Chameleons and Stress

Ep 6: Chameleons & Stress

Summary: Explore the relationship between chameleons and stress.  We go over the three stress zones: Comfort, Tolerance, and Intolerance and then delve into different kinds of stress including stress spikes, internal physical stress, external physical stress, and emotional stress.  Most importantly, we go over the communication that chameleons give you that we often miss because we don't speak chameleon!  Well, then, here is a lesson in chameleon speak!  By learning the signs of stress you are well versed to eliminate it as much as is possible from your chameleon's life!                                               .

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Show Notes

Stress is a subject that is well studied and has many parallels.  A great place to start learning more is the American Institute of Stress.  This page has a great summary:

A pretty technical paper discussing how there may be a link to eradicating parasites in our bodies and the rise of certain diseases. Does the failure to acquire helminthic parasites predispose to Crohn’s disease?

The caging system described in the episode which allows a breeding pair of panther chameleons and 24 babies to all be housed individually and visually isolated from each other in 8 feet of wall space is the Dragon Strand Breeder Cage System.  Click the picture to be linked to the website.

Dragon Strand Chameleon Cages

Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Happy New Years 2016, Chameleon Wranglers! Welcome back to our weekly chameleon fireside.

Today we will talk about stress and chameleons. Stress is a major topic as we are constantly told not to stress our chameleons. But what does that really mean? It is important that we know what we are talking about!

Stress and the effects of stress are well studied. So if you want to continue to dive into understanding stress there are other sources. How many? I would say there are a plethora of sources. You can start at the American Institute of Stress and see how what I am saying for chameleons fits on the human function curve. We and chameleons may be different creatures, but we are made from the same stuff. The term “stress” as we use it today was coined by Hans Selye in 1936. The simplest definition was “The rate of wear and tear on the body”. This is of importance to us because the health of our chameleon is weakened with stress. When health is compromised infections and sickness can more easily set in and, if left to continue, the chameleon’s life is shortened to an untimely death. My hope in talking about this is to promote vigorous longevity as the standard by which we keep our chameleons. The detrimental effects of stress are slow and generally long term in nature so are often overlooked. Issues with the chameleon’s health are written off to bad luck or just “what happens”. I would like us to do better than that and do the best we can to understand chameleons for what they are. That is really the only way we can provide the best husbandry possible.

Before we get into this I want to make it clear that I am not trying to encompass the entire subject of stress here. I am focusing on understanding the stress levels that we need to manage for the best possible chameleon captive husbandry. There are actually good stresses out there. But I am going to focus on the stresses we need to worry about.

The Stress Zones

To set the groundwork for this discussion I’d like to create certain zones. These zones come from basic study of stress in humans. You can find all sorts of charts and I’ll include a good link in the show notes. I am adapting those concepts to chameleon husbandry. So my explanations here may be unique in their approach, but the concepts are hardly original.

Comfort Zone

The first zone is the comfort zone. This is the range of conditions that the chameleon would consider ideal. It would be a zone where all environmental parameters are perfect for the species, there would be no predators, no parasites, no competition for food, water, or great basking spots. Food coming by is of high nutritional content and possesses no biting parts or defense spikes. It is chameleon paradise.

This is just a concept. And it is probably good that we will never be able to reach our idea of chameleon “perfection”, because we may not actually know what is ideal. For example, everyone wants to get rid of parasites. And I can’t give any evidence that we should change that! But parasites and chameleons have evolved together and may be tied closer than we realize. In humans, there are theories that our immune system response to parasites also is a key to combating diseases such as Crohn’s disease. Perhaps our effective advanced world hygiene has robbed us of certain parasites which we depended on in some ways.   It is certain that there are relationships like this throughout the animal kingdom. I feel comfortable saying that we should get rid of parasites with the information we have now, but the more we learn the more we realize that there is no black and white in this world. Except that chameleons are awesome. The point is that we will be continually refining what the comfort zone actually is. But we have a pretty good idea of the basics and our job as chameleon keepers is to construct our husbandry to be as close to that chameleon comfort model as possible. Or, and this is vitally important, be consciously aware when we are choosing to deviate from that comfort model.

Tolerance Zone

The next zone is the tolerance zone. This is the zone that encompasses a normal healthy life. In humans, our tolerance zone is being hot and rolling down the window, getting the flu and whining about it for a week, or cramming for finals or that important presentation and not getting enough sleep. In all these cases, our bodies are presented with a challenge to the comfort zone and we take steps to bring us as close back as possible. We adjust the air conditioning. We take some medicine and rest. We sleep in over the weekend to get our strength back. With a chameleon they move themselves under the basking lamp, they get a dose of panacur to knock out the pinworms, and they get put back in their cages to wonder why this hairless ape is so amused by playing treadmill with them. The tolerance zone consists of stress spikes which are correctable and go away.

Intolerance Zone

The next zone is the intolerance zone. This is where the chameleon’s ability to absorb the stress conditions is exhausted. When the temperature is so hot that gaping, turning white, and hiding in the lowest, darkest place does not correct it the chameleon enters into heat stress and physical damage occurs to the point where death is possible and, if the stressor is not removed, inevitable. When there is a high parasite load and the chameleon struggles to get enough nutrients its body gets weaker and weaker to the point where it starts to fail. The host/parasite relationship is off balance and both will now die. The delineation between the tolerance zone and the intolerance zone is not set and clear. A certain set of conditions can be firmly in the tolerance zone for one day, but as it continues, they move into the intolerance zone. The slow slide of tolerance to intolerance is the hallmark of constant stress. It has also been termed “low grade stress” or chronic stress. This is why you can have people talk about how they can keep chameleons living together or feed them only mealworms. The stress of competition and malnutrition builds up over time. The longer it is in effect the fewer the number of chameleons that will be able to handle it.

I need to mention that there is always that one individual chameleon that hangs out with other chameleons, will eat only mealworms, and doesn’t care about your UVB light. He drinks from a water bowl and, as a hobby, collects different species of hookworms. He is the chameleon equivalent of the fast food eating, TV watching, chain-smoking, whiskey drinking uncle of yours that outlives your fitness coach cousin. Despite these anecdotal data points we will be discouraging mealworm-only diets and whiskey binges for both your chameleon and you.

Types of Stress

So now that we have our zones laid out let’s work on understanding types of stresses. And then we can put the pieces together for a whole picture.

Stress is the body’s way of driving you to change your situation. Chemicals are released in your body telling you that there is a condition, whether physical or emotional, that is not optimal for your life and it is requesting a change. There are four kinds of stress that I feel are relevant to chameleon keepers. And understand these are designations created by me to help explain how we should address this topic. Your vet will probably just call it stress. But to dive into understanding your chameleon and coming out of this with some actionable items in our husbandry we need to break it up and study the different aspects of it. This is important for us because handling can stress your chameleon, but it is not the stress that will be eventually bringing you into the vet. So that is why we as keepers need to have a deeper understanding of what we are doing and how it affects our chameleon.

The four stress conditions I would like to talk about are

1) Stress spikes

2) Internal physical stress

3) External physical stress

4) Emotional stress

Stress Spikes

Stress spikes are what keeps us safe in a world that wants to eat us. We would feel a rush of stress as the saber-tooth cat leapt towards us with mal intention. Well, at least our ancestors would have. Today we are more likely to feel stress spikes when we are late for work and can’t find our keys or we get cut off on the freeway. These are temporary flare ups of stress which go away relatively quickly. In the chameleon world, stress spikes come from things like taking a chameleon out of his cage when he doesn’t want to go, the dog running by his cage, a hawk flying overhead, the misting system suddenly turning on, the lights suddenly turning off,…and it goes on and on. Of course, fearing for their life has a much higher stress level result than the quick surprise of a mister going on. Normal life is filled with stress spikes of various degrees from annoyance to full on fight or flight. A chameleon is designed to withstand these stress spikes. Because, in fact, the stress spikes are the body’s way of ensuring their (and every other living creature’s) survival. Discomfort at the temperature is what drives a chameleon to seek out the heat lamp. There was a minor stress bump and the chameleon took action to bring his body back into comfort. A hawk flying by at low level will generate a huge stress spike that will shoot adrenaline through his body and you’ll get the immediate swiveling to get behind the branch or even a drop to the ground. In both of these cases the stress appeared, was dealt with and the chameleon goes on with life.

Occasional stress spikes are not what you need to worry about. If you need to medicate your chameleon, please do not refrain from doing so because you are worried about the stress of holding him or opening his mouth. Yes, you will be stressing your chameleon by holding him and sticking a syringe into his mouth, but it is for a greater benefit and that stress will fade quickly. This is the main key between stress spikes and low-grade, constant stress. The chameleon can do something about the stress spike to correct it. If the chameleon cannot be relieved of the stress – if there is no escape - then it is no longer a spike and becomes a constant stress. Constant, chronic stress is what will shorten your chameleon’s life. We will spend most of the podcast speaking about this stress.

Intro to Chronic Stress types


The next three types of stress are the ones you really need to look out for. They are the ones that exert a constant stress on the chameleon’s body. These are the stress points that the chameleon cannot get away from. This means it is chronic. A chameleon under constant stress will have a compromised immune system. A stressed immune system opens the chameleon up to illness. It is the exact same thing that is happening when we get sick from being cold for too long. It isn’t the cold that is making us sick. It is the body spending so much energy trying to keep us warm and failing that weakens us. The bacteria and viruses that are always around us, but have been fought off, find that this body is weakened and they are able to take hold. And, just like us, sometimes that infection is a minor annoyance which the chameleon fights off when conditions get better.   But in the case of a constant stress, the problem gets worse and the result is life threatening. As serious as these are, understand that the seriousness comes from the chronic nature. The silver lining of this is that this is not a cause for immediate panic. You do the best you can to reduce these stresses and watch for behavior that suggests that there is something you didn’t catch. You then put on your detective’s hat and figure it out. Chameleons are actually quite hardy and if you know the signs of stress, you have time to correct the condition. The reason why many people get in trouble is that they don’t know the signs and chameleon language so they do not recognize there is a problem until it is too late. We will go over the signs that there is trouble brewing and with this knowledge you’ll be able to recognize problems while they are still able to be reversed.

Internal Physical Stress

We will start with internal physical stress. This is usually in the form of parasites. This can also be bacterial or viral infection, broken bones, strained joints, or complications in egg development for example. Malnutrition (or obesity for that matter) also contributes to internal stress. But how you detect internal physical stress? Broken bones and any other kind of structural damage is pretty easy to determine as the chameleon will stay away from using the limb or body part and will move strangely or not at all. Discoloration of the skin is a dead give away of something going on beneath the surface. Fecal exams can discern whether there is a parasite load that must be dealt with. Studying the poop can give you an insight to malnutrition or dehydration. A good healthy poop is moist and tightly packed. A dry poop is a warning sign that the chameleon is not getting enough water. Smaller poops indicate not as much food intake. All of this is a prime concern to us as any of these stresses maintained over time will eventually cost your chameleon its health or life. The major sign that there is an internal stress that has moved into the intolerance zone is when the eye turrets start sinking in or your chameleon closes its eyes during the day. This is an immediate get-to-the-vet condition. But please use some judgment here. Sometimes chameleons will blink their eyes. Sometimes they need to flush out their eyes. The danger sign is when they are left alone, think no one is watching and their eyes are closed as if they are napping during the day. Napping is great for us, but is not a healthy chameleon activity.

