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Chameleon UVB Measuring with Solarmeter 6.5

Chameleon UVB: What is UV Index (UVI)

UV Index

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

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

For context, here are some prominent UVI levels

UVI 0 = Nighttime

UVI 3 = target basking for Veiled & Panther Chameleons

UVI 11 = Human skin burns in 10 minutes

UVI 13 = typical daytime maximum for lowland Madagascar

UVI 43 = maximum natural UVI recorded on Earth

 

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

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Veiled Chameleon

Chameleon UVB: How Much UVB Do Chameleons Need?

Introduction to the Chameleon Caresheet Question Series

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

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

 

Chameleon Caresheet Parameter: UVB Levels

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

UVB for Panther Chameleons

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Baby Panther Chameleon

Chameleon Environment: How Are Misters Used?

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

Hydration Schedule

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

 

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

 

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

Conclusion

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

 

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

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Jackson's Chameleon in fog

Chameleon Environment: Humidity

Hydration Schedule

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

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

 

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

 

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

Conclusion

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

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female panther chameleon

Chameleon Environment: Length of Basking Time

Hydration Schedule

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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Chameleon basking

Chameleon Environment: Basking Temperature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panther Chameleon Temperature

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Chameleon in Hybrid cage

Chameleon Cage Type: Screen, Hybrid, and Glass

Panther Chameleon Cage

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Further Research

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


 

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Chameleon Cages

Minimum Female Chameleon Cage Size

Panther Chameleon Cage

Chameleon Cage Size usually isn’t that controversial of a topic. It is generally accepted that bigger is better. There are a few side topics that sometimes come up.

One is minimum size for females.

Often, females of the species get a smaller minimum size because their body is smaller in species. This is most commonly seen in panther chameleons where the female is noticeably smaller than the male. But I have opted to remove this smaller size from the Panther Chameleon Care Summary.  Female Panther Chameleons have been successfully kept in 18" x 18" x 36" cages so the care sheets that list this smaller size are not wrong. I have elected to remove this option from the Chameleon Academy care summary because it is such a minor jump in cost and space to give them the same 2x2x4’ size as the males and it will be a huge increase in quality of life for your chameleon.

So is it accurate to list 2x2x4 as a minimum for females? For this I am taking artistic license. The spirit of a Care Summary is to provide a guide for chameleon husbandry to the best of the authors knowledge. Minimum cage size is a pure value judgement based on how well the chameleon will do in that size. For proper chameleon husbandry advice I balance my recommendations between what is best for the chameleon and what is realistic for most people to implement. In the particular case of female panther chameleon husbandry, my judgement says that the best living experience and your enjoyment with your chameleon will come from the readily available 2' x 2' x 4' or 36" x 18" x 36" cage sizes. I cannot think of a chameleon species that is available to the herpetocultural community where the size difference is so great that it justifies a different minimum cage size for females. So, going forward, I will not be presenting a different minimum cage size for females.

Conclusion

So, does this mean all the other caresheets that list minimum female cage sizes as smaller than male cage sizes are wrong? Does this mean that all the years of me saying that a 18"x18"x36" for a female panther chameleon was wrong and I need to go back and change everything? No, of course not. The smaller size will work. This is a 100% case of the caresheet author (me) making a judgement as to what is best for your chameleon's life and your enjoyment of the chameleon keeping experience. This is a minor change that returns great dividends to both you and your chameleon. So, this is my choice for what information I feel best about passing on to the beginner chameleon community.

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Female Panther Chameleon

Ep 208: Chameleon Caresheet Confusion

Listen Here!

What do you do when the chameleon experts contradict each other? You just want to set up your chameleon right the first time. Why can't anyone agree on how to do it? In this episode I talk about how to reconcile different experts saying different things.

Link Resources

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

As many of you know, I just released a video component to the Chameleon Academy Panther Chameleon care summary. If you go to the Panther Chameleon page on the chameleonacademy.com website you will find a .pdf download of the care summary. You’ll find this care summary much different from standard care sheets as this one contains a level more information such as information on the cage interior, the lighting/hydration cycle, feeding quantity, and not only what level of UVB, but distance to the light fixture if you use a certain product. Backing that up is a webpage that explains every parameter on the care summary so you can understand it better. My vision for the Chameleon Academy has been that it would be a multi-media chameleon education experience so there is also a video companion tutorial and a podcast episode for researching on the go. So with this wealth of information you are confidently set to get your panther chameleon! Until, that is, you compare what I say to what your social media group says. And it doesn’t match up. And then your friend gave you a care sheet from the expert they say is 2nd to God in knowledge…and that contradicts both me and your social media group. So you pull up the care page on the website of the breeder from whom you have purchased a juvenile that will be ready in one short month! How can there be so many different opinions….no, not just opinions….deeply embraced convictions on the care parameters of one of the most commonly kept chameleons?

That is what I will discuss today. Even if you decide that you trust my information and want to go with it, we are a community and so you will have to deal with all these various view points when interacting. I am going to highlight the top six debate points you will find during your research into chameleon husbandry and your use of the care summary I just released. I will share the history behind them and the concern level.

 

Caging

First we have caging. There is nothing that controversial with my caging parameters. I do recommend larger cages for females. Many care sheets have males at the 2x2x4’ cage and the females at the 18x18x36”. My care summary has them both at 2x2x4.  Your female chameleon will appreciate the larger 2x2x4 cage usually recommended for males. But, if you set the cage up correctly, the often recommended 18x18x36 will work. Keep in mind, though, that these are all minimum sizes. No breeder will say you shouldn’t get a larger cage so even though what I say is a little different it won’t be controversial. You may run into the random social media expert that read a care sheet and didn’t understand the concept of “minimum”, but, by and large, going bigger is not going to raise any eye brows.

