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Veiled Chameleons and Bill

Bill Strand Interview on Animals At Home Podcast

I’d like to invite you to check out the Animals At Home Podcast, episode 92 where Dillon Perron interviews me about the chameleon community, Chameleon Academy, and Dragon Strand.

 

This is a very good interview where we touch on important topics regarding where we are going as a community. We talk about the Panther Chameleon Breeding Lifecycle project I have been working on where I am modelling a breeding model that is specifically designed for optimal chameleon care and breeder happiness/satisfaction. That is the way we can expand and maintain the experience and knowledge base in our community.

 

I got excited about the Animals At Home podcast when I listened to episode 86 with TC Houston where he talked about small batch breeding. This was about keeping your breeding operation purposefully on the small side. Although, if what TC was talking about was “small” then what I am talking about doing is “micro”! Of course, once you have the micro aspect down, scaling up to whatever is appropriate is no problem! But this episode resonated with me and I loved hearing the concepts I had been thinking said out loud by someone else. One of the most powerful discussion topics on this episode was the talk about reaching a critical mass with the size of community. To survive we need to grow. This applies politically, in buying power, and demand for basic infrastructure such as availability of vets with reptile experience. You know how hard it is to find reptile experienced veterinarians? This is because we are coming out of a time period where reptile experience was a side business and something taken on because of the vet’s personal passion. But the vet would have to see cats and dogs to pay the bills. When we grow as a community it becomes possible for vets to be dedicated to reptiles and that makes them better at serving us which makes us more successful and strengthens the community. So it is in our best interests to grow.

 

Next was episode 88 with Chelsea Isdaner where she talked about her breeding operation where she has her breeding group in naturalistic cages. Each breeder is treated as a pet. And this is the next step for us in the chameleon community. I think we have achieved the first step which was to make naturalistic keeping the norm for beginners. And we have achieved that beautifully. Now it is wide spread for chameleon cages to be lush with natural plants. The next step, in my mind, is to bring that into our breeding set-ups. We have done well mass producing panther chameleons in sterile, easy to clean environments. And this is necessary if you have a lot of breeders. I’d like to bring the spotlight to craft breeding where each breeder is set up in a large size cage filled with live plants and treated like a pet. My purpose in this is to raise the life quality of the chameleons and maintain the happiness level of the human. This strengthens our community.

 

So I invite you to listen to these episodes. You can get on the new wave as it builds! I’ll be doing a complete podcast episode fleshing out these thoughts soon so we can continue this conversation.

Ep 92: Bill Strand Interview

Bill strand

Bill’s podcast, YouTube channel, website, and care guides are a staple among chameleon keepers and he has been a catalyst in the movement towards natural keeping and breeding. In this episode, we discuss Bill’s history keeping chameleons, his caging company, Dragon Strand, and of course the Chameleon Academy.

Ep 86: Small Batch Breeding

We must re-think reptile breeding to promote methods that are both respectful to the reptiles we keep and that make our value clear to non-reptile-keeping folk. In this episode, TC Houston and I discuss the concept of small-batch reptile breeding and how it will save herpetoculture from self-destruction.

Ep 88: Breeding Reptiles in Complex Setups

In the episode, we discuss Chelsea's diverse group of snakes, DIY enclosures, and the process of advancing husbandry. She also talks about how she successfully breeds snakes in complex habitats and we analyze the myth that small snakes fail to thrive in large enclosures.

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Jackson's Chameleon female

Ep 209: Giving Chameleons Natural Sunlight

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Summer is approaching and it is time to take advantage of natural sunlight for your chameleons. Today we will talk about take your chameleon outside safely.

Transcript (more or less)

We talk a lot about getting your chameleons outdoors for natural sunlight and breezes. And, for good reason. Chameleons thrive outside. Of course, it needs to be done right or else this could be a very bad thing for your chameleon. Back in 2016, which was the previous decade, I did an episode on outdoor caging where I went over types of cages and techniques. It was a meaty episode and the information is still good today. But I feel it is time to revisit the topic and add in some answers to questions that how popped up since.  Considering the season, this is an especially good time to do it!

 

There is something different about being outdoors. We can feel it. Chameleons respond to it as well. One of the foundational skills in our art of chameleon herpetoculture is the creation of a healthy, vibrant environment within our homes. It is not an easy task! The better we are at what we do the better our environments replicate what is found in nature. We have come far, but we have far to go. I don’t think anyone disputes the benefits of exposing our chameleons to natural, unfiltered sunlight. Though that comes with caveats to make sure the chameleons do not die from a simple day in the backyard. Yes, on that downer of a sentence we have to be aware of just how dangerous the sun is if we do it wrong. So, let’s not do it wrong!

 

Before we haul our cage outside and give our chameleon some natural sunlight goodness lets go over some concepts.