External Physical Stress

These are conditions which affect the chameleon from the outside. You usually know these items as basic husbandry. But incorrect temperatures or other environmental conditions produce stress. And this is the exact same thing as you being too cold. You can handle it for a while, but just go to an office every day that is too cold and you end up getting sick on a regular basis. Your immune system has been weakened and finally, something bad took hold. Drafts are an example of external physical stress that could drive someone with a perfect cage set-up crazy. Especially if it is in the form of an air conditioner that goes on when the said keeper is at work. A regular blast of cold air day after day will become a health issue quickly and no images shared with your vet or across the internet will show this issue unless someone happens to catch the air conditioning vent above the cage.

Emotional Stress

Lastly, emotional or behavioral stress. This is stress that comes from the chameleon’s perception of the world. A sense of security will be different for each chameleon. Elements that affect security are cage interior design, cage placement, and interaction with other living creatures. Chameleons are prey animals and have a need to feel protected. Even predators need a safe place to sleep when they are feeling vulnerable. A chameleon’s cage is their most significant source of security. They will soon view their cage as their bush. It is their territory. A chameleon comfortable in their cage will have no problem with you walking around outside, but as soon as you open the door you are now in their territory and you will illicit a response appropriate for how much they fear you. A new wild caught will likely rush into the safety of the leaves or puff up and try to scare you away while a captive bred that knows you well may excitedly come closer in anticipation of the special silkworm treat that your fingers always bring. Make sure your cage has a leafy area that the chameleon can retreat to that hides him from view (more or less). As he gets used to you and the environment he will use it less and less, but the knowledge that he has a safe place will help him feel secure. This leafy retreat also serves as an early health warning. A chameleon that is usually basking and out in the open waiting for that silkworm now spending time in their so called “safe spot” is a great way for you to pick up on that your chameleon is getting sick. This is an internal physical stress, but we are using the emotional psyche of the chameleon to hide when sick to our benefit. In fact the best way to tell if your chameleon is not feeling well is a change of normal behavior. This is why you being attuned to your particular chameleon’s behavior is so critical because every chameleon is different. But the only way you can see a change in behavior is if you create areas of the cage which allow different behaviors! If your cage is just a network of perching branches with a dripper in the corner your chameleon is on display all day and you will get sick signs much later into the sickness because the chameleon has the pressure to be in the open and show its strength. The bottom line is to construct your cage interior to give that emotional retreat.

Your cage placement is important as well. You need to be aware of what your chameleon can see and what is happening around it. Birds and cats eat chameleons. Placing your chameleon cage next to your loveable pet parrot and your cat’s favorite napping spot may make for a human “Awwww” worthy Christmas card, but you just filled your chameleon’s life with predators in close proximity. Don’t do this to your little guy. Yes, chameleons are impressive in their ability to realize they are safe in a cage, but you know they will flinch whenever the bird stretches its wings or the cat wakes up. Just think about some alien putting you in a cage and letting you float in a tub with great white sharks. This is what we often ask our chameleons to do without thinking about it. Also consider what kind of activity goes on around the cage. Placing the cage near a kitchen door which opens many unpredictable, without-warning times through out the day is a poor placement. Surprises and even anticipation of surprises are a stress. While a door opening would be considered a stress spike, constant stress spikes become a chronic stress condition.

And, just a side note, throughout this podcast I am giving examples of stress causing events. I am going into detail as to what they could be to effectively communicate the concept. Every chameleon is different and every situation is different. Please do not go away saying that Bill said that opening kitchen doors is a chameleon stressor and beat down anyone who has a cage near a kitchen. You will run into the guy who everytime he comes out of the kitchen feeds his chameleon a special treat. This guy has just turned a surprise stress situation into an excitement situation. What will or won’t stress your chameleon depends on the individual skittishness or shyness and what an event means to that particular chameleon. And this is always changing as the chameleon grows. Please just take the concepts and apply it to your situation.

Height is security for chameleons. Notice how they tend to like to crawl to the top of your head? One way to help your chameleon feel secure in his cage is to place it high enough that the chameleon can perch above all the activity. Dogs or small children running around suddenly have much less effect on your chameleon because they feel they are removed from it all. Placing the cage on a dresser can make all the difference in the world! You’ll notice that a newly acquired chameleon higher up than you will display more annoyance than fear when you put your hand in its cage. If you are at eye level you have a higher component of fear involved.

And then there are stresses from interactions with other living creatures. I hope it is obvious that chameleons should not be playing with your other pets. It could be a tragic mistake to think that the affection your cat or dog shows you applies to all living things. But there are two common interactions that we as a community commonly subject our chameleons to. Those are interactions with human and with other chameleons.

We will start with humans. Since your pet chameleon will be interacting with you to some degree it is important that you learn the signs of fear in chameleons. Fear is the stress that we will be dealing with when we interact with our chameleon. We are predators and they are prey. We humans with our big brains have created this concept of a “pet” and need to be patient while chameleons catch up to this bizarre notion. And, not only do we expect that the chameleon be okay with captive life (which, if we do our job right, they adjust to beautifully) we now want to handle them! Boy, evolution spends millions of years firmly ingraining survival red flags into the chameleon’s gut instinct and we decide that we are going to toss those out the window! So, pull up a seat and get comfortable. We need to set the stage for this topic.

Human Interaction

First, let’s understand that there are fundamental differences between us and chameleons and our world views.

Holding and touching are human bonding elements. We see this in many pack animals. Dogs, cats, parrots, and elephants to mention a few. These social relationships are strengthened by touch. Our culture clash is that chameleons are not social animals in the way we are. They are solitary animals and in their language, touch does not mean affection. There is no reason for a chameleon to have developed a sense of relationship, as we know it, with other chameleons and especially not with humans. These other animals make great pets because they have the sense of family that they can transfer to include humans. Chameleons start off with a huge handicap in this area. Dogs grow up being nurtured by their mother and enter into a pack structure. It doesn’t matter whether that mother is a dog or you. The community structure is ingrained. Being nurtured is being licked. Whether that is with a dog’s tongue or a human hand it is still nurturing. There are so many similarities between a dogs view of relationships and a person’s view of relationships that the combo is almost intuitive. We agree on what these actions and structures mean.

Chameleons, on the other hand, have no concept of family as egg layers have no idea where they came from and live bearers disperse as soon as possible.

There just is no parallel in a chameleon’s experience to slightly tweak to include benevolent humans. The only natural category we fit into, as far as a chameleon can see, is a predator. To bring in the stress zone concept, we could say that any relationship skills and ability to relate to you as a pet keeper is working within the tolerance zone part of the chameleon psyche. It is foreign to them. We are working with the ability of the chameleon to suppress its natural signals to escape. It is actually pretty impressive that they can do this! We really push it when we handle our chameleons. Being in the hand of a predator is the last thing before being in the mouth of a predator. At least that is the instinct they are born with. We want to reprogram them. And each chameleon will adjust to this differently. Exceptional individuals completely lose their fear of humans. I have seen them and they are a joy to have around! But that is not common. Most individuals can lose their fear of humans, but retain their discomfort of being handled for long periods of time. Some individuals just cannot put aside their instinct to defend themselves against a larger animal and you get a fight or flight response every time you come near. Luckily, the most common chameleons available in the pet industry fall into the middle ground.

So go into the idea of handling fully acknowledging that you are no longer working hard to bring your husbandry closer and closer to that chameleon comfort zone. We are deliberately taking an unnatural and stressful situation and our goal is to reprogram the chameleon to move the interaction as far away from the intolerance zone as possible. It is important to realize that this is what you are doing because you cannot take it personally when the chameleon reacts poorly or progresses slowly. Every chameleon will react differently to taming and you will have to be attuned to chameleon language to make it work without over stressing your chameleon. If handling is important to you then you need patience, an understanding of stress signals, and to accept your chameleon’s ability or inability to meet your desires. Since this is an episode about stress I will leave the actual taming techniques for a later episode. Today I will give you the signs of stress which are born of fear. But before we get into that I’d like to put this into perspective. The stress associated with handling or going through a taming session falls under the stress spike category. If you are in tune with the signs of fear and stress then you will be able to adjust your handling sessions accordingly.   If you know and respect the signals your chameleon is giving you then handling will not be a health issue. Just be sensitive to what your chameleon is telling you. So here are your signs of fear or emotional stress in chameleon language

1) The Chameleon Salute. This is where the chameleon brings his front leg up close to his body. This is a usual first sign of fear. Often the chameleon will be leaning away from you while it is doing this.

2) Gular out. The gular is the pouch of skin in the throat area. Chameleons can puff it out to look bigger and it often has bright colors so a chameleon can use this as a warning sign to other chameleons that he means business. Unfortunately, to humans it just means he is showing off his beautiful colors and he looks really really cool! Thus the problem of speaking different languages!

3) Flattening body. Chameleons flatten their body to make their profile look bigger. This is a common tactic in the animal world. Looking bigger is an attempt to scare away another creature or make you look too big to eat. When a chameleon flattens their body at you they are trying to scare you away.

4) Gaping. Gaping is when they hold their mouth open. This is an obvious threat precursor to biting. Chameleons usually don’t want to bite and will give as much warning as possible to avoid having to do so. Well, most do. I have had some chameleons that seemed to like the taste of me and would go straight to biting. They didn’t bother with trying to scare me away and at times I suspected they may have been trying to draw me in.

5) Bright colors: Those bright colors we love so much are actually there to scare us off and let us know what a tough guy the chameleon is. It is unfortunate that chameleon language for “get away from me” is so beautiful to our eyes.

6) Darkened colors: On the other side of the color spectrum is the darkening of colors. The darkened colors are a sign of submission. This is a chameleon that has accepted defeat. This is usually done in response to a dominance contest with another chameleon, but can happen with you. You may see this response when every time the chameleon tries to get away you corral it back and the chameleon finally accepts that any attempt at escape is futile. The subsequent darkening of color or, worse, closing of eyes, is unfortunately, not contentment with being where ever it is you have placed it, but resignation to the fact that it cannot escape.

8) Swiveling away. This happens if you have the chameleon on a stick or are trying to get it out of its cage and it doesn’t want to come. The chameleon will swivel itself around the stick to put the stick between you and it. They will flatten their body to the point where there are two eye staring back at you from either side of the branch. Once again, it is unfortunate that this display of fear is so cute to us. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and chameleons are from Saturn.

9) Running away. Running away is kind of obvious. But with chameleons it is a little complicated. They know that their best defense is to stay still and hope they are not seen. They know they are not built for escape via running away. So it is important that you not use a chameleon NOT running away as a sign that they like where they are. Give a chameleon a path of escape and leave the room. If you come back and they are staying put then you can say they like where they are.

10) Dropping and/or Discing. Some of the more skittish chameleons will jump off your hand into free space. This is a defense mechanism that gambles that the fall is better than the sure thing of being eaten. If your chameleon is willing to jump into the unknown and take its chances with a fall then you know you have a long road to taming this guy down. Some species, like quadricornis and montium will actually roll up in a tight disc shape and get some gliding action on their way down. It is very cool to see, but I don’t recommend trying it out.

11) The Double Chameleon Salute is where the chameleon rises both front legs up close to his body and is swaying on his back legs at this point the gular (his throat) is usually puffed out, his body is flattened, and he is probably got his mouth open and looking like he might bite. And, yes, biting is next.

12) Biting: Yep, good old fashion biting. It is the universal language for get away from me! Chameleons can and will bite. They have teeth and can draw blood. But, as scary as being bitten is for most people, remember that chameleons usually give many warning signs before they bite. You will encounter behaviors on this big long list we have just gone through before you get the bite so if you are understanding chameleon-speak – and we just went over the basics – you are not going to have to worry so much about a surprise bite. It will usually happen when you have ignored the previous signs.

