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Reptiles Magazine - Sep/October 2016 Issue
Chameleon Husbandry

Care & Housing
Food

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Care & Housing

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If you read information on chameleon care and maintenance, you will see varying methods of approach to many subjects such as housing, lighting, feeding, supplementation and breeding. The chameleon care information we provide for our customers comes from our individual experience with the animals we love and care for.

Your past and future experiences with chameleons may vary to one degree or another. What we have to offer in the way of advise or suggestions is by no means the "ONLY WAY" or approach. Our hope is that the chameleon care instructions and warnings that we have learned along the way, may be beneficial to those who are interested. Any specific care questions or subject matters we have not covered, we would be happy to address with you, one on one, via e-mail or a phone call.

Chameleon care is like a fine art that is continually undergoing refinement. As we personally press forward and learn more about these magnificent creatures, we will update our care information as well.

Best wishes to each one of you as you continue to gain knowledge and experience with our common interest,
CHAMELEONS

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Caging: 

Our favorite cage source – www.dragonstrand.com
We love all of Bill’s cage designs, the Medium Atrium Cage (28.5″ Wide x 29.5″ High x 18″ Deep) being our top pick, as babies and adults alike do well in these dimensions.

 Other common cage sizes -
Baby Size: 24"L x 12"W x 24"H
Juvenile Size: 24"L x 16"W x 30"H
Adult Size: 30"L x 18"W x 36"H  

We keep the bottom of our cages clean and free of any substrate.  Standing water or waste should be cleaned out on a regular basis in order to avoid potential bacterial growth. If you go with a cage from Dragon Strand, be sure to purchase a drainage tray to make cleanup a breeze!

Example of Dragon Strand's Medium Atrium Cage -


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Lighting - Heat and UVB:
(Click here to view the lighting section of our online store
When housing our chameleons indoors, lighting plays a crucial role in their health and well-being.  
Two forms of lighting are required, UVB and heat - 

Materials Needed -
(1) - UV Florescent Light Fixture
(1) - Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 florescent bulb or comparable UV bulb
(1) - Clamp Lamp Fixture
(1) - Incandescent light bulb for heat

UVB: This bulb simulates natural sunlight.  UV rays are important not only for the provision of vitamin D3 (necessary for absorption of calcium), but also for proper health and psychological well-being.  UV exposure helps to elevate a chameleon's mood, activity level and appetite. We recommend something like Zoo Med’s Reptisun 5.0. There are two styles of this particular bulb, either the standard T8 Reptisun 5.0, or the newer T5 Reptisun 5.0 HO (high output). The strength of the UVB bulb being used is going to dictate where you want to place your basking perch. Here is a quick rundown of what we have found to be safe and optimal branch placement -
For Zoo Med's T8 Reptisun 5.0 - anchor a horizontal basking perch 7 inches below the bulb
For Zoo Med's T5 Reptisun 5.0 HO - anchor a horizontal basking perch about 10 inches below the
bulb 

Heat
: In addition to the UVB bulb, an incandescent bulb is necessary to provide proper heating. When it comes to setting up the appropriate temperature gradient, keep in mind that panthers do best in an ambient room temperature that remains in the low - mid 70's. Wattage of your heat bulb will depend on a couple things such as cage size, and ambient room temperature, so have a thermometer handy so that you can make sure that your temperatures are suitable. Panthers should be provided with a basking site that reaches 88 – 93F.  A branch can be placed horizontally underneath the basking area where the chameleon can relax and enjoy the warmth.  The branch should be no closer than 6 inches below the screen top so as to avoid accidental burns to your chameleon. The incandescent bulb, which fits in a clamp lamp fixture, should be located in one corner (avoid the middle) on the screen top of the cage, that way, the hot spot is a very localized area with plenty of areas to escape the heat when it's time to cool down. When your chameleon wants to warm up under the heat light, he/she will go over to bask, and if not, there should be plenty of other cooler areas in the enclosure to go to. 

Set both lights on a 12 hour daylight cycle with a light timer. Both forms of lighting should be off at night.  Just as chameleons in the wild have a cooling down period during the night, we need to provide this in captivity as well.   Unless the temperatures inside your home fall below 65 degrees F in the wintertime, no additional heat source at night (such as a ceramic heat lamp) will be necessary. 

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Plants:
(Click here to view the foliage section of our online store

Live VS Artificial
?? What are our thoughts on the age-old topic?
We recommend both artificial and living plants to include in your chameleon's enclosure. There are perks to each method. Either/or works . . . or how about a combination of both?? Have fun with it. Setting up your chameleon's home should be an enjoyable task. Think, "creating your own beautiful little slice of rainforest". 

Artificial
When going with artificial, stick with something that is going to hold waterdroplets so that your chameleon has lots of surfaces to drink off of. This is why we typically go with plastic over cloth or silk plants, since this type of material will usually just soak up the water droplets. If you wish to include some cloth plants, just make sure that there are plenty of other suitable leafy surfaces for your chameleon to drink from.