The point where there may be some confusion to work through is that I promote that cage type should be chosen with respect to your ambient room temperature. The closer your temperatures and humidity levels are to ideal the more screen panels. The further they are from what you are trying to provide your panther chameleon, the more solid sides. Because the average household has acceptable temperatures, but the panther needs higher humidity at night than most houses provide, I lean towards hybrid cages with mostly solid sides as my most common recommendation.

So, what do you when your breeder says that chameleons need a screen cage or else they’ll get a respiratory infection and die?

Well, here is another case where you have to choose who to listen to. And then stick with that information source.

Let me explain. There are many ways to get something done. Yes, some ways are better than others, but there are times when different ways can still get the job done even if some of those are better than others. And you have to pick what you are going to make work.

With the Chameleon Academy I am promoting a thoughtful and insightful approach to chameleon husbandry. Much of the husbandry I talk about is a bit more complicated than your standard husbandry advice. It requires more thought. It isn’t necessarily hard, but it does take some understanding. And, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that learning chameleon husbandry might take some thought and learning.

A hybrid cage will retain heat and humidity. That is the reason for getting a hybrid cage, of course! But it also means that you are able to over do it. So it requires you to develop the discipline to watch your heat and humidity levels. Well, mostly the heat. In a screen cage most people will struggle to get anywhere near the target humidity levels, but it will be hard to overheat or over-humidify the cage.  Because you are literally using your small heat bulb and humidifier to change the entire room environment. So you get a localized heat or fog cone with it quickly dissipating. And, so it is harder to over do anything. People have adjusted their care to account for screen cages. And this is one reason why you can’t pick and choose care parameters from different places. Someone telling you to use a screen cage will often also be telling you to mist regularly through the day. This is because your chameleon will need to drink during the day to make up for losing moisture during the night because the humidity was low. And this is how we all did it for many, many years. So, yes, it works! But do you see how one parameter was adjusted to make up for a deficiency in another? So, take some time and get comfortable with your information source and don’t be rattled when you run into five other perspectives saying they are the only one. And I will take the unorthodox approach and say between me and your breeder, listen to your breeder. Your breeder is the one that is meant to be there to hand hold you through the process. That is what they are there for. Pass on that only if you have a community or mentor that is willing to take the role of guiding you. And then don’t go back to your breeder and make them unravel everything you have done outside their care parameters. Every group has figured out how to make their method work and they may or may not be able to switch gears in their head. And this isn’t what you want in the first place. You want the person guiding you to come from their place of strength and that would be their method that they have perfected. So, back to cage type, if you are having trouble getting the humidity up with the screen cage your breeder told you to get then have the breeder help you figure out how to get the humidity higher. Though, yes, my care summary has been put together using decades of personal experience and incorporating input from around the world so, if I have done my job right, you will be able to study what I have written and understand it enough to make an educated decision on your own. But remember, this is one of those topics that people take personally. Most people in the community have heard of hybrids and glass and write them off as advanced caging. Some outright say anything but a screen cage will kill you chameleons. So there is a lot of drama surrounding this topic. And if you say you are using a hybrid cage to a person who only knows screen cages get ready for an uncomfortable exchange. It is like putting a Mac computer in front of a person who has used a PC all their life. Some will stumble through it and figure out how to get on the internet and some will just pull out the holy water and wood stake.

 

Basking Temperature and Length

There is a shift going on in the chameleon community which is touching panther chameleon care. We, and I mean we as in the general community are becoming more aware that hotter conditions, combined with high food intake is not healthy for chameleons. This, I think, takes a little history. As we grew up in our chameleon keeping we were desperate to keep them alive. This is in the 1990s. It was exciting to have chameleons live years. Then we went to the next stage of herpetocultural growth and wanted to be able to breed them. This happened quite easily with panther chameleons. So during this time we would be babying them and providing anything that would make them grow quick and large. This was, and still is, a common benchmark. Big is healthy, right? If you saw two panther chameleons and one was twice as big, that is the one you would want. Well, yes, and, back in the early days that would be a very accurate assessment! But now that we have gotten way past the stage of keeping them alive and being gitty that we successfully bred them we are turning our attention to refining their health. And we are finding that bigger is not healthy. Sure size is fine, but bulging fat pads are not. This is demonstrated most dramatically in Veiled Chameleons where over-energizing the females with heat and food makes their bodies overproduce eggs to a life threatening number. You have probably heard of egg binding. A common cause for death from egg binding is females whose fat pads have swelled and egg production is two to four times what it should be. The females become marble bags and have complications. This comes from over energizing the females body through heat and food. Although the condition is not as severe in panthers as it is in veileds, there is still that danger of over-engerizing the panther females. And so you will see care sheets run a wide range of basking temperatures from 100 degree F to 80 F. The higher the temperature the older the care information. This is a husbandry area we are still working on figuring out the right recipe of temperature versus food intake. I have chosen 85F to 90F because it is on the lower side and is well tested. In the coming annual updates I am sure that I will lower the  basking temperatures, but I can’t until I know what is safe. You see, lowering temperatures and food intake too far will produced stunted chameleons. And I need to know where that border is before my care information gets closer to it. I am actively doing extensive work with panther chameleon care parameters so as soon as I am confident I have a regimen that is as simple as possible without getting people too close to the edge I will adjust parameters. But for now, just be aware that there is a shift going on in the community and you will see various basking temperatures. 85-90 is a good safety.

