Are you confused by all the conflicting information out there for taking care of a panther chameleon? Today I talk about how care sheets are put together and give you the information you need to cut through the noise and make the right choice in selecting which way to go forward.
Listen to this podcast episode!
Hello Chameleon wranglers. Today we are going to have a conversation where we talk about care sheets. We are not going to talk about husbandry parameters that are on the care sheets, but about the creation of care sheets themselves. And the reason why this is worth an entire episode is because one of the major stress points in a new keeper’s life is when the five social media groups they are part of disagree on care parameters. And you are left to figure out what lights to use, what hydration equipment, and even what type of cage! How can the bare basics be such a controversy?Well, I can’t fix the world situation, but I can give you the information you need to deal with the messy parts of this and remove the stress you are feeling. This will not be your normal chameleon tutorial podcast, but it will be one of the most helpful. Once you understand how caresheets come into existence and how to properly use them you will be able to navigate this digital world saturated with contradictory information.
What are caresheets?
To start our exploration here let’s lay out just what a care sheet is. Actually, I will start by saying what it isn’t. It is not the set of parameters handed down by the deity of your choice as to the lifestyle of a chameleon. It is someone’s summary of how they think a chameleon enclosure should be set up. It is highly simplified and, in its best case, shares the latest in our understanding. In the worst case, it is a rehash of various old thoughts refreshed by a change of the date in the corner of the page. The value of the information on the care sheet is dependent on the experience of the person putting it together. So, before you grab the first care parameters that come up in an internet search, get the name of the author and do an internet search on that name. That will give you a pretty good idea of the value of what you are reading. Ah, you say, I will get the five most popular care sheets that come up on a Google search and go with the parameters that three of the five agree on! Nice and easy! Except…Google searches are a combination of the good the bad and the ugly and I strongly suggest you spend time researching the author than just putting everything in a blender and working with the mud that comes out.
Caresheets usually give one set of environmental parameters that are suppose to be the representation of a perfect day in the life of an adult chameleon and is, therefore, replicated for 365 days a year. You usually do not have seasonal information or environmental breeding triggers. You often don’t even have day and night time variations. On the other side of the spectrum you have care guides like I produce for the Chameleon Academy which include day and night variations, and seasonal variations. Though, the variations are being slowly rolled out as we learn more about chameleons’ lives in the wild. In the chameleon community we have done a very good job figuring out how to raise them up and have them breed. But this is the bare minimum for existence. The whole purpose for living things in nature is to reproduce. All we have to do is get out of the way and animals will grow and breed. Granted it took a bit of time to figure out how to do this, but we have been good at it for many decades now. What we are just now entering into is the phase of herpetoculture that is concerned with the mental and emotional health and well being of your chameleons. As you might guess, this is somewhat difficult with a chameleon which isn’t that great at communicating feelings. But we have it better than the reptile keepers who don’t have a subject that wears its feelings with color changes on the skin. Anyway, whether a care sheet gives you 30 year old information that was gathered on a Google search, is a simplified perfect single day approach, or has cutting edge information from personal keeping and first hand natural environment observations depends 100% on the author’s experience and the author’s motivations.
Why do chameleon care sheets contradict each other?
Perhaps the biggest point of confusion for the person starting out and doing their research is to find a number of care sheets that contradict each other. How can that make sense? We are talking about the same chameleon species, right?
Well, this is what is going on. The internet tends to flatten out history. You will find husbandry techniques from twenty years ago presented right next to the latest ideas. In fact, you will probably see the older husbandry techniques come high up in your search because they have had years or even decades to gather authority in Google’s eyes. And older techniques are constantly repackaged and re-released so the old information now has an up-to-date publish date. For example, how many times have you see that screen cages were necessary for chameleons? This is a piece of old thought that continues to be passed around even though the pioneers in the chameleon community were using hybrid cages since the late 90s.
And so you can imagine what the care sheets look like from major pet retailers whose marketing teams throw together care sheets from a Google search. They have no context for the information, but have a dead line.
