store will provide visual lighting needs. You will want to keep a bright environment for both the chameleon’s sake and your enjoyment of the cage.
Heat: A basking bulb can be as simple as a 50-75 Watt incandescent bulb. Place this bulb to ensure the chameleon cannot touch the bulb and that the chameleon can move in and out of the heat. Make sure you can hold your hand at the closest perch point inside the enclosure to the bulb without discomfort for a couple of minutes. Chameleons will burn themselves if the light is too hot! Except for large chameleons, a screen top counts as a perch point. And, for Veiled Chameleon owners especially, take into account the top height of your veiled chameleon’s casque! Chameleons will burn their back and heads trying to warm their body. Remember that they have no concept of the “sun” being close enough to burn them!
The band of sunlight that is responsible for sunburns is also the light that our body, uses to produce vitamin D3 which is critical in building a healthy body. This band of light is called the Ultraviolet B band or, simply, UVB. Chameleons need it just as much as we do and they would die horrible deaths from Metabolic Bone Disease unless given UVB light or vitamin D3 oral supplements. UVB is the natural method and so that is what we prefer.
The most effective UVB light is the T5 High Output linear fluorescent bulbs. You’ll see the designation T5 HO. Those are the lights you want. A UV Index range of between 3 and 6 is a standard range used for the most common species. You can get the low end of this range by using Arcadia 6% UVB bulbs or the high end by using the 12% UVB bulb and a basking branch about six inches below the screen top of the cage. UVB bulb strength is affected by what reflector you use. The numbers I just listed are if the UVB bulb is in a fixture with other daylight bulbs. This reduces the strength as does going through the screen top of your cage. Having a dedicated reflector for your UVB bulb will increase the strength. Thus it is quite difficult to give an answer that applies to all situations. For a 48” tall cage I recommend getting a quad T5 High Output fixture with a 12% UVB and reducing oral vitamin D3 intake to once or at most twice a month. In fact, I experimented with veiled chameleons and found that levels of 3 to 6 UVI and no oral D3 supplementation from 2 to 9 months old produced chameleons with no signs of MBD or health issues. So we are on the right track.
The ZooMed 10.0 or 5.0 have similar strengths of UVB. I recommend calling up Todd Goode at Lightyourreptiles.com for a personal consultation on right lighting for your exact cage size and configuration. He was on in episode 27 and made that offer. Show him your cage and he will tell you what lighting(natural, UVB, and otherwise) would be best.
Night Lighting: Though red or blue lights are often sold with chameleons for a night light, do not use them all night. The light will keep the chameleon awake. If your nighttime temperature is too cold for your species of chameleon use a ceramic heater. Few homes get cold enough for this, though. These “night lights” are great if you use them on a separate timer for only 30 minutes after the main lights go out to lessen the shock of total light to total darkness. This will give them a little bit of time to settle in before total darkness.
Timing: Appliance timers can be used to automatically turn on and off your lights. A 12 hour on/off cycle is a good start.
Hydration. The greatest husbandry challenge of chameleons is keeping them well hydrated. You will need to provide a daily misting of the leaves and a water drip. Chameleons will drink the water droplets off the leaves. At a minimum, watering may be done by hand with a spray bottle misting the leaves or by poking a small hole in a cup and placing it, full of water, on top of the enclosure. Make sure it takes at least 15 minutes for the cup to empty. The most reliable and recommended hydration method is an automatic misting system.
Observe your chameleon drinking. If a chameleon rushes in to get water then the chameleon is probably dehydrated and you will need to ensure that your watering sessions are either more frequent and/or longer. Spray in the morning and evening, at a minimum, with the drip going during the day.
Hydration is critical to the chameleon’s health. Do not cut corners in this area.
The common staple food of modern captive chameleons is crickets. These are available at most pet stores that sell reptiles and they come in many different sizes. A standard community guideline on cricket feeder size is to feed the chameleon crickets that are a length equal to the distance between the ends of the chameleon’s eyes. You will see them chomp down larger insects, but err on the side of smaller. You can’t go wrong with feeding a few small items versus one large item that may intimidate or even fight back.
