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Should I Breed Chameleons?

Ep 7: Should I Breed Chameleons?

Summary: For people who love their chameleon keeping experience this question of breeding naturally comes up.  What can be better than having a chameleon?  Well, obviously – more chameleons!  But it isn’t as simple as that. We will explore the reasons, good and not-so-good, to breed chameleons.                                              .


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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.

Today’s episode is inspired by an email I received from Sarah. She has a Jackson’s chameleons and she wonders if she should breed “Monty”. She has kept Monty for over a year and feels that breeding him would be fun. And she asks whether that would be a good idea or not.

Thank you Sarah for your question. Of course, you wrote in to a podcast named the “Chameleon Breeder Podcast” so I could be accused of being biased a bit. But I will answer to the best of my ability. I’ll expand this answer to be general enough to cover as many situations as I can so Sarah and anyone else thinking this question might pull away what they need.

For people who love their chameleon keeping experience this question naturally comes up. What can be better than having a chameleon? Well, obviously – more chameleons! And the fact that baby chameleons are pretty much the cutest thing on Earth. In today’s episode we’ll take a look at the breeding question. I will give my insight and experience and I want to iterate that on most of these podcasts I try to present in a manner as objective and educational as possible. My opinion is there, and how could it not be, but I keep it as much to the facts as I know them. This podcast will have it all switched around. You are going to be getting a lot of my personal view mixed in with my experience. So, if you hear something that you don’t agree with, don’t worry so much on this one. This podcast is meant mainly to be a catalyst for thought for those who are considering getting involved in the breeding of chameleons.

Should I breed my chameleon?

This isn’t a primer on how to breed chameleons or how to take care of babies. This is a discussion on reasons why you may be thinking about breeding chameleons and the pros and cons of those reasons. We will also discuss consequences of certain decisions if you do decide to breed your chameleons. The point we will focus on that will drive everything else is what is your end game.   Are you doing it just for fun? And how important is the money aspect of this?

Right from the start we need to establish that there is a huge difference between breeding/raising chameleons and selling chameleons. And then there is an even bigger difference to make the jump to actually make money at it. For this short time that you and I are sharing these airwaves we are going to make sure that we are completely honest with our expectations for this breeding experience. How much of this is for fun? How much for money? So here is a summary of what is required for each:

Breeding and raising of chameleons.

For this you need solid husbandry. Nutrition of the female during pregnancy, incubation strategies and baby care are critical to be correct. But this is probably what you are fully aware of and, actually, looking forward to! Do not wait for the three month mark to find out that you really didn’t think about the details on what it would take to sell chameleons.

Selling Chameleons

The skill set to sell chameleons is getting the word out there. In this day and age that means social media. There are other outlets, but Facebook makes it so easy to reach hundreds of people. It could be thousands or tens of thousands if you are willing to spend money to advertise. Finding new homes for your chameleon can be as simple as finding enough people in your friend network to have homes to send them to to starting your own Facebook company and doing a sales campaign.

Making money

Ah, money. It makes the world go ‘round. Selling your chameleons is a skill set in marketing and visibility. But the real way to make money selling chameleons is a function of selling for more money than you put into the project. The reason this is important is that streamlining your processes takes an enormous amount of time and skill. Your biggest reoccurring expense is your food bill. Are you going to put the time and effort in to create and maintain a feeder breeding group? Are you going to be a cricket or dubia roach farmer? Are you going to super charge your sales outlet with a fancy Facebook page and a consistent social media campaign? Making money on your chameleon breeding efforts is an exercise of reducing costs and developing an industry reputation.

