Research, Research, Research!

This is perhaps more of an opinion blog than a strictly educational one, but nonetheless, I believe it should at least inspire some people to take learning about anything into their own hands.

It's important to understand why we do what we do as far as reptile husbandry. But don't just read one source, read as many as you can and form your own best-educated decision. So research books, websites, blogs, forums and speak to experts to make sure you're getting the right information. Never just what someone at a pet store wants you to think so they can sell you more unnecessary supplies. 
I just recently graduated from a Florida university with a degree and a minor in biological sciences, and I have a combined 15 years of experience working with exotic and domestic animals in vet clinics, wildlife centers, rehabilitation centers, and zoos both in the United States as well as around the world. I have been keeping and breeding animals all my life, but more seriously in the last 6 years or so. I mention all of this because I also want to say that up until a very short while I also worked part time at a local pet store that specializes in exotic pets, working for their reptile department.

I used to spend my weekends and some weekdays talking to customers, both in person and over the phone, about their current pets, what supplies they needed, which ones they didn't, and recommending how to care for a new pet reptile if they chose to take one home. Because of my education and background with these animals, it became apparent to most customers that they could trust my recommendations. I would tell them which supplies they needed for a new pet, which ones were a waste of money, and why each one mattered so they could understand why they needed what they were getting. Often, previous customers would purposely come back during my work hours to talk to me, specifically.

Now, on the flip side of this was one of my co-workers. He had previously made his money working as a used car salesman, and was hired at the store in an hour of need for his experience in selling, but this man had never owned more than a single snake that he had inherited from a friend. He did not understand any of the supplements, did not know there was a difference between UVA or UVB, did not care to send an animal home with a 150w basking bulb that would eventually cook it, his bottom line was just to sell. Once I started working there I found myself correcting his fatally incorrect information continuously, such as not giving chameleons calcium with vitamin D3 in it every day, as he was recommending, or not putting several males of a species together because they would eventually fight each other to the death. Frankly, he was possibly one of the worst qualified people I have ever come across working in anything related to animals. But he was good at faking confidence in his information, so he sounded believable.

I say all this to underline the importance of knowing where your information comes from. Do not trust just one opinion, do your own research and look into multiple sources of information to form the most thorough opinion you can!

Imagine being a customer that has no previous knowledge of how to care for a gecko and you end up speaking to one of us. If it were me, having kept geckos before, I would be capable of giving you accurate information to keep a gecko successfully for years. But if it were him, you may leave with poor information, inappropriate supplies, and not know any better because he seemed competent.

This is often the case with 90% of all pet stores across the nation, who hire people who are hard working or good at sales but have little or no knowledge about the animals they are selling. Every so often you are lucky to find someone who keeps/breeds animals personally and can help, or you run across a person who is in college learning about the animals they sell (like another coworker who was a marine biology student selling fish, and was because of it super competent and reliable). But most of the time they are simply people who were hired to fill a position, regardless of whether they have experience or not.

So when you approach the subject of looking into a new pet, or want to learn more about how to care for a pet you already have, research research research!

Never look at just one source (even this blog), look at lots of different blogs, websites, books, and forums. Read all the different opinions you can, research the ones that confuse you, and use a little common sense to determine which opinions you can trust and which ones are incorrect. Because there are many ways of keeping these animals successfully, and not all of them may work for you and your situation. So read, research, and read some more. Talk to breeders, find experts at reptile shows, and email professionals in the hobby. But do not rely on a single source to give you the most complete and accurate information.

So don't get stuck caring for a pet the way a salesman wants you to think you have to, do your own research and save yourself money, effort, and heartache.

Panther Chameleon Breeding - The Eggs

This is Part II in my three part documentation of my first successful panther chameleon breeding. This one will focus primarily on the eggs, from beginning to end, the changes they underwent, and how I went about caring for the clutch as it developed. 

Following the successful mating on November 28, 2011, the female laid 24 eggs on December 18-24, 2011 while I was out of town, just shy of 4 weeks after mating. She laid the eggs in a plant pot that measures 13" deep by 11" across at the top, filled to the top with moist, organic potting soil. She buried them all the way at the bottom of the pot, as is typical.

