Summary: The Hybrid Chameleon Cage
- Combines solid sides and screen sides
- Solid Sides can be clear or opaque
- Hybrid cages allow more control over humidity while still allowing ventilation
Why a Hybrid Cage?
The Hybrid cage is any cage that combine solid sides and screen sides. The hybrid cage has become a valuable tool in the chameleon community because it allows greater control over humidity without necessarily raising the temperature. Most chameleons do quite well in the average human home temperature of the mid 70s F, but desire a humidity flow over time that goes close to 100% RH at night. If constructed appropriately, the higher humidity levels are made possible by a hybrid cage.
Dragon Strand is the most prominent supplier of hybrid cages designed specifically to allow humidity control and to keep mist inside the cage. This is done by having three full sides be solid and one side be screen. Together with the screen top, this provides robust airflow. But humidity can be made to gather in corners with the solid sides.
Zoo Med has created a hybrid cage that incorporates a clear front door for viewing. This will have no humidity retention benefit, though.
Opaque vs. Clear Sides
Solid sides can be either clear or opaque and have different purposes. While both of them can keep the spray from the misters in the cage and can create humidity pockets, the type of material used in the solid side can be chosen depending on your use. Clear panels are great for centerpiece cages in which you desire to enjoy the view inside the cage. Opaque sides are used when it is either not important to see inside the cage (such as the back panel) or else when there are multiple chameleons in the same room as you desire to give them privacy. Chameleons interact visually and this may be a dynamic you wish to remove from your husbandry.
Clear sides can be glass, acrylic, or the flexible PVC film used in Dragon Strand cages. Each of these has a corresponding insulation property and weight.
Opaque sides are most often made of PVC.
How Much Ventilation is Necessary?
Since screen cages have been the standard keepers often get the idea that full ventilation is required at all times and the closing off of a side will cause Respiratory Infections.
Ventilation is necessary to ensure that there is no stagnant air. Therefore, as long as the air is moving you have enough ventilation. With glass cages we saw that all it took to keep air moving was a set a vents at the bottom front and a screen top. In the hybrid cages spoken about here, an entire side is screen. This means that there is more than enough ventilation through the cage and that you have to specifically plan to protect the pockets of humidity that you create with your plant cover.
Ventilation will occur when there is access for any air movement int he room to continue or if there is a temperature differential with the top of the cage being warmer than the bottom of the cage where there is screen. For example, when a heat lamp is on at the top of the cage.
When using clear material (glass, acrylic, clear PVC, etc…) you will have the same reflection potential you have with glass. But, also like glass, this is rarely a cause for problem with the chameleon.
Chameleons seem to understand that either the ghost chameleon is not real or that it is in the bush next door and not a threat. Of course, the closer the reflection is to a true mirror image the more of a response you will get.
Reflections can be minimized by placing the lights closer to the panel with the reflection or hanging plants by the offending area.
Why some people report problems with reflections and other people have no issue is still a mystery. If you believe you have a problem with a reflection you can test it. First, acquaint yourself with the behavior of being threatened and show your chameleon a mirror at about the same distance as the suspected reflection. You will then see the level of threat response if it is a reflection that is causing what you are observing. Obviously, your chameleon may have a different reaction to a clear image rather than a ghost image, but it establishes a base line. You can also temporarily hanging in front of the area that you think has the reflection and see what behavior change happens. The reason why it is so important to develop a set of tests is that if you look for advise on social media you will run into a vast number of people who have heard the soundbite, but have not thought about it critically. Prove the problem to yourself or you may spend effort fixing a problem that does not exist instead of the thing that is a problem.
If you desire to create more airflow in the cage, small fans (or even computer fans) can be placed strategically to induce airflow. We do not want to create a draft that constantly blows on the chameleon so, we either have the fan sucking air out of the cage or we create a breeze across a screen surface. This will suck air out of the cage.
The advantage of the hybrid cage over the glass and screen cage is that if you place your basking bulb by the screen side the ventilation will wick away the heat and you can do the same type of basking routine you would with a screen cage without the worry of overheating. Of course, if you moved the basking bulb into the area with the three enclosed sides there would be a slower dissipation of heat and the basking area would retain heat longer.