The reason why we are breaking those three up is that you need to consider each one. Realize that you will need varying levels of skills in each one depending on what you plan on getting out of your experience. As for me, I love the husbandry part of raising baby chameleons. That would be my passion. I do not like the process of selling chameleons. I can do it and I can do it well. It is just that I’d love for someone else to do the selling and I’ll do the breeding! This is the reason why I did wholesale selling for a time. I loved the breeding and raising and then I did not have to spend time with sales! Where are your strengths? Ponder each of those three skill sets and consider where your talent or enjoyment lies. Come up with a partner if you need one of those skill sets and don’t have it or want to deal with it. But have a plan ahead of time so you don’t find yourself stuck when you really need to be moving. Because of my hesitation to be a sales person I totally grew to adulthood a group of five Abronia Mexican Alligator Lizards I was supposed to sell at three months old. I enjoyed them, but my personal preferences got in the way of the plan. So, if your plan does not include living seven years with 60 veiled chameleons all over your house then you need to spend some time up front with the breeding project exit strategy.

But let’s get back to the beginning. I have six common reasons why people start breeding chameleons. See if you see yourself in any one of these.

1) I want more chameleons!

There is an itch that once we get bitten by the chameleon bug we want to be surrounded by them. I want to caution you that our ability to collect chameleons vastly outstrips the time and resources available to keep them. I have been there – “got to collect them all!” Unless you have a project that requires numbers of chameleons, I am going to suggest to you that concentrating on the husbandry of a few chameleons will give you much more joy than having a room full of chameleons that takes all your waking hours to clean and feed. It is counter intuitive, but more chameleons does not necessarily equate to more enjoyment. Just remember that your love may expand to encompass them all equally, but time and resources do not grow as easily. Working with chameleons is fun. I love it. But there is a little secret of life I will share that comes from just life experience – stop expanding while the experience is still great. That is how you keep it great. When things are going well we tend to keep pushing until it is not fun anymore. I guess that is what we humans need to know when to stop.

If having more is a motivation for breeding chameleons yourself I am going to say that you will definitely get more! Just make sure more is what you really will be happy with once you get it. Nothing says you can’t slowly add another awesome morph of male panther chameleon every year to a collection that is growing at the rate that you can still tell when you are reaching the point of diminishing enjoyment – rather than figuring that out after you have long passed that point.

2) Status

At least in the North American arena, which is what I am familiar with, being a breeder is a status symbol. You hear people talk about breeders as if they hold the keys to the chameleon world and breeders will list their years of breeding as a resume. And that isn’t necessarily all bluster. You get quite a lot of experience breeding chameleons on a regular basis and you sure need to know what you are doing. At least to some extent. Breeding veileds and panthers is pretty much a recipe now a days so you really just have to follow the instructions. Someone having produced X number of panther chameleons is not an indication that the breeder can speak on all aspects of chameleon care. Following a recipe can get you lots of cookies without you ever having to understand the difference between baking powder and baking soda. The real accomplishments start happening in areas beyond just churning out lots of panthers or veileds. And this isn’t to diminish the accomplishments of the breeders out there. Heck, the name of this podcast shows where my mind is, but I just want to bring out that if you are becoming a breeder because of this feeling that you step up to another strata of status I will let you know that there are many other areas of study that you can make huge contributes to the community. I am not saying you shouldn’t breed. I am just saying there are better ways to get recognition if you are looking to be part of something.

3) Bad Information

Various versions of mis-information continues to floats around. One of these that has actually driven people to breed is the one that says if you don’t breed your female chameleon she will die egg bound. When we use the term “egg bound” it is the common name for the medical term Dystocia. It means that the female retains her eggs for whatever reason and she dies without laying them. Egg binding can come from having so many eggs that her body cannot handle the production. This is commonly caused by over feeding. We in the chameleon world run into this the most with female veiled chameleons. Veiled chameleons don’t have much of an off switch when it comes to food and so they eat and eat. We love to watch them eat and think they will stop when they are full. The end result is that the Veiled chameleon’s body goes into super production due to availability of food and can create enough eggs to be a problem. Other times she refuses to lay her eggs because a suitable laying site is not available. This is a gross oversimplification of dystocia or egg binding. The important thing to know is that egg binding does not come from lack of breeding. If you have a female who looks to be more gravid than is reasonable then look to your nutrition and feeding habits. And make sure there is a suitable egg laying site. An egg bound chameleon will have the same outcome whether the eggs are fertile or infertile. This breeding idea was just a stab in the dark by someone who was trying to figure out what went wrong and it stuck and it won’t go away it seems. Double down on your study of nutrition and you will have no problem with your female chameleon. Avoid obesity and if she does develop eggs give her a suitable laying site. That may not solve all the cases of egg binding out there, but breeding is not a requirement for a female to have a healthy life.