You will also see talk about time that your basking bulb is left on. Reducing the time the basking bulb is on is a strategy employed by some sections of the community to prevent the over energizing of the female. I have been experimenting with basking temperature and lengths. So far, I have found slower growth, but no stunting yet. So there is promise that this is a tactic that can be used. I am not to the point where I think I can recommend this without beginners mis-stepping and having problems so I am still conservative on this tactic. You see, I am not only responsible for the information I provide, but how it is interpreted and executed by the readers. So I am careful how I present new methods. At this time, I advocate leaving the basking bulb on as long as your chameleon needs it. As I said in the care summary, this takes observing your chameleons behavior. In a hybrid cage you’ll probably have to turn it off after a morning warm-up. In an all-screen cage you probably can leave it on all day. But this is a parameter I really want you all to be mindful of. Watch your chameleon. Learn what they use and realize you can turn on and off the basking light as is appropriate for your conditions.

 

Humidity and Naturalistic Hydration.

Another shift in our community is the increased awareness of how humidity plays into our hydration husbandry. Most care sheets do not recognize nighttime humidity needs. This is where we follow the natural cycle of higher humidity, lower temperatures during the night and lower humidity/higher temperatures during the day.  I have called this the naturalistic hydration cycle and this is the prime example of how all care parameters are interlinked. The standard hydration method has been using a screen cage and misting multiple times during the day. This is what you will see from many breeders and social media groups. Since the humidity is standard low human house levels the chameleon loses moisture during the night breathing. This requires misting during the day to rehydrate.

In the naturalistic hydration method we provide high humidity during the night and mist so the chameleon can drink during the morning if he needs to. And this provides what they need so we don’t have to spray them during the day which they hate.

But to do this the fundamental core of our husbandry has to change. To raise the humidity we need to block off the ventilation to the point where we get enough airflow for air exchange and cage drying during the day. That allows our nighttime humidity to build up. And this requires a hybrid cage with solid sides. Then we can create a nice build-up of humidity at night. But a hybrid cage also holds in heat during the day so we now have to be mindful of heat build up from the basking bulb. This means we have to introduce the concept of reducing basking bulb on time and monitoring temperatures. That seems simple in concept, but going on social media you learn that this is for advanced keepers only. So there is a slow shift in understanding towards the naturalistic hydration. It is resisted by many, and not fully understood by others, so be aware that there will be a wide swing of opinions around humidity and when you should mist. Really, the best thing you can do for yourself is understand the different methods and make the decision for yourself. But, if you are still confused then go with the method advised by the person helping you along. Once again, I fully admit that the Chameleon Academy approach can be intimidating at first. I can say I have personally tested the naturalistic hydration over a number of years with many species and it is a better approach than the screen cage/daytime misting approach. I highly encourage you to use it. The naturalistic hydration method should be your end goal, and start here if you can, but it is something you can incorporate later if you wish.

 

 

Supplementation

Next, Supplementation. This is where we add mineral and vitamin powders dusted on the surface of our feeder insect and we add nutrition in this manner. The reason why there is a wide range of supplementation regimens is that we are still figuring out supplementation. We have a fairly good idea of what works, but we are quite primitive as far as understanding how much of what, and in what combination, is needed. And that gray area leads to a wide range of personal interpretations. This means that you are going to be exposed to the supplementation regime your information source tried and their chameleon didn’t get sick. That is the level of certainty we have right now.

The main area of debate is how much vitamin D3 to allow through the diet. In nature, chameleons get their Vitamin D3 from UVB just like we do. The sun’s light hits our skin and we use the UVB wavelengths to synthesize vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is critical because that is what lets us absorb calcium from what we eat. Without Vitamin D3 we don’t get calcium and without calcium our bones get soft and will break. It is called Ricketts in humans and Metabolic Bone disease in chameleons. So we need vitamin D3. For the longest time, both education about UVB and UVB bulb strength was lacking and so we had many horrible cases of Metabolic Bone Disease. This was solved by putting vitamin D3 into the supplements we put on our feeder insects. This was a wonderful solution except that there is a danger of D3 overdose because it is a fat soluble vitamin and excess amounts won’t just flush out of the system. There is a built in stop valve for D3 being generated from UVB, but no stop valve if it comes in from the diet. Therefore, if you give too much in the diet you could get hypercalcemia which means too much calcium in the body and life limiting things like calcium deposits on organs where they shouldn’t be. We want to avoid that. And with present UVB light technology we don’t have to use dietary vitamin D3. The one case where present information suggests we use dietary vitamin D3 is alongside giving preformed vitamin A. Honestly, I am still working through understanding how this works and how it applies to reptiles, but with nutrition that is a common state of affairs for us. Reptile nutrition is not the most funded area of science these days. I’ll link to an abstract about a study in rats where giving Vitamin A decreased the effectiveness of calcium absorption. So this is why more vitamin D is, most of the time, added to supplements with preformed vitamin A.  But, that is leading us down a rat hole, so to speak. Back to different supplementation regimens.

You’ll run into two main varieties of routine. One is the one presented in the Chameleon Academy which is calcium and bee pollen based for every feeding and then a multivitamin with preformed vitamin A every two weeks. You will run into many variations on this approach. The philosophy behind the academy approach is that we give calcium and bee pollen every feeding and simulate a random vertebrate every two weeks that gives a shot of vitamin A. The chameleon gets vitamin D3 from UVB every day as well and, if this is done correctly, there is no need to have D3 in the diet. The D3 in with the biweekly multivitamin is just there to keep the vitamin A company.

The other regimen you will run into with a number of breeders is using Repashy Calcium Plus every feeding. This has worked well over time and has been adopted as a much easier to remember supplementation schedule. Different supplementation routines are like fighting words in the chameleon community so prepare for strong feelings when you bring it up. I have linked a podcast episode that goes into the testing done by Kammerflage Kreations for them to decide on the Repashy Calcium Plus regimen. It is a thoughtful and well tested decision. If you are considering this approach then listen to the episode to understand what was behind it. I find myself in the strange position of recommending a different supplementation regimen while defending the use of Repashy Calcium Plus. And the reason why it is important for me to defend using Repashy Calcium Plus every feeding is because the methodical approach that went into showing that this is effective should serve as a model for how we test any supplementation regimen. My defense of using Repashy Calcium Plus is not because that is the supplementation I want to recommend, but I am defending the method used to test it. If we put in that amount of work into any of the things the community presents as facts we would have a much stronger community less able to be swayed by the latest loud voice that comes along. I ask that you take this to heart. I see so many half baked ideas being passed around because there was no critical thought applied to its creation or adoption as a sound bite.