First, Indoors keeping vs outdoors keeping. Nature is a wildly diverse number of conditions with a myriad of microclimates for an animal to choose from. Even in a desert, animals take shelter underground and inside cacti. If you took a weather station in Las Vegas, Nevada and replicated those weather patterns in a cage you would kill any animal that has thrived in that area for longer than humans have gambled. This is why captive husbandry is so challenging for us to figure out. We are having to determine what the ideal conditions are for an animal that spends its day moving amongst microclimates. In the chameleon world the difference between indoor and outdoor keeping can be seen in the Jackson’s Chameleon. Care sheets talk about cool temperatures and a deep night time drop. But whenever those parameters are mentioned there inevitably will pop up some person saying it is all ridiculous because Jackson’s Chameleons live in Hawaii where you don’t get those conditions. And then we have to explain that 1) Jackson’s Chameleons do not live at the weather station, 2) the microclimates they can find are different than the weather station, and 3) outdoors is absolutely different from indoors keeping! This is the problem when people have data and don’t have the context. Here’s a simple example. Two days ago it hit over 100 degrees F at my house. Standing under the sun was very uncomfortable and I stood there only to do this test because of how much I sacrifice for my art. I then moved myself to a completed covered patio. So I had a concrete slab with a roof overhead. Great ventilation. But it felt stuffy and the heat went from burning to oppressive. And then I moved into the shade of a huge ash tree. And it turned into a wonderful summer day to enjoy the birds singing. It was still warm, but very comfortable. I noticed cool breezes and I just wanted to sit down and stay for the afternoon. What changed? I found a comfortable microclimate. The weather app data didn’t change, but I was able to choose a place that was much different from what the weather data was reading. And this example is a way to understand outdoor keeping. The closer we get to outdoor keeping the more advantages of microclimates we can use.

With indoor keeping we reduce choices dramatically. Our house filters out the highs and lows of the outdoor temperature swings and the limited cage space reduces the microclimates to one or two. This is why we insist on the ideal conditions for our caresheets. Because you are picking around two microclimates for your chameleon to live its day in. Don’t pick conditions on the edge of what they can tolerate because the ability to deal with conditions on the edge of their tolerance zone is much less when they are forced to live it every day.

 

So, what does this all have to do with bringing your chameleon outdoors? When we bring our chameleon outside  we obviously have to limit their movement or else we will not have a chameleon any more. So we have to be very careful how we expose our chameleon to the natural sun. Taking my example of the 100+ degree day. If I put my chameleon out in the sun I would have an overheated and soon dead chameleon. If I put my chameleon under the patio I would have an uncomfortable chameleon unless I added on cooling by misting. If I put my chameleon under the shade of the Ash tree I would have a very happy chameleon. At least until the sun moved to a position where it shown directly under the tree and the shade disappeared. So, our outdoors strategy needs to have both a position and a time element to it.

 

Okay, enough of outdoor theory. Let’s talk practical application. We have two scenarios to get our chameleon some outdoor benefit. We have bringing their indoor cage outside temporarily and having a special cage constructed for outdoor use.

 

Having an outdoor cage built specifically for the purpose of outdoor time is far and away the ideal and well worth the cost and effort. Both for the health benefit of your chameleon and the enjoyment level for you. The bigger the cage the more benefit and the greater the enjoyment. Here are the basics.

 

The most important aspect of outdoor keeping is to have a soil base. Ideally, directly on the ground, but otherwise on a planter box. I have done both. I have built cages directly on the ground and I have build planter boxes specifically designed to allow me to use commercially available screen cages. One of the most useful designed I share all the time is one where I have a planter box on wheels that I place a standard 2x2x4’ tall screen cage on. It works very well to allow me to roll it in and out of the sun and shade as is appropriate for the season. And this is a perfect demonstration of how the bigger the cage the more I can let the chameleon take care of himself. I live in Southern California so I have the opportunity to keep chameleons outdoors most of the year and some species all of the year. If I am keeping a Jackson’s Chameleon in a 4’ x 4’ x 6’ heavily planted cage on the ground he can stay outside all year. I just have a sprinkler system on timer and put in food a three times a week. The temperature can swing from the upper 30s to the 100 degrees and he will be fine. Obviously, it I much more complicated than this. I have mostly clear skies during the day so there is usually the opportunity to bask even on cold days so this would not work as well in areas that have extended cold, cloudy spells. So, please don’t take what I am saying here as a recipe. It is meant to communicate concepts. The point is that with that large cage he has all the microclimates he needs to take care of himself.

 

The next step down is my planter box cage on wheels. I have a 2x2x4’ tall screen cage onto a planter box with 1’ deep of soil. This is all on wheels so I can move it around. This is a much smaller space and it has enough microclimate range that I can figure out the right place for it once a day. If it will be cold or into the upper 70s then the cage can be in full sun. There is enough foliage in that cage to offer protection from the sun. If the day will be between 80 and 90 then I place it so it is half sun and half shade. Over 90 degree and the cage is fully shaded. My favorite placements are where the cage gets morning sun and then shade during the afternoon. Sometimes I put one of those portable canopy tents up with the cages under that. The cages get morning sun and the afternoon sun is blocked.

 

One more step down is moving the indoor cage out for a little bit of time. This requires constant supervision to make sure the sun isn’t directly hitting the cage in a way that your chameleon is getting baked. There is a danger in the typical solid floor that screen cages come with. And that is that the sun will reflect off the floor an so the chameleon is getting sun from the top and sun from the bottom and you can see how there is zero gradient there and no way for your chameleon to escape the sun. That is why the soil floor is so useful for creating gradients. It acts like a heat sink. Keep in mind though, that your cage plants and system has been built around a relatively weak lighting system up top. The plants have grown to those light levels. If you put them out into direct sun, depending on the temperature, intensity of when you do it, and how long you do it, you could easily burn the leaves. Plant leaves grow to adjust to the light levels. You will notice that the more intense the light the smaller and lighter color the leaves are. The lower the light levels, the larger and darker the leaves are. This is in response to how much the leaf has to work to get enough light to feed itself. It is light being in a dark room and then suddenly the lights come on. Our eyes that have adjusted to the dark are blinded until we can adjust. Plants adjust by growing new leaves so the ones that are already grown will be burned by dramatic increases in light intensity. Ie…the sun.