13) Eye Turrets sunken in. We can learn so much about our chameleon by its eyes. The eyes and the eye turrets are windows into your chameleon’s health. Eye turrets starting to sink in is your warning sign that you have started to step into the intolerance zone. Whatever is currently happening should have stopped long ago.

14) Eyes closed. Anytime your chameleon is sitting with its eyes closed and it is not dark and time for sleeping be very concerned. This is a chameleon shutting down due to stress whether it be emotional stress (they have given up trying to escape) or internal physical stress (it is so painful inside). You need to either get them away from the external stress source or take care of the internal condition.

So, to sum up, handling is, usually, just a stress spike. It is a stress, but not one that will land you in the vet’s office unless you just ignore all the stress signs and totally overload your poor chameleon. Know the signs of stress and fear and manage them appropriately for what you are trying to accomplish. When worked with slowly and patiently with respect for not going to far at once, chameleons will tame down to a reasonable level which, of course, is determined by each individual chameleon’s ability to adjust.

Stress from Other Chameleons (Co-habitation)

Our other major interaction situation is co-habitation. This is where two or more chameleons are put in the same cage. It is natural for when two chameleons meet to establish which one is dominant and gets to keep the bush. That is just what they do. The one that loses the dominance contest needs to go and find another bush. Depending on how aggressive the two individuals are the dominance contest may be short and unimpressive or it may end up being a spectacular display of colors and physical attacking. It is widely accepted that you can’t have two males together so our husbandry problems usually come from housing a pair of chameleons together, multiple females together, or a clutch of babies.

These situations are generally discouraged due to the raft of complications that they can cause. As with the discussion on handling, this episode is about the stress, not the techniques in managing cohabitation so my purpose here is to give you the warning signs. If you have chameleons of any age in the same cage you will have to be well versed in the signs of trouble. The reason why this is critical is because co-habitation stress is a chronic stress. It is in the living space of the chameleon and they cannot escape it. And that really is the crux of the problem. The problem with co-habitation is not when chameleons are around each other, but when they can’t get away from each other. The reason is simple. When in a dominance battle, the winner knows he has won when the loser shows submissive colors and leaves the area. If we have stuck these two chameleons in the same cage, the loser can show as much submissive colors as he or she wants, but can never finish the contest by leaving the bush. The dominant one is under low grade stress as every day he has to continue fighting and the submissive one is under low grade stress because he or she cannot leave and let the battle end. This is why free range set-ups work for chameleon groups. Whenever squabbles arise, the submissive one can give the victor all the signals that he has won and the contest can be ended to the satisfaction of both parties. Everyone can go on with their lives. This is not the case for chameleons sitting in a cage. Even with equal basking, water, and feeding stations, co-habitation is not advised because you don’t know when one of the two decides they are done being in the same space. You could have two individuals that seem to be compatible one day not be compatible for whatever reason. These reasons could be anything from coming of some age to going in or out of a certain season for mating. Chameleons in the wild can be found around each other, but they also have complete freedom to get away from each other. We cannot remove that one important aspect of that interaction and think we will be successful! The typical scenario is that the pair or group appears to be getting along, but that dominance battles are being fought on a non-physical level. If the two or more chameleons come to an agreement of who is in charge, are happy with it, and the winner backs down then you have a peace of sorts. If there is constant question as to who rules the roost or the dominant one does not get the right signals that he has truly won (remember that “leaving the bush” is the official close of the contest) then your chameleons may be locked in a silent, but real tug of war. This tug of war takes a toll on both parties.

Now I realize that most of the breeders here use the bin method to raise babies. For those new to this, the bin method is where a clutch of babies is raised in groups. The breeder has a number of bins or cages that are used to separate the babies as they grow up so the babies are around like-sized cage mates. The reason the sorting is done is because babies bully each other. Babies naturally grow at different rates, but that is compounded by whether the baby is part of the alpha dominant group or the submissive group. The babies are constantly shifted around to make sure the weaker ones don’t waste away and/or die. Raising babies together is a skill not in proper husbandry, but in making sure that the group dynamic does not get out of hand. Nipped tails, minor bite marks, and slower growing individuals are all signs that chameleon nature did not sign up for close quarters.

This podcast is about best practices. So I can only hesitantly support bin raising or any kind of co-habitation. Few people go through the expense to individually raise babies. But I can tell you breeders of parsonii certainly find a way! While not ideal, bin raising of babies has produced quality babies for may years. I have done it often, myself. Yes, babies have squabbles and some get damaged, but it overall works good enough and a breeder skilled in recognizing trouble signs and moving babies around can avoid major incidents.

Whether babies or adults you may find yourself in a situation where you need to keep chameleons together for at least a short period of time. This could be the three months it takes to raise babies up before going to new homes, an impulse buy, or any other unexpected event.

Rest assured that co-habitating chameleons do not self-combust immediately and some can adjust to varying degrees. For the purposes of this podcast I want to give you signs of stress and dominance play. Once you have that information and you know what is going on between your chameleons you can make the appropriate adjustments.

So here is your list of signs to watch out for. Note that all of these can happen for a variety of reasons. If they happen once they are merely a stress spike. If they happen repeatedly to the same individual you can suspect you have a targeted victim and that this victim is living with a chronic stress situation.

And I need to make this clear. I am giving you these stress signs so that you can recognize things that are going on before they get to the point where damage is being done. There are many signs of trouble that happen before you get to physical confrontations that you can head off serious trouble before it happens. But I would not feel good about this information being used to specifically make a forced long term co-habitation situation work. That scenario is usually tied to production of eggs for a business. I am not thrilled when business interests try to justify compromised husbandry practices.

That said, remember that there are times when you may choose to do something besides what we know are best practices. That is not always bad. There are always things to be learned by trying things differently. By knowing the stress signs you can make sure that your chameleons aren’t needlessly suffering. Here are some communications regarding stress and dominance play.

1) Climbing the walls of the cage: Chameleons should not climb the walls of their cage. They will do this for the first few days in a new cage, but, if the cage is set-up appropriately, the chameleon will settle in and stay comfortably on horizontal branches. If the chameleon is scaling the cage walls then they are trying to get somewhere else and there is something wrong with their cage or its location. If you have a group situation and one chameleon continually is scaling the cage walls then you have one chameleon trying to leave the situation. This is a clear sign that your chameleon needs another living area.

2) Always perching below the other: If there is a situation where one chameleon constantly is perching lower than the other you have a dominance structure established. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless this is accompanied by other items on this list. If both the dominant one and submissive one are content with the hierarchy then you may have a time window of peaceful co-existence. But watch out for some of these other signs that the dominance battle is not truly over or has reared its ugly head again.

3) dark colors: The submissive one out of a dominance battle signals to the victor that they won by displaying dark submissive colors. They are also suppose to leave the area. If the submissive one will not break out of the darker colors you may have a situation where the submissive one will be continually bullied until they leave the bush…which of course can’t happen so if one of your chameleons is constantly in darker colors you may have a lingering dominance battle.

4) the dominant one eats first. Does one chameleon always have to be the first to eat? It may even go as far as the dominant one eating all the food so the submissive one goes hungry. Or that the dominant one eats the food the submissive one was eyeing. You’ll see this when you introduce a female to a male for breeding. Let a cricket go near them and see who snags it. If the male snags it then you may have chance at a good mating. If the female snags it in front of the male then you may have a female that is letting the male know this won’t be easy.   This is one of those things that is not 100%, but try it a couple times and see if you get a pattern. Sometimes there is a stand off for some reason between a male and a female and neither moves. If you see this let a cricket go running up the side of the screen cage. I have had that break the tension as the male snags the cricket and then goes to successfully mate the female. Just a tip to try.

5) the dominant one climbs over the other. We see a dominant chameleon climbing over a submissive one in many scenarios. We see it in babies and we see it in females that do not feel like breeding. If you are wondering if this is bullying behavior or not then just observe whether it is consistently the same characters involved in the incidents.

6) stealing food from another’s mouth. Stealing food from another chameleon’s mouth can be just being attracted to an insect and not caring that another chameleon already caught it, but if it happens continuously between the same individuals you know something more is going on.

7) tail nipping. Tail nipping is when one chameleon will follow another and bite the tip off of the tail. It is not uncommon for “B” grade chameleons to be sold with nipped tails. This happens more often with babies as they are kept together more often, but this happens with adults living together as well. I usually hear about a particular trouble maker in a certain group that gets a taste for tail tips and becomes a repeat offender.

8) Bite marks. If you see faint black rings on a baby chameleon those are probably bite marks from a sibling. The good news is that these marks usually go away after a shed or two. So, even if you get a baby with a black, mouth shaped ring on them, it is not a reason to get too excited. Babies shed often and, unless the bite was deep, it will disappear soon enough.

9) Eyes closed. As stated before, when the eyes close during the day you know the situation has progressed too far. You have trend far into the intolerance zone and things are physically breaking down. Find the stress point and remove it immediately.

10) Losing weight. The trouble with low grade stress is it is something that happens over time and is not the direct cause of death. So your chameleons live together for 9 months seemingly fine and then one gets a bacterial infection. If it happens over time and it is subtle how can you know it is happening before the infection stage? Well, first of all, don’t put yourself in that position – keep your chameleons separately! But one of the most valuable habits you can get into is weighing your chameleon on a weekly basis. It is by this practice that you will be able to measure your chameleon’s relative health with respect to time. Anytime your chameleon is losing weight you have your early warning sign.

I would not be surprised if there are other examples of dominance play that you all have witnessed. If you have something not on my list send me an email! Keep your eye out for signs of building stress to nip it in the bud. And let’s work on bringing our chameleons as close to the comfort zone as possible. My episode today is not meant to say what should or should not be done in handling, caging, or other aspects of husbandry. My purpose was to expose chameleon communication the best that I have been able to uncover in these decades of trying to figure them out and to figure out where I can get better in what I do. Take these data points and apply them to your chameleon husbandry and see if any of them can help make your care better. And if I have missed something here, please let me know! Although do not confuse being able to keep chameleons alive with success in husbandry. Chameleons are fighters and will live through an amazing amount before dropping off. “Still breathing” was the standard of success in the 80s. We have moved on from that and have learned enough that we can have chameleon quality of life as our target standard. That is what I am really interested in discussing.

And we’ll close up there. Thank you for joining me in this extra long episode. I considered breaking it up into a two part series, but it all tied in so tightly that it had to go together. If you are interested in some links to the topics presented then you can find them in the show notes at Look for episode 6.

The reason I can sit and put together an hour long educational episode is because of support from the Dragon Strand caging company. Creating designs specifically to reduce stress in chameleons has allowed me to study this chameleon behavior in depth. I designed the Breeder Series of hybrid cages specifically for breeders to be able to keep their breeders visually isolated and even to raise babies up individually to avoid nipped tails, bite marks, and the effects of bullying. The cages have screen fronts for ventilation, but solid sides to keep them from being affected by others next to them. You can even have a breeding pair of panthers and 24 babies raised individually in 8 feet of wall space with a couple racks and the Breeder series cage systems. Look in the show notes for pictures and links or just visit

Have a great New Year’s day! We have many things planned for this podcast in 2016 and can’t wait to get to them! So hold on, chameleon wranglers, this ride is just beginning!

Season 1 Archive
Alec O'Brien Vet Tech

Ep 5: Alec O’Brien Veterinary Technician as a Career

Summary: Explore a career as a Veterinary Technician! We speak with Alec O'Brien who works as a vet tech and gives us an inside view of his job and life.  Have you considered a career with animals? Listen in and decide whether a Vet Tech is a direction for you!                                              .