Add to this that people who are happy with their success do not like to change. So a breeder who has refined their 15 year old husbandry to a fine tuned, well oiled machine is not going to be too happy with any new ideas no matter how proven they are.
So you have care sheets that are based off of old information. You have care sheets based off of one person’s comfort level. Some people resist change and some people embrace new ideas. And with chameleon husbandry advancing relatively quickly you can imagine that this will splinter the community into a spectrum of people who think we had it as good as we need it twenty years ago and the people actively pushing chameleon herpetoculture forward.
And I’d like to make a note that sticking with what you know works isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There is a direct relationship between how long a technique has been around and how many chameleons it has been tested on.
Case in point, I have been presenting a naturalistic hydration method which espouses high humidity nights with most of the hydration done during the night and morning hour. I believe that is a significant step towards providing chameleons more of the environment they expect. But, this is a concept that has been in wide spread consideration in the community for about five years. Misting during the day and ignoring the night time has been around for three decades. So, which one do you think has been refined in its application more? So you will find many experienced keepers feeling no need to change what they have been doing to the point where they actively resist and try to sabotage anything different. So there is legitimate caution mixed in with personal agenda included with the copious amounts of personal opinions bouncing around the internet.
Add to that that there are still unknowns. How much UVB is truly needed? How much dietary vitamin D3 is too much? And in the absence of cold hard facts, personal interpretation rises up. And with no facts to challenge it, these opinions become lines drawn in the sand for ferocious internet battles where the beginners are just wishing everyone would work together so it wouldn’t be confusing.
I am afraid this is the human condition and will not be changing until we wipe ourselves off the planet and bonobo pygmy chimpanzees take over.
So, I am sure you are thanking me for presenting what a mess this can be, but would very much like me to help you make sense of it all. How do you sort through this all?
Here are the bottom lines. First, there are definitely better husbandry approaches than others. The line “there are many ways to keep a chameleon” is said only to try and quell conflict. The truth is that there are absolutely better ways to care for chameleons. But the good news is that most of the information out there will at least get you started in a way that will not kill your chameleon. Unfortunately, there are some care parameters out there that bypass the “It isn’t the best, but it isn’t the worst” stage and go straight to simply bad advice that will hurt your chameleon. And, unfortunately, it isn’t easy to differentiate as a person new to the community. And you can’t ask anyone because they’ll tell you their way is best and everything else will kill you chameleon. So you are left with all these experts saying the other methods are deadly and you have to figure out what is going on. Usually, people just go with the first social media admin or breeder that was nice to them. Which is, you can imagine, not a very good method.
So, here is my suggestion. Find a handful of social media communities you like. Hang around a bit and see how well people’s chameleons are doing. Pick a community that you feel you would like to ask question of and stay there for a little while. Realize you can change your mind at anytime so settle in whenever you feel comfortable.
Intro to Chameleon Academy Philosophy
Of course, listening to this podcast, you are here now and are at least curious as to where I am coming from. You might want to interview me and ask where I get my information, what my appetite for the latest husbandry is, and what kind of support I provide for what have in my care guides. So, let me give you some insight into what you will find with the Chameleon Academy Care Guides.
All of my care guides are based on personal experience. My major guides are for the Panther Chameleon, Veiled Chameleon, and Jackson’s Chameleon. I have kept many of them and bred them to multiple generations. This means I have worked with them through entire lifecycles. If I have a care guide for a species that I do not have personal experience with, or have limited experience with, I consult with people who do have complete lifecycle experience. My experience sources are listed on the care guides. Even for Panther Chameleons, where I have extensive experience, I do not waste the opportunity of the rich experience of forward thinking breeders in the community and incorporate information and techniques from them. You will find that the Chameleon Academy is not just me giving my opinion. It is a structure I have put together so I can continuously grow and so I have had over 100 scientists, vets, keepers, and breeders from around the world come through these digital halls sharing what they know and their perspective. I publish these interviews so you can follow along and hear the sources first hand.