4) To Reduce Pressure on Wild Populations

It is a noble intention to be part of the solution of species going extinct. It makes sense. If captive bred animals are available why would we have to buy chameleons from the wild? Of course, we know a major problem with chameleons is the destruction of habitat. So maybe we could even breed enough here and then we could ship them over to Madagascar to strengthen wild numbers!

It is a great idea, but I am going to have to be a downer here. Market forces are not driving the export quotas for chameleons. Those are set by CITES (that is the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species) based on what is determined to be a sustainable level of collection. If there is a market for that species of chameleon then our army of established chameleon breeders will want to breed it and there will be continued demand for wild caught blood to refresh our genetic lines. But, once again, regardless of whether our motivation is to capitalize on a living product or to launch a life saving conservation project, CITES quotas don’t care what we want. Even if the price is driven down, they will still come in because every exporter wants to use their entire quota. I remember during my days as an importer. If I wanted Panther and Carpet chameleons I had to take Oustaleti and Verrucosus so the exporter would not be left with a partial quota that no one would take. They still came in paying no heed to domestic market conditions.

Reintroduction of a species is viable only if the habitant destruction is reversed or at least stopped. And reintroduction would be risky with a captive generation. But, that said, if that situation ever came to be, the organizers would need people experienced in breeding chameleons.

This is a topic we could do a whole show on, or even many. Suffice to say for the purposes of you making the decision right now as to whether you will breed or not, don’t let the situation of wild chameleons be part of that decision. I encourage all of us to find ways of making the world a better place. Your first clutch of babies may be the first step on your journey to doing just that, but let’s get you through your first clutch before taking that on.

5) Money

And we round this up with the elephant in the room – money! Yes, you can make money breeding chameleons which is music to the ear of anyone who longs to be paid for what they love to do. And if that is all you want to hear then turn off the podcast now and go give me a great rating on iTunes. For those of you still left, yes, you can make money, but it is certainly not as easy as just doing it. The problem is actually not the breeding portion. Remember how I said it was a recipe? There aren’t a whole lot of commercially viable species and the ones that we do – have the care and breeding instructions plastered all over the internet.

If money is a component to your motivation then you have to decide whether you are just going to breed a clutch or two to help you fund your hobby and maybe trade babies with others to expand you collection that way – or if you truly want to treat this as a business.

If you are just going to support your hobby then it is easy. You just continue doing exactly what you normally do. Keep your chameleon community contacts and when the time comes to sell babies you leisurely do so. Since you are doing it to support your hobby you should do it in a way that allows you to enjoy it. This means to prepare a head of time for four to six moth old babies. This removes the stress of having to panic sell babies when they reach the 3 to 4 month stage.

Let me explain: A common panic is when the babies get old enough to move their dominance contests to the physical stage. This can come around the three month stage. Once they start mauling each other the keeper, understandably, is suddenly willing to sell them for anything just to get the stress out of their lives. If you are doing this just for fun then make sure it stays fun and have a plan should all the babies not sell at three months.

Really make money.

If you truly want to make money selling chameleons then you need a different mindset then just having fun. You need to know the breeding of your species inside and out and reduce the cost. You may be raising your own feeders. For the purposes of this episode I will mention one thing about turning your hobby into a business. People love breeding chameleons so many people do it. And our wonderful social media has made it surprisingly easy to set up shop. This is why it is somewhat simple to find panther chameleon breeders when we log onto Facebook. Get a couple panthers, make yourself a name and open a Facebook store! It is really that simple. So your competition is intense. You will have to develop your own follower base. Should you do it? Well, if you are wanting to turn it into a business then you have gone beyond the wondering whether you should or not. I will leave you with this: Go into business when you can offer something that is different. Don’t do the same thing as someone else and then have your differentiation be that you are cheaper. Having a bunch of hobby breeder and business aspirationals in a downward spiral to see who can offer the cheapest panther chameleon is just bad for the hobby and bad for the panther chameleons. There is no skill in offering a lower price unless you have retained the same profit margin and are able to offer the lower price because of operational efficiency. That means you have developed a new and novel way of breeding feeders which lowers your cost of doing business. It does not mean moving in with your mother and having her pay your utilities. And why is this bad for the panthers and bad for the industry? Because if we all drive the price of panthers down and down then we will bring it down to the point where it cannot sustain anyone’s business. Sound good? Bring it back to the hobbyist level where it is all about the love for the animal instead of the money? That is thrown about as if it is a good thing, but it is not a strong community structure.