You can listen here:

Season 1 Archive
Briana Kammer

Ep 4: Briana Kammer Interview

Summary: Briana is the customer and social media interface for the most successful and long running chameleon breeding operation, Kammerflage Kreations. Of all the people in the chameleon world, she is likely the one that has the most experience helping first time chameleon keepers get started. In this episode we talk about the challenges and questions first time chameleon keepers are asking.                                                 .

You can listen here:

Show Notes

If you call Kammerflage Kreations with a question Briana is the one mostly likely to be taking your call.  Kammerflage is a family run business that has been dedicated to chameleons in general and Panther Chameleons in particular for over 20 years.  The refined bloodlines from Kammerflage have launched many of the panther breeders in the industry today.  If you are interested in a top quality panther chameleon and great customer service this is it.  I have known the Kammers for decades and can personally recommend them.  They earn their happy customers.

Kammerflage Banner 830

If you would like to join in Briana's very active Instagram page click here!

Kammerflage Instagram

Or check out Facebook!

Kammerflage Facebook

Interested in joining some of the digital community hang outs that Briana spoke about?  The Chameleon Forums can be found at the link below.  This is an established chameleon community that anyone can join.


It even has a number of threads dedicated to Kammerflage chameleons!


On Facebook you just type "Chameleon" into the search bar and you'll have numerous results.  There are a large number of Facebook groups regarding chameleons.  You have many choices to check out and find one that matches your personality.  The one I recommend is the Chameleon Enthusiasts which is a rare blend of beginner guidance with very experienced keepers/breeders and scientists on the moderator team. Both Briana and I frequent the group.  It is a great place to start making friends and learn more!

TCE logo

The product talked about at the end from our sponsor are the patent pending Dragon Ledges which are supports that can be added to most of the commercially available cages.  They transfer the weight of what you have on the inside to the frame and the screen has no stress.  They allow you to mount plants up high and firmly anchor horizontal branches.  They are the reason why this picture is possible.  See the horizontal bands on the screen panels?  Those are the Dragon Ledges holding up that large potted plant, the accent plants, and the branches!


Check out the Dragon Ledges at the following link:

Dragon Strand Dragon Ledges

Season 1 Archive

Ep 3: Vacations & Chameleons at Home

Summary: Because chameleons need daily care we can feel like we are now anchored to the home.  While we love our chameleons, we still want to be able to visit family during the holidays!  In this podcast I discuss how to pull this off with you refreshed and your chameleon as happy as ever.                                                                     .

You can listen here:

Show notes

Setting up your misting reservoir

Here is a way to set up your misting reservoir for a simple change out for your pet sitter. The simpler you make it the more likely it will be done right! When the water jug runs low you just switch out jugs.  This has the added benefit that your jugs get cleaned on a regular basis.


Please note that this is conflict with the directions which say to keep the pump intake below your water level.  I do not know the effects of thumbing my nose at such advice.  But this system has worked for me for a couple years.  Copy at your own risk.  But, this been a superior set up to any other I have tried. Personal experience.

Great recipe for rat stew

I wasn't kidding about that rat stew thing! Here is a recipe if you think that actually sounded interesting.

Your welcome.


Sources for Misting Systems

If you are setting up an automatic misting  system there are two currently available that I can recommend: Climist and MistKing.

Climist &  mistking logo


Yes. The struggle is real.

Chameleon Shedding

Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

H’llo Mate, You’ve taken a wrong turn at the alley, ain’t that right Bert? Oooh, yeah…and you’ve ended up at The Chameleon Breeder Podcast with a dodgy crew if I’ve ever seen one. Unless you are one of them Chameleon folk…in which case me and Joe might just be on our way. We’re not much for the likes of people who keep roaches for eating.

Yeah, clear out, you rabble….I got a show to do. Sorry about that folks, it can get rough here at the docks. What am I doing on a foggy night at the docks? Well, a much needed vacation, that’s what! The brochure said a quaint old London harbor atmosphere. Maybe I had better get a little more familiar with history. But, I am here now enjoying what appears to be some sort of rat stew. The proprietor called it a classic dish. And who am I to argue?

But I know the real question on your mind. How in the world was I able to get time off from taking care of the chameleons?

Vacations and holidays are wonderful things and we all need the down time to sample exotic cuisines, but for chameleon people there is always a stress that comes along with the excitement…how do I take care of my chameleon? Chameleons are wonderful, but they do take daily maintenance and, as hardy as they are, we do not like it when our friends go without. So, in honor of the coming holidays, we are, today, going to talk about leaving your chameleon for four days to two weeks and how to pull that off. If you do it right, the worst that will happen is that you’ll feel a low grade stress and your chameleon is still sitting on his same branch, a couple grams heavier, looking at you when you walk back in the door.

The biggest challenge we have whether we go away for a vacation or even just to work during the day is hydration. We chameleon wranglers can’t just put out a bowl of water. I’ve got to say that an automatic misting system solves so many problems in properly keeping chameleons. I know there are people that work at home and hand mist their chameleons throughout the day. And, oh, aren’t they so proud of themselves that they don’t need those new fangle dangled automatic misting systems – they say with their nose turned up at us poor commuting slobs. Well, be nice to them because they will be going nowhere for the holidays with their hand spraying ways and you are going to try and get them to come over and take care of your chameleons!

So we will talk about Lighting, Watering, Feeding, scheduling, and a number of miscellaneous items that just fit under the description of being prepared.

Lights are the most basic. Most keepers already have them on appliance timers so there is no change needed here. If you do this manually then now is the time to invest $10 on appliance timers that will turn your lights on and off. You’ll need two if you want the basking bulb to go on and then off when the morning is over. Check the prongs. In the USA, at least, basking bulbs are usually two prong and fluorescents are grounded with that third prong. Get the right timer.

Water is our first hurdle. Once we solve that the rest is not so challenging. And the only way is an automatic misting system which turns on and off with respect to a timer. This is the most important piece of husbandry equipment in my opinion whether you are away or at home. An automatic misting system makes sure you chameleon gets the hydration he needs, but also the hygiene. Drip systems will work for drinking, but chameleons need to wash out their eyes for optimal health.   They need a misting system or trips into the shower for that. I suggest you get a serious misting system. There are cheaper ones to be had, but you will get mediocre quality. At this time the only two I can recommend are Mist King and CliMist. The substantial advantages that come with these is 1) the pumps can run dry without overheating and breaking and 2) it is easy to provide your own water reservoir that the pump draws from and that becomes important for the purposes of this episode. And 3) The timers work off a clock and not a countdown. What that means is the cheap ones turn on every 4 hours or every 12 hours or such so you need to play games with your appliance timer to get it to run only during the day. The Mist King or CliMist have real clocks and allow you to have precise control over when and how long.

So to get ready to leave for a period of time you figure out how much water you use each day and make sure that is available for the length of time you will be gone. For a long term vacation you can have a friend come by and refill the system. Have a 5 gallon jug of water sitting right there so it is simple to do the refill. Or you can do what we do at Podcast Headquarters and put the pump intake tube directly into the 5 gallon jug. That way the switch out is just pulling the intake tubing into the next jug. Check the show notes on if you are not sure what I am describing. Now I have to disclose that the official directions for these pumps say that the pump intake should be below the water level, not above it. But we all have our subtle rebellions, don’t we? So, yeah, I live on the edge. Podcaster gone rouge! Follow at your own risk!

Our next step is to figure out what to do with the excess water. You probably already have a drainage tray. Figure out how often you have to empty it. Often evaporation takes care of that for us, but don’t forget to calculate that as you don’t need to come home to an overflow.

Food is our next consideration. First we are going to have a little talk about how much food is truly needed by a chameleon. A chameleon content with his cage does not move much and there aren’t a whole lot of calories being burned. As a community, we tend to over feed our chameleons. They really don’t need to eat every day. And they really don’t need to eat until they are totally stuffed. Especially veiled chameleons. Most chameleons eat until they are full and then just ignore you. Veiled chameleons do not have an internal off switch and will just eat because something moves. Or might move. Or doesn’t move. Your chameleon will be more healthy if you feed him every other day. Obesity is a problem in chameleons. Of course, I am talking about adult chameleons here. Babies need to get some size on them so that is different. I am talking about adults who are no longer growing and are just maintaining weight. The point is that you don’t have to get worried if your chameleon doesn’t eat for a day or even two. The only thing that will happen is that they are a little more appreciative the next time you put in that cricket. I have had chameleons go on hunger strikes for a week of longer. Deremensis, a three horn chameleon from Tanzania, love to do this occasionally. The way to know when they are just going off feed for a while or something is wrong is to get a gram scale and as long as they don’t lose more than 5% of their body weight don’t worry. If you see a downward progression and eyes start to sink you know this is something more serious. Well, if the eyes start to sink, no matter what else, you have an issue. The point is that if the chameleon is alert and acts normal, there may be no reason to worry about the not eating. But, let’s get back to vacation! I say all this just to ease your fears about your chameleon not having his daily feast. For adults: Every day is excessive. Every other day is healthy. Every third day is a weight loss program. More than that and you are putting your chameleon under hardship.

So with this in mind, a weekend get-away is actually easy.   Fill up his bowl after dark Thursday night or early Friday morning before you leave and he’ll have just entered into that appreciative stage by time you get back Monday evening. For a week long vacation you’ll want to have a friend, roommate, neighbor, family member, or even professional pet sitter come over for a checkup visit at least once in the middle, but preferably twice. You can have a quick change set-up to make it easy. Here is a suggestion for you.

Set up your chameleon cage so it can handle two feeding stations. It is much easier to have more food sitting in the cage if they are split up. Make sure there is a sizeable piece of carrot in each feeding bowl. It needs to be big enough that the chameleon won’t be able to bring it out with the cricket it snagged. The carrot will keep the feeders alive and hydrated for longer benefit. By the way, don’t worry about supplementation during your vacation. That just decreases your feeders’ lives. Right now, feeders living longer is more important than supplementation.

If you just have to prepare for one change out during your absence then make a complete duplicate of what you have in the cage ready and waiting. Have two clean feeding bowls ready for easy switch out. And have two ventilated Tupperware containers sitting nearby with the proper number of feeders with food in each. Put in parts of egg cartons so the holding containers are just as functional as the main bin. The better you outfit this temporary holding container the more healthy your crickets will be. This way, your helper can waltz in, remove the used feeding bowl which will have a dead cricket or two and maybe a poop, put in the new bowls and dump one Tupperware container in each feeding station. (without the egg cartons of course) And that is it for food!

If you get good at creating mini holding bins you can actually keep crickets alive in these for at least a week and you can repeat this for two or even three days. If you are feeding every third day then three refreshes just extended your vacation out to 12 days (you take the first and last feeding responsibilities). With two feeding station’s worth every third day your chameleon might even gain weight.

But extending it out this long requires a little more training and a friend willing to do some work. Because after a week the cricket bin will be in serious need of cleaning and food replacement. This goes for your holding bins as well. For a week’s absence I am actually more concerned about your feeders than the chameleon because the chameleon is the easy part. Getting someone to maintain a cricket bin is the tough part!

Here is a great idea for you. Do a practice run before you leave for vacation. Set things up as if you will be leaving and then follow the steps you envision your pet sitter to follow and you’ll soon see what needs to be changed. If you have a warm environment maybe you can’t keep as many crickets in that size Tupperware container holding cup. Maybe you need a bigger holding cup. Warm, hot, humid, cold…all these environmental conditions will require a slight tweak on the plan so try it out two weeks before you leave and work out the bugs before you have to do the real thing.

In case of feeder colony crash, make sure you have the phone number of your preferred cricket provider easily available where ever you are.