With only one chameleon, your best bet is to buy crickets and other food items (some chameleons get bored
with only one food type) from local pet stores. Independent reptile stores are your best bet for good pricing and variety of food, but national chains such as Petco and PetSmart also carry insect feeders.
Babies and juveniles up to six months can be fed every day. Up until the chameleon is full grown, and for gravid females, I feed as much as they will eat. Once they are full grown I suggest five food items every other day. Crickets, and many other feeder insects commonly available, are low in calcium so supplementation, as described in the nutrition section coming up, is important.
You will need to offer food in a way that the chameleon will find the food. Most of the food items available to us are nocturnal and like to hide on the floor of the enclosure so they cannot be just released in the enclosure and hope that they will be eaten. You will have to hand feed, do controlled release, or cup feed. Hand feeding is where you hold the feeder for the chameleon to shoot at. This is great fun, but has the drawback that shy chameleons will either not eat or else they will not eat enough. Controlled release is where you release a feeder or two on the inside screen wall until the chameleon zaps them and then you release a couple more when the chameleon is ready. Cup feeding is when you put the feeders in a cup that prevents the insect from climbing out and place the cup where the chameleon can have easy access. I, personally, hand feed or control release the first two feeders and then cup feed the rest. This gives me the opportunity to observe eating each time to verify that the chameleon is looking and acting healthy.
Establish a routine. Make a schedule for feeding, watering, enclosure cleaning, sunning, and taking care of feeder insects. There is a lot of work involved in chameleon keeping, but it is manageable if each one of the tasks is scheduled out. Make no mistake, you have chosen a high maintenance animal! But if you dive in and do it right, you will be rewarded with a fascinating experience.
Now, let’s talk about Nutrition
An avid chameleon keeper soon becomes an insect keeper. Even if you have one chameleon and buy ten crickets at a time from the corner pet store, you will learn bugs! This is the natural progression because, like with you, nutrition is critical to keeping a chameleon healthy.
Gutloading. Getting minerals, vitamins, and nutrients into your chameleon starts with gut-loading your feeder insects. This means that you spend a couple days feeding your feeder crickets/superworms/etc…with grains, fruits, and vegetables before feeding them to the chameleon. And, yes, a couple days of rehabilitation is usually necessary for your feeders. Chances are that the feeders you bought from the pet store were not fed well at all. If they are lucky they got some carrots for moisture. Unfortunately, if you feed your chameleon right when you get home with the insects from the pet store, then you are feeding your pet an empty shell devoid of what your chameleon needs to survive.
To combat malnutrition, place your feeders in a container and give them gutload to eat for three days. Then you can feel comfortable that when your chameleon chomps down he is getting what he needs. One of the first things to do is research gutloads. There are many recipes available and I’ll give you a very simple introduction recipe to tide you over. Put the wet parts on one plate and the dry on another to avoid spoiling.
Wet: Collard greens, Carrots, Sweet potatoes, Apple slices
Dry: Wheat germ, bee pollen, dry nonfat milk, alfalfa
I make it a point to mix up my ingredients and cycle in oranges, squash, and other fruits and vegetables that are in season. Commercial gutloads are available and I cycle through these as well. The more variety you give your feeders the more variety your chameleon gets. This is good.
You will have to change out food frequently to avoid spoiling. With feeder insects, fresh food and clean holding bins are critical!
Supplements. We are going to get a tad complicated here because this subject is, well, complicated. Just hang with me as I attempt to make it as high level as possible.
Most of our feeder insects are high in phosphorus which creates an imbalance relative to the calcium in your chameleon. The section on MBD will explain why this is a problem! To combat this, commercial mineral powders are available which will provide more calcium and D3 to your chameleon.
The interaction of calcium and Vitamin D3 is an enormously complicated biological process which takes use from the skin through the liver and through the kidneys. Finding the balance between not enough and too much of either is one of our husbandry challenges.
