Ep 3: Vacations & Chameleons at Homeadmin
Summary: Because chameleons need daily care we can feel like we are now anchored to the home. While we love our chameleons, we still want to be able to visit family during the holidays! In this podcast I discuss how to pull this off with you refreshed and your chameleon as happy as ever. .
You can listen here:
Setting up your misting reservoir
Here is a way to set up your misting reservoir for a simple change out for your pet sitter. The simpler you make it the more likely it will be done right! When the water jug runs low you just switch out jugs. This has the added benefit that your jugs get cleaned on a regular basis.
Please note that this is conflict with the directions which say to keep the pump intake below your water level. I do not know the effects of thumbing my nose at such advice. But this system has worked for me for a couple years. Copy at your own risk. But, this been a superior set up to any other I have tried. Personal experience.
Great recipe for rat stew
I wasn’t kidding about that rat stew thing! Here is a recipe if you think that actually sounded interesting.
Sources for Misting Systems
If you are setting up an automatic misting system there are two currently available that I can recommend: Climist and MistKing.
Yes. The struggle is real.
Transcript (more or less)
Transcript (More or Less)
Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.
H’llo Mate, You’ve taken a wrong turn at the alley, ain’t that right Bert? Oooh, yeah…and you’ve ended up at The Chameleon Breeder Podcast with a dodgy crew if I’ve ever seen one. Unless you are one of them Chameleon folk…in which case me and Joe might just be on our way. We’re not much for the likes of people who keep roaches for eating.
Yeah, clear out, you rabble….I got a show to do. Sorry about that folks, it can get rough here at the docks. What am I doing on a foggy night at the docks? Well, a much needed vacation, that’s what! The brochure said a quaint old London harbor atmosphere. Maybe I had better get a little more familiar with history. But, I am here now enjoying what appears to be some sort of rat stew. The proprietor called it a classic dish. And who am I to argue?
But I know the real question on your mind. How in the world was I able to get time off from taking care of the chameleons?
Vacations and holidays are wonderful things and we all need the down time to sample exotic cuisines, but for chameleon people there is always a stress that comes along with the excitement…how do I take care of my chameleon? Chameleons are wonderful, but they do take daily maintenance and, as hardy as they are, we do not like it when our friends go without. So, in honor of the coming holidays, we are, today, going to talk about leaving your chameleon for four days to two weeks and how to pull that off. If you do it right, the worst that will happen is that you’ll feel a low grade stress and your chameleon is still sitting on his same branch, a couple grams heavier, looking at you when you walk back in the door.
The biggest challenge we have whether we go away for a vacation or even just to work during the day is hydration. We chameleon wranglers can’t just put out a bowl of water. I’ve got to say that an automatic misting system solves so many problems in properly keeping chameleons. I know there are people that work at home and hand mist their chameleons throughout the day. And, oh, aren’t they so proud of themselves that they don’t need those new fangle dangled automatic misting systems – they say with their nose turned up at us poor commuting slobs. Well, be nice to them because they will be going nowhere for the holidays with their hand spraying ways and you are going to try and get them to come over and take care of your chameleons!
So we will talk about Lighting, Watering, Feeding, scheduling, and a number of miscellaneous items that just fit under the description of being prepared.
Lights are the most basic. Most keepers already have them on appliance timers so there is no change needed here. If you do this manually then now is the time to invest $10 on appliance timers that will turn your lights on and off. You’ll need two if you want the basking bulb to go on and then off when the morning is over. Check the prongs. In the USA, at least, basking bulbs are usually two prong and fluorescents are grounded with that third prong. Get the right timer.
Water is our first hurdle. Once we solve that the rest is not so challenging. And the only way is an automatic misting system which turns on and off with respect to a timer. This is the most important piece of husbandry equipment in my opinion whether you are away or at home. An automatic misting system makes sure you chameleon gets the hydration he needs, but also the hygiene. Drip systems will work for drinking, but chameleons need to wash out their eyes for optimal health. They need a misting system or trips into the shower for that. I suggest you get a serious misting system. There are cheaper ones to be had, but you will get mediocre quality. At this time the only two I can recommend are Mist King and CliMist. The substantial advantages that come with these is 1) the pumps can run dry without overheating and breaking and 2) it is easy to provide your own water reservoir that the pump draws from and that becomes important for the purposes of this episode. And 3) The timers work off a clock and not a countdown. What that means is the cheap ones turn on every 4 hours or every 12 hours or such so you need to play games with your appliance timer to get it to run only during the day. The Mist King or CliMist have real clocks and allow you to have precise control over when and how long.