Temperature. If you need to heat or cool the house remember to leave the heater or Air Conditioner on. Sometimes we automatically turn off the environmental control when we leave the house to save energy costs. I am a dad. I do this. Just make sure you remember and you remind the dads that there is still a family member at home. Since this family member has his own heat lamp and can be comfortable with colder nights than the warm blooded ones maybe there can be less environmental control, but make sure you don’t let the house freeze or bake.

So those are the environmental considerations. What happens if something happens of a medical nature? If you are having a friend or family member come by and check on things then tape the phone numbers to your veterinarian and the after hours emergency veterinary service to the cage in an obvious location. The last thing you want is your friend to have no idea what to do if your chameleon is in trouble and they can’t get a hold of you right away. Make sure they have the medical care phone numbers and the assurance that you will pay for any vet bills…. even if your caretaker panics and rushes your chameleon to emergency room for zombie-ism. Just remember that they are doing you a favor and they were the best you could find. Maybe you should have explained the whole shedding thing before you left.

And here is something from left field. Make sure your heat lamp, cage, and appliances are strapped down. What if an earthquake happens while you are away? In some areas this can be an issue. I am from California and we have to think about these things. Your cage and appliances – especially the heat lamp – should already be anchored, but if they are not then this is the time to think about it. You don’t need a minor trembler to knock something over during the night and then have the heat lamp, now on the floor, start heating up something it shouldn’t. But this also goes for other pet activity. Make sure the big dog with his wagging tail or a house cat jumping on top the cage cannot knock things over. This is easy dealt with when you are home, but when the house is empty for days on end you have to be more vigilant for what could happen.

If you have a little tech insight and want to do something cool you can always set up an internet camera to show you your chameleon cage where ever you are and you can give directions to your helper remotely. This is a cool application of modern technology.

Now, what happens when we have a vacation planned and we have everything set up, documented and tested out and…your clutch of eggs start hatching out early. You should know that incubating chameleon eggs come with an internal clock that aligns with vacation schedules and business trips. It is a strange evolutionary development that science has yet to describe, but every hobbyist can attest this is a real thing. Eggs that have two months left in their incubation will usually accelerate their development to the couple days before your trip to France. And if any of the listenership does get into the biological sciences, please figure out why they do this and how they know the absolute least convenient time to hatch! So, what now? Do we cancel the trip? I mean, the Eiffel tower will be there next year, right? Dude..just letting you know… that is grounds for divorce and even if you are in a no-fault divorce state chances are the judge will make an exception. So eventhough I know you are thinking it, do NOT say that outloud! It is time to work quickly.

1) Weep and gnash your teeth at the mischievous chameleon gods that are, right now, laughing their butts off at you. Mutter those ancient anglo-saxon incantations that are inappropriately educational for the younger audience….and with that out of your system let’s get to productive work.

2) Hopefully you have caging set up and ready for hatchlings. Seriously, you should have all of this set up halfway through your expected incubation especially if you have a vacation planned or are in a profession where you may have to travel unexpectedly. You really don’t want to be pulling together caging while you are arguing about how many suitcases are going to Paris.

3) You need someone to visit every day. This person needs to have basic training in how to take care of things. If you have the misting system for the babies on an automatic mister then you can get away with every other day if you have a feeding station that can handle two days of food. But if you have that then it is big enough to collect a whole lot of baby poop along the way. A quick everyday visit is almost mandatory.

If you have babies that need to be taken care of while you are away the absolute best option is that you have a chameleon community friend you trust take care of the clutch while you are away. If you don’t have any friends in the chameleon community this is a good time to start!

At the every least you will need a trusted individual to help out. They don’t have to do much and sending video to you for real-time directions is a possibility in today’s world.

If the eggs do not hatch before your trip you know this is more than a joke and that the chameleon gods are angry with you. Be prepared for a hatching while you are away. Have everything set up and ready to go before you leave. Being fully prepared is the only way to ensure that it will not happen.

Let’s talk about communication. Experienced chameleon caretakers are a niche group and chances are you won’t have an experienced person available to you. So you will have to leave instructions behind even if you give your volunteer a basic run through. You will need to leave them a list of things to do each day and, if possible, a set of “If this happens, do this” answers. Pictures to go along with the instructions would be helpful. With today’s technology you can even make videos and leave them on a tablet computer for reference or send them to a dropbox folder that the pet care person has access to.

In addition to the directions, create an emergency phone list and tape it to the cage where it won’t get misted on. On this list have the following numbers:

1) Your number

2) A number to leave a message if you are out of range

3) Your veterinarian’s number

4) Veterinary Emergency after hours number

5) Feeder supply with what to order in case of a feeder colony crash

6) Neighbor or family member to contact in case of the unexpected (like what? I don’t know…that is why we call it unexpected!)

This is actually a great list to have for your reference. When there is a medical emergency imagine how much easier it will be if the numbers are easy to find.

Below are some simple checklists for a weekend getaway and a week mini vacation. Thee checklists will be in the show notes so you don’t have to pull the car over and take notes right now.

Four Day Get-Away.

Can be done without helper.

Night or Morning before departure:

1) Clean cage

2) Empty Drainage Tray

3) Fill Mister water reservoir

4) Put two feeder bowls with one day’s worth of feeders in each (and a carrot slice) in the cage. Try to find a place where the chameleon can’t poop in them.

1 Week Vacation

You’ll need someone to come in once in the middle of your trip. This person needs to know enough to refill water, refresh food and clean the cage. This is simple enough for family members, neighbors, or friends to be trained. But if that is not an option, then find a professional pet sitter to come for the one middle day. If you have it all organized then even if they are not experienced with reptiles they should be able to handle it.

Night before:

1) Clean cage

2) Empty Drainage Tray

3) Fill Mister water reservoir

4) Tape Vet phone numbers on cage

5) Prepare two plastic containers for feeder refresh.

Morning of departure:

4) Put two feeder bowls with one day’s worth of feeders each (and a carrot slice) in the cage. Try to find a place where the chameleon can’t poop in them.

For both scenarios you can put feeders in the night before, but I suggest that being the last thing you do as you walk out the door.

Greater than one week vacation

Have friend/family member/pet sitter come every two or three days.

Night before:

1) Clean cage

2) Empty Drainage Tray

3) Fill Mister water reservoir

4) Tape Vet phone numbers on cage

5) Prepare four plastic containers for feeder refresh. Two for use right before you leave and two to be left as a reminder to your pet sitter as to how much to feed for each bowl.

6) Make sure the to-do list is in plain sight with any how-to directions

Morning of departure:

1) Put two feeder bowls with one day’s worth of feeders each (and a carrot slice) in the cage. Try to find a place where the chameleon can’t poop in them.

So there is your vacation talk. We chameleon people have an extra challenge when it comes to vacations and we can’t just go down to the local kennel and check in Godzilla. But with the proper preparation a vacation can go off without a hitch.

If you have any other hints or tips that would be useful or just stories of your experiences share on Facebook or Instagram. You can also email it to me at and I’ll share with the masses.

The sponsor for this episode is the Dragon Strand caging company. You find the most innovative caging for chameleons at We have just released the new Atrium enclosure series with 45” wide and tall cages that come standard with the patent pending Dragon Ledges that allow you to mount plants and horizontal branches above the floor. This size is suitable for parsonii, melleri, or to just treat your panther like the king he is! The link is in the show notes. Visiting our sponsors helps us stay on the air.

The only thing left is for me to apologize for the horrible accents at the beginning of this podcast. I have no idea what dialect that was supposed to be or was butchering! Forgiven or not…that’s a wrap for today.

Season 1 Archive
surprise chameleons

Ep 2: Surprise! Chameleon Babies! Yay!…Yikes!

Summary: One of our greatest joys is finding baby chameleons hatched or born.  That is, unless it was totally unexpected and we are totally unprepared! Surprises are not uncommon - especially with livebearers like Jackson's Chameleons. In today's episode we discuss what to do when you come face to face with a cage full of little aliens looking for something good to eat!                                      .

You can listen here:

Show notes

Cold Brew Coffee

Because I love this stuff so much, here is a link to Chameleon Cold Brew Coffee.  Great Stuff. Seriously.

Chameleon Cold Brew


Calcium Supplement with low Vitamin D3

Repashy Calcium with LoD

I mentioned that Ed Kammer of Kammerflage Kreations had nutrition dialed in for his Panther colony.  Although he is more than willing to share much of what he has learned, it takes time to discuss.  He sells supplements that have worked for him.  If you'd like to pick his brain, ask him what of his supplements his is selling he recommends and how to use them.  It just isn't cool to pick someone's brain and then go off and buy from someone that invested zero time in you because you can get it a couple dollars cheaper.  Treat experience and the sharing of that experience with extreme respect.  If you are going to open a conversation with Ed, or anyone for that matter, who has decades of experience, do NOT go in as if they are obligated to spend an hour with you.  You are not entitled.  Treat it as a gift.  And if Ed tells me he just got flooded with rude people I'll have to take this link down and edit my podcast!  Don't make me do that!

Kammerflage Kreations

Crickets and Fruit Flies

I won't have a link of crickets and fruit fly providers.  Do a Google search for "crickets for sale" or "fruit flies for sale" to see the latest group of people offering those feeders at that time.


The best community resource is  There are also a number of chameleon themed Facebook pages.  The advantage the Chameleon Forums has is that it is a mature platform.  Every new platform starts in chaos with large personalities jockeying for attention and recognition.  After a maturing process and lots of name calling and threats things settle down.  The Chameleon Forums is under tight moderation so things will stay civil.  Facebook has just recently gone through the chaos stage and is starting to settle down so you are starting to find some pages that have emerged with their collection of various  member egos under control.

Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Welcome back to the Chameleon Breeder Podcast. This is episode 002. It is a quiet morning here at podcast headquarters. I am enjoying a nice cup of cold brew coffee. Cold brew is where there is no heat involved in the brewing process. It takes all night to produce a pot, but the flavors are much more pronounced. There are a couple of really good brands out there that produce ready made cold brew. My two favorites are Stumptown and, if you can believe this, Chameleon Cold Brew. I am serious about this. It’s a thing and it is really good!   I feel it highly appropriate that I am sipping Chameleon Cold Brew whilest recording this podcast. But you did not come here to listen to me talk about Chameleon Cold Brew! We have come together this day to speak of the real chameleons – their antics and characteristics.

Today’s episode is titled Surprise! Chameleon Babies!! Yay!...Yikes!! In honor of all the emotions we go through when baby chameleons hatch or are born. But, you ask, what is the Yikes in there for? Aren’t breeders all prepared for hatch date? Perhaps, but then there are the ones that are surprised by eggs hatching two months before estimated hatch date and then there are the livebearers that can give birth at any inconvenient time – such as 9 months after you have brought back a single female Jackson’s chameleon from the show with no intention of ever breeding her and you walk down the stairs one morning and instead of a nice cup of Chameleon Cold Brew waiting for you, you find a cage full of baby chameleons and one tired momma. Whoa! Talk about needing to find an accelerated crash course in baby chameleon care! So this is where we will start. Experienced breeders or even first time breeders who have researched baby care may end up surprised, but they at least know exactly what they need to do quickly. I am going to start off at the level of the person who doesn’t even know if the babies should be separated from their mother!

So let’s set the ideal scenario first. A prepared breeder will have caging ready long before hatch date. In fact they have purchased everything they need right about when the eggs were laid or the live bearer was bred. Half way into the incubation they started their fruit fly cultures to make sure the when the babies hatched out there would be plenty of food immediately available. And then it is just a waiting game for that joyous moment.