 

Maybe one day there will be some repeatable test that will determine what the danger level is for daily vitamin D3 intake. And then this issue will be laid to rest (well, maybe). But, my message to you, who are just trying to make heads or tails of this subject is that both regimens work. If you want to use your breeder for support then go with the supplementation and UVB regimen that they suggest. If you want to go to a certain social media group for support then use their regimen. Just know you can’t go back and forth. Don’t use the social media regimen and then go back to your breeder if something is off. Get support from the person who you get advice from. If you are following Chameleon Academy advice and want to ask questions then my experienced team and I have camped out at the Facebook group, The Chameleon Enthusiasts to offer support. At The Chameleon Enthusiasts group the team is dedicated to helping across all supplementation routines. We make it a point to understand what is behind the supplements so we can offer an insightful analysis no matter which regime you are using. Just about anywhere else, a different supplementation routine will be blamed for anything going wrong without a critical analysis. And this is, yet again, the reason why you need to use the method understood by the breeder, mentor, or group that you will be interacting with. Understanding supplementation is challenging. One thing I will warn you about is any supplementation regimen that uses calcium plus D3. Both Fluker’s and Rep-cal calciums with D3 are way over the top with D3 and if there is going to be a supplement that tips the scales into overdose, it will be them. If you are told to use either Flukers Calcium with D3 or Rep-Cal Calcium with D3 then it is time to take a step back and re-evaluate.

 

UVB lighting

Next is UVB lighting. The Chameleon Academy care summary uses the T5 HighOutput fluorescent lights. This is the most common bulb used on social media so there shouldn’t be much of note there. ,Use the UVB chart on the Chameleon Academy care summary. If your breeder recommends using a T8 light, using a T5 light will not change anything other than give you better D3 synthesis at a given distance. So using the Chameleon Academy UVB recommendation will not interfere with any other care parameter that you find out there. And it will ensure good D3 synthesis no matter what the supplementations schedule.

There may be some people that are concerned about using a T5 light system with a supplementation regimen such as Repashy Calcium Plus that has vitamin D3 in it. This comes from a lack of understanding of how UVB and D3 works. I’ll try to give a summary example. The body creates only the amount of D3 that the body needs. Say the chameleon needs 10 units of D3 a day. The body will turn on the UVB conversion and make 10 units of D3 and then shut down conversion. It does not matter how intense the UVB light is after that. It cannot turn back on the conversion. If you then give 8 units of dietary D3 through your supplement then the body will only make 2 units from UVB. And it doesn’t matter how intense the UVB is. What I am getting at is that is if you give Repashy Calcium Plus it doesn’t matter if you use T8 lights or T5 lights. You will not cause a D3 overdose from using T5 lights. Now, going too high will cause other problems, but not D3 overdose. And Dr. Gary Ferguson did a study showing that panther chameleons will deliberately bask as long as they needed to get the UVB they need. So, using a T5 as directed on this care summary is compatible with all appropriate supplementation schedules. This, of course, assumes a proper supplementation schedule as discussed above.

So, bottom line, use the Arcadia ProT5 6% UVB on top of a screen cage with the back of your chameleon 6” from the top. Please review the care summary for details and asterisks and such.

 

Feeding

And finally, there is a feeding schedule that has feeding chameleons as much as they will eat until they are adults and then easing off to five feeders every other day. This is another case where we are trying to avoid unhealthy weight. My five feeders every other day is less than most breeders recommend, but still more than some care sheets. This is the exact same case as with the basking temperature where I want to see more cases of how people execute this before I go lower. I have had people stop giving food to chameleons that were behind in growth because of a general schedule meant for chameleons on the standard growth cycle. So I have to be careful and sensitive to how this information is interpreted. Five feeders every other day is effective, yet conservative. But you will see a wide range of advice out there.

 

So I hope that this helps ease you into the community and understand all the different opinions out there. It would be simplest if there was one care sheet we all agreed on and presented. But that isn’t the case. And beginners like to come onto the scene, collect caresheets, and then pick and choose parameters. So there is no way to keep anyone focused on one path. And, that makes sense. When you are new to the community you do not know where the best information is. Instead of telling you to just listen to my one way, I would rather explain why things are the way they are, share the transitions we are going through as a community, and have you understand why you are going in a certain direction. It is okay for you to do something other than what I am advising. Just know the options and know why you have chosen a certain direction. Every situation will be different from different environmental conditions to different social involvement. And all these different parameters go into what is best for you. And the best thing you can do for yourself is to be able to understand the currents, and chose the appropriate captain, and chart your own course.

 

This podcast episode is certainly a stand alone episode that can explain the confusing twists and turns when looking for information in the chameleon community. But from the top view, it is the next step in my project to document the panther chameleon breeding lifecycle. I presented the panther chameleon care summary and this helps you navigate the community while reading the care parameters. We will now slowly get into caging with a mindset for breeding. Though you’ll find I am going to be presenting a somewhat different approach to this breeding group. And I hope it is one that will resonate and, perhaps, inspire a new generation of breeders.

 

I am slowly getting my stride in integrating my podcast with my video channel outreach. I have ambitious videos that take a bit of work and so I am going to try an every other week approach so one week a podcast episode and the next week a video and so on. I appreciate your patience as I work through this new outreach and figure out how I can humanly produce the content on a reasonable schedule! But, so far, I am very happy with how I am being able to fulfill the multi-media vision I have for the Chameleon Academy.