So to get ready to leave for a period of time you figure out how much water you use each day and make sure that is available for the length of time you will be gone. For a long term vacation you can have a friend come by and refill the system. Have a 5 gallon jug of water sitting right there so it is simple to do the refill. Or you can do what we do at Podcast Headquarters and put the pump intake tube directly into the 5 gallon jug. That way the switch out is just pulling the intake tubing into the next jug. Check the show notes on chameleonbreeder.com if you are not sure what I am describing. Now I have to disclose that the official directions for these pumps say that the pump intake should be below the water level, not above it. But we all have our subtle rebellions, don’t we? So, yeah, I live on the edge. Podcaster gone rouge! Follow at your own risk!
Our next step is to figure out what to do with the excess water. You probably already have a drainage tray. Figure out how often you have to empty it. Often evaporation takes care of that for us, but don’t forget to calculate that as you don’t need to come home to an overflow.
Food is our next consideration. First we are going to have a little talk about how much food is truly needed by a chameleon. A chameleon content with his cage does not move much and there aren’t a whole lot of calories being burned. As a community, we tend to over feed our chameleons. They really don’t need to eat every day. And they really don’t need to eat until they are totally stuffed. Especially veiled chameleons. Most chameleons eat until they are full and then just ignore you. Veiled chameleons do not have an internal off switch and will just eat because something moves. Or might move. Or doesn’t move. Your chameleon will be more healthy if you feed him every other day. Obesity is a problem in chameleons. Of course, I am talking about adult chameleons here. Babies need to get some size on them so that is different. I am talking about adults who are no longer growing and are just maintaining weight. The point is that you don’t have to get worried if your chameleon doesn’t eat for a day or even two. The only thing that will happen is that they are a little more appreciative the next time you put in that cricket. I have had chameleons go on hunger strikes for a week of longer. Deremensis, a three horn chameleon from Tanzania, love to do this occasionally. The way to know when they are just going off feed for a while or something is wrong is to get a gram scale and as long as they don’t lose more than 5% of their body weight don’t worry. If you see a downward progression and eyes start to sink you know this is something more serious. Well, if the eyes start to sink, no matter what else, you have an issue. The point is that if the chameleon is alert and acts normal, there may be no reason to worry about the not eating. But, let’s get back to vacation! I say all this just to ease your fears about your chameleon not having his daily feast. For adults: Every day is excessive. Every other day is healthy. Every third day is a weight loss program. More than that and you are putting your chameleon under hardship.
So with this in mind, a weekend get-away is actually easy. Fill up his bowl after dark Thursday night or early Friday morning before you leave and he’ll have just entered into that appreciative stage by time you get back Monday evening. For a week long vacation you’ll want to have a friend, roommate, neighbor, family member, or even professional pet sitter come over for a checkup visit at least once in the middle, but preferably twice. You can have a quick change set-up to make it easy. Here is a suggestion for you.
Set up your chameleon cage so it can handle two feeding stations. It is much easier to have more food sitting in the cage if they are split up. Make sure there is a sizeable piece of carrot in each feeding bowl. It needs to be big enough that the chameleon won’t be able to bring it out with the cricket it snagged. The carrot will keep the feeders alive and hydrated for longer benefit. By the way, don’t worry about supplementation during your vacation. That just decreases your feeders’ lives. Right now, feeders living longer is more important than supplementation.
If you just have to prepare for one change out during your absence then make a complete duplicate of what you have in the cage ready and waiting. Have two clean feeding bowls ready for easy switch out. And have two ventilated Tupperware containers sitting nearby with the proper number of feeders with food in each. Put in parts of egg cartons so the holding containers are just as functional as the main bin. The better you outfit this temporary holding container the more healthy your crickets will be. This way, your helper can waltz in, remove the used feeding bowl which will have a dead cricket or two and maybe a poop, put in the new bowls and dump one Tupperware container in each feeding station. (without the egg cartons of course) And that is it for food!
If you get good at creating mini holding bins you can actually keep crickets alive in these for at least a week and you can repeat this for two or even three days. If you are feeding every third day then three refreshes just extended your vacation out to 12 days (you take the first and last feeding responsibilities). With two feeding station’s worth every third day your chameleon might even gain weight.