The scenario furthest from ideal is the family with their first chameleon enjoying learning about UVB and whose biggest challenge right now is deciding whether to let dubia cockroach feeders in the house coming face to face with 20 little aliens who have invaded their chameleon cage. Guess what, my fellow chameleon wranglers? Some chameleons are livebearers! And you know what is really cool? They have developed the ability to store sperm and impregnate themselves at a later date! So, no, you don’t have to have a male in your single chameleon household to have babies! Ain’t nature grand!

So, let’s talk about the basics of chameleon babyhood. First of all, most chameleons lay eggs, but there are respectable number that have live birth. Ones that are easy to find at the time of this podcast are Jackson’s Chameleons, Trioceros sternfeldi, Trioceros wernerii, and South African Bradypodion. Live birth is thought to be an adaptation of chameleons that live in areas that experience cold weather and so allows the chameleon to be more in control of the babies’ development conditions. The mother can bask to warm everything up. Chameleons are born/hatched fully ready to go out into the world as an independent bug exterminator. Neither egg hatched babies nor live birthed babies have a relationship with their mother. Both versions come into the world with their stomachs full which gives them a day or two to get orientated before they need to start eating. Chameleons disperse and find their own way about the world so, ideally, they would all be raised individually. But the sibling aggression usually starts out low and the competition between babies does not get overly physical for a month or two. There’s your ten sentence summary. Let’s get into actionable steps.

Let’s use the scenario of having a single female Jackson’s chameleon who has given birth to a surprise litter of 20 babies. So you walk downstairs and are greeted with 20 baby chameleons. First, take a second to be completely amazed at these incredible creatures! Chameleon babies are the cutest things ever! Next, we want to prepare a place for these little guys. The mothers do not seem to have a desire to eat their babies, but I am unaware of any study that tells us how long this grace period lasts. The only mother aggression I have observed was a mother that bit her baby because the baby crawled on her while she was completing the birthing process and this annoyed her. I have never seen a mother eat her young during the birthing time. This is not true for other adult chameleons who have no problem snapping up a baby. So although we will not panic, we will, with all reasonable haste, prepare an emergency holding container. All that is required initially is a container and plants or perching sticks. Make sure the sticks do not allow the chameleons to crawl out. Their initial instinct is to scatter and find foliage to hide in so know you have a bunch of nomads on your hands on the first day.   Plastic sweater boxes are perfect for the first holding tank. Take a big sweater box, put small plants and anchored sticks propped up and you are set. Chameleon babies will want to climb so give them sticks that are stuck in the pot so they go up at a diagonal angle. Make sure you have enough sticks and leaves on the plant that the babies are not climbing over each other. If you have high sided cereal bowls or large Tupperware containers or mixing bowl you can use them as well. We will go over a more permanent holding set-up later. Right now your job is to get them a place to stay that is not in the cage with mom. For the ultimate panic situation you can use a plugged up bathtub to hold the babies until you can gather a more appropriate set-up. Put sticks, houseplants, or even just a bunch of crumpled up newspaper at the tub bottom for them to hang onto. Make sure the tub drain is plugged, it is completely dry, and none of the leaves or sticks allow escape over the edge. Now and any time in the first few weeks, make sure there is no pooling water. Even a little bit! Babies have this habit of drowning themselves even in a water drop so small you were amazed they could get their head in it. I wish I were exaggerating about this.

Now the thought may cross your mind – wouldn’t it be easier to just move the chameleon mom and leave the babies in the already set-up cage? Kind of. You can make it really easy on yourself and put a tree in the shower and just move the mother chameleon there while you figure out a more permanent housing for the babies, but this only works if you are sure she has had all her babies and it isn’t always easy to tell when this is done. Though I suppose the worse thing that could happen is you move a baby from the shower into the cage. You’ll have to use your best judgment as to what is best in the situation you find yourself in.

The birthing process can take a while. Often you don’t know when it started or how much longer she will be dropping babies. The mother will be pacing the cage and be dropping babies at various locations. The babies come out in a sack. This sack is scraped onto a branch or dropped to the bottom of the cage. Do not worry about the drop hurting the baby. They are essentially blobs at this point and the drop is thought to help shock them into the real world. When they wake up the baby will work to crawl out of this sack. It may look complicated, but these babies know what they are doing. If a baby appears to be struggling with being born I suggest leaving it alone. Not all babies got all the nutrients they needed during gestation and some have birth defects. I believe it is best to let nature take its course and not help out ones that are not strong enough to complete the process themselves. Of course, that is just a guideline. Goodness knows I have not always listened to my own advice.

Let’s assume the initial panic is over with. You have a litter of baby chameleons sitting in a container or two or three and you have a chance to figure out your next move. Whew. Okay, here is your action item list.

1) The mother. You may have noticed that the mother started to go off feed for the last week or so. (“going off feed” means she ate less and less). That is because the babies were taking up so much space inside her. That space is now empty and she will be ravenous. We have a big job to do with the babies so let’s take a couple minutes here and fill up her feeding bowl with some big juicy crickets or other feeders for when she comes out of her birthing mode and her brain gets the signal telling her how hungry she is!

2) Evaluate your options. The babies are safe for the moment and mother is in recovery. Now is the time to figure out what you want to do with the babies. You have two options: Keep them and raise them up or give them away. Selling them is not a good option as they shouldn’t be sold until they are about three months old. If you decide this whole baby thing was not what you signed up for and want to give them to someone who can take care of them better than you then you can find chameleon people in your area by hopping onto chameleon themed Facebook pages or the chameleon forums (at and sharing your situation. Raising up baby chameleons is a challenge. If you are giving them away I suggest finding someone experienced at those mentioned locations. The sooner you can pass them to an experienced chameleon person the better. Resist handing them out to inexperienced family members or co-workers. They are cute, but unless any of them happen to have fruit fly cultures going this probably relegates the babies to a short life. If you give them away then your action item list stops here. If you elect to raise them up then this action item list gets a bit longer! Let’s go on….

3) Food. The first thing you have to do is figure out how to feed these little guys. For newborns you have two options – pinhead crickets and fruitflies. Both of these options can be overnighted to you if you get your order in that afternoon. The advantage of crickets is that they are ready to eat when you receive them (although we will be discussing gutloading). Fruitflies are more tricky because usually you get starter cups which will take a week or two before they “bloom” or are “producing”.   You will end up with a cup with fruit fly food and a bunch of pupae which are useless in the immediate future. The key to avoiding disappointment is to call the fruit fly retailer and ask specifically if the fruit fly cups are producing. If they say no then you can still buy them as you will need food in a couple weeks as well. But you need to move to the next provider if you want the fruit flies to arrive ready to be fed. There are two varieties of fruit flies available to us. We call the smaller fruit fly “melanogaster” and the larger fruit fly “Hydei”. Chameleon babies can normally take in the larger one, but you can’t go wrong with the smaller one. If you have a choice get melanogaster as that is the safest. If you do not have a choice get whatever they have! If you live in an area where there are wild fruit flies you an also put a cup of fruit in the baby cage to attract fruit flies for free.

When the pin head crickets get in you can sprinkle a small amount in the baby chameleon cage and see if they are ready to eat yet, but make sure you put the rest in a Tupperware container where you have some vegetables for them to eat and fill their bellies so they are more nutritious for the babies.

A good estimate on how much to plan for is ten food items a day per baby. This gives you a little buffer to account for escapees and feeder deaths. So expect to be buying 1000 crickets every five days for a 20 baby litter.

4) Baby caging. Once food is lined up we will need to get your babies out of the bathtub and large mixing bowls and into something more long term appropriate. The simplest beginner baby container is a 66 quart Sterilite plastic sweater box. There are many sizes so you can just go to your department store and find a sweater box or two that has high enough sides that everything that is supposed to stay inside stays inside. In this box you can place a variety of 4” potted house plants and branches that are small enough for little chameleon feet to grasp. It is very important that you have a lot of space. Although baby chameleons may not overtly bite each other, the subtle dominance plays start almost immediately. You’ll see this starting with them crawling over each other. It starts with just wanting to get somewhere, but very soon you’ll see that there is a deliberate choice to go a certain direction that requires another to be walked over. So the more perching spots you can create and the more equal you can make these spots the better. Every clutch or litter is different as far as aggression towards each other. I have had panther chameleon clutches that seem to live in harmony in the same tub and quadricornis clutches that wanted to tear each other’s throats out at a couple days old. Most of the time I just saw a subtle progression of dominance contests. Somewhere around two months old they may start biting off tail tips. But let’s get you through the first week before we worry about all that!

5) Setting up Caging. Now is where there is some expense involved. And, make no mistake, raising chameleons up from babies is expensive. There is the initial equipment cost, but you won’t have time to think about this as you watch your money flow out the door for feeders. If you have ever complained about the prices of baby panther chameleons then you get the lucky chance to see for yourself how much it costs to raise a clutch.

Once we have the bins you will need to get appropriate lights in. There are two that you need. The first is a daylight bulb to provide seeing light and the second is a UVB bulb to provide UVB rays . Do not cut corners on these. These are critical to your chameleons’ health. The calcium in the supplements you will be buying soon cannot be used without Vitamin D3 in the chameleons’ body and UVB wavelengths are what the body uses to create vitamin D3. You have hopefully already gone through this with your adult chameleon so I don’t think we are breaking new ground here. Just know that the $20 UVB bulb is not negotiable when raising baby chameleons!

Heat lamps can be a simple reflector and incandescent bulb. You are just looking for something to create a warm-up spot for the little guys. You don’t need anything fancy here. A trip to the home improvement store is all that is needed for this. Just make sure that you don’t create too hot of an area. The low 90’s is a good maximum. If you don’t have a thermometer just place your hand on the perching spot under the light. If it feel like a comfortable warming to your hand then you are good. If it gets uncomfortably hot to your hand then it will dehydrate and heat stress a baby chameleon.

6) Watering. Chameleons drink water off of leaves so you will need a spray bottle that can generate a fine mist. I suggest lightly misting your babies a couple times a day for the first weeks. But a big warning here is to not let pools of water gather. You can line the floor with paper towels to avoid pools of water or just wipe it all up. Babies drowning is a real problem even if you think that little bit is really not enough for a baby to get stuck. Those are big heads on those little bodies and pulling it out of the water may not be as easy as getting it in and, for all we know, they may not even understand what is going on before it is too late. I am not sure why this is a problem. Just beware of water gathering into a pool. They get stronger very quickly so just be on the lookout for the first week or two. After that they have their wits about them.

7) Supplements. Growing bodies need calcium. The food we feed them, like crickets, are often high in phosphorus which negates calcium so we have to dust the food items with calcium powder. If you have a species like a panther chameleon or veiled you can get the regular calcium with D3. I use both calcium without vitamin D3 in concert with Calcium with D3. So I have two bottles. If you have a montane species like jacksons and other livebearers I suggest calcium with low D3. Repashey has a supplement like this. It has worked well for me so far for my montanes.

Whoops, Term alert! We will get periodic interruptions to this podcast like this everytime I catch myself using a chameleon world term that may not be obvious to new comers. Not promising I will catch them all, but I will try! When we talk of “Montanes” we are talking about chameleons that come from higher altitudes and experience some pretty cold nights. They typically want to be kept in cooler temperatures than veileds and panthers. The most famous montane is the Jackson’s chameleon. Live birth was developed to adapt to colder weather so I believe all live bearers are montanes. No warm area live bearer comes to mind at the moment. But there are egg layers like deremensis, quadricornis and montium which fall into the montane category as well. As you would expect, these chameleons would have different captive conditions necessary and they also have different nutritional needs. Unfortunately, we in the community are still working out just what those needs are. We battle with edema, which is excess fluids under the skin, that could be caused by oversupplementation. And the proper nutrition supplement changes between chameleon species, too. There is soooooo much work that needs to be done in this area. If you are truly smitten by chameleons and want to make a difference. You only need to pick one species and work with it consistently over the years developing a proper nutrition regimen and you will have moved us all forward. Seriously. At this time, we have a solid nutritional regimen for panther chameleons, but only shreds of ideas for all the other chameleon species!