*NOTE - Females need somewhere to dig and bury their eggs when they are ready or they will succumb to a condition known as egg-binding, in which the female is no longer able to lay the eggs and will die unless immediate veterinary assistance is provided. Not enough calcium in the diet and other nutritional/health issues will also prevent a female from laying eggs. Refer to Part I of this breeding blog series for more information. 

I very carefully and slowly scooped dirt from the laying pot until I uncovered the first egg. Then, with a sterilized set of tweezers I began removing each egg and placing it in the incubating container the way in which it was laid (that is, I do not roll them around). I used tweezers because the oil on your fingers can clog the outside of the egg and make air exchange difficult or impossible. Powder-free gloves are also good. I continued this process until every egg was excavated and they were all neatly lined up in the laying container.

THE CONTAINER - Something like a tupperware container with a tight lid will work the best for incubating the eggs. It does not need to be a very deep one, so the kind that are used to store sandwiches are generally the best. The incubating medium can be something like vermiculite, perlite, or Superhatch, etc. but it all needs to be moistened to the point where you can only squeeze a single drop or two from a fist of it. This will keep the humidity high in the container. A pin hole can be made in the container for air exchange but you can also simply open it once every few weeks for a moment. You may have to re-mist the media to maintain the humidity very high (but do not spray the eggs directly).

December 28 - Just a few days after being buried in soil, I dug them up and placed them in the incubating container with moist vermiculite. 
Once the eggs are set-up correctly, indented into the incubating medium, the container does not need to be placed in an incubator, like you would with snake or bearded dragon eggs. Experienced breeders say that they found that clutches incubated at cooler temperatures (mid-70's F) produced stronger and more robust babies than clutches incubated at 80-85 F. So in most cases the eggs could be kept in a closet or cabinet where the temperature remains at about room temperature very constantly. Mine were kept in my reptile room, which does fluctuate in temperature from day to night, so mine were not subject to extremely constant temperatures. Whether this makes a difference, I have yet to determine, but some breeders seem to suggest that a fluctuation is natural and healthy. Ultimately, do your own research and decide which method seems best to you.

The rest is just waiting, unfortunately!

Lots and lots of waiting....

The eggs after 4 months of incubation. They have grown a little bit!

This photo and the one above show the eggs at 5 months of incubation, first compared in size to an American quarter and then with a 50c Euro, for my European friends and readers.
Here are the eggs at 7 months of incubation. One egg has dramatically increased in size, for unknown reasons. 
By month 9 of incubation, the eggs are showing much more dramatic signs of hatching. The eggs are starting to show crackling and transparency, both of which are good signs. 
After 9 months and 17 days of waiting... results! The first baby hatched on October 6, 2012.


But because this is not the part that deals with babies (or neonates), we will continue to see how the remaining eggs changed and developed as more hatchlings emerged. On October 8, just 2 days following the hatching of the first baby, the remaining eggs underwent more dramatic changes. It is recommended to leave any hatchlings in the bin with the eggs for a short while before being removed, as it is believed that the hatchlings must signal the others to hatch by some method not yet understood - it may be pheromones or it may just by touch, but it seems to help move things along.

So on October 8 several of the eggs began to sweat and others became much more transparent.


On October 8 a second baby pips the egg shell and sits, waiting to emerge completely. 
 On October 9, the following day, the eggs that began to sweat the day before have now started to shrink in size, another sign that more hatchlings are imminent. Notice the couple eggs that are split at one end, indicating that a baby has piped the egg.


By October 11, several more babies have hatched and the ones that are about to look more and more transparent. A couple towards the top shrank and hardened, which in this case meant that the eggs weren't going to hatch.


NOTES. 
- In the case of this clutch, some of the eggs did shrink and harden, and then not hatch. Of the 24 eggs I had at the beginning, 3 proved not to be fertile. Upon dissection of some of these hardened eggs some had fully-formed babies that never hatched and others were duds, full of yellow jelly. Why these eggs never hatched probably had to do with the humidity perhaps not being as high as it should have been. I may have been able to help them survive had I cut the eggs open myself but I didn't want to for two reasons: 1. I did not want to risk injuring the babies in the process, since they are so tiny. My scalpel could have cut them and injured them seriously if my hand slipped or was not gentle enough. And 2. because I did not want to help hatchlings that perhaps just weren't strong enough to survive, when the other half of the eggs hatched quickly and without help.