But extending it out this long requires a little more training and a friend willing to do some work. Because after a week the cricket bin will be in serious need of cleaning and food replacement. This goes for your holding bins as well. For a week’s absence I am actually more concerned about your feeders than the chameleon because the chameleon is the easy part. Getting someone to maintain a cricket bin is the tough part!
Here is a great idea for you. Do a practice run before you leave for vacation. Set things up as if you will be leaving and then follow the steps you envision your pet sitter to follow and you’ll soon see what needs to be changed. If you have a warm environment maybe you can’t keep as many crickets in that size Tupperware container holding cup. Maybe you need a bigger holding cup. Warm, hot, humid, cold…all these environmental conditions will require a slight tweak on the plan so try it out two weeks before you leave and work out the bugs before you have to do the real thing.
In case of feeder colony crash, make sure you have the phone number of your preferred cricket provider easily available where ever you are.
Temperature. If you need to heat or cool the house remember to leave the heater or Air Conditioner on. Sometimes we automatically turn off the environmental control when we leave the house to save energy costs. I am a dad. I do this. Just make sure you remember and you remind the dads that there is still a family member at home. Since this family member has his own heat lamp and can be comfortable with colder nights than the warm blooded ones maybe there can be less environmental control, but make sure you don’t let the house freeze or bake.
So those are the environmental considerations. What happens if something happens of a medical nature? If you are having a friend or family member come by and check on things then tape the phone numbers to your veterinarian and the after hours emergency veterinary service to the cage in an obvious location. The last thing you want is your friend to have no idea what to do if your chameleon is in trouble and they can’t get a hold of you right away. Make sure they have the medical care phone numbers and the assurance that you will pay for any vet bills…. even if your caretaker panics and rushes your chameleon to emergency room for zombie-ism. Just remember that they are doing you a favor and they were the best you could find. Maybe you should have explained the whole shedding thing before you left.
And here is something from left field. Make sure your heat lamp, cage, and appliances are strapped down. What if an earthquake happens while you are away? In some areas this can be an issue. I am from California and we have to think about these things. Your cage and appliances – especially the heat lamp – should already be anchored, but if they are not then this is the time to think about it. You don’t need a minor trembler to knock something over during the night and then have the heat lamp, now on the floor, start heating up something it shouldn’t. But this also goes for other pet activity. Make sure the big dog with his wagging tail or a house cat jumping on top the cage cannot knock things over. This is easy dealt with when you are home, but when the house is empty for days on end you have to be more vigilant for what could happen.
If you have a little tech insight and want to do something cool you can always set up an internet camera to show you your chameleon cage where ever you are and you can give directions to your helper remotely. This is a cool application of modern technology.
Now, what happens when we have a vacation planned and we have everything set up, documented and tested out and…your clutch of eggs start hatching out early. You should know that incubating chameleon eggs come with an internal clock that aligns with vacation schedules and business trips. It is a strange evolutionary development that science has yet to describe, but every hobbyist can attest this is a real thing. Eggs that have two months left in their incubation will usually accelerate their development to the couple days before your trip to France. And if any of the listenership does get into the biological sciences, please figure out why they do this and how they know the absolute least convenient time to hatch! So, what now? Do we cancel the trip? I mean, the Eiffel tower will be there next year, right? Dude..just letting you know… that is grounds for divorce and even if you are in a no-fault divorce state chances are the judge will make an exception. So eventhough I know you are thinking it, do NOT say that outloud! It is time to work quickly.
1) Weep and gnash your teeth at the mischievous chameleon gods that are, right now, laughing their butts off at you. Mutter those ancient anglo-saxon incantations that are inappropriately educational for the younger audience….and with that out of your system let’s get to productive work.
2) Hopefully you have caging set up and ready for hatchlings. Seriously, you should have all of this set up halfway through your expected incubation especially if you have a vacation planned or are in a profession where you may have to travel unexpectedly. You really don’t want to be pulling together caging while you are arguing about how many suitcases are going to Paris.
3) You need someone to visit every day. This person needs to have basic training in how to take care of things. If you have the misting system for the babies on an automatic mister then you can get away with every other day if you have a feeding station that can handle two days of food. But if you have that then it is big enough to collect a whole lot of baby poop along the way. A quick everyday visit is almost mandatory.