And, just a reminder, I will be using the Latin name for most chameleons only because the common names are long and sometimes confusing. May as well bite the bullet and learn the scientific names because that is what we all use. I make exceptions for Veiled, Panther, and Jackson’s chameleons and any other where there is a common name that works well.

Anyway, one thing we have found, at least anecdotally, is that montanes seem to want less supplementation than other chameleons. I say anecdotally because there really isn’t solid science on this yet. Hint, hint. Please, I’d love it if someone in my chameleon wrangling listenership would grow up in biology and continue serious work in this field!

There are also vitamin supplements and you can spend a lifetime reading and analyzing nutrition and putting together regimens. There are so many variables that it is difficult to say that what works for one person will work for others. Just the distance to the UVB bulb which depends on how often you change out your bulbs and where your perching branches are affects the effectiveness of your supplementation. Is the window by your chameleon cage open on the weekends? Well, you have just changed the parameters! The absolute best example of a long term study in nutritional supplements under controlled conditions has been by Ed Kammer of Kammerflage Kreations for his colony of Panther Chameleons. He is pretty free about sharing his results and regimen with the community so that is a great place to start your research. His nutritional regimen is the result of two decades of research and is the cornerstone of why his panthers show such strength and vigor. As his panthers are his livelihood you know this is more than just a hobby. And since any of the panthers he sells having a long and healthy life is paramount to the Kammerflage brand reputation you know he has no problem making sure his customers have the best information. Just realize that he can do what he does because he obsessively controls more parameters in his breeding colony than most people know exist. You will not get the exact same results, but it is the most solid start you can get at this time.

Okay, time to steer this wandering ship back on course!

8) Feeding: Feed the little guys once a day. If you can’t get over how cute it is to watch them all clamor over and shoot their tongues then don’t worry about feeding them twice a day just for entertainment value. In the first weeks it is a race to put on weight and get big and healthy. Dust your feeders with calcium and no D3 every other day and dust with Calcium and D3 once a week. A dusting schedule is approximate at best as you can’t control how much powder remains on the feeder when it is finally eaten. And by “dusting” I mean we lightly coat the feeders with powder. This is preferred over “caking” which is creating a snowball out of your cricket from the powder. That is going a bit overboard. You can dust your feeders by putting a pinch of powder in a bag or cup and then dumping the day’s feeders in. A light shake will coat the feeders with a thin layer and they are ready to be fed. You can present them in bowls to keep the feeders from escaping and hiding under pots and such or else you can sprinkle them on the leaves. Lightly misting the leaves helps small feeders stay on the leaves instead of sliding off to the floor. It also removes some of the powder so you just have to find the right balance of how much to mist. If you use bowls then have a number of feeding stations so there isn’t a bottleneck jam on the few perching spots near the food. If you feed them in a group then make sure there are always some feeders in the bowl. Every group will have the aggressive individuals that will run over to the food and snap up all they want and then there will be the more passive individuals that get their food once the Type A personalities are done. By making sure there is always a few feeders in the bowl you don’t have to worry about the aggressive ones eating everything and the passive ones going hungry. Even if the aggressive ones are eating just to show they are the alpha ones there is only so much they can fit in their stomach and eventually they will back off and let the others eat. Multiple feeding stations helps with this situation as well. This is where individual raising shines. If they are individually raised then you can monitor each chameleon’s food intake and they do not have to worry about competition. But if this is a first surprise litter of babies individual raising may be a bit out of reach. So we’ll work around that as best as possible! Although, if your surprise came from a small species such as a sternfeldi (commonly mislabeled “rudis”) then you may have only seven babies and maybe you could pull it off without too much trouble.

The purpose of this podcast episode is to get you through the first couple days and set for the first couple weeks. Once you get the situation stabilized you need to dive into your online chameleon community whether it be your favorite Facebook page or the forums at and get yourself in touch with some people that can help you through the first three months. If you do not have those community connections already then check the show notes for a link to the Chameleon Forums where you will find a number of knowledgeable chameleon people that can help you in more detail with your particular challenges. Just make sure you have the babies out of the bathtub before you go online, okay?

Once the dust settles, you will need to put together a plan for what you will do with the babies when they get older. We generally recognize three months as the time where they are ready to go to new homes. Unfortunately, the competition and dominance contests in some clutches of babies can get so bad that there will be nipped tails and bite and claw scars before the three month mark. And for most groups of babies any time after the three month mark you are more and more asking for trouble. Chameleons generally do not get along so make sure you have a plan as to where those babies are going before you come home and find them mangling each other. This is the usual next panic milestone for new breeders. The first standard panic is being surprised by babies and figuring out how to house them. The second is the challenge of finding appropriate food items and the third is when the babies overtly turn on each other. The battles were waged long before this, but beginning breeders don’t always pick up on the signs. It is only when it spills into overt physical damage that it is noticed as a “sudden change of events”. You have already weathered the first two panics. Have a plan and implement it before the third happens to you. If you start now you have time to make contacts in the chameleon community, get plugged into what is going on, and make a plan that works for your particular situation.

Whew! That was a lot! I remember a couple of surprise litters that happened to me over the years. The housing was just an exercise in creativity, but the food items were the big thing. I work with Bradypodion thamnobates, a South African livebearer, so, eventhough I keep a close eye on what is going on with my females, surprises can happen. But it is no problem because I now also own dart frogs. That is my secret to always having fruit flies around. Since the dart frogs always need a constant supply of fruit flies it wasn’t an issue when my thamnobates surprised me with a bunch of babies. I now recommend that anyone who keeps livebearers keep a group of dart frogs around just so you always have producing fruit fly cultures! It is an immensely enjoyable and fulfilling early preparation system! My favorite frogs are in the show notes. Mainly to show off cause I love them so much. If you want to see them or any of the miscellaneous helpful links then find the show notes under Episode 002 on

As always, if you liked what you heard today then you can support it by going to iTunes and leaving a review and star rating. It really does make a difference. Can you imagine if we got a chameleon themed podcast in the New and Noteworthy section of iTunes? What a blast that would be! Stand back, the Chameleon Wranglers are on the move! You can also email me at or hang out on social media. Another way you can help the podcast is to visit our sponsors. They keep this podcast on the air! This episode is made possible by the DragonStrand caging company. I am sure there is little surprise there as the owner has great enthusiasm for this podcast. At you’ll find cages and innovations designed specifically for the needs of chameleon keepers. There is a link in the show notes. Go and see the latest in what is available like the new Atrium enclosure series with sizes suitable for melleri or just to treat your panther like the king he is!

And a wrap for today!

Season 1 Archive
microclimates and gradients

Ep 1: Microclimates and Gradients

Summary: In this introductory episode we discuss the strategy to create a successful chameleon environment. By combining the correct caging with carefully planned placement of branches, plants, lights, and misting nozzles we can construct an environment with microclimates and gradients that give our chameleons the choices they need to regulate their own conditions for a happy life.                                               .

You can listen here:

Show Notes

Cages mentioned in this episode:

We discuss different cages which are appropriate for different environments.  I specifically addressed the controversy over glass cages.  Listen to the podcast for the details on this. The bottom line is that glass cages come with the advantage that they can hold in heat and humidity and mist very well.  That was their black eye early on but with special vents that are installed in some terrariums glass cages can be used.  Glass cages have the disadvantages of 1) weight, 2) breakage, and 3) no external drainage easily had.  If you need the heat insulation then you'll have to figure out a way around these disadvantages.  The glass terrariums mentioned in the podcast were from Zoo-med and Exo-Terra.  The challenge with glass is that is does not commercially come in sizes appropriate for most chameleons, but these two companies have 36" tall terrariums which is the bare minimum for most adults.

Zoo-Med 36" tall Skyscraper Terrarium

Exo-Terra 36" x 18" x 36" Large, X-Tall Terrarium

If you do not need the heat insulation, but you want to hold in the humidity and the misting from getting on the walls and furniture, the Dragon Strand Clearside cage line is the way to go.  It is 48" tall and is made from a clear PVC material pulled taut like screen, but clear.  This has the advantage of retaining the light weight of the cages which allows us to make larger cages which are more chameleon appropriate.  These cages have the option of external drainage which is a huge deal in chameleon keeping.

Dragon Strand Large Clearside Enclosure

I do not understand caging companies that offer only a substrate tray (a tray that goes on the inside of the cage).  Have these people ever kept chameleons?  Mixing water, poop, and feeders together is a hygienic nightmare.  I know their marketing strategy is cheap price, but I cannot figure out why they took that short cut.

Do-It-Yourself Mist Retention Walls for Screen Cages

(That don't look hokey)

We in the community have long done the kludge where we keep mist and humidity inside a screen cage by wrapping it with a shower curtain or plastic wrap.  This is effective, but looks pretty hacked together.  If you would rather make your screen cages work instead of buying a cage designed to hold in humidity and mist and you would like it to look less hacked together then consider these reed fence panels found at home improvement stores.  Glue/attach your plastic to the outside of this reed fence panel cut to size.  Then when you wrap it around your cage you have a naturalistic scene.  Here is a link to one of many products that will fulfill this task.

Reed Fencing 

Transcript (more or less)

Transcript (More or Less)

Note: The Chameleon Breeder Podcast changed the name to The Chameleon Academy Podcast in 2020. This ties together the outreach efforts that grew from this original podcast. Although the audio mentions the Chameleon Breeder name, the links here in the show notes have been updated.

Welcome to the Chameleon Breeder Podcast, the only podcast dedicated to chameleons. This is episode 001. If you are new to podcasts then you are in for a treat. This is essentially radio on demand. Have you ever wished that you could learn about chameleons while you were driving or doing gardening? Well, that is the beauty of podcasts. Now you can! Of course, we chameleon keepers have regular duties of cleaning cages and taking care of feeders. Make it a cage and feeder cleaning date every weekend when this podcast comes out. Structure is a good thing for completing chores! And, by he way, if you are new to the world of chameleons when we use the term “feeders” we are talking about the insects that we feed to our chameleons. You’ll find that we are just as fastidious with our feeders as we are with our chameleons. Our chameleons are what they eat!

We have our Facebook page “Chameleon Academy Podcast” and are on instagram. You can interact with us in between episodes on social media. I’ll post show snippets and announcements there so you can always know what is going on. You can find the links to the social media spots at our website

To kick this off I’d like to talk about how we should approach cage set-ups for our chameleons. We all want to do what is best for our chameleons, but it is a challenge, and takes some practice, to look at the world through a chameleon’s eyes. Luckily, our chameleons will communicate through their actions as to how happy they are with their cages. It is pretty simple. If your chameleon is climbing the sides of the cage or hanging from the top panel there is something they are not content with going on. If they are constantly “exploring” the cage, there is something to switch up there. It could be something physical such as an uncomfortable temperature. It could be psychological such as a sense of insecurity. A content chameleon will find a couple of favorite spots and settle in. They develop a standard routine with a favorite sleeping spot or two, basking area and day time hang out. Give them a couple days to get used to a new cage, but after that, constant restlessness is a warning sign.

So how do we make for a content chameleon? The answer is to create not only microclimates, but also gradients between them. We want to give our chameleons the most choices in different temperature, humidity, and such as possible.