 

If you do want to use your indoors cage outdoors for a couple hours, the best way to do this is to put the cage out in the morning when your chameleon is wanting to do the initial warm up. Let him do that with the natural sun. This is when he would be getting his main dose of UVB anyways.

 

Now, let’s talk UVB and D3. If your chameleon is getting natural sunlight, how should that change how you supplement him? It shouldn’t change anything. Your chameleon cage has a UVB light giving him the UVB he needs to synthesize D3. Replacing that with the sun is simply that – replacing it. So just supplement as you normally would. Of course, this assumes you are up with the times and offering sufficient UVB to your chameleon. If you have a husbandry routine that relies on vitamin D3 in the supplement then, yes, you don’t have to have D3 in the diet any more as your chameleon will synthesize it naturally. And I include this scenario just to be comprehensive. With the UVB technology we have today you don’t need to be relying on dietary D3. I don’t see any effort being spent further determining the required and safe dietary D3 levels when we can just use the natural UVB method that has its own shut off.

 

You will get some UVB in the shade, but it is greatly reduced. But that is okay. Chameleons do not need bright UVB all day. I know the caresheets all say keep the UVB on 12 hours a day and your favorite social media group will be highly agitated if you only give UVB a couple hours a day, but a morning warm up in direct sun is going to do the job of giving them their daily D3. This can also be a morning UVB basking inside the cage. So do not worry about the UVB levels under shade if you have your chameleon out when it is too hot for direct sunlight. Even with indirect sunlight there will be a little UVB and even with very low UVB, there is still benefit to the natural breezes.

 

A quick way many people use to get natural sunlight to their chameleon is to just take the chameleon out and put him in a garden tree or bush. The need for supervision here obviously jumps exponentially. It is not just the slowly moving sun and overheating that is the danger. Now we add in escape and predators.

Back in the 70s, a pet store owner in Hawaii imported about three dozen Jackson’s Chameleons and put them in his nicely planted back yard to recover. When he went to retrieve them he found they had disappeared. Fast forward to today where Jackson’s chameleons are firmly established on a number of the Hawaiian islands. Chameleons may move slow, but they move fast enough that you being distracted by that YouTube video is all it takes for them to have found new digs or hide themselves. Have you ever seen a chameleon when it wants to move? Yeah, not as slow as you think. And once they are gone, they are exceedingly difficult to find. Taking a flashlight out at night is a better bet than trying to find them during the day. But it is best to avoid the situation all together and keep an eye on your chameleon. Though, the easier it is to see your chameleon the less protection he has from the sun so you have to find the right balance.

 

The other new complication is predators. You standing guard is a pretty good deterrent against the standard neighborhood cats or your dogs. But scan the skies. There are certain falcons that would love to try a chameleon meal and it was heartbreaking listening to a community member describe how he helplessly watched a falcon take off with his chameleon. The chances of a bird taking your chameleon are pretty slim with you standing there, but increase as you put a chair out and catch up on what the Kardashians are doing these days. I often put chameleons out on a bush when I am trying a mating on neutral ground – meaning outside of either the male or female’s cage. And for them to feel comfortable and concentrate on each other I have to be physical away from them. This decreases how I am able to react to any bird of prey that notices a wildly colored head bobbing morsel. So I sit myself down on a chair near by and have a chink of branch or something that I can throw at a bird. Now, I am not thinking I am going to hit a bird. All I need to do is have something big enough that it spinning through the air will surprise or distract the bird from completing its dive. Will it work? Well, I haven’t had to use it yet so I am hoping the hypothesis is sound and it will be effective should I need it one day!

 

Another question that comes up is whether it is okay for your chameleon sunning itself to enjoy the occasion snack flying by. Concerns center around pesticides and stinging insects.  I have not yet heard of a chameleon being negatively affected by pesticides from eating an insects or being stung by a bee or wasp. I, personally, have feed wild bugs for decades with no problem at all. The only reason why I do not make a blanket statement is because there will always be special considerations. If you live in a heavily agricultural area where there are great amount of pesticides you’ll have to make your own decision. I still don’t see a problem with feeding wild insects, but we are getting out of my realm of experience and expertise so I respectfully acknowledge my limitations in being able to give advice for extreme examples. With bees I have no problem. I used to be concerned, but my Jackson’s Chameleon who had climbed out of my reach just sat there ignoring my worried face while it sat and picked off bees like he was in a candy store. I often wonder how they would fare with a mud dauber wasp that has that multi-directional stinger. Is that a danger? I assume that if the chameleon got in the standard first bite it would be over, but if it missed the first bite would that split second give the mud dauber the chance to bring in the stinger? I don’t know the answer to that question and would welcome the experience of anyone who has been seen that. But, generally speaking, my perspective is that I encourage as much wild insect feeding as possible. The added diversity of diurnal, meaning daytime, insect prey is a valuable addition to my chameleons’ healthy diet.

 

So, there is an overview of getting some natural sun. The benefits are real and I would encourage you to offer it to your chameleon when the weather is good. And if you at all can swing it, have a large permanent outdoor cage for your chameleon to be in during the months of the year that are good enough weather for your particular chameleon species. I used to have both an indoor cage and an outdoor cage for each chameleon I kept. My collection has expanded a bit, but I am actively working on bringing it back down because the most enjoyable chameleon keeping time period was when I had that arrangement. Besides, it is so cool trying to find your chameleon in a huge cage. I would see them when they were basking and then they would be out of sight the rest of the day. There is something very satisfying about being able to see those natural behaviors.