As far as where I stand on the new idea scale, on one side you have the people refusing to budge until they can read it in a peer review study. On the other side you have people excitedly jumping on the latest ideas. You will find that the information I publish on the Chameleon Academy is on the new ideas side with a healthy dash of caution. My purpose here is to push our husbandry forward so I am right in the middle of the newest of ideas. But I will not include those ideas into the care guides until they have gone through excessive testing on my side and I see there are people in the community being successful with it. For example, the addition of fogging into my hydration schedule didn’t show up in my podcast or Chameleon Academy recommendations until I had tested it over the three main species of chameleons for a year to verify and work out as many bugs as possible. So, I am progressive with a dash of conservative. I am highly evidence based. I recommend a supplementation routine that has a minimum of dietary vitamin D3 as I firmly side with giving chameleons the UVB they need to make D3 themselves as they would in nature, as far as we know at this time. But I will also defend the breeders that are using Repashy Calcium Plus, which has dietary D3, every feeding because it has been proven to work. This is an example where I recommend one thing, but fully acknowledge that the opposing technique has been shown to work. These things are not a contradiction. To understand what we are doing, we have to use all data points available to us.
How do I choose between chameleon caresheets?
Okay, this sounds great, but let’s get back to that question – how do you choose which philosophy to go with. Sure, you are here listening to me right now, but maybe you are part of a social media group you really like and they say something different and then your breeder that just sent you your juvenile panther has yet another approach. You like my philosophy, enjoy hanging out with a community, but trust your breeder. Kind of a mess, huh?
Luckily, the answer is simple. Pick the husbandry method of the person(s) that you trust enough that you would ask questions about husbandry with them. I’ll cut to the chase. If you came to me and asked me which of these three conflicting sources I would go with I would say
- Start with the husbandry approach your breeder gave you. Your breeder is the one you should go to first with questions about your panther. Your breeder knows best how your baby was cared for and may know personality quirks even to dietary preferences. (Yes, chameleons can have those). If you have your panther set-up the way your breeder did then they will be able to easily trouble shoot in case you need support. If you want to try something else go for it, but you can’t go back to the breeder with questions if you are not using their husbandry. And if you don’t trust your breeder then don’t buy from them. You may, or may not, be surprised at how many people figure out who the good breeders are, buy from the cheapest source, and then go to the good breeders for husbandry advice. Don’t do this. Buy from the breeder you trust. The quality of the chameleon depends on the husbandry it was raised with. Purchase from a breeder who is doing it right. There are some panther chameleon breeders that use Chameleon Academy care guides as their direction as to how their customers should set up chameleons. In that case, you can easily have complete alignment between breeder, support, and community.
- Find a group that aligns itself with the general direction that you decide you want to go. You will go crazy if you stick with a social media group that contradicts your breeder. Listening to two different philosophies at the same time will bring confusion. And don’t mix and match husbandry techniques between different care regimens. Just stick with one approach. If you are frustrated and throwing your hands up because you have no idea which direction you want to go – you just want to get your chameleon set-up – then ask your breeder which group they recommend. If you like the Chameleon Academy approach you have multi prong support. I do weekly live sessions where you can directly ask me questions live about care. One live session is the Chameleon Academy account on Instagram at 5PM Pacific on Tuesdays. The other is 12noon Pacific on Saturdays on the Chameleon Academy Youtube. This is the best place to ask questions about Chameleon Academy husbandry. If you like the community forum style, you can find a social media group that is fully aligned with the Chameleon Academy on Facebook called The Chameleon Enthusiasts. Another great community is found on chameleonforums.com. There are many more diverse opinions on the Chameleon Forums, but you’ll be able to get a fair balance of perspective. You will also find a concentration of breeders to select from there because Chameleon Forums is the one place where sales of chameleons are allowed.