If you have babies that need to be taken care of while you are away the absolute best option is that you have a chameleon community friend you trust take care of the clutch while you are away. If you don’t have any friends in the chameleon community this is a good time to start!
At the every least you will need a trusted individual to help out. They don’t have to do much and sending video to you for real-time directions is a possibility in today’s world.
If the eggs do not hatch before your trip you know this is more than a joke and that the chameleon gods are angry with you. Be prepared for a hatching while you are away. Have everything set up and ready to go before you leave. Being fully prepared is the only way to ensure that it will not happen.
Let’s talk about communication. Experienced chameleon caretakers are a niche group and chances are you won’t have an experienced person available to you. So you will have to leave instructions behind even if you give your volunteer a basic run through. You will need to leave them a list of things to do each day and, if possible, a set of “If this happens, do this” answers. Pictures to go along with the instructions would be helpful. With today’s technology you can even make videos and leave them on a tablet computer for reference or send them to a dropbox folder that the pet care person has access to.
In addition to the directions, create an emergency phone list and tape it to the cage where it won’t get misted on. On this list have the following numbers:
1) Your number
2) A number to leave a message if you are out of range
3) Your veterinarian’s number
4) Veterinary Emergency after hours number
5) Feeder supply with what to order in case of a feeder colony crash
6) Neighbor or family member to contact in case of the unexpected (like what? I don’t know…that is why we call it unexpected!)
This is actually a great list to have for your reference. When there is a medical emergency imagine how much easier it will be if the numbers are easy to find.
Below are some simple checklists for a weekend getaway and a week mini vacation. Thee checklists will be in the show notes so you don’t have to pull the car over and take notes right now.
Four Day Get-Away.
Can be done without helper.
Night or Morning before departure:
1) Clean cage
2) Empty Drainage Tray
3) Fill Mister water reservoir
4) Put two feeder bowls with one day’s worth of feeders in each (and a carrot slice) in the cage. Try to find a place where the chameleon can’t poop in them.
1 Week Vacation
You’ll need someone to come in once in the middle of your trip. This person needs to know enough to refill water, refresh food and clean the cage. This is simple enough for family members, neighbors, or friends to be trained. But if that is not an option, then find a professional pet sitter to come for the one middle day. If you have it all organized then even if they are not experienced with reptiles they should be able to handle it.
1) Clean cage
2) Empty Drainage Tray
3) Fill Mister water reservoir
4) Tape Vet phone numbers on cage
5) Prepare two plastic containers for feeder refresh.
Morning of departure:
4) Put two feeder bowls with one day’s worth of feeders each (and a carrot slice) in the cage. Try to find a place where the chameleon can’t poop in them.
For both scenarios you can put feeders in the night before, but I suggest that being the last thing you do as you walk out the door.
Greater than one week vacation
Have friend/family member/pet sitter come every two or three days.
1) Clean cage
2) Empty Drainage Tray
3) Fill Mister water reservoir
4) Tape Vet phone numbers on cage
5) Prepare four plastic containers for feeder refresh. Two for use right before you leave and two to be left as a reminder to your pet sitter as to how much to feed for each bowl.
6) Make sure the to-do list is in plain sight with any how-to directions
Morning of departure:
1) Put two feeder bowls with one day’s worth of feeders each (and a carrot slice) in the cage. Try to find a place where the chameleon can’t poop in them.
So there is your vacation talk. We chameleon people have an extra challenge when it comes to vacations and we can’t just go down to the local kennel and check in Godzilla. But with the proper preparation a vacation can go off without a hitch.
If you have any other hints or tips that would be useful or just stories of your experiences share on Facebook or Instagram. You can also email it to me at Bill@chameleonacademy.com and I’ll share with the masses.
The sponsor for this episode is the Dragon Strand caging company. You find the most innovative caging for chameleons at dragonstrand.com. We have just released the new Atrium enclosure series with 45” wide and tall cages that come standard with the patent pending Dragon Ledges that allow you to mount plants and horizontal branches above the floor. This size is suitable for parsonii, melleri, or to just treat your panther like the king he is! The link is in the show notes. Visiting our sponsors helps us stay on the air.
The only thing left is for me to apologize for the horrible accents at the beginning of this podcast. I have no idea what dialect that was supposed to be or was butchering! Forgiven or not…that’s a wrap for today.