Calcium is required for proper body function including bone development. Vitamin D3 is required for the body to absorb the calcium.
Calcium is obtained through diet while Vitamin D3 is synthesized from UVB rays hitting the skin. Vitamin D3 can also come through diet, but, in nature, this is a minor source. The chameleon’s body naturally limits production from UVB, but there is no check and balance for dietary D3. Too little calcium and vitamin D3 will produce, among other problems, Metabolic Bone Disease, which is like Rickett’s in humans. Bones are not hard enough. They can be “rubbery” and will break easily. This results in weak legs, broken jaws and curved spines. Too much calcium and/or D3 can create organ failure and edema (excess fluid in the body).
Since every set-up will be different it is impossible to give a universal supplementation schedule. If you are buying a captive bred chameleon just ask your breeder for their recommendation. And remember supplementation and the UVB bulb are intricately tied together so any discussion of supplementation without mention of the UVB bulb is incomplete. The UVB bulb and vitamin D3 component in the supplement must be balanced. So if your breeder gives you a supplementation schedule that works for him or her, then make sure you replicate their UVB set up as well. If you don’t have a breeder you are working with I will give examples of two extremes. Align your supplementation with the one that fits your situation best and adjust as needed. With exposure to natural sunlight I have had good experience with dusting heavily gutloaded feeders with Arcadia EarthPro-A that has calcium and no D3 twice a week for Jackson’s, veiled, and panther chameleons. The most successful completely indoor panther chameleon breeding program, Kammerflage Kreations, uses T8 Reptisun 5.0 UVB bulbs through screen for a UVB level of 30 to 50 uw/cm2 and a dusting schedule of Rhapashy Calcium Plus on gutloaded insects every feeding. I would suggest substituting Rhapashy Calcium with Lo D3 for indoor keeping of montanes such as Jackson’s Chameleons.
To supplement with a powder, place the feeders in a bag or cup with a small amount of power, gently shake the bag/cup to lightly coat the feeder, and then feed it to your chameleon. Over supplementation can lead to as many problems as supplementation can prevent so do not think more is better and overdo it.
Variety. Now we come to the part where things get interesting. Chameleons enjoy a variety of food. You will quickly find yourself learning about many insects. Typical chameleon keepers find themselves going through crickets, superworms (Zophobas), various species of roaches (dubias are most common), praying mantises, blue bottle flies, house flies, black soldier flies, grasshoppers, butterflies, silkworms, waxworms, mealworms, fruit flies, bean beetles, walking sticks, etc… Never doubt you are on quite the adventure! You’ll find your knowledge of the natural world getting much larger with chameleons!
The most common species of chameleon in the pet trade are Panther Chameleons, Veiled Chameleons, and Jackson’s Chameleons. These three are good to start off with because they are the best known and are commonly available as captive bred. The Jackson’s Chameleon is also available as wild-caught, but resist a cheaper price tag when purchasing a chameleon that will be with you for many years if started in top health. There are many other species that come and go in the market. Which ever species you decide, do the proper research into their husbandry before you bring them home! But here are some basics.
Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus). Originates from Yemen, but are mostly found as captive bred. This is a great chameleon to start with because of its hardiness. As babies they are voracious eaters and fast growers. Please read the section on MBD extra carefully because of this! Veileds are colorful and have a dramatic casque on top of their head. One thing that defines these chameleons is each has a distinctive personality. They can be very pleasant, very nasty or anywhere inbetween.
Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis). The panther chameleon, from Madagascar, is the king of color. There are many morphs which can range from pure blue to fiery red to a complete rainbow. They are intelligent and most are mild mannered. Captive bred panthers are widely available and make excellent pets. There certainly are individuals that never lose their crankiness, but most tame down readily.
Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii xantholophus). There are three sub-species of Jackson’s Chameleon. The largest and most common is the Yellow-Crested Jackson’s Chameleon, originally from Kenya. Though, today, they are brought over from Hawaii where they escaped and established themselves. They are live bearing and females can mate and store sperm. I mention this only because you can have a female only and then be surprised a year later when you’ll suddenly find 20 babies in the cage with her! Jackson’s are high altitude chameleons and can easily take temperatures down to the 50s F if the next day is clear and warms to at least the 70s. They have consistently mellow and pleasant personalities. If you told me that you had a chameleon that would eat from your hand while sitting in your other hand I would immediately bet you had an adult female jackson’s chameleon. Jackson’s are a wonderful species.
Now, let’s touch on the wonderful information source known as the internet.
You will find anything there. You will find pictures and videos of chameleons seemingly living together in peace and even snuggling cutely. Videos of chameleons drinking from water bowl, climbing willingly onto their owner’s hand, reaching out for a hug, enjoying a bath (you know it is enjoying the bath because the owner has posted that they, quotes, love it). People will talk about how they have never used a UVB bulb and their babies raised up just fine. You will find people having the exact opposite experience – either in reality or else in just their interpretation of what is going on. The fact is that there are exceptions to everything. Everything! The danger is when someone has one experience, makes an interpretation on that experience, and then broadcasts it as universal truth. The internet loves to jump on these and make them pieces of advice that go on forever. To help you from some misteps you may run into I have gathered a collection of Myths, Misconceptions, leaps of logic, and oversimplifications for your listening pleasure.
Chameleons will drink from a water bowl. Chameleons drink from water droplets on leaves. Whether from rain or morning dew, this is their preferred method of drinking. There are some chameleons, usually veileds, that will figure water bowls out. If you are providing mist and rain and they drink out of a water bowl then you follow your chameleon’s lead. But realize this is not their natural mode of drinking. Keep an eye out for why they are doing this. You’ll hear of people keeping their chameleons with only a water bowl and they’ll show videos of their chameleons drinking from it and talk about how long their chameleon has lived. This is an exception situation and expecting your chameleon to follow suit is a recipe for disappointment.
Fountains are good for humidity. Any open container of water becomes a target for chameleon poop and becomes a bacterial issue. Increase humidity by enclosing sides, increasing misting, and by use of humidifiers. Fountains are a great idea in theory, but in practice quickly become a nightmare.
Glass cages will produce Upper Respiratory Infections. It is compromised immune systems which give the bacteria that is always present a toehold on your chameleon and allows it to bloom out of control. It is not the material of your cage. URIs can happen with screen cages. This oversimplification got started back when chameleon care was in its infancy and we tried keeping chameleons in aquariums like all of the other tropical reptiles that came in. Of course, the most imported chameleon of the time was Jackson’s and they are not tropical. We gave them water through bubblers, kept them in pairs, and there was little to no deparasitization medication going on. The glass aquariums of the time were horizontal and relatively small to what chameleons need. Moving them to bird cages gave them height and better use of space. So there were a number of problems that were being solved at the same time, but glass sides took an unfair share of the blame. Yes, there is a problem with glass trapping heat and stagnant air, but that is the extreme. Trapped heat and decreased ventilation are critical to keeping chameleons healthy in cooler and drier environments. This is a dangerous point when gathering opinions from the internet. I see almost no one asking what your conditions are before stating that you need a screen cage. I wonder if they would know what to do with the information if you gave it. Your best bet when considering what cage to use is to find keepers in your area who have kept chameleons all year and know what is necessary through the seasonal fluctuations. Generally speaking, the further north in latitude you go the more glass and solid side caging is used.
Chameleons will be aggressive to their reflection in glass. Carpet chameleons, which are aggressive towards others, have been raised successfully for generations in glass cages, and glass is used as a standard in many northern latitude keeping situations. You will always have someone raise their hand up and say they saw it happen. Once again, no answer anywhere will apply to every situation. All I can do is pass along what works in the majority of cases and let you know how many “exceptions” may be out there. If you need, or choose, glass because of your conditions then you do what every keeper has to do regardless of what caging is selected – you watch your chameleon carefully and take notes from their behavior as to whether they are content or not and make adjustments accordingly. If your chameleon decides it wants to drink from a water bowl and flares up at the glass side of his cage then you make sure the water bowl is clean and you put something non-reflective up on the wall of the cage. But if you need the heat or humidity maintaining property of glass, then screen is not an option.
