How to Kill Your Chameleon

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Ok, nobody wants to kill their Chameleon.  The title of this article is just to get your attention.  Below are the top rookie mistakes that new Chameleon owners often make.  And yes, sadly, it does usually result in the death of the little animal.  Read on and see what common but deadly mistakes to avoid.

Improper Housing

The most common mistake rookie owners make is improper housing.  Do NOT put your Chameleon in an aquarium.  Yes, your brothers friend says his Chameleon does fine in an aquarium but every expert agrees that this is the worst environment for your little guy.  If you do nothing else, get him out of the aquarium and into a decent mesh cage.  He will thank you for it very much!

Why is an Aquarium such a bad environment? 

What should I use instead?

Beginners may want to buy a Reptarium by Apogee.  This inexpensive solution provides a decent mesh cage with lots of vertical height, air flow and drainage.

A better but more expensive solution is the custom cages built by the guys at www.cages.net

Make sure to have safe live plants in the cage suitable for climbing.  Pothos and Hibiscus are good starter plants.

 

Dehydration

The next most common problem that often kills a Chameleon is dehydration.  Your Chameleon can't drink from a dish.  He can only drink from droplets of water that are beaded up on leaves or from a dripping source of water.  Your cage needs lots of live plants which help boost humidity and serve as an excellent place for water to bead up.  Make sure to mist your Chameleon at least 2 to 3 times a day and provide a dripper for at least 15 minutes twice a day.  That said, you must allow the cage to dry between misting to avoid bacterial growth.

Keeping Animals Together

The only time adult Chameleons should be together is when they are mating - and only for short periods of time even then.  Chameleons are very territorial and will stress each other out greatly if they are caged together.  There are some reports of two females tolerating being caged together but that isn't ideal.  Babies can be housed together for the first few weeks of life provided there is enough room but not adults.

Temperature/Lighting

Each Chameleon species has it's own ideal temperature range and you should make sure you know the proper ranges for your animal.  Most Chameleons will do well if you provide a temperature gradient.  That means cooler at the bottom of the cage and warmer at the top.  Usually around 70F at the bottom and no more than 92F at the top.  A drop in temperature at night is also necessary.  Temperature should drop by at least 10 to 15 degrees but should not go below the minimum for your species (usually around 60F).  Don't just guess - measure your temperatures!

It should go without saying that any light you use must be outside your Chameleon's cage.  Your Chameleon will climb on anything and a light inside his cage is potentially deadly.

Another critical lighting issue is exposure to UVB.  Natural unfiltered sunlight is the best source of UVB by far.  Glass and plastic filter out UVB.  Of course you can't put your cages outside in the winter so a good quality light like the Reptisun 5.0 is a good choice.  5% UVB is the minimum acceptable level.  

Nutrition

You should try to provide a variety of prey for your chameleon.  Wax worms, Meal Worms, Superworms, Flies, Crickets, etc.  Avoid stinging insects, insects that may have been exposed to pesticides or animals (like the Horn Worm) that may feed on toxic plants.  Never allow ants near your Chameleon.  The general rule for prey sizes is never feed him anything wider than the width of your Chameleon's head.

Young animals and females have a need for calcium and all Chameleons will need additional supplementation.  There are a number of commercial gut loads and dusts you can use for your Chameleon.  Be aware that many commercial products that are labeled "Vitamin" are just that - vitamins.  They may not have any minerals!  

Also be aware that Vitamin A is toxic for your Chameleon and should be avoided.  You will want a supplement that is designed specifically for a Chameleon.  You will need both a calcium supplement and a vitamin supplement.  Check out  www.herpnutrition.com for some of the best products available.

Special Care for your Female Chameleon

If you are buying your first Chameleon stay away from a Female.  They are much harder to care for and tend to live only 2 to 3 years.  Males are more colorful and can live 5 to 7 years or more.

The worst problem with female Chameleons is egg laying.  Even if your female never mates, she will still produce and need to lay eggs once she becomes sexually mature around 8 months to 1 year of age.

Watch for a change in behavior.  Your female will start to pace around the bottom of the cage and look restless perhaps digging in the corners.  At this point you will need to get her into a laying bucket so she can release her eggs.  She probably won't lay them unless she has an appropriate laying environment.  If she doesn't lay her eggs, she will almost certainly die from a condition called "egg bound". 

A large garbage can half full of a tropical potting soil/sand mixture with a few plants, rocks and some bark will serve as a fine laying environment.  If you have a female about to lay her eggs you will want to do a bit more research on setting up the ideal environment for her.

If you want to make a really nice High Tech laying bucket check out this link.

More Information

You will want to check out a full care sheet, read books, join internet chat groups - the more you read and learn the healthier your pet will be.  Start here.