- It was recommended to me that empty egg shells remain in the container with the others, perhaps because they release pheromones or other signals that stimulate the other eggs to hatch.

If I had to do this over again, there are a few things I would change slightly to improve my hatch rate. But at this time I am pleased with the very manageable number of hatchlings that resulted from this clutch, which means that I will be less overwhelmed when learning how to raise and care for them until they go to their new homes.

Part III, on raising the hatchlings, will follow shortly.



Panther Chameleon Breeding - Mating

This is Part I in my three-part documentation of my first successful panther chameleon breeding. This one will focus primarily on the pre-breeding care for the females, the coupling itself, the laying process, and post-breeding care for the female.

Panther males are not very romantic. 
This really began years ago when I raised my favorite panther male, a Nosy Faly x Ambanja cross, and decided that instead of trying to breed my Ambilobes or Nosy Bes, that I would make my project breeding panthers for the sake of color (my color preferences, honestly) instead of just purity of locale. This lead to the purchase of my female several months later, when I found a girl from a lineage I really liked as well. She is a cross of Nosy Be x Ambanja x Sambava, with the blues in her genetics reigning supreme. I've always loved very blue chameleons with red bars or spots, and I thought her mix was perfect. And with a little research, I could trace back her ancestry to 5 generations back, which is especially critical when breeding crosses ethically. 

NOTE: I mention her lineage because picking the lineage of the female is just as important as that of the male. It's easy to overlook females since they all look the same, but they carry 50% of what will make up your hacthlings, so make sure that 50% counts! 

Pre-Breeding

 Ideally, a female should not be bred until she is about a year old or older, as before then she is still growing herself and needs the calcium and other vitamins/minerals in her diet to keep growing herself. Making her deal with creating upwards of 40-50 eggs with all the essential nutrients they need to grow healthy babies for a 6-10 month incubation is tough. And small females may suffer internal damage if they lay eggs that they are not big enough to pass. That's why it's wise to let females reach their adult size at about a year - year and a half.

Nutrition

During this time, her diet needs to be perfect. This doesn't mean that she needs to eat like a pig every day, no. But she does need a healthy, varied diet of several different insect species very well gut-loaded, and dutiful calcium supplementation. The healthier she is even before she mates and makes eggs, the better the eggs will turn out. So dust her meals lightly with a phosphorous-free calcium without any additional vitamins most meals, and then a multivitamin about 2-3 times monthly lightly.

Mating

A female chameleon will only mate when she is receptive, and will attempt to fight off the male viciously otherwise. Typically a female's coloration changes when she is receptive, changing to a bright peach or pink. This would signal to a male that she is ready to mate. In my experience, my female will get extremely restless and will pace her cage looking for a male to mate with, which is when I will usually introduce her to my male. However, they do not always become very restless, so you can hold your female outside of your male's cage and see how she reacts. If she turns dark, gapes, and hisses she is certainly not ready!


You can try this once a week if you are sure she's becoming receptive and gauge their reactions. If she stays fairly light, doesn't gape or hiss then she may be interested. In this case, you may put him in her cage (I do this because she is more familiar with where to hide if she needs to) or put them both in a neutral place like a ficus tree. She will not run away, but she may walk away slowly, hinting that he needs to chase her. He, on the other hand, will bob his head and usually display intense colors, especially black spokes around their eye turrets. He will (especially the first time) clumsily follow behind her, try to stand on her, and mate with her. This may take a little time and he may not accomplish it the first time, especially if he knows people are watching. I will usually leave my female in with my male for a few hours, so I know that they have mated a couple times at least.


Gravid with Eggs

Hormonal changes in her body will change her coloration to darker, gravid (pregnant) colors immediately, especially if she is still with the male and would rather not see him again.Do not be alarmed if she is almost black with some peach spots, this is normal gravid coloration for a female. You have anywhere from 3-6 weeks for her to lay the eggs (30 days is the average, although mine took 3 weeks) so during this time make sure that her diet stays really strong. Lots of good calcium sources and supplementation and lots of outdoor sunshine time too if possible. She will gain weight during this time and become more rotund around her lower torso. When she is approaching the time to lay eggs she may begin to refuse food (or not) but do not be alarmed if she does begin to refuse food. She may also begin to get restless, and pace her cage looking for an adequate place to lay her eggs. 