 

And, finally, if you go to the chameleonacademy.com website home page there is a link to where you can pick up some chameleon academy merch. From T-shirts to hoodies and a coffee cup. So you can sport the rainbow panther everywhere you go and share this very special corner of nature that endlessly fascinates us!

And if you think about it, everything we are learning about chameleons and the amazing depth to which we learn it, is a part of nature that few people know exists. This is truly an amazing personal growth we are all undertaking. And, just doing this is a growth experience for me. It is exciting to think where we will be by the end of the year. And, all I can say, is this is a whole lot of fun and I am glad you are doing it with me! Now, let’s see if I can get the video out next week and then I’ll be back here on the airwaves the week after! And, if you snag one of those T-shirts or hoodies, tag me on Facebook or Instagram wearing it and let me know if I can share it on my account!

 

Take care and give your chameleon an extra special treat for me. I’ll see you later!

 


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Chameleon Egg Laying Bin

Ep 205: Creating a Chameleon Egg Laying Bin

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I take you along with me as I create an egg laying bin for a rare species of chameleon, Trioceros cristatus. By providing multiple egg laying topographies we can allow her to choose what feels best to her chameleon mind.

Transcript (more or less)

Introduction

It has been an exciting week at the Chameleon Academy! I keep a rare species of chameleon from the Cameroon called the crested chameleon, or, more accurately, Trioceros cristatus. We have so few in the hands of experienced breeders that any success is celebrated in this very small community. It is a shy species, but what an impressive one it is. The female is bright velvety green and the males are a rich chestnut color with a blue crown above their head. Both sexes have a sail fin along their back. They are a little different as far as husbandry than your standard forest edge chameleon as cristatus happily spend their time closer to the ground and hiding away from bright lights. They are a lowland species so, despite their visual similarities to chameleons we equate with high altitude, cristatus are not interested in deep nighttime drops. The other interesting feature is their tail is shorter than most of the commonly kept chameleons. Cristatus is one of those species that is a good husbandry experience expander. It is similar enough in husbandry to the common species that it should be no problem for anyone to try their hand at it, but just different enough to be a new experience. Hmmm, I think I have let my affection for cristatus lead me on a bit of a tangent, but no matter, it helps you understand why I was so excited to see her pacing her cage in an obvious desire to find an egg laying site. Obviously, this was not a surprise. I had introduced a male to her a little over nine weeks ago, observed a mating, and had watched her grow with eggs as I made sure everything I fed to her was gutloaded and properly supplemented. So, yes, this was an anticipated event!

 

And so I wanted to take you along with me during the process of egg laying and then I am going to go into detail on making an egg laying bin. And this is perfect time because cristatus, and especially this cristatus, are a little more picky than a veiled or panther so I am going to share with you the egg laying bin strategy that has worked very well for me to coax some of the more rare species to lay. For another perspective of creating an egg laying from someone who spends more time with rare species than even me, go back four years ago and check out episode 76 with Carl Cattau. That is a great overview of the subject. The added value that this episode brings is that this one will be more of me bringing you along with me step by step as I carry out the strategy. And, I add in some insight I have gained over the four years since doing that episode.

 

One thing to start with is the whole trend towards using bio-active substrates, or even just soil substrates in a female chameleon’s cage. There are a number of reasons to do this that have nothing to do with egg laying. And there still is no necessity to have a soil floor with a chameleon, but I bring it up because if you have a soil floor then the immediate question is whether you need an egg laying bin. And the answer is no, if you maintain the soil in a way that allows it to be a good digging soil. This requires good drainage. Female chameleons will not lay their eggs in soaked soil so your substrate drainage needs to be dialed in with moisture input. For this episode, I am going to use the scenario where there is just the plain plastic floor that cages usually come with, but the principles and ideas are universal so you should be able to apply them easily to your particular situation.

 

First, it is important to recognize the signs that your female is ready to lay. This can be pretty straight forward for Veiled or panther chameleons. 30 days after mating you can expect an egg laying. This timing gets a little murky for other species that have the ability to hold eggs. I have had quadricornis and cristatus do this to me where gestation , the time period between mating and egg laying, is not necessarily consistent. The other very relevant case is with female veiled chameleons that often develop unfertilized clutches so you do not have a mating event to clock from. So, there are visual cues. As eggs develop you will usually see a female grow in girth. Sometimes you can see and/or feel egg shapes in the overly rotund torso. Other times, they can have stealth clutches where you are surprised they were carrying anything. Once again, that was with quadricornis in my personal experience. Veiled, panther, and cristatus have always been quite obvious to me. And you will notice the gravid shape growing and growing over the weeks. During this time the female will be eating as much as she can. And you should give it to her. I know you hear a lot about controlling feeder insect number and that is an important skill. But the major problem we are trying to solve is obesity in chameleons which overdrives the female’s body into producing more eggs than would be normal. This is often actually life threatening to the female so it is worth reading up on. Of course, I have some podcast episodes on this which I will link to in the show notes. But once her body has made the decision as to how many eggs to produce, it is healthy to give her what ever food she wants. She is now eating for 30 if you are lucky. If you grew up your female veiled in very warm temperatures and well fed then her body will take advantage of that and could give you 60 to 100 or so eggs. I know that sounds amazing, but the people who have tried to raise up a clutch of veiled chameleon hatchlings of 40 or more can attest to it not being the party the brochure promises. But once the number of eggs decision has been made it is time to give her what her body wants to develop all those babies. And scarf down the food she will do…that is until the eggs get sizeable enough that there is very little room left inside her body for food. And this isn‘t joking. Near the end of gestation there just isn’t room for food. And so going off of eating is a common behavior for females that will lay within the week. Not always, of course. Every female is different. So I am just presenting to you possibilities that often work. Jackson’s chameleons are notorious for this. They are livebearers, but when we get newcomers complaining that their female jackson’s chameleon was such a good eater until earlier this week we go into full baby care education mode.

