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Old World Chameleon Care

By: Dr. Rob L. Coke

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In nature, chameleons drink water from morning dewdrops or rain droplets. You should give a sufficient amount of water every day. They require a humid environment, which can be measured through a humidistat which can be purchased as an added feature of several of the newer digital thermometers.

Humidity requirements:

  • Jackson: 60 to 100 percent
  • Panther: 60 to 80 percent
  • Veiled: 40 to 60 percent

    Live plants can be used to aid in maintaining higher humidity levels, and you can mist the chameleon enclosure every 4 to 8 hours. Commercial misters are available, but a simple hand mister works well, too. An automatic watering system can be used on a timer to provide an even better source of water by eliminating human forgetfulness. Any watering system needs to be cleaned periodically (weekly) with a disinfectant to prevent bacteria buildup.

    Watering Methods

  • Misting or spraying by hand
  • Greenhouse misting system
  • Cool-mist humidifier (i.e., a humidifier that works by centrifugal force or by ultrasonic vaporization)
  • Dripping water source: commercial reptile water dripper; medical I.V. bag set to a slow drip; plastic cup with a pinhole in the bottom
  • Bowl with an air stone set to bubble the water to attract the chameleon's attention – least effective

    Heat

    Chameleons need to thermoregulate so they must be able to move between high and low temperatures within the enclosure. Heat can be provided by an incandescent house light bulb. Species heat requirements vary, so research your species for specific guidelines. Start with a low watt bulb and keep the heat source outside the enclosure and far enough away so that prolonged exposure is safe.

    Never exceed the recommended temperature for the species. Use a quality digital thermometer to determine the accurate temperatures.

    Nutrition

    In the wild, chameleons are omnivores and they are passive stalkers – they sit on tree limbs and wait for their next meal to come along. They stalk or even climb after their prey. When they spot something edible, they coat their tongue with a sticky saliva and open their mouths with the tongue protruding slightly. The tongue is about the length of the body, and the end of the tongue is a bundled, accordian folded muscle surrounding a modified hyoid bone. When released, the tongue sticks to and grabs the prey, then retracts and pulls the prey into the mouth.

    Chameleons eat a varied diet. In captivity, common food items include crickets, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, roaches – Madagascar hissing or other tropical species and wild-caught insects – grasshoppers and butterflies.

    Some new chameleons may not eat right away or go through periods of decreased appetite, so try to offer a variety of prey items and rotate these different prey items. To prevent "food burnout" you can treat your pet to a feeding of grasshoppers or butterflies once or twice a week. Remember: If you use insects gathered from the wild, make sure they have not been exposed to pesticides, and do not feed lightening bugs; recent reports have shown these insects to be very toxic to some reptiles.

    Gut-Loading

    Gut-Loading is the process where one feeds a good diet to the prey insects to increase the nutrient content of the ingesta (food in the intestines) of the insect. The body of the insect itself is relatively poor in nutritional value. The contents of the gut are what provide the reptile the proper nutrition. Proper gut-loading decreases the need for external supplementation.

    Food items should be:

  • Sweet potatoes, fresh greens, carrots, rolled oats, apples, ground legumes, oranges and corn meal

  • Grain mixes or chicken laying mash found in co-ops and feed stores (must be FREE from any additive chemicals or medications)

  • A calcium source, such as alfalfa pellets, greens, or calcium carbonate, should be added to the cricket cage to provide higher ingested calcium levels

    Dusting

    Insects can be dusted with vitamin supplements by placing them in a plastic bag or tube with a small amount of the supplement powder and shaken until they are coated. Several different brands are available, so read the labels for calcium and phosphorus content. The calcium to phosphorus ratio should be around 2:1.

    Recommendations for supplementing:

  • Adults – weekly to twice weekly
  • Gravid (egg-laying) females – every feeding
  • Juveniles – every feeding to every other feeding

    Some chameleons, especially veiled chameleons, may ingest some of the live vegetation in the cage to supplement their water intake and may even accept a small dish of leafy greens and vegetables.

    Common Diseases and Disorders

    All new chameleons should be examined after purchase by a veterinarian with reptile medical experience. Experience specifically with chameleons is not required but it is an added bonus. And once your pet is large enough to produce a sizable stool, he should have a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites.

    Chameleons are affected by many diseases. Some of these include:

  • Metabolic bone disease (calcium deficiency) due to improper husbandry
  • Trauma due to intraspecies aggression
  • Stomatitis (mouth rot) due to improper husbandry
  • Parasites when not properly dewormed
  • Egg-binding (dystocia) due to not providing a proper laying spot
  • Foot/claw damage due to rough coated or too small of screen
  • Eye problems
  • Shipping stress in newly imported chameleons is the number one cause of death and may cause anorexia and dehydration

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