 

Okay that is the talk for today and everyone is welcome to go on with their chameleon keeping lives. But if you feel like sticking around and going to the digital coffee shop on the other side of the Wi-Fi we can sit down, relax and shoot the breeze about current events.

Doot doot doot la la la humming  and moving chair out pouring coffee

 

New ZooMed LED UVB

Well, have you seen the news about UVB LEDs? We have a couple of companies, including ZooMed that are talking about releasing UVB LED products. These are of particular interest as they would be a way of giving solid UVB with lower power consumption. Sounds like a good idea! The problem is that manufacturing a reliable UVB LED has been challenging. And it just doesn’t seem like the technology is ready for prime time. But suddenly we have these companies talking about real products that they will, presumably, mass produce. Okay then… I suppose we can give them the benefit of the doubt and let them show us what they can do!

ZooMed has announced a 9W LED bar that supposedly produces pretty strong UVB. This product is not available anywhere yet. So, all we know is that the marketing department has been hard at work. There is no indication as to what the engineering or manufacturing teams have been up to. So, let’s assume the marketing team has been fed the right information. This UVB intensity looks like it is supposed to rival their T5 High Output lights. So that is a pretty high bar. Obviously, I will buy one as soon as it hits the shelves. Everything we have heard so far about the technology is that it is not ready for prime time. So here are your possibilities. 1) ZooMed is trying to get attention by promising a product that won’t be ready for months or who knows how long. In my professional life I do Product Marketing so I know this strategy well and it drives me crazy. It is used for attention and to gauge market reaction. 2) ZooMed will release a product before it is ready and deal with the aftermath. I know this strategy as well and, yes, this drives me crazy too. There are always unpleasant things that come up in production, but I never support doing it on purpose. Or else 3) ZooMed got it done.

Now, this is in a mini LED bar format so you are going to screw it in to a horizontal A socket. ZooMed has a 12” and 18” Naturalistic Terrarium Hood product where the 12” holds one LED bar and the 18” hold two LED bars. This LED bar does have a combination of 6500K LEDs for white light and UVA&B LEDS for the UV light so it is trying to be an all in one solution.

Obviously, I’ll be able to talk more about it once I have it. But, first impression is that I am not sure at this point that we will be using this particular product much as chameleon people.  It all depends on how much light really comes off this bulb. The spot light effect of the UVB means you will get intense UVB in a focused area of the cage. As chameleons can detect UVB and will seek it out to bask, this may work. But I don’t see the white light portion of the bulb being anywhere near what we need to light our cages. Most minimum cage sizes are 48” tall so we need some healthy light output. Our current LED bar offering, which is only white light, is the Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED bar. I have used this since it was released and have grown beautiful flowering vines in my chameleon cages. But the Jungle Dawns are 22” of densely pack LEDs so this UVB LED technology may or may not be useful to us as both UVB and white light. That said, UVB LED technology would, in subsequent form factors, be amazing if they do work so we should keep an eagle eye on this technology. Once they work out the bugs that go along with any new product I am confident we will see more form factors.

Obviously, I will report back as soon as I know more. And if any of you see it available, drop me an email to make sure I see it too!

 

Panther Story update

In other news, there has been a lot going on on the chameleonacademy.com website. I have updated the chameleon cage safe plant list with the report that the Hoya plant has been eaten by a veiled with no ill effects. For those who don’t know, I keep a Chameleon Safe Plant list and I have a special designation which is “Veiled Tested” by each plant that the community reports has been eaten by a veiled chameleon with no ill effects. Now, we do have to acknowledge our limitations. There are, I think, 900 species of Hoya. So we need to be realistic in how scientific this is. I have used carnosa, obovata, pubicalyx so that leaves just 897 species to go. But, it is far and away much better than just reprinting the safe plant lists for cat and dogs and relabeling them Chameleon safe plant lists. You can use the Chameleon Academy plant list and know that what is on here is a result of use with actual chameleons. You can access the new plant list by going to the URL chameleonacademy.com/plants.

 

I am also slowly and methodically building out the chapters in the panther chameleon story where I am documenting a breeding lifecycle of the panther chameleon. I say methodically because I am producing webpages, podcast episodes, and videos for each chapter. By the end you will have a complete multi-media chameleon husbandry guide. A lot of fun, but a lot of work. My approach is that I am going to keep two pairs and keep this breeding project small. Each adult breeder will be kept as a pet in a naturalistic cage and the babies raised as individually as possible. And I say “as possible” because another purpose of me documenting this project is that I want to show all the things that could go wrong and 1) how to plan for and head them off before they happen and 2) what to do when you find yourself in a bind with something you didn’t plan for! So you’ll get to see me planning for the babies all through incubation and then you’ll see me figuring things out on the fly as unexpected things come up! The most valuable thing about experience is knowing what to do when the unexpected happens. Panther chameleon breeding has become a recipe of sorts, but that means it is easy for people to get started and get in over their heads quickly. Hopefully, this series will flesh out keeper’s understanding of their panther chameleon and breeder’s ability to maintain the enjoyment in chameleons that inspired them to start breeding in the first place.