 

The real indication is the change in behavior. Your female will usually like to warm up and be near the top of the cage or in her favorite resting spot in the leaves. You will then start to notice that she is hanging out near the bottom of the cage. And she is getting restless. And this is what happen with my lady cristatus. Cristatus likes to warm up and then hide in the foliage like any chameleon, but they are heavily on the hide-out side. I may see my female cristatus basking once a week and the rest of the time she is slinking about the underbrush of the cage. And this is a characteristic of cristatus. That is just what they do. All well and good, until early this week she started pacing the branches near the bottom of the cage and climbing the walls. So I knew the time was here.

 

Now, I also knew she was a picky egg layer. I know this because I already went through this with her before. The last clutch I got from her took the entire week of her digging test holes and then finally laying. I was using a simple container with digging soil, but didn’t get fancy. This time I decided to get fancy just in case. And, yes, I will explain what I mean by that.

To lay eggs, chameleons are looking for soil which they can dig through, has the right moisture content, and has a hard surface to lay against. That hard surface could be anything in the Earth including just compacted earth a couple inches down from the surface. They have also been known to target root balls of plants. Honestly, I am not sure if they really are looking for roots or roots just happen to be in the area. Because I used to run a large scale breeding facility where egg laying females would be released into large outdoor enclosures over 20’ x 20’ floor space. There was vegetation and open area. There were areas with what I thought was perfect egg laying sand/soil mixture and there were areas that I didn’t bother to replace soil. And it bothered me that I couldn’t get them to lay in the perfect egg laying areas. They kept finding untouched area where they could only dig down a couple inches. And it was up against hard surfaces.  And I am embarrassed to say that I did not learn my lessons right then and there with the most perfect communication I could have been given by what the chameleons chose when presented with wild options. I went on after that to do the ill advised things that many people are still doing like giving deep soil container for veiled chameleons to tunnel through. And, yes, I had tunnel collapses and was wondering how it made sense for eggs to be laid so deep. How would the babies dig out this far and what possible purpose would being 12 inches below the surface hold? It wasn’t until I was doing the interview with Carl four years ago for episode 76 that everything came rushing in and my observations all started to make sense and I figured out that I was forcing my ideas of what chameleons should need onto them and not listening to them. Since then I have slowly given my chameleons less and less soil depth to experiment. I started with 8” and have worked my way to 6” and now am trying 4”. Of course, species makes a difference. My Parson’s female appreciated more depth than my panther female, but not as much as I had thought. The pattern is, once I took away my interpretation of what should be, is that my chameleons were looking for a hard surface about half their body length deep to lay eggs against. So I came up with a laying bin design that I am using with all my females. It is working very well. And that is the design I am going to go over in this episode. But I can guarantee you that four years from now I will be doing this episode again and sharing with you the improved design.

 

And I hope you have become comfortable with that by now. This podcast was never meant to be the presentation of the end all be all information. It has always been a quest to learn more and figure things out. I know it is fashionable on social media to be an expert. That is not my gig. I will present what I know and share the confidence level associated with that, but you listeners to this podcast are on the journey of exploration with me. And I hope you value that we are doing this together and you are pretty much figuring all this out with me. My forty years of experience has served me well not to know the secrets of the universe, but to point my efforts in a useful direction.

 

So, let’s address how that approach is different from the standard, don’t fix what isn’t broken. When people find a way that works there isn’t much motivation to change it unless there is a demonstrated benefit. Example, if you are a panther chameleon breeder and giving your female panthers 8” of moist sand to lay in results in the successful laying of a clutch of eggs, why change? Doing the same thing for ten years achieves the goal. And this is why it is tricky when people say they have been doing chameleons for ten or twenty years. Sounds Impressive? Well, it is if they have been using that time to refine and challenge everything they are doing. It is less impressive if they are doing the same thing now as when they started. Honestly, I keep throwing around the 40 year experience stat specifically to stop people trying to use their 10 or 20 years as a resume point to prove they are right to say their way is the best way. No, my 40 years is only as valuable as how far I have come. Not in how much I have done the same thing over and over. So if your female panther is working twice as hard as she needs to to lay eggs you are not going to measure that by successful clutches laid. The value for challenging that is going to come from this inner drive to make life better for the chameleon. That is what I push for here. I agree that any change should have a measurable effect, but I argue that getting the same results with less physical outlay from the female chameleon is a measurable result. Anyway, the reason why I am going through all this philosophy is because the chameleon community is mostly stuck in the 8” or more depth for egg laying containers. So  expect push back if you stroll into those digital halls with what I am sharing on this podcast. That goes for many topics. But, if you are a long time listener you already know we are constantly pushing the boundaries here! So, let’s get on with the laybin.

 

The container

First, the container. I like using a clear sweater box about 16” x 12” and 7” high. But, Bill, if it is clear, won’t that freak her out when she digs to the side and sees light coming through? Yes, and that is a great reason for using solid side containers. But, I kind of want to be able to see where the eggs may be so I know where to dig. I have had some females that are so good at hiding their tracks that the only sign that I have that something happened is a bunch of dirt on the top of her head as she looks at me from her branch pretending she didn’t just lay a clutch of eggs. And carefully excavating the entire bin to ensure that eggs aren’t damaged once you find them is monotonous work. I will say that I have never actually broken an egg doing this, but I don’t want that first time. So what I do is I get a clear sided container and I duct tape a few layers of black trash bag around the sides so they block out all the light. Once she has laid I can easily rip off the plastic and see where the eggs are. Well, as long as she laid them against the sides or bottom. This isn’t 100% so other measures will be used.