Superworms will eat the chameleon from the stomach out. Myth. This is an urban legend that has been circling the chameleon community for a while now. The first thing a chameleon does when it is bringing back food is kill it with a chomp. Even if it does swallow the food alive it will be suffocated. Even if this worm can live and bite while being suffocated, that is a far cry from boring its way through a live body. We humans are clever enough to figure out how this could happen. We can figure out how anything can happen! It has yet to be documented. The generally accepted origin of this story was a keeper that saw his chameleon dead on the floor of the cage with a superworm crawling around it. But this origin story is just as murky as how the originator deduced what had happened. But what we do know is that it took a life of its own and many keepers swore to never use superworms again. This urban legend persists still.
Females need to be bred or they will die egg bound.
Myth. It is hard to tell where this one came from. It is true that malnutrition is common in captive chameleons and all sorts of complications can occur when a chameleon is malnourished. This problem is compounded by the production of eggs. Females can get egg bound or simply die before laying eggs. The stress of producing eggs is enormous. Females are designed to withstand this stress, but they also need the nutrition to create 40 to 100 new lives. If she doesn’t provide it through what she eats, nature will leach the nutrients from her body. So it is not true that a female will die egg bound if not mated. It is true that a female will die if she is not given the proper nutrition –especially during egg production. If the eggs she develops are infertile due to not mating, a healthy female will lay them without issue.
Obesity is actually the culprit in females dying egg bound. The overload of nutrients kicks the body into producing a number of eggs way beyond what is naturally intended and then the now-huge fat pads around her cloaca are making it hard to push eggs through. To avoid obesity we feed them as much as they want to eat until they are sexually mature and then we go to five food items every other day. She may still produce eggs, but having a fit female will make this a non-life threatening event.
A substrate will cause impaction in your chameleons. A substrate is when you put dirt, sand, or wood chips on the bottom of the cage. Impaction is when the animal ingests the substrate and it causes internal complications. Leopard geckos and bearded dragons have this issue and it is theorized that the animals try to ingest the substrate to replace something missing in their diet. In a chameleon’s case it would come from the substrate sticking to the insect during tongue attack and something inadvertently brought back into the mouth. Yes, chameleons can and do ingest foreign objects. I was amazed when my panther chameleon pooped out a six inch piece of vegetation. I have happily put a picture of that in the show notes if you are so inclined to view such a thing. But it went through completely harmlessly. If a rock comes back with the insect there is a possibility that he could chip a tooth. And, if the chameleon is malnourished, there is no telling what he may try to eat in an attempt to get what he needs. If your chameleon starts scooping up and swallowing dirt you can take the dirt away, but you have a much greater nutritional problem. Definitely get on solving that!
Substrates add another level of complication. I do not recommend to start off with a substrate because it is just one more thing you have to monitor and it requires a little bit of skill to balance it out to ensure it is not a soggy, unhygienic mess. But a substrate properly done will be a great source of humidity and can create another living aspect to the vivarium. Those of us who have used substrate long term have a hard time relating to all the hype and doom warnings of a substrate. If you are concerned about the possibility of substrate danger, but still want live plants you can easily find large pebbles and place them on top of any exposed dirt.
That said, don’t put a substrate in unless you have a specific reason for it. Chameleons do not need it and unless you want to take on another complication just don’t mess with it. If you are not ready for maintaining your substrate it can easily become a place for feeders to hide, poop to marinate, and bacteria to thrive. If you don’t have the background to do it then just be patient. Save it for after you have done some research and decide you are ready to take on the next level of husbandry.