A major attraction to hybrid cages is that you can retain more humidity. By filling the side of the cage with the three solid sides, the plants will clean the air, produce humidity, and hold in moisture. Since the ventilation is reduced in this corner, the humidity dissipates slower.
Hydration methods are the same as with screen or glass cages. Misting nozzles, though, can be pointed at the corner with three solid sides and the world outside your cage can be protected. You no longer have to worry about mist getting on your walls or furniture as it is blocked by the solid sides. This, of course, makes your misting much effective and efficient in coating the cage surfaces with dew.
Turning Your Screen Cage into a Hybrid Cage
A number of people find that, with their seasons ranging from warm, humid summers to dry, cold winters, they would benefit from a hybrid cage throughout the winter, but the screen cage during the summer. This can be accomplished by wrapping the screen cage in a water proof material such as a tarp or window sealing material. Easily obtained corrugated plastic works very well and has the benefit of reflecting light back into the cage. Although this home projects may or may not have a clean look (depending on how you implement this), it is fully functional and inexpensive! If a professional look is important, there are commercially available hybrid cages.
What to look for in a Hybrid Cage
Unless you commission a custom terrarium, the glass terrariums you are most likely to run into are the ones by Exo-Terra and ZooMed. These terrariums do an excellent job. When looking at glass terrariums there are really only two main components to consider.
Size. Most glass terrariums are not sufficiently large for keeping the most common chameleons. The Exo-Terra 36″W x 18″D x 36″H is the only one that I would attempt to keep an Adult panther or Veiled Chameleon in. There are a few larger size cages that I will list below. But if you are going for one of these terrariums consider getting a smaller chameleon such as the carpet chameleon (Furcifer lateralis)
Ventilation. Unless you are getting a custom cage made, you will probably be looking at either an Exo-Terra or Zoo Med terrarium. Both of these are designed with ventilation included. What you are looking for are small vents by the front bottom of the cage that will allow air to travel up through the cage and out the screen top. But how much ventilation you really need is determined by the environment you are trying to keep the chameleon in.
Hybrid Cages Available
The following reviews cover the major manufacturers of hybrid cages in the market.
Dragon Strand Chameleon Caging Company
The Dragon Strand Chameleon Caging Company is the only chameleon cage manufacturer that came from the chameleon community. It is founded by Bill Strand, who is also the founder of this Chameleon Academy and host of the Chameleon Breeder Podcast. The company was created to produce products whose main purpose is to solve the problems we chameleon keepers and breeders have.
The product line spans screen cages, clear hybrid cages, opaque hybrid cages, and the patented Dragon Ledges. They offer the widest range of chameleon cages from individual pet chameleon cages to breeding rooms. It is presently the only major company that offer drainage trays for the cage product line. Dragon Strand also offers Dragon Ledges and drainage trays for competing cages.
Dragon Strand products are built in the USA and currently ships mostly within the US. Dragon Strand screen cages are the only screen cages that are rust free and designed to be used outdoors
The Clearside series uses a durable, but lightweight clear PVC film which allows large cages to be constructed without the overwhelming weight that would come with glass. This material has allowed clear cages up to 4′ x 4′ which can be lifted by one person. These clear cages are designed to be showpiece cages like you would put in your living room. The Clearside cages have three sides clear (including the front and back) and one whole side screen. This gives unobstructed views, but the benefits of much ventilation.
The Breeder series of cages have the two sides and back white PVC with the front and top screen. This series provides visual isolation which is valued by breeders for their chameleon room. Of course, anyone can use these cages and keepers creating naturalistic and bio-active cages have taken advantage of the walls to mount plants and build up outcroppings. The Breeder series has a rack compatible line and the Atrium line. The rack compatible line is specifically designed to fit on the standard 48″ Baker’s racks and is meant to offer breeders a way to have an organized breeding room.
Note: In Spring of 2020 Dragon Strand is going through a complete cage upgrade and redesign for all models. The cages listed below may not have completed the redesign process. Check the home page (https://dragonstrand.com) for the latest release schedule.