 

I make sure there is plenty of drainage in the laybin. I do not want water to pool at the bottom of the laybin. Remember the female will likely dig to the bottom. If she finds a water layer then she won’t lay there. This is the draw back of having your bioactive or substrate floor in your cage unless you have external drainage. Having a drainage layer like the dart frog people do at the bottom of the soil layer may cause complications when it comes to egg laying. It really all depends on your water management. For my temporary laybin I drill a number of hole in the bottom to make sure no water will pool when the misting system kicks on.

 

The under ground topography

On the inside of the bin I am going to add some features. I want to be clear that most breeders are highly successful without going through the twists I am about to present. But they can do that when they specialize in one species. This is why egg laying bins from breeders are so simple. They have figured out the essence of what the species is looking for and have optimized their husbandry. My approach here, though, is how to approach an unknown species and giving enough options that it will result in her finding what she is looking for a successful egg laying. And this works for you while you are starting out with a species that is new to you. After a few successful egg layings you can start removing the features that are not necessary. But, for me, with a picky rare species, I am going all out!

 

So I know they are looking for a hard surface to lay against and I want to give them all the options possible in the small space at the bottom of their cage. I am planning on offering a soil depth of between 4 and 6 inches. This depth works for most species. On one side of the laybin I am going to put 2” of smooth rocks on the bottom so I get only four inches of soil depth. In the middle of the laybin I will have 6” of soil depth and on the other side I am putting in a live plant with the roots. This way she has a number of options. You are absolutely correct that she will have no idea where to dig to find the different underground topographies, but I wanted to make it so if she didn’t find what she wanted after digging the first hole that the second hole she dug would provide to her a different topography. And then a third hole would provide yet another choice. What I did last time was just digging soil in a basin. Every time she dug a new hole she found exactly what she found the time before. Eventually, she dug a hole that was tolerable and laid the eggs. So, I guess that was successful egg laying.  But I would rather she be happier about her choices and lay sooner than when the eggs won’t stay in any longer. This is how you get them laying on the top of the dirt or just pushing them out any old place in the cage. All of us breeders encounter this one time or another – especially with the rarer species. We just try very hard not to. Not the best husbandry experience.

 

Soil composition.

So, how about the soil itself? I like to ues a 50% soil and 50% sand mixture that I throw together in rough measurements and mix together. More soil or more sand doesn’t matter. Just as long as the hole will hold its shape and not collapse in on the chameleon. But, remember, we want a hole. We do not want tunneling. I have to say this because there is still a number of people that embrace the chameleon having a deep enough bin that the chameleon can tunnel. This is the husbandry trap of thinking that what you observe them doing is an indication that they need to do it. In reality, the behavior you see may be them confused and just trying to make sense of the strange conditions they find themselves under. Tunneling is when the female just can’t make sense of things and just keeps digging until she runs into something that triggers the “this is good” signal in her lizard brain. Stop it before it gets that far

At this point, I have put my stones in on one side and the plant in on the other side. I then start mixing my soil in the middle and fill in the rock side - and then the plant side and then the middle. Once I have the laying bin full I then carefully spread a thin layer of soil across the top until it is a uniform dark coat. I then sprinkle just enough sand that I create a thin layer of light colored sand on top of the dark soil. What this does is allows me to see where the soil was disturbed so I know where to start digging. They sometimes do such a good job hiding their dig site that it often is impossible to tell where they laid the eggs.

 

Okay, so I made my laying bin and put it at the bottom of the cage. There are sticks leading down to the bin to make it easy to access. To help me know where she laid, I have clear sides to view the lower layers. These, of course, are wrapped by a few layers of black trash bags to block out light during the egg laying process. The surface is light and dark coded so any disturbance will be obvious. And then, I got myself a WiFi security camera that I will set up to monitor the egg laying site. So I am ready for whatever happens. I just have to hope it all goes well! So I place the laying bin in the cage and went to go get the security camera to set up. And, well, when I got back she was already in the bin. Yikes. I guess that didn’t take long. I quickly set-up the camera, but I had to do it outside the cage so I didn’t bother her which gave me a less than academy award winning clarity of picture. Oh well.

Now a word on cameras and privacy. The biggest problem with chameleons not using your perfect laybin is privacy. They are in an incredibly vulnerable position on the ground digging a hole. A laybin in an open area situated where you and the three family dogs can watch the action has a low probability of success. When I have a laybin in a cage I put visual barriers all around and leave only a peephole where I can keep track of things without disturbing her. My new security camera solved this and was wonderful. I didn’t even need a peep hole. I watched the whole thing on my phone with no disturbance. And, of course, now I am obsessed with this and will be setting one up in all my cages so I can watch my chameleons do nothing all day.

 

Anyways, the camera picture had something to be desired. At least I was able to view where she was digging. And dig she did. She was ready and dug one hole in the middle, laid her eggs, and covered them up. Success! I gave the hard working mother a long misting session and a buffet of crickets, roaches, and superworms.

 

So, post game analysis.

First of all, camera was a great idea. I watched it happen in real time. I knew exactly where she laid. Next time I’ll get it inside the cage with better lighting.

The sand and soil disturbance method was also effective. Although, in this case, there wasn’t much subtlety. By time she was done with it, the bin looked like a land mine had gone off. She dug a huge hole and only filled it back in half way. So, there wasn’t much challenge in knowing where to dig. There was none of that stealth I talked about with this dig.

So, how about the clear sides? This didn’t work for me this time. It has worked perfectly every time before and showed me exactly where the eggs were. This time, however, none of the eggs were touching the sides or bottom or even on the rock layer. So, so much for giving me a text book success story for my podcast and video! I feel I need to do this again and prove the worth of this genius method!