Baths will help hydrate your sick chameleon. Some lizards are bathed with the idea that they absorb moisture through their cloaca or that it will help with a shed. This is done with bearded dragons and some other terrestrial lizards. Although there seems to be no conclusive proof that this is useful for hydration in those lizards, some people, and even vets, have extended this to chameleons and have decided what is good for bearded dragons is good for chameleons. If your vet tells you to do this then you have to follow his or her instructions over some guy with a podcast. But if you are deciding this on your own then know that putting a chameleon in puddle of water is not their natural comfort zone and the stress you cause by doing this is hardly worth any amount of hydration they may, but probably will not, get from splashing about. Chameleons should be hydrated the way chameleons are hydrated. Misting or gentle showers. If your chameleon has their eyes closed and will not drink then this requires vet care. At no point along the way, healthy or in rehabilitation, is a bath a good husbandry practice for a chameleon.
Baby chameleons will get stressed in a large cage. There is a common concern that a baby chameleon will get stressed in a large cage. The truth is that it is the keeper that gets stressed with a baby in a large cage. The baby is just fine in a large cage! He is designed to function on the African continent bounded by oceans. If anything, he will be stressed because he will not be able to disperse as far as he can from his hatch site. He is already programmed to seek out heat and UVB. At a couple days old he is already an effective hunter of bugs. You will not be able to put feeders in a 48” cage without your baby knowing exactly where they are! Just make sure you don’t have places where feeders can hide or that the chameleon can’t reach. A feeder dish placed at the same, accessible spot every day will solve this problem nicely.
You do have to be much more sensitive to the heat at your basking spot to make sure it is not overwhelming for a little guy. And you have to make sure the coverage of your misting system is sufficient. You can start them off in a smaller cage and then move them to an adult cage later. But this is for your sake and your ease of providing for them. It is not because a large cage will produce stress in them.
A Chameleon falling asleep on you is a sign of affection. This is a tough one. It does no harm to believe that your chameleon loves you, has a special connection with you, or knows when you are sad. The problem comes when you start responding with affection appropriate for a human being. Chameleons live a completely different life. They come from a different world. They come together for mating and there are observations that some may pair up for a time. We humans like to call this affection because that warms our heart. It is more likely defending their genetics being procreated. We see chameleons sleeping together and think how precious. That is because sleeping together is how we see affection and security. It is more likely that chameleons are just jockeying for the best sleeping spot or defending their location. Babies sleeping on top of each other is not “cute”. Those are claws at the ends of those feet meant to anchor them on branches during windy nights. The chameleon on the bottom is not getting loved. We will never be rid of the perception that chameleons love each other and return our love because that is our true desire as chameleon keepers. We want a human bond with them. And so we will look for evidence that supports that and interpret actions in that light. A chameleon climbing onto our hand is because they want to be with us – not because they don’t like their cage, they know that food is out there, or they have gotten antsy because it is time to look for a mate. A chameleon has stopped running away because it is now comfortable playing our interaction game – not because it has given up on escaping this huge creature that is 50 times bigger and faster than it is. Chameleons should never have their eyes closed during the day. When they close their eyes during the day they are either sick or overwhelmed. I bring this example up specifically because the natural reaction to a chameleon who loves us so much that he falls asleep on our arm after a long play session is to find it adorable and to make sure that this chameleon gets a nice long play session the next day until it falls asleep on our arm again. If we are correct that this chameleons loves and trusts us so deeply then life is great for all involved. If, on the other hand, the chameleon is getting overwhelmed by having to interact with this large creature who could eat it at any time and then just gives up then we are creating a life of terror for our chameleon. What is more likely, that chameleons have this well of affection potential that has been untapped for millions of years of evolution just waiting for humans to make pets out of them or that they view us as potential predators and their default assumption is that we will eat them at any moment. I know what we want it to be. I also am honest enough to acknowledge what the true nature of a chameleon is most likely to be. We really have to accept them for what they are.
It isn’t a plastic chameleon, why would you use plastic plants?
There are a number of reasons why plastic plants are used and there is no evidence to show that the chameleon cares one way or another about live versus plastic plants. You won't get humidity advantage from a plastic plant, but all the other plant uses are there. In addition, the ability for plastic plants to be easily disinfected and cleaned makes them ideal for certain applications. I use both. Live plants are great! Plastic plants are great! Both have their uses and chameleons do not show a preference. But avoid plastic with veiled chameleons. If they chew a piece of plastic off it could be dangerous.