- Do follow one husbandry technique, but do NOT swear life long loyalty to it. Groups often get militant and not only just talk about their approach, but actively resist other approaches with dramatic promises of a dead chameleon if you stray outside their walls. You can be part of that group if you really want to, but do not get swept up in that fervor. Do not burn bridges with other schools of thought. Keep in the back of your mind that you can always switch groups or approaches when you decide you want something different. If you got your chameleon from a show, have no breeder, and don’t have time to investigate all the different authors…then just pick the husbandry of the group that you feel most welcome in, and implement it in its entirety. There are a number of parameters that are dependent on each other so you don’t want to mix and match lighting from one source and supplementation from another source and caging from another source. And then keep in mind that you might want to explore other husbandry methods once the dust settles. This all isn’t a perfect approach as this may mean you end up having to replace equipment and that runs into some money. But there will always be a direct relationship between how quickly you make a decision and the chances are that it doesn’t end up being the best fit. Once again, if you are listening to this then you are most likely past the impulse stage and well into the research stage.
Chameleon caresheets are your starting point, not your container
I think the most important mindset to come to a care guide with is that these are meant to be the starting point. They are not meant to be containers that cannot be breached. The proper way to use a care guide is to use it to set up your initial system and then watch your chameleon’s behavior to tweak it to match your unique conditions. You can imagine the differences in implementation between keepers in California, Finland, and Indonesia. Although they are all looking at the exact same care guide, they all will have to change different aspects of their implementation. If you have your Panther chameleon in a hybrid cage in a room that stays in the mid 70s then you may have to turn off your basking light after only an hour because they don’t need any more warming up. If you have a cool room in the low 70s and a screen cage you may have to have your heat lamp on all day. And, by the way, if you thought that, in this example, the cage type should be switched then you are correct! This is where it is important to understand cage types and why it is a disservice to the chameleon community to have a blanket screen cage recommendation. But the point is that a care guide is a starting point and you need to feel free to tweak it when you get good enough interpreting chameleon behavior to know what your chameleon is telling you they need. Here is why your choice of care guide is so important. Your chameleon will be under those parameters until you figure out how to reliably read chameleon behaviors. So you want the best possible starting point.
Summary about Chameleon caresheets
Okay, I hope I didn’t add a ton more confusion to your life. I am hoping that understanding how much subjectivity goes into a care sheet that you will feel more comfortable feeling like you can evaluate care sheets on their merits instead of how forcefully you are told this is the one true way (by five different care sheet authors). The main goal for this episode was to put your mind at ease regarding all the conflicting opinions out there.
Yes, there are better methods than others. But, if the author of the care sheet actually keeps chameleons then you should be fine to start there. And I say this because if you choose a corporate care sheet from a retailer, who knows if the marketing intern tasked with pulling them together has ever seen a chameleon in real life.
Now, I am going to give you a tour of the Panther Chameleon Care Guide here at the Chameleon Academy. First, I apply personal experience. I did my first multi-generational panther chameleon breeding project over 25 years ago. I have been a large scale breeder, wholesale breeder, and have kept them ever since. And I consult regularly with professional breeders through private conversations as well as public interviews you can listen to on the Chameleon Academy podcast. I will never say that the information in the care guide is the final version, because the Chameleon Academy is about always pushing forward, but I can say that the information has been well tested to be effective on panther chameleons throughout every stage in their lifecycle.
Care guides are brief summaries and do not have the space to give you details as to how that number was chosen or how to implement the parameter. For this purpose, there is a complete explanation of every part of the care guide on the chameleonacademy.com website. If you notice on the care guides there is a QR code. This takes you to the webpage with the detailed explanation. On this page I take each care guide section and give it a multimedia explanation. Each section will have a written description and may also have video insight and/or podcast discussion embedded. So, no matter your preferred learning style, you can find it. Most importantly, you understand the reason behind what I put into the guide. If you have questions not answered, then I have live office hours 5PM Pacific Tuesdays on Instagram and 12PM Pacific Saturdays on YouTube where you can ask questions. If you would like to have community interaction then The Chameleon Enthusiasts on Facebook is a place that works with the Chameleon Academy approach and can give you other perspectives. So, using the Chameleon Academy care guides comes with an entire support network as well. Of course, you also have the benefit of this entire podcast dedicated to your success with a weekly show going in depth into answering questions common to beginners in panther chameleons.