 

She dug in the middle area where it was six inches deep. She really made a mess of the hole so I don’t know what that was about. Was she unhappy with it but happy enough to not abandon it? Could I have done something better? I do not know. But she did deposit the eggs about four inches down counting from the top of the soil to the top of the egg ball. But let’s be careful how we interpret that data. Does that mean it was a perfect laying site or that she was simply able to make due? This can only be answered by providing different test sites across the years and putting together patterns. This is why we chameleon people need patience!

 

So, let’s recap. I went the extra mile on this one. Is that necessary? The answer is that it usually is not. My last Veiled chameleon laid her eggs in a wheelbarrow with plain dirt in it. I just picked up her cage and put it on top of the dirt. She laid and we all went on with our lives. I did a fancy laybin for my female panther chameleon and she, for the third time, thumbed her nose at my fancy offering and laid, instead, in her pothos pot. Or her polka dot plant pot. Or, literally, anywhere other than my perfectly made laybin. My Parson’s female laid her eggs in the dirt floor of her outdoor cage. No special soil mixture, no root ball, just against the planter box wall. So, no, it really isn’t that complicated. Once again, what I presented here was a laying bin configuration that covers a variety of options and puts them into one bin. You may go your entire panther chameleon breeding life without having a single female that protests against being asked to deposit her eggs on top of a bed of vermiculite, in nice neat rows one inch apart. But if you run into a species you are not familiar with then it is good to have options to try with them. This is exactly what I did to get my deremensis to lay for me for first time. But, boy was deremensis a puzzle for me. We were providing laybins with different soil compositions, we were starting holes for them,…sometimes we try everything. Eventually, my deremensis just laid in the plain dirt and I never figured out what the fuss was about. But it is good to have these options available to us so we are ready if we need them. And if Tanzania ever opens up and someone has a gravid Matschiei I want you to have the greatest possibility for success because I would love to work with that species. See…I do have hidden motivations for building the best possible educated chameleon community. Better availability of captive hatched rare species for me!

By the way, when I talked about the female panther chameleon laying eggs in nice neat rows one inch apart I am making a joke about the debate between leaving them in a ball like they were laid and separating them out in rows. I have tried both methods and haven’t yet seen a difference in end result. Having eggs clumped together tends to get them all hatching at the same time, but I haven’t figured out what benefit there is to that in captivity. I’ll keep experimenting with it. It is the more natural way to have them in a ball, but I am unaware of any problem that needs solving in the way chameleons hatch out. But this is purely a personal judgement. If you incubate them in a ball more power to you. If you incubate them in rows, two thumbs up. Peace everyone. As always, I’ll keep you in the loop as I explore this. Feel free to enlighten me to your truth.

 

So there you have a simple laybin project. All of the parts can be found at your standard home improvement center. And, of course, a simple container 4 to 6” deep of soil or sand/soil mixture will work as well in most cases. But it would be a very short podcast if I just said that! Nope, the underlying lesson here is not just making a successful egg laying bin. It is attacking a problem creatively. It is the skill of see that there is an issue with something like egg laying and then putting together a number of options that let the female teach us what she needs. And it is up to us to put aside what we think we know and accept what we are taught. Compare that to the many other responses to egg laying for the species and we start to put together a picture that can be replicated with other keepers. And, finally, care sheets can be put together that will actually work in 90% of the cases. This is how we build community knowledge.

In the end, I was able to recover twenty beautifully calcified eggs which will go into the incubator right next to the 21 she laid earlier this year. Yes, she has been busy. Let’s hope all goes well and there are baby cristatus greeting me by the end of the year. We have a small Facebook group specializing in this species called the Trioceros cristatus community if you are interested in getting involved with this chameleon species.

Wrapping it up

It has been an event filled week at the Chameleon Academy. If you go to the home page of the chameleoncademy.com website you can find a link to our apparel storefront where you can get shirts, hoodies, and coffee mugs with the rainbow panther chameleon academy logo. It is very cool seeing people starting to show them off on social media. Please tag me if you do!

And I am starting in on a project I have wanted to do for years, but now it is time. I am going to be documenting each step of a panther chameleon breeding lifecycle. I’ll be recording it in written word, Youtube video , and podcast audio. Each media will have a different perspective on the topic and will complement each other. The first step is to select the locale and genetics to be used and I am deep into that. If you would like to follow along, go and subscribe on the Chameleon Academy YouTube channel. The first video, Selecting your Panther Chameleon, is out. That was the companion video to last week’s podcast episode. I am very excited to do this project and I think it will be a lot of fun to bring you along.

I think what this will accomplish is highlight the immense amount of experience that going through an entire breeding life cycle of a species entails. This is why you can’t be an expert by just memorizing the care sheets and what people are saying on social media. You need the experience to back it up. And, if you stick with me for another two years, you can be virtually by my side as I start at ground zero and build up a personal panther chameleon breeding project. A Story of Panther Chameleons will follow my obtaining one or two pairs of panther chameleon juveniles, sharing basic panther chameleon husbandry and growth milestones as they grow up, documenting the breeding process once they mature, and then we will spend the incubation time discussing baby care and the pros and cons of being an official breeder. The project will end when the babies  hatch out grow to the age I got the parents at in the next couple months.

I have a playlist set up on my YouTube channel and a special section on the website to document each chapter. On YouTube you can subscribe and if you want notifications of when the new videos are up you hit the little bell icon by the subscribed button. Of course, there are lots of chameleon related videos there as well outside this project.

Thank you for joining me here. I look forward to these new projects and am grateful that I can make these community projects. It is simply more enjoyable that way. And now, it is time for me to get to work on finishing the video companion on YouTube for this laybin episode so you can see what I did. I love the stuff I keep busy with! Take care, and I will be back next week!

 


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