Live: When going with something live, choose a healthy plant that fits the cage nicely, both in fullness and height.
Some popuular live plants include:
 
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Umbrella Tree (Schefflera arboricola)
Money Tree (Pachira aquatica)
Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)

Due to pesticide and fertilizer use in most plant nurseries, whenever you introduce a new plant to your animal's enclosure, there are some preparation steps to take beforehand.  Many nursery's and garden centers use pesticides to protect the plants, but these same pesticides can be harmful (and even fatal) to your chameleon if ingested. 
Here are some simple steps to follow before introducing a new live plant to your chameleon's home -

Step 1:  Take a clean bucket and fill it with a squirt of antibacterial soap and water.  Create a soapy solution.  Invert the plant "head down" into the water and swish around.   Let the plant sit for 3-5 minutes.

Step 2:  Rinse the plant thoroughly so that any soap solution is removed.   Repeat steps 1 and 2 a second or even a third time.

Step 3:  The potting soil the plant originally comes in may contain fertilizers and soil additives that could be detrimental to your animal.  Crickets often go into the potting soil of the plant and if your chameleon shoots for the cricket, you don't want him/her to draw back nitrate fertilizers along with their prey.  A simple way to remedy this is to purchase a small bag of “Super Soil" (without conditioners) and replace the top 3-4" of soil in the plant container. 

Once your plant is properly cleaned and the topsoil is replaced, you can rest easy that it's now ready for a new home with your chameleon.

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Branches and Vines:
(Click here to view the branches section of our online store

Branches and vines are an oh-so-important yet oftentimes overlooked aspect of good chameleon husbandry. We tell our customers to consider the branches as your chameleon's perching areas and basking sites. Consider the vines as your chameleon's personal highway, strategically placed so that he or she can travel to each perch, with ease.

Branches
: 
Branch Selection: There are several things to keep in mind when selecting the best branches for our chameleons. We use natural branches, collected locally, and then sanitized before being introduced to our cages. We like to use hardwoods such as oak and birch, as they are non-toxic and hold up to water nicely. Always avoid pine, eucalyptus, or anything with a strong fragrance or heavy sap, as things of this nature can be toxic to our chameleons. Also, avoid things like bulky grapevine, uniform dowel rods, or store bought bamboo. Variety is key! You want to select branches with all sorts of different diameters and textures so that your chameleon's unique, grippy little feet have a variety of options to grasp onto. 
To sanitize branches that are collected from outside, we use a diluted bleach/water solution. We soak and scrub our branches in the solution, and rinse thoroughly so that not a trace of bleach remains before introducing them to our cages. Another popular method of disinfecting chameleon branches is to bake them in the oven. 

Branch Placement: Your chameleon is going to spend the majority of his or her time perching on branches inside of the cage, so think like a chameleon when you set up the habitat. Keep in mind too that you will want to dedicate two branches as the “basking sites”, one underneath the heat bulb, and one underneath the UVB bulb. As talked about in the lighting segment, for heat, run a sturdy, horizontal branch underneath the heat bulb, right where you get a reading of 88 – 93F degrees. For UVB, if using Zoo Med’s T8 Reptisun 5.0, run a sturdy, horizontal branch about 7 inches below the bulb. If using Zoo Med’s T5 (High Output) Reptisun 5.0, secure that branch about 10 inches below the bulb. Aside from creating the appropriate “basking sites”, you will also want to anchor horizontal branches throughout the remainder of the enclosure so that your chameleon has plenty of comfortable perches to hang out and travel around on. The thought is to give them different levels underneath the highest basking points, that way, they can pick and choose exactly how much UVB or heat they would like to take in at that time. 


Vines: 
So, since your branches are going to make good perching areas, your chameleon is going to need a little highway to get from perch to perch. This is where vines come in handy. We are big fans of Zoo Med’s “Flexible Hanging Vine”, as it has tons of little vines that branch off from the big vine, allowing you to attach it to all sorts of different branches throughout the cage. When you are setting up this “highway” for your chameleon, the point is to set it up in such a way where the animal will not feel the need to use the screen to get from point A to point B. There will be times where they chooses the screen anyway, however, you don’t want the screen to be the only means of getting around their enclosure. 

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Watering and Drainage Solutions:
Hydration can be offered by hand, or with an automated misting system. 
Misting is crucial when it comes to providing hydration, humidity spikes, and a means of hygiene. 


Automated Misting System - our preferred method:

If you know that you will be away during the majority of each day, or prefer the ease of not having to worry about hand misting, a good automated misting system is one of the best investments in chameleon husbandry that you can make. I recommend going with something that is going to last and has all of the functions that your chameleon is going to benefit from.  
Mistking (www.mistking.com) is a good one! You can set your misting duration for as long as you would like which is awesome, considering how much panther chameleons benefit from at least one long daily shower. 
Out of the commercially available misting systems,
Exo Terra’s Monsoon is the one that we like best. It’s internal settings do not allow for a misting duration over 120 seconds, however, this is not much of a problem since it can easily be overridden by simply hitting the on button. 