In the end, this situation we have where there is so much conflicting information that we have to filter out the noise is better than when I started and there was so very little information. It wasn’t a function of sorting through a mountain of garbage to find the diamond. There simply wasn’t anything to sort through! So, as confusing as today’s world can be for the researcher, it is preferable to where we once were. You are at a huge advantage that you have the recipe for success at your fingertips and will be able to keep your chameleon alive and well while you continue your research into better and better husbandry techniques. Embrace it and enjoy it!
And with that I would like to invite you to join up with another Chameleon Academy outreach. Every other month I release the Chameleon Academy Journal which is a digital magazine you can sit back, relax, and flip through. I have so many informational outreaches I decided I wanted to make one which was meant to be enjoyed on a Saturday morning with your cup of coffee (or beverage of your choice!). The Journal is free and previous episodes can be found on the chameleonacademy dot com website. On the journal page you will also see a sign up for the Newsletter. If you like the Journal and want to get notified when the next issue is released then just sign up for the Newsletter. Presently, I send out the newsletter on a monthly basis.
And, finally, I thank you for being here. I love chameleons and love doing this exploration. But it is so much more fun when I can share it with you all that tune in. And so I will continue to invite you to come along with me as I search the corners of the world for a better understanding of this incredible creature. My name is Bill Strand and this is the Panther Chameleon Podcast. Have a great week, remember to check out the Journal, and I will see you next time.
So, now you know why I don’t recommend you get a wild caught. But I am sure there are some of you that have found this podcast because it is time to do research as you drive home from already purchasing a wild caught. So, I am going to give you a brief run down of steps to take to stabilize and acclimate a wild caught panther chameleon.
First Step – Privacy. Privacy is very important for wild caught as they are still figuring out what a cage is and what it means. They will figure out that it means security if it is set up correctly. Yes, we look at a cage as something that traps us and desperately want to get out. Well, a chameleon will be the same situation in a bare bones. Security for a chameleon means lots of plant cover in the cage to be able to hide, the cage high up so he can look down on the world, and a concerted effort to not let them see you do fast and jerky movements around them.
Second Step – Quarantine cage. The important thing about plants in the cage are that they exist and are thick enough for them to feel like they can hide but, also, perching branches not set up above the plants where they could poop on the plants and then try to drink from those plant leaves. This will complete the direct life cycle parasites lifecycle. We want to avoid reinfection! This cage needs to be away from quick movements which include you, your pets, opening doors, ceiling fans, etc..
Third Step – Health check. Next you need to partner with your vet to get a fecal sample done which will tell you what parasites your chameleon has come to you with. The world of parasites is amazingly fascinating. It is an entire microscopic world unto itself. It is fun to read and learn about, but not fun to treat. Though, treat you must because parasites in captivity can get overblown. Every chameleons’ body expects some parasite level, but captivity traps your chameleon in a cage with the egg carrying poop and so the 100s of thousands of eggs the parasites lay in hopes that one might find its way back to an appropriate host are now, suddenly, all looking to get at one particular host which cannot get further than four feet from the motherload of parasite eggs.
And you want any broken bones, infected jaw line, sprained wrists, damaged tail, skin lesions, etc to be treated ASAP.
Fourth, Step – be patient. A wild caught chameleon will slowly figure out he is safe and settle in. But this process will be set back with any holding, sticking your face in the cage, and all the other things people who are excited about having their first chameleon do.
Links from the Podcast Episode
I hope this review of the issues surrounding chameleon caresheets has been useful. The Panther Chameleon Podcast is part of the Chameleon Academy Outreach. On this Panther Chameleon Podcast, I take on aspects of starting with panther chameleons that will directly benefit a person just starting off. Please note that you have an entire detailed panther chameleon care summary here on chameleonacademy.com. This has been put together as a free resource to ensure the widest number of people can get a good start with their panther chameleon. If you would like to support this outreach you can do so at the Chameleon Academy Patreon page linked below and that helps keep this all running.
Getting a panther chameleon is a step to an incredible new world and an experience you will remember for your entire life. And I am going to do what I can to make sure it is a great one. If you would like to ask questions about any of this, check the Chameleon Academy home page for the schedule of when I do live interactive sessions on YouTube and Instagram.