NOTE: Females can lay up to 3 clutches of eggs from a single mating. They store sperm and will use it to fertilize eggs 2-3 times, not just the first time. They may not all be fertile the second or third time but some may.

Laying the Eggs

She will need an egg laying container. I outlined how to make one in this previous blog, On the Specific Care of Females, but will go over it again quickly. She will need an opaque container at least 12" deep and another 8-12" wide filled with 12" of moist sand or soil. I use a mixture of about 70:30 organic topsoil to sand, personally, but either works fine alone. And it must be moist enough to hold a tunnel without collapsing, but not wet. If it is too wet it may collapse or the eggs may drown in standing water when she lays them, as she will dig all the way to the bottom of the container. 

During this time she needs lots of privacy! If a female catches you watching her too many times she may feel unsafe and just abandon laying altogether, which can lead to a very deadly condition known as egg binding. So drape a sheet over the cage if you have to, but if you see her starting to mess with her laying bin it is best to leave her completely alone. She can go without food for a few days, and you can set up a dripper over the cage to provide her with water if she needs it. It can take up to 3 days for them to dig a tunnel they like, lay the eggs, and cover them up again. She may even sleep in the tunnel. 

However, if a female is stubborn and will not use a laying bin for whatever reason there is a trick you can try. I will take a kitchen trash can and fill it with 12" of soil/sand mix and leave her in there with no way out. She may scratch around a little at the sides but after a little time if she really needs to lay she will settle down to the task at hand. Sometimes it seems that females will wander excessively looking for a suitable place to lay, unconvinced that the bucket in her cage is really the "ground," so leaving her in a trash can usually does the trick. 


You will know she is done because she will be thin, dirty, and basking under her light.

Post-Laying Care


Immediately when you notice your female has finished laying give her a nice long misting (you can even give her one with warm water, which they usually appreciate very much) and offer her food supplemented with calcium. She will be exhausted and hungry, and they will usually eat immediately. I would allow her to eat as much as she wants for about 4-5 days afterwards to recover and then put her back on her regular diet. If you have access to liquid calcium, a drop or two daily during this time will be a great help as well. She may lay a retained clutch in another 2 months, so it is important to get her healthy and well fed for that. Always be very diligent with the diet of a female, as laying eggs with poor nutrition will only shorten the life of a female that much more. 


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Information on how to dig up the eggs will be found in Part 2 of this blog series: 



And Part 3:




Caution When Buying From A Show - Continued

In my last post I cautioned about what to keep in mind when buying a chameleon from a reptile show: http://muchadoaboutchameleons.blogspot.com/2012/07/use-caution-when-buying-chameleons-from.html
I recently attended one of the largest reptile shows on the East coast and came home with a new panther, and wanted to take the time to share a direct experience to illustrate the risks and pros.

While at the show there were several chameleon vendors, with a few of them selling older panther chameleon males. One of these vendors had a world-renowned reptile vet assisting them, so I was confident that they were reputable vendors with healthy animals or this vet would not have associated himself with them. However, they only had Nosy Be panthers available, and I was looking for something extremely red, not extremely blue. My search led me to one vendor who had what I would consider several signs to be cautious about.*

* Because I've dealt with lots of chameleon issues I decided to take the risk, but I am describing the signs so that others may be better informed and make educated decisions about who they choose to buy from. 

The signs that worried me were these:
1. In each cage they had as many as 5 nearly full-grown male panthers, all about 8-9+ months old.
2. Nearly all the individuals were dark, many towards the bottom with one or two brighter individuals towards the top, signaling who the dominant and submissive animals were. All of them looked stressed and uncomfortable.
3. The cages were very bare, with only a handful of dowel rods set up for the chameleons to climb on, so many of them were climbing the screen, which is bad for big, heavy males.
4. Nearly all their nails were worn completely down and their nose ridge (rostral process) was also worn down, indicative of animals that climb and rub against the screen a lot. This is usually associated with animals whose cages are not well planted and have a poor amount of climbing branches.