 

And, finally, I just want to say how much I love working with brightly lit cages. When I started this podcast back in 2015 it was still common for chameleon cages to be dark caves with a small lit area up top. Now, there are so many bright light options that we can use people are easily starting to put in passion flowers or mandevilla or other flowering vines that were usually considered outdoor flowers. And I, for one, love this trend. This is great for the chameleons as well because they are finally getting brightly lit cages. Sight is very important to them! Anyway, I am sure I’ll be talking more about that topic in some official podcast coming up, but for now I am just going to encourage you to get that quad bulb fluorescent fixture or that LED bar or both. I did a YouTube video on putting together a 2x2x4’ tall cage with a quad bulb T5 HO 6500K fixture. Don’t settle for the dual bulb fixture! Screen cages are a little difficult. Even with bright light up top they leak light like a sieve. I use white sided hybrid cages and I love how the light is kept in the cage. You can retrofit your screen cages to capture some of that glory by putting white coroplast or PVC sheeting on the sides of your screen cage and then you can retain your hard won light. Anyway, take a look at the Chameleon academy Instagram account and you’ll see picture of what the inside of cages could look like.

 

Okay, I thank you for hanging out with me here. It is time I go work on a video. I hope you have a great week and I’ll see you back here either in a week or two I am still working on that production schedule and my videos are still taking too long. But I am getting a little better! See you all next time!

 


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Hoya flower

Safe Plants for Chameleons Plant List Update

Once or twice a year I update the Chameleon Plant list with the latest information. This is one of the only plants lists that is actually tested on chameleons and comes from experiences within the chameleon community.

This update adds on the Hoya "Wax Plant" as Veiled tested. A unique feature of the Chameleon Academy Plant List is that I label the plants that have been recorded as being eaten by a Veiled (or panther sometimes) chameleon with no side effects or poisoning symptoms. Although we have yet to see plant poisoning in chameleons, it is prudent to allow that it can exist. So records of community experience are important!

Appreciation goes to Daniel Wathen who reported his Veiled Chameleon eating his Hoya. Hoya are known as wax plants because of their thick waxy leaves. There are an enormous amount of species and the commonly available ones can de well in chameleon cages. In fact, they hold a special place in my cages because of their thick, waxy leaves. Because of this added protection they do well near the basking bulb "corridor of heat". No chameleon plant would do well directly under the heat lamp, but a placement off to the side is good for plants with tougher leaves than, say, a pothos. And here is where a Hoya can shine!

You can view the new Chameleon Plant list here Chameleon Plants

And you can enjoy photographic evidence thanks to Daniel!

Hoya Veiled Chameleon bite
Hoya Veiled Chameleon bite

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Chameleon UVB Measuring with Solarmeter 6.5

Chameleon UVB: What is UV Index (UVI)

UV Index

UV Index is a measurement system used by the World Health Organization to determine the likelihood of getting a sunburn. It measures the wavelengths of light that come from the sun that are in the range that cause sunburn. As these are the same wavelengths that we use to synthesize vitamin D3, the reptile community has adopted this measurement system for our UVB needs.

Previously, we used a system that measured the energy hitting a certain area and that is where you see the units of micro-watts per square centimeter (µw/cm^2). When you review the past works of Dr. Gary Ferguson and other scientists you’ll find all measurements done in this system. The meters that are used to measure UVI and µw/cm^2 measure different wavelength spans so there is no direct conversion between the two.

For context, here are some prominent UVI levels

UVI 0 = Nighttime

UVI 3 = target basking for Veiled & Panther Chameleons

UVI 11 = Human skin burns in 10 minutes

UVI 13 = typical daytime maximum for lowland Madagascar

UVI 43 = maximum natural UVI recorded on Earth

 

UVB technology today can expose chameleons to UV Index levels from UVI 0 to UVI 160 depending on the distance from the bulb and the filtering. It is important that we use UVB correctly!

Back to the Chameleon Question Hub!

Click here to go back to the Chameleon Question Hub to review more questions!

Female Ambanja Panther Chameleon
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Veiled Chameleon

Chameleon UVB: How Much UVB Do Chameleons Need?

Introduction to the Chameleon Caresheet Question Series

One of the more confusing things in the chameleon community is when advice doesn’t line up and experts disagree. What do you do when you are just trying to figure out what to do for your first set up? Whenever I update a care summary there is always feedback from people who see something that appears to be different from what they have been told already. And this is confusing to them. And, rightfully so! It would be great if all the experts agreed on care parameters and just stuck to one thing! Reality is so much more fuzzy. Care parameters presented are not always well thought out and there may be different perspective on others. So it may be that the different care sheet parameters are not as in conflict as they first appear!

So I am going to be focusing on a number of care parameters in the Chameleon Academy Care Summaries that you may find are different from what you see running around the great digital world out there.

 

Chameleon Caresheet Parameter: UVB Levels

UVB is light that is outside our vision, but is critical for both our and our chameleons’ life. It is the energy that our bodies use to synthesize D3 which, in turn, allows us to absorb calcium. Without this we cannot build strong skeletons and the lack of calcium eventually leads to death. The question then becomes obvious – how much UVB does a chameleon need?

UVB for Panther Chameleons

There have been a number of attempts to determine the UVB needs of chameleons by scientists and serious hobbyists. The Ferguson zones have become a standard in the reptile world. The Ferguson Zones are a collection of charts that indicate the calculated UV Index levels that each reptile species needs considering their habitat and habits. This has served as an invaluable base for us to continue work from. And we in the chameleon community have continued that work. We have tested the effects of certain UV Index levels over the breeding lifecycle of both Veiled and Panther chameleons. Using the benchmark of females needing to calcify an entire clutch of eggs as our golden test, breeders have determined that 12 hour exposure availability to UV Index 3 produces completely calcified clutches of eggs. Note this only has shown that UVI 3 is an effective level. Further work needs to be done to determine if this level is actually higher than necessary or if 12 hour exposure is longer than necessary. In these tests, the chameleons were allowed to regulate their exposure on their own so we do know that UVI 3 over 12 hours is beyond what is necessary. It is an exciting time that we have discovered this much and that there is so much more to discover in our reach!