I hope this quick tour through chameleon keeping has been helpful.
I have put together a booklet entitled “Your First Chameleon” that summarizes much of what was covered in this podcast and adds in more on reading chameleon body language and health. It is a free full color pdf available on chameleonbreeder.com. It is meant to be a quick reference so do not take it as a complete information download! But it will get you started on the right foot and is a companion to this podcast episode.
Both the podcast and the eBook are made possible by the Dragon Strand Chameleon Caging Company. It is support from Dragon Strand that allows me to do what I do here. Remember the Dragon Ledges I talked about? Those are a patented Dragon Strand product. If you want a structurally sound way to mount horizontal branches and trailing vines down the sides of your chameleon cage, the Dragon Ledges allow you to do this with no stress on the screens. They are anchors that transfer weight from inside the cage to the strength of the frame. You can create some very beautiful plantscapes with these! They can be purchased as retrofit kits for most manufacturer’s screen cages. They are also included in the Dragon Strand Large Keeper Chameleon Cage kit which combines a 48” Large Keeper Cage with Dragon Ledges and an extra floor panel for easy daily cleaning. Check out the show notes or dragonstrand.com for more information.
You have just had your crash course in chameleon keeping. But it is just a glance on the surface! You have two assignments to get to immediately.
1) Research. Start at the beginning and listen to the Chameleon Academy Podcast on iTunes or online at chameleonacademy.com. Or just take the plunge and download the free iPhone/iPad Chameleon AcademyPodcast app and have all the episodes at your fingertips. Just listening to the podcasts will give you a feel for chameleons. Everything you read will be easier with this reference in mind.
-Study the back issues of the Chameleons! eZine at chameleonnews.com. It is the finest collection of chameleon community knowledge available. It is in a magazine format so you can read an issue at a time.
2) Get involved in that chameleon community.
-www.chameleonforums.com is our oldest active forum. It has a good blend of beginners and experienced old timers. You’ll be able to tap into some long time keepers that just haven’t jumped on the Facebook bandwagon.
On Facebook you just type "Chameleon" into the search bar and you'll have numerous results. There are a large number of Facebook groups regarding chameleons. You have many choices to check out and find one that matches your personality. The one I recommend is the Chameleon Enthusiasts which is a rare blend of beginner guidance with very experienced keepers/breeders and scientists on the moderator team. I am an admin for the group and I'd be happy to interact there. It is a great place to start making friends and learn more!
The chameleon community is made up of a very diverse group of people. We are tied together by a passion for these mini tree dragons.
If you are just getting started, then welcome to a world that is rich with possibilities for personal growth and enjoyment.
Thank you for joining me here for this podcast episode. For show notes that have images and links on what we’ve talked about go online to chameleonacademy.com. It is here that you can also find the free eBooklet “Your First Chameleon”. I’d also like to say “thank you, Megan” for helping me out here:
And for this week, that’s a wrap.
Summary: Carpet Chameleons are a small species from Madagascar that are named for the intricately beautiful patterns they show. This species has the characteristic of being one of the few where the female is more colorful than the male. Breeding these jewels was, at one time, problematic and there were only brief pockets of success in the community. Kevin Stanford has spearheaded the effort for breeding success and is now working with 6th Captive Generation specimens.
You can listen here:
While forward movement is always built on the backs of those who have gone before us and is fanned by those who work with us, there is often one person whose efforts become a catalyst for the community. In carpet chameleons, that has been Kevin Stanford. In this episode we talk with Kevin about his methods for successfully breeding carpet chameleons and his journey to get to this point.
Below is a selection of photos from Kevin's collection (all photos used with permission from Kevin Stanford)
If you are interested in keeping up with Kevin and his Carpet Chameleon availability, follow him on his Facebook page at Kevin Standford Chameleons on Facebook
He also has an Instagram account with the user name @macandcheese2