The Dragon Strand Clearside Hybrid Cage line-up is as follows:
Medium Clearside Atrium
Medium Atrium Cages (28.5″ W x 18″D x 29.5″ H) are available in both screen and clear side versions. Each comes with five Dragon Ledges, a hydration mount, and a DripEasy Drainage Tray. The Medium Atrium can be made in the Breeder style by special arrangement. If this is of interest please contact email@example.com. The Hydration Mount accepts Mist King and Cli-Mist nozzles. It also has an entry point for 1/4″ tubing to allow access for the Exo-terra Monsoon mist head or a 1/4″ plant watering drip system.
Drainage Trays and Substrate Trays are available.
Medium Tall ClearSide Atrium System
This cage measures 30″ wide x 23″ deep x 48″ high. It includes a set of five Dragon Ledges and two Hydration Mounts which accept Mist King and Cli-Mist nozzles. It also has an entry point for 1/4″ tubing to allow access for the Exo-terra Monsoon mist head or a 1/4″ plant watering drip system. A Drip Easy Drainage Tray is included. This cage package was designed to make ordering the pieces you need simple.
Large Clearside Atrium
This cage measures 45″ wide x 22″ deep x 44″ high. It includes a set of eight Dragon Ledges and two Hydration Mounts which accept Mist King and Cli-Mist nozzles. It also has an entry point for 1/4″ tubing to allow access for the Exo-terra Monsoon mist head or a 1/4″ plant watering drip system.
An optional drainage trays and/or substrate tray is available.
The Dragon Strand Breeder Hybrid Cage line-up is as follows:
Nursery Cage System
The Dragon Strand Nursery Caging System comes in groups of four cages with a drainage tray. They are designed to fit two systems on one rack shelf space which gives eight individual cages per row. The Nursery Cages were designed to be able to grow Panther Chameleon sized chameleons from hatching to three months of age.
The dimensions of each individual cage are 5.5” W x 16”D x 15.75”H
The dimensions of four cages installed on the drainage tray are 22.5”W x 17.25”D x 17.125”H
Compact Cage System
The Dragon Strand Compact Caging System comes in groups of two cages with a drainage tray. They are designed to fit two systems on one rack shelf space which gives four individual cages per row. The Compact Cages were designed as grow out cages for panther chameleons so they could be raised up to the point where they started showing color. These are effective size cages for smaller chameleons such as carpet chameleons.
The dimensions of each individual cage are 11” W x 16”D x 24”H
The dimensions of two cages installed on the drainage tray are 22.5”W x 17.25”D x 25”H
There are substrate trays available for the Compact Cages.
Medium Wide Breeder Cage
This cage measures 21.5″ W x 16″ D x 30″ H. It is designed to take up half a rack width and two Medium Wide Breeder Cages sitting on Half-Rack Breeder Drainage Trays will fit on one rack shelf. Each cage comes with a set of five Dragon Ledges.
An optional drainage tray and/or substrate tray is available.
Large Breeder Cage
This cage measures 21.5″ W x 16″ D x 44.5″ H. It is designed to take up half a rack width and two Large Breeder Cages sitting on Half Rack Breeder Drainage Trays will fit on one rack shelf. Each cage comes with a set of five Dragon Ledges.
An optional drainage tray and/or substrate tray is available.
Breeder Cage Rack Possibilities
The ZooMed ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe line is a hybrid cage made only for viewing. They take advantage of an acrylic door to remove the “screen door” effect. This cage comes with a string of red and white LED lights that circle the top panel on the inside. This is obviously an attempt at lighting, but, unfortunately, you’ll have to bring your own light anyways to get sufficient lighting. We in the chameleon community are not fond of colored lights as that is strange to the chameleon who can see it just fine. Do not leave lights on during the night – even blue or red lights like these. So these lights are a gimmick. If you buy this cage do it for the clear front door and the better viewing this affords.
This cage also comes with a substrate tray so you’ll have to figure out a drainage solution.
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The ZooMed ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe Medium is 16″x16″x30″ tall and would be appropriate for baby chameleons or smaller species such as carpet chameleons.
The ZooMed ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe XL is 24″ x 24″ x 48″ tall and would be acceptable for the most common chameleon species (Panther, Veiled, Jackson’s) sizes.
More Research On Cage Types?
Would you like to check out the other cage types before making your final decision? Pick your type below!