Although UVI 3 has been determined for Panthers and Veileds, there is still much work to be done to determine the target UVI for every other species. High altitude species such as Trioceros hoehnelii seem to want higher levels of UVB and lower altitude species such as Trioceros cristatus prefer lower levels. Preference will be a function of altitude as well as what level in the forest the chameleon inhabits. So each species is an opportunity for discovery!

Conclusion

Once the required UVI level has been determined the next major question is how to implement UVI 3 with the myriad of bulb and fixture options available. The Chameleon Academy Care Summaries are unique in that they specifically show one scenario that will work. They pick one fixture and bulb and shows the distance they need to be. You can use most any other combination of fixtures and bulbs if you have a UVB meter to dial it in. The determination of UVI 3 as a successful level should be taken not as the final word. It is only the first stab. We know it is effective for Veileds and panthers. But we do not know if lower levels would be just as effective. And this is worth figuring out as if we can use less energy to get the same job done it is worth it. Once the chameleon is done manufacturing D3 it goes into UVB blocking mode. If we can give them effective UVB exposure and also remove the excessive UVB that is simply wasted then we are on the right path to optimizing our chameleon husbandry.

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Chameleon Environment: How Are Misters Used?

Misting has been the cornerstone of chameleon hydration. Though most care sheets do not touch on hydration at all, the hallmark of the Chameleon Academy Care Summaries is the more detailed description of hydration methods and timing.  The confusion will come in with how misters are used. Some advocate misters being used as the primary hydration tool during the daytime while others place misters as a nighttime hydration tool in conjunction with a fogger.

Hydration Schedule

The historical way that misters have been used is to get water on the leaves where a chameleon can drink it or, even, to shower the chameleon until it drinks the water showering down on it. At the beginning of my podcast I was a vocal proponent of using misters to shower down chameleons until they drank and rolled their eyes in their socket. This was interpreted as them washing their eyes out. The problem with that thought process was twofold. First, chameleons absolutely hated being sprayed. Second, they got ample water during the wet season, but somehow survived months of dry season and so it didn’t make sense that they needed so much water multiple times during the day. This was finally explained and fixed when the hydration cycles were reversed to the more natural nighttime and morning hydration termed the “naturalistic hydration method” and shown on the present care summaries.

 

The naturalistic hydration method, as currently presented, uses misters, but only ay night to prep the cage for foggers and to provide a blanket of dew on the cage surfaces for the chameleon to find in the morning. Misting is discouraged during the daytime as it is annoying to the chameleon. It is true that a thirsty chameleon will drink when misted during the day, but it is so much better to get them on a good hydration schedule so they are not feeling the need to drink. I go as far to say that you know when your hydration regimen is successful when your chameleon has no interest in drinking during the day.

 

The controversy you will run into is that the bulk of the community is still using misting during the day and is resistant to switch up what has been working all this time. They do not see benefit to switch up what has been working well enough so far. And, no one cares to be told that what they are good at doing could be done better. So this switch to using the misters as a supporting tool for nighttime humidity and morning dew will be a slow one and mostly with new keepers.

Conclusion

The role of misters in chameleon hydration will be a dynamic one. Misters are actually not the ideal tool for the job we are using them for. Pressurized water coming from the side is not what we really want. The ideal is a more rain-like situation where we can turn on a “drizzle” or light shower to provide our morning dew. As more people get involved in advanced vivarium equipment this should become possible.

 

So, in conclusion, daytime misting has been used effectively for many years. The newest care sheets, including the Chameleon Academy Care Summaries, advocate for nighttime use and as a supporting roll to nighttime humidity. This is a caresheet parameter in transition as the community grows in understanding of chameleon hydration.

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Chameleon Environment: Humidity

Hydration Schedule

Humidity is not necessarily a controversial topic as much as it is has been overlooked for so long as an important husbandry consideration. I feel much of this has to do with the chameleon community’s concentration on screen cages. Screen cages are exceptionally difficult to have any sort of control over humidity. The best you can do is use a fogger which produces a narrow cone of fog for the chameleon to find if it wants to sleep in a humid environment. And, considering how many chameleons somehow figure out where this cone of fog will be and select that place to sleep it is plain to see that they like humid nights. But the community has ignored this environmental parameter to its detriment.

With the growing shift to the naturalistic hydration method which employs cool, high humidity nights with dryer, warmer days, the awareness of the benefits of purposefully creating a humidity plan in our chameleon’s environment is spreading rapidly.

 

But since this is a parameter in transition in the community you will still find the day and night change in humidity conditions only on the more progressive care sheets. As humidity is either an omission or a single value in most care sheets, you will not find much in the way of conflict amongst the breeders and social media folk if you go with the naturalistic method. The conflict will arise if you start switching your caging away from screen cages to hybrid cages so you can effectively control your humidity. Humidity is a parameter which has not been given much attention before, but is so tied into other aspects of husbandry that taking it seriously affects caging, misting, and heating.

 

Humidity has been a sleeper parameter for so long because the benefits have been difficult to detect directly. The main benefit is that the chameleon stays hydrated during the night and does not wake up dehydrated. As we humans normally think of hydration as only the drinking action we can see, we have focused on daytime hydration. So we have disregarded the benefits of breathing humid air because we have made up with it by misting multiple times during the day and taking comfort in seeing the drinking action. By taking a step back and implementing cool, high humidity nights, we are seeing less need for daytime drinking. This is because the chameleons do not wake up as dehydrated.