Stable business level ventures enhance our community. It is stable profitable business that will defend our rights to keep reptiles by supporting organizations such as USARK which is a political action organization that actively defends us against anti-pet keeping lobbyists. A rag tag band of hobbyists will never come together in a co-ordinated effort to fight on capitol hill. We need healthy industry to support that kind of effort.

But I am starting to wander here. As a new breeder you are not going to be changing the industry just yet, but I will offer you this advice. Make sure you have housing to hold any babies that do not sell at three months old. Raise the price and sell them as hold backs. But do not let yourself get into the position where you are having to lower price to dump the clutch the because you are running out of space. I will tell you right now it is easier to produce eggs than it is to take care of babies and the biggest trap new breeders who are drunk on the money from their first clutch fall into is breeding more females than they will be able to handle in babies. I call this the 300 hump. This is where we hear the new breeder brag about how many eggs he is incubating and then we never hear from them again because they could not handle the baby explosion that resulted. You can overwhelm yourself much to easily. In the panther or veiled breeding business your skill is not in producing babies in quantity. It is managing your production so that you can handle the work load and baby care requirements to maintain quality.

6) Fun and the experience

This is, perhaps, the best reason to decide to breed your chameleons. This is because you are not worrying about recouping your investment. It is okay to be frugal but when you make a budget that revolves around creating the best experience for you and your one clutch you are more likely to put attention in the right places. If this truly is for fun and the experience then you may have a chameleon now and decide to get him or her a mate. Or you might be shopping around for a good species to work with. If it is the latter then the last part of this podcast is for you.

And if you think that one day you might want to breed for money or to help pay for the hobby this is the best way to start. Come at it from the perspective of how to provide the best husbandry for the clutch and refine that husbandry until it is solid. Once that is in place and you understand the concepts and requirements not just from a book knowledge but from an intuitive level then you will be able to more accurately judge what is best when you slowly transition to a small side business. I got to say that you can tell the difference between someone who went into chameleon breeding from the business perspective and someone who came at it from the husbandry perspective. Which one do you think stuffs 4 female panthers in a sparsely decorated 36” cage? Breeders that show and promote superior husbandry will become the leaders, while the egg factories will be less and less relevant. Sooner or later the customers figure it out.

Species Suitability for Breeding

Let’s talk about suitability for breeding

Veiled Chameleon

The first is the Veiled Chameleon. This is an egg layer. The advantages of working with veiled chameleons is that they are hardy and prolific. This is why they are the most common first time chameleon. They will survive a great deal and their prolific nature means they are relatively cheap. This is also their downfall. Someone paying from $50 all the way down to $25 for a veiled baby at a show will balk at all the expensive caging, misting, and lighting that chameleons need. You expect me to buy a light bulb that is as expensive as my chameleon? And what are the chances of a $25 chameleon going to a $75 vet visit? It all depends on whether the chameleon is a treasured family member or an impulse buy that was cheapen enough to be worth getting your kid to be quiet. The cheap price does not drive away people who will value the chameleon as a life to be loved, but it does allow in a whole raft of people that view their purchase as a throw away item. It is painful to say, but a good deal of how much we value an item depends on how much we paid for it.