Misting Schedule - When it comes to creating the appropriate misting schedule, making sure that there is at least one long daily rain shower in the mix is incredibly benneficial. 
Not only does this give them a good opportunity to drink, long showers also serve as a means of hygiene. We catch our chameleons sitting right under the mist in order to assist with a shed, or to clean out their eyes. This is why we prefer providing water with a good automated misting system. An ideal schedule would be providing one 10 minute shower (preferably about an hour after lights pop on), along with a couple shorter 2 - 5 minute showers spread out throughout the day. NOTE - Just make sure that the cage has time to dry out between misting sessions. You do not want your cage remaining damp 100% of the day.  


Hand Misting/Dripping
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You will need a spray bottle for misting, and a "dripper":
When misting by hand, you will want to thoroughly spray your chameleon’s enclosure, making sure all of the plants are completely saturated, at least 2 – 3 times daily. In addition, you will want to run a dripper about one hour after the lights come on, for at least 10 - 15 minutes.     

Hand misting alone won’t totally cut it. The addition of a dripper is critical as it attracts their attention and allows for a longer drinking opportunity. Something like Zoo Med's "Little Dripper" will get the job done. After your morning hand misting session, you can fill the chameleon's drip reservoir with fresh water and place it on the screen top so that it drips over the interior plant(s). Setting the nozzle to one drip per second usually catches their eye. If you do not have a drainage tray, you may use a shallow catch plate/bowl underneath the plant to hold any excess water. 

Our favorite drainage solution:
We know from experience that a long daily shower or drip session will cause flooding at the bottom of the cage if you do not have some sort of drainage solution. For many years, our customers have had to get super creative with designing their own DIY drainage trays in order to avoid that dreaded flood situation. But now, our favorite caging company does the hard work for us!! Dragon Strand designs drainage trays to fit each of their caging styles as well as some of the more commercially available cages out there. These trays are designed to sit under the cage (NOT inside) in order to catch all of that excess water. Definitely one of the best chameleon husbandry related products, of all time. You can learn more about them (and even purchase one) here - http://dragonstrand.com/drainage-tray-solutions/
Just be sure to find the one that fits your exact cage dimensions!  

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Handling/Human Interaction:

Often we are asked, "Is it ok to handle my chameleon?" Each panther chameleon will have his or her own personal feelings about human interaction. Some don’t seem to mind it much, while others will do anything in their power to let you know just how little they enjoy being handled. With a little patience, most panther chameleons come to tolerate at least a small amount of interaction. Certain individuals even seem to enjoy time spent outside of their cage.

Please give your chameleon a couple of weeks to settle in when he/she first arrives.  Once they've had a chance to adjust to their new surroundings, you may begin handling them for brief periods of time (5 minutes at first) when you have the opportunity. Be aware of the signs of stress. Gaping of the mouth, the "chameleon salute" (as described by Bill Strand in the Chameleon Breeder Podcast), angry colors, flattening of the body, sunken or closed eyes, etc. These are all stress indicators that our chameleons give us when they have had enough. Keeping the “hang out sessions” short at first will eliminate as much unnecessary stress as possible, while you work on building trust with your new chameleon. Carefully remove them from their enclosure and sit quietly on a chair or couch and allow them to crawl on you and explore new territory. 

Be aware that when they are little, they see you as a GIANT predator that will more than likely snap them up at any given moment and eat them for a snack!  They are programmed with a "flight or fight" response and may even fling themselves off of you to avoid being “eaten”!  Be prepared for that possibility and avoid letting them fall to the ground risking serious injury.  Over time and as they mature, they learn that you mean them no harm.  They aren't the snack . . . you actually bring them tasty snacks and take wonderful care of them.  Trust is patiently built over time and before long, you will hopefully have a sweet chameleon on your hands.  Each one has a different personality (like people . . . outgoing, standoffish, shy, inquisitive) and over time you'll get to know more about your individual pet.  

There is an EXCELLENT episode of the Chameleon Breeder Podcast on chameleons and stress that you can listen to for free. Click here to check it out!

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Examples of Suitable Enclosures:
"Creating your very own slice of rainforest"

An example of a live plants only cage design, with pothos, an umbrella tree, money tree, and a polka dot plant all being used. The cage itself is Dragon Strand's Medium Atrium Cage, all screen version. A Kammerflage favorite!



An example of a strictly artificial plant design. The pants being used are Zoo Med's "Natural Bush Plants" (in large), as well as an artificial red accent flower. The cage being used here is one of Dragon Strand's Medium Tall Breeder Cages. Another Kammerflage favorite! All of Bill's solid-sided caging is great for those who live in dryer and/or cooler climates. Plus, they look fantastic!



Another example of a strictly artificial plant design, using Zoo Med's "Natural Bush Plants" in large. The all mesh cage being used here is one of Zoo Med's Large Reptibreeze.


Simple step by step, courtesy of our friend, Anthony Napolitan
:

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We will leave you off with -

Learn how to create a successful chameleon habitat with Bill Strand! 
Whether you are a brand new keeper or have years and years of experience, I encourage ALL to take a listen to this episode of the Chameleon Breeder Podcast.
It is my homework to you!

How to listen?! 
CLICK HERE for direct link
Or, listen directly on iTunes, the iHeart Radio App, or the Chameleon Breeder Podcast App (available for Apple users).

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Thank you so much for reading!

 

 

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