Conclusion

The chameleon community has made low humidity husbandry work by subsidizing it with misting systems. While it has proved to be effective, I encourage you to give an increased focus on providing the humidity cycles that match the chameleon’s natural conditions. Our goal in chameleon husbandry is to give them the best life we can. The more of our conditions they thrive in rather than tolerate the healthier they can be. Focusing in on humidity is a significant change in husbandry approach and requires re-writing things many of us have done for decades. But, this one is worth it. I have seen the changes it makes in my chameleons’ general hydration state and I can feel good about getting behind this change in chameleon husbandry.

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Chameleon Environment: Length of Basking Time

Hydration Schedule

The act of basking requires both the right amount of heat and the right amount of time. Although a warmer spot means less time needed to bask, going too hot produces burns. Most care sheets dictate that the basking bulb needs to be on all day. The logic is that the sun is up all day. But putting down a black and white schedule removes the keeper’s judgement from the situation. The purpose of a basking bulb is to warm the chameleon up in the morning. Once that job is completed, there may not be need for it again. And if it is left on it could actually be contributing to the overheating of the enclosure environment. But there will be situations where the ambient temperatures are low enough that a warm spot through out the day will be useful to the chameleon. On the Chameleon Academy care summary I have a gradient line indicating that keeper judgement should be used and the basking bulb length of time be intelligently applied with respect to the chameleon’s needs. I believe this to be a much more effective approach and produce a better husbandry.

Because of the problems with over-energizing veiled chameleons into producing life threatening amounts of eggs, there is also a school of thought that says to purposefully limit the basking time. Although this may be effective to reduce over-energizing the chameleons, I am not yet in a position where I am comfortable producing a “recipe” for doing this with the confidence that it will be carried out without a certain percentage of the keepers doing it wrong and producing an unhealthy environment. Thus basking length of time will also be an evolving parameter in chameleon husbandry.

The idea of purposefully limiting the basking independent of what the chameleon is communicating to you through their behavior is a practice that we need to thoughtfully consider. Whenever we decide that we know better than the chameleon what they need we must do it with great humility and care. There is no doubt that we do this all the time. Our chameleons are strangers to our enclosures and electronic energy sources. They have shown that our approach confuses them to the point where they will burn themselves trying to bask under a light that is too hot. So, limiting their access to dangerous levels of heat, UVB or food is a given. We have seen that they burn themselves, will expose their belly to excessively high UVB, and will eat to unhealthy levels (not that many of us are in the position to judge them).

But at what point do we over step our bounds and take too much control over a process which we have the barest of understanding? This is a question we must constantly keep in our minds as we create this environment for our chameleons. We are playing God with something that is not of our creation. This is a heavy responsibility that we must take seriously. We have a living being that is depending on us to make the right decisions.

I feel safe teaching newcomers to use moderate temperatures and to watch chameleon behavior to decide whether to limit basking time. I take the approach of  watching your chameleon to determine if they have had enough.  There may come a time where I feel that I will be effective enough in my communication that I could lead someone to limit basking time and be able to determine if the chameleon needs more. Is it better to err on the side of too long or too short? That is, in the end, the question we are asking. Each care sheet author and chameleon keeper must choose their path.

Conclusion

Length of basking time differs in caresheet direction between the common forcing of 12 hours of basking, the Chameleon Academy approach of adjusting length of time with respect to the communicated needs from the chameleon, and the purposefully limiting of basking time regardless of chameleon communication.

Recommending 12 hours on is a very basic approach. It is effective most of the time when using screen cages. The danger comes when it is presented as a requirement and keepers are told they must leave it on for 12 hours despite any mitigating environmental conditions. This is a simplistic mindset that comes from inexperience and you should rise above this as soon as you get orientated enough that you realize you are being taught from it.

Adjusting length of basking time with respect to chameleon behavior is a more sophisticated approach which does take more thought. I would encourage you to embrace it none the less. The art of chameleon keeping is not a simple recipe that will produce the same results every time in every "kitchen". Your conditions are unique and the most effective way to create an effective chameleon environment is to be conscious and mindful of those conditions and how you must change them for your chameleon's benefit.

Purposefully limiting the basking time is a level of control that you should take on once you are confident you understand the signs of under energized chameleons. It is possible this may be a normal practice in the future. If the keepers presently doing this show, over the years, more healthy, long lived chameleons that both grow to their full size potential as well as produce no infertile clutches then this practice will rightfully take its place as the standard.

I will be excited to change my recommendations to any method that brings the husbandry success of full sized chameleons with no infertile clutches across a wide range of keepers. Keep tuned in. This is a parameter that is being heavily tested out.

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Chameleon basking

Chameleon Environment: Basking Temperature

Basking temperature is a care sheet parameter that has been going through scrutiny lately. Thus there will be a wide range of values you will run into when scanning the available care sheets out there. Each species has its own range, but if we take panther chameleons as an example, I have seen values from 100F down to 80F. Most breeders have their suggested basking temperature ranges in the high 80s to low 90s. So, why the wide range?

Basking is important as chameleons are ectothermic, or cold blooded, and, after a cool night,  need to raise their body temperature using external heat. They will bask until they achieve their target temperature and then go about their day. This target temperature is necessary for proper digestion and optimal body function. But, like every care parameter, there can be too much and too little.