This is a top consideration for you if you are deciding what species of chameleon to breed or if you already have a veiled and decide you want to breed him/her. Care is pretty much hammered out for Veileds. It won’t take much luck on your part to end up with 30 to even 60 incredibly cute, eternally hungry baby veiled mouths. And here is the thing. The biggest challenge with Veileds is not difficulty in breeding, but finding yourself with too much success. You will need to be able to handle 30 to 60 babies that may or may not get along with each other. And when veileds don’t get along with each other they tend to get nasty. You’ll need to work on that end game plan ahead of time. Talk to friends in the chameleon community and see who would like a baby chameleon if you breed. You may get a few. If you are willing to learn how to ship and your friends are willing to pay the shipping price (shipping can be very expensive) that will take care of a few, but with veileds you are probably going to end up having to find a reptile pet store or wholesaler that can take them off your hands. These can be found online. Pay attention to their size requirements. Growing 60 babies up to their size requirement with no bite marks or nipped tails is an intense project that research can prepare you for, but please be prepared. The best thing to do is talk to people who have raised up a clutch of veiled and see what they have done and what it took to do it. Then you’ll have a better idea whether you want to take this project on or not. The biggest pro with a veiled chameleon is the ease at which you can get babies. The biggest con is the number of babies you may get. It is a lot to take on for a first time chameleon breeder.

Panther Chameleons.

The panther chameleon is another egg layer and generally an easy chameleon to breed. The females are not picky as to where they dig and lay eggs. Your clutches will range from 20 to 30. Which is a manageable number. Still a meaty project, but manageable. It is great fun watching the colors come in with the males, although this usually happens well after the three month selling time. There are strict market preferences that have coalesced where having unknown lineage decreases the value of your babies dramatically. Your best bet is to start off with a chameleon that has an established lineage. Since the female does not show colors like the male it is critical that you get your female from a trusted breeder or else you will have a more difficult time finding homes for your babies. Even if you are doing this all for fun and are not worrying about profit you still must consider your exit strategy. You will have to sell the babies eventually.

The challenge you will have with selling baby panthers is that there are so many people out there doing this already. But with a good genetic base, a panther breeding project would be a good one to start with.

Jackson’s Chameleons

At least in the US, Jackson’s Chameleons are easily found and at an economic price. Their main difference in the breeding realm is that they are live bearers. This is a big relief to people who are intimidated by the idea of incubation. There are no eggs to worry about! You’ll get between 12 and 30 babies so the clutch size is good as well. Jackson’s Chameleons are mild mannered and a generally easy chameleon to work with. Your only challenge is that wild caught Jackson’s are cheap and your babies probably would not be able to be sold for much more. But Jackson’s are popular so, with a little patience, you should be able to find homes for your babies. There are other species which are similar in care and are livebearers as well. T sternfeldi is an example of a smaller livebearer which is still colorful and has a mild personality. If you are picking a species to breed strictly for enjoyment my pick is a Jackson’s Chameleon

I love breeding chameleons. I have supported captive breeding efforts -especially long term multi-generational breeding efforts – for a while now. I get great joy from the experience and I believe that the more we know about chameleons the stronger we are as a community. So I am definitely encouraging breeding! But only if you truly are ready. It can be an amazingly positive experience or it could be a nightmare. So do your reading and make some friends that have done this already.

The more people get involved in breeding the better off we are when something like Madagascar opening up happens. We are to the point where everything coming in from Madagascar is being treated like gold. Breeders are devoting serious effort to those animals. So, as far as I am concerned, that is a community win!

That’s a wrap up for today. If you have just started breeding and have stories to tell I’d love to hear your advice to those who are considering starting out. What did you wish you knew? What do you think would help the first timers have a better experience? Let me know via email or on our Facebook page. Links to these things can be found on our website chameleonacademy.com. Our sponsor for this show is the Dragon Strand caging company. We have just launched our largest cage yet – the Large Atrium Enclosure. We have been wanting to release a cage that would be perfect for a panther or veiled chameleon to live their entire lives. At 45” wide x 44” tall and 22” deep it comes standard with a total of eight Dragon Ledges so that you can create a branch and plant network for your chameleon. It is finally the cage where they can really stretch out! It comes both in screen and Clear panel versions. Visit DragonStrand.com for more information.

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