But let’s define some terms first here. A microclimate is a small area that has a certain temperature, humidity, UVB exposure, and protection from wind, rain, or prying eyes. For example, in my heavily planted outdoor cages it can be a toasty 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but down by the heavily shaded moist dirt floor the shade and humid ground it can be downright cool. This is a microclimate I created to give my chameleons a choice between warming and basking in the sun or retreating to a leafy cave to wait out the afternoon heat. Which one does my chameleon like best? Well…Both! Just at different times. In the morning he wants to warm up so will venture out into the direct sun. Once warmed up, he wants to be protected from the blasting sun so he retreats into the foliage. The important thing is that you provide a number of these spots so your chameleon can choose which microclimate they want to be in at any given time.

As a side note, microclimates are one reason why you need to be careful if you are investigating the natural conditions of your chameleon by referencing the official temperature of the nearest city. The weather report gives very generalized information so do not take it for more than that. If the temperature in Ambanja, Madagascar says it is 95 degrees, be careful not to think your cage needs to be 95 degrees to accurately reflect your panther chameleon’s home conditions. Those chameleons in the wild may very well have found some microclimate 10 degrees cooler or found a pocket of high humidity which helps chameleons weather higher temperatures. Or you could be seeing a weather pattern that is thinning out the population of weaker members.   It is good and educational to reference weather patterns from the home town. Just understand what the numbers are – a small piece of the big picture – and use them appropriately.

Gradients. A gradient is a progression from one extreme to another. The most obvious is temperature. If you have a heat lamp in the top corner of your cage your temperature gradient goes from the temperature of the closest perching spot to that bulb to the perching spot furthest away from the bulb. In a large enough cage, outfitted with branches to take advantage of the space, that lowest temperature level will be the ambient room temperature. By the way, do not consider the screen walls of your cage to be perching or climbing areas. Screen walls are poor climbing or perching surfaces. Don’t make your chameleon use them to get what he (or she) needs. So your temperature gradient may be, for example, from 95 to 75.

The power behind giving your chameleon this range to choose from is that you give the chameleon the opportunity to regulate his own temperature. As the day and night temperatures fluctuate your chameleon will need to find different temperatures in his cage to be content. Remember that your gradient will change with the day and nighttime temperatures as well!

Now, I do have to bring up a note about more extreme conditions. If you are living in ambient conditions which are too cold for the species you are keeping then you have to consider solid side cages to hold in the heat. The colder the ambient temperature is the less space your gradient will be in. Having a 6 inch gradient from 95 to 75 obviously gives the chameleon only two choices and is like being by a campfire on a very cold night. Being close to the fire is too hot, but moving one foot back is too cold. You’ll need to lengthen your gradient using glass or other solid side cages which hold in heat.

If this is your situation you can either construct your own cage or look into Zoo-Med and Exo-Terra who have glass terrariums that have ventilation. At the time of this podcast, ZooMed has one and Exo-Terra has two chameleon appropriate sizes at 36” tall. I’ll link to these in the show notes. You’ll have solid glass sides which can hold in the heat. These are valuable characteristics in northern climates where it can be cold and dry.

Time for a quick side note: You have heard that chameleons need screen cages and anything else, especially glass will result in agonizing death of both your chameleon and anyone foolish enough to talk about it on social media. We can talk about this in more detail later, but the abridged edition is this. Stagnant air and trapped heat will stress a chameleon, result in a compromised immune system, and open the door to health issues including upper respiratory infections. These conditions are much harder to create in a screen cage which has led to the advice to use screen cages. Unfortunately, that advice has turned into a black and white sound bite which has demonized glass as a caging material. While aquariums were the culprit in the early days, there are many ways to ensure that a solid side enclosure does not result in stagnant air. Do-it-yourselfers hook up computer fans, ZooMed and Exo-Terra have vents at the bottom front of their terrariums creating convection currents and at Dragon Strand we use screen panels running the entire length of a wall. All these methods are used to incorporate the definite benefits of solids walls without the disadvantages. Solid walls and screen walls are just tools for us to use in different combinations to produce certain environmental conditions that allow chameleons to live in different geographical areas. Please don’t advise anyone on caging until you learn what their environmental conditions are. The internet has many advantages, but one trap is you have advisor nor advisee realizing that Florida advise is being given to someone in Canada.

Now, all this may be starting to sound overwhelming and complicated, but the execution of it is pretty simple. A nice perching branch in the upper right hand corner which has a heat lamp above it and a network of perching branches that end up in a leafy hiding spot outside the effective range of that heat lamp. Pretty simple. The commonly available Veiled and Panther chameleons do quite well with the ambient temperatures that we humans are comfortable with so if you are comfortable, they will be as well…with the option of the basking bulb during the mornings, at least.

But I don’t want to get too far into the details as to execution. That is another episode of its own! Let’s talk about the other gradients that are important to a happy chameleon.

First we have temperature which we have already covered. The second is humidity. Humidity is a very important element and, unfortunately, takes a bit more planning to get right. Chameleons have a higher tolerance to higher temperature with higher humidity so areas with hot, dry summers need to really pay attention. It would be great to create a sliding gradient of humidity for your chameleon to choose the perfect spot, but in the relatively small area of a cage, the best we can usually do is shoot for humidity pockets. These can be created by live plants, solid walls, and, for more experienced keepers, a substrate. And I say “more experienced keepers” as creating and maintaining a proper substrate for a chameleon adds another level of complication that a beginner shouldn’t mess with. Live plants give off humidity and creating a “glen” of sorts with plants can produce a humidity pocket. Especially if you create this with a large, thick hanging vine like a pothos suspended high up in the cage. Having a perching branch behind that wall of leaves underneath the drainage of the pot will give a nice humid retreat. The biggest challenge with humidity is our all screen cages. You just can’t hold in humidity in a screen cage.   You’ll either have to go with a premade cage with solid sides or make your own solid sides. If you want a solid side on a screen cage then hanging a plastic tarp or shower curtain cut to size over two or three sides of your cage will do it. If you would like something a bit more aesthetic then line one of those reed fences with the plastic tarp and you’ll create a more natural looking humidity barrier. There will be a picture in the show notes if you aren’t sure what I am talking about. You can also hang cork bark panels, but you’ll have to construct a support wall and we are starting to get complicated! But I would be very interested in the different ways you all have retrofitted a solid wall to your screen cage. Send me images to or post them to our Facebook and I’ll include them with the show notes so future listeners can get ideas.

If all that sounds like a lot of work or you want a more professional looking presentation you can go with production solid side cages.

The glass terrariums from Zoo-med or Exo-Terra discussed before will do the job quite nicely of holding in humidity and misting spray. The ability to line the glass walls with cork panels further helps the humidity issue. But if you do not need the heat insulating properties of glass I would steer you towards the Dragon Strand Breeder series with white PVC walls or the Clearside clear PVC walls. Glass has the advantage of being better at holding in heat, but glass terrariums have the following three major disadvantages:

1) Weight: Glass gets VERY heavy. The 18” x 36” x 36” Large, Extra Tall ExoTerra terrarium weighs a whooping 92 pounds.

2) Breakage: Shipping is difficult and prone to having to return a number of times, but that one time inconvenience shouldn’t sway a decision if you need glass.   You do retain the danger of breaking the glass anytime you have to move the terrarium so be careful.

3) The most serious long term issue is Drainage: You have none. You will have to create a drainage layer to deal with water and since there is no external drainage you are having to deal with water and poop together. Poop soup is a serious hygiene problem. Adding drainage to a glass bottom is tricky, risky and labor intensive. Soaking up the water with a substrate adds a level of complexity that requires an additional skill that you should probably save for later.

Here is where the Dragon Strand Clearside enclosures should be considered as the 48” tall cage comes in around 14 pounds, is easily moved without fear of shattering, and comes with a number of external drainage options. The Dragon Strand cages have one entire side as a screen panel so you have a balance of sufficient ventilation versus humidity retention for most areas. And special orders are easy if you desire all clearsides. If you are in extreme temperature areas, you will have to bite the bullet and go for glass (or build your own cage). Most of you won’t have to do this though. As I said before, if you are comfortable in your home – meaning daytime temperatures get into at least the 70s - you can use the standard screen cages with retrofit plastic wrap or Dragon Strand Clearside cages.

Once you have a cage, or area of the cage, that can hold in humidity you can either create humidity pockets or you can add humidity using an external humidifier and direct it towards the cage direction.

So, in the end, I suggest creating a pocket of higher humidity in the enclosure and then work on the ambient humidity using humidifiers if you need to. As with all these parameters, each species will have its own humidity comfort level. Research your species. Veileds are much different than quadricornis. Remember that chameleon species come from areas as diverse as the sand dunes of the Namibia desert to traipsing across snow 13000 feet above sea level on Mt. Elgon. Figure out what your species needs!

So we have temperature and humidity. The next is UVB. This will be a short one. UVB doesn’t need to be a strict gradient, but it is good to make sure there is an area that chameleons can get out of it. In indoor caging this is usually not an issue. The effective range of our standard UVB bulbs is all of 12” and is crippled by simply going through the top screen panel. Your challenge in an indoor cage is to make sure there is a perching branch in the effective range of the UVB bulb. And as a side note, do yourself a favor and stick with well known UVB bulbs. UVB is dangerous and it is too easy to create new lamps which turn out to be dangerous. The T-8 tube lamps by Zoo-med and Exo-terra are pretty established.

This UVB gradient becomes much more of a serious enclosure design issue when placing your chameleon outdoors. All the temperature, humidity, and UVB gradients nicely laid out while your cage was sitting indoors just got blasted out of the water when you move that cage outdoors. The strength of the sun blasting down and now bouncing off the floor of your cage can cook your chameleon from top and bottom and be too much of a good thing. We do not know how much UVB is too much, but your chameleon does know. Make sure your chameleon can get out of the sunlight when the internal signals say to lay low. In indoor caging you’ll run into this issue with baby caging where the entire cage is fully within the effective range of your bulb and any time outdoors.

The fourth gradient is psychological. And that is the gradient of exposure or privacy. All animals need to have a place where they feel safe. We need to create an environment where our chameleon is able to escape constant scrutiny. This is a gradient which is unfortunately often overlooked. We tend to set-up our cages to our own desires which, in this case, is to enjoy our chameleon anytime we want to. It kind of defeats the purpose of having a chameleon if he hides in the plants, right? Well, kind of, but not really. If we bypass for a moment that a hiding place is vitally important to the health of your chameleon consider that allowing your chameleon to decide whether he is seen or not means that when he comes out it means that you have conquered his instinctual fear of anything bigger than he is. That is an accomplishment worthy of respect. But regardless of how much you desire a chameleon-on-demand set-up, your chameleon’s health requires a leafy retreat where he can feel hidden and secure. Even if he gets comfortable enough with you that he never uses it, the fact that he knows it exists helps him be that comfortable.

In the end, the often quoted mantra “get the biggest cage you can” is not because chameleons generally like to wander. It is because the bigger the cage the more and better microclimates you can create. The best thing you can do for your chameleon’s health is to give him a wide variety of choices regarding, temperature, humidity, UVB, and exposure. Within a properly set-up enclosure with these gradients and microclimates in place your chameleon will basically take care of itself. Add food, water and remove waste and you got it.

As far as podcasts go, the system is run by reviews and star ratings. If you liked what you heard today then you can support it by going to iTunes and leaving a review and star rating. It really makes a difference in how we are ranked and I love the feedback. You can also email me at and you can find show notes at for the links we talked about. And that’s a wrap for today.

Season 1 Archive