Way Too Much: Chameleons can, and will, burn themselves if the basking temperature is too hot. Although they can thermoregulate and will bask until they are done, they seem to have no mechanism to detect that they are burning. Chameleons will sit under a basking light that is too hot and literally burn themselves. We do not know if this is because they cannot feel it, they do not know what the feeling is, or if the need to warm up overrides the signal that there is pain from burning. But one thing is clear, we chameleon keepers have a responsibility to carefully monitor the basking temperature allowed in the cage. See the medical section on Chameleon Burns for more information.

Too Much: This is the area that has only been recently brought to the spotlight (so to speak). Chameleons can be overcharged. Given heat and excessive food and the chameleon's body will enter an unhealthful state where they grow overweight and females will overproduce eggs in both fertile and infertile clutches. This is unhealthy in males and life threatening in females through dystocia (egg binding).

Just Right: When the basking temperature is just right the chameleon will warm themself under the bulb for 30 to 60 minutes and then retreat away from the bulb heat to find food or rest safely in the leaves.

Too Little: When there is not enough heat the chameleon will be lethargic and internal processes will be slowed down. A growing chameleon that does not receive enough heat will grow slower and could be stunted if the low temperature condition persists over the months.

The complication is that the effect of the basking is in the dose, meaning (temperature x length of basking time) and there has been no firm test performed to determine the optimal basking "dose". So the caresheet author's job is to select a temperature that they judge effective by watching chameleon behavior and vigor when presented with certain temperature ranges.

Panther Chameleon Temperature

The reason why there is a wide range in basking temperature advice is that we are becoming more aware of there being the "Too Much" range of temperature between the level where they will be burned and the healthy range of basking temperatures. This realization is relatively new because large and plump chameleons were typically viewed as desirable. Large clutches of eggs were taken as a badge of honor that our husbandry was excellent. Educating the community that this is this is the opposite of good husbandry has been a slow process.

The decrease in recommended basking temperatures is in response to the desire to extend the chameleon's life - especially the females. Success is measured in the slim body build, lack of infertile clutches laid, and natural levels of eggs being produced.

The main species of concern is the Veiled Chameleon as they are especially prone to being overcharged and readily will present you with an oversized clutch of infertile eggs up to over 100 per clutch, but we see this in panther chameleons and others to a lesser extent.

For the Chameleon Academy care summaries I choose a basking temperature that is on the low end of what has a long track record of producing healthy chameleons. I do not go to the lowest levels as they have not been fully tested across the general community. The reason why this testing is important to me is that most of the community will not be able to identify the signs of chameleons not getting enough basking light. The exception species is the Veiled Chameleon as we are witnessing a health crisis to the point where laying bins are required in any female veiled's cage and vets are offering proactive spaying procedures to save the female's life before egg binding happens.

Conclusion

Basking temperature is a parameter which will evolve over time as more and more people show success with the lower ranges. This will rest on the shoulders of the experienced community that can identify the subtle signs of growing fat pads on one end or sluggish behavior on the other. After working this out within their own collections we will then see how other less experienced people interpret and execute the temperatures. And this stage is the final step to creating a "recipe" temperature range that is easy to follow.

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Chameleon Cage Type: Screen, Hybrid, and Glass

Panther Chameleon Cage

Which type of cage you use for your chameleon – Screen, Hybrid, or Glass – can be a controversial topic. A significant segment of the community holds to the thought that chameleons need screen cages or they will die. This is simply not true. In fact, in most cases, a hybrid cage is more appropriate. A hybrid cage has mostly solid sides with special vents or screen panel configuration to encourage airflow. The truth is that the closer your ambient conditions are to what your chameleon needs, the more screen sides you’ll want on the cage. The more you have to change the ambient environment, the more solid sides you’ll have to incorporate.

Most care information available is for screen cages. Although there has been a significant adoption of solid side cages in the advanced community it isn’t because using them is so hard. It is simply that the experienced community knows what the best tools for the job are and are not swayed by the hype. I have often said to go with the cage type your advisor is most comfortable with. But when you have your feet under you and are able to understand your cage system then look into hybrid caging. In most cases, you will find your ability to create the proper humidity ebb and flow much easier!

The key to making solid side cages work is that you learn to monitor your heat and humidity. While screen cages are easier in the respect that they don’t store heat and humidity, they are less effective because you are unable to control the ambient conditions of the chameleon’s cage beyond the localized areas in front of the basking bulb or fogger.

The glass vs. screen debate will continue for long time. Perhaps the compromise of the hybrid cage will serve as a bridge for future chameleon community generations to see the cage types not as competitors, but as tools to be used where their advantages contribute to better chameleon husbandry.

Conclusion

I do not specify a cage type on the Chameleon Academy Care Summaries because the cage type will depend on your environment. A person in hot, dry Arizona with the air-conditioning running all day may not use the same caging as someone in humid, cool England. There is a false comfort in choosing to listen to an “expert” source that gives you a simple answer without taking into account the details of your particular situation. Unfortunately, doing it right is not simple. You have to think about conditions. While the ability to do this should be every chameleon keeper’s goal, there is no doubt that this is a skill to be learned that is beyond most people just starting off. We all start at the beginning and there is no shame in that. So the best course of action is to find a mentor or advisor that has kept chameleons in your general area and has dealt with the conditions you will face. And do what they have been successful with. Although I would cringe at advice given by people who say to only use screen cages, I also acknowledge that screen cage husbandry has been made to work. If you are surrounded by people saying to use screen cages only then you will probably be okay doing what they do. If their chameleons are alive they have figured out how to make it work. Just keep in the back of your mind that there is far to go and much to learn on the subject of chameleon cage types. But that can be for another day!

Further Research

There are, of course, many resources for continued research on the subject. A good start are two podcasts on both glass and hybrid caging.


 

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