Despite all of this I saw a panther who was exactly what I was looking for, and after handling him for a moment I decided to take the risk. The reasons I decided to buy the animal regardless of how their displays were are as follows:
1. His eyes looked good; not sunken and not full of discharge. They looked bright, hydrated, and alert.
2. His mouth (exterior) looked good as well, with no deformities along the lips and no apparent discharge, scabs, or dark areas.
3. The fat pads on his head looked great, nice and full, and his body weight was ideal.
4.  His temperament was super docile and calm, which is something I prefer in my pet chameleons.


I decided that he looked good and healthy enough to take the risk so I purchased him, and knew that I could handle any issues as they arose if they popped up. And true enough, they did start to pop up. I let him settle in for a few days, like any new pet, and kept offering a cricket or two to see if he would start eating. After day 5 I noticed that he really still hadn't eaten, which struck me as unusual, since by now my chameleons feel a lot more comfortable. But when I had the cricket bin out I noticed that he, like the others, was waiting by the door for food so I could tell he was hungry. But when I held out a cricket for him he was incapable of shooting out his tongue any sort of distance and had to walk right up to the insect in order to eat it.

I took him to a dear vet friend of mine and after an examination, we discovered that his throat (glottis) was inflamed  so he was given a shot of steroids to bring down the swelling and a dose of Baytril as well, for good measure. Only a week later his tongue seemed somewhat improved, and the swelling was dramatically better. He was also started on my supplement and nutrition regimen, which included lots of calcium to aid in fixing any muscular issues resulting in low blood calcium levels, as well as vitamins and a varied diet on well-gutloaded insects. He still cannot shoot his tongue farther than 4" away and has to be cup/hand fed as a result, but is otherwise a great eater. He will probably be a special needs eater for the rest of his life, probably, but this is ok as I don't mind spending the extra time.


He is, however, a good example of why it pays to be attentive when buying from shows or pet stores and recognize all the possible signs of something possibly being wrong with the animal you purchase. I recognized the risks and lunged at the opportunity anyway, but if you recognize the risks be very honest with yourself and your level of experience in dealing with possible issues.

All this said, the breeder very kindly refunded enough money to cover the vet expenses for treating and and getting him better, and the entire time the breeder was nothing but courteous, concerned, and helpful. As a person I was extremely impressed with how he handled the situation and highly credit him for it, and would buy from him again as long as I got to see his animals before purchasing one. But as a small breeder I don't doubt that they will continue to grow and get things better worked out for future shows and displays.

Castiel, the Ambilobe panther chameleon, is now very happily settled into his cage and enjoying lots of food and Florida sunshine.


Use Caution When Buying Chameleons From Reptile Shows

Particularly in the United States, there is typically a reptile show once a month in one state or another. Florida and California in particular are hot spots for reptile breeder expos and are a great place to spend a few hours looking at snakes, lizards, invertebrates, and a few exotic mammals, find lots of reptile supplies in a single place without having to pay shipping, and purchase animals for typically reduced prices. I myself have brought home many pet reptiles from these events and always have a great time looking around and saying hi to reptile vendors or enthusiasts I know.

However, with one of the bigger expos all year right around the corner here in Florida, I thought it was a good time to put out a small word of caution when purchasing animals (for the purpose of this blog, specifically chameleons) at these shows. I purchased my first chameleon ever at this same show a few years ago and want to share a few things to look out for and some tips.
A healthy-looking male panther in an appropriate screen cage with vines and foliage at a local show.
SOURCE OF THE ANIMAL
This is an important one. A lot of the animals at these expos are captive bred but a good number of them are wild caught, meaning that they were captured in their native country and imported into the country, typically just in time for the show. What the latter means is that you stand the risk of buying an animal that has not had any time to acclimate to captivity, much less acclimate to the country before being put on display in a cage for hundreds or thousands to see. Or an animal that has come in very dehydrated and stressed and has not been given the time to settle in, drink, and regain their strength before being put on display. Or an animal that is infested with parasites, which is a situation made worse by being put on display. Or all of the above at once.

WHEN CONSIDERING AN ANIMAL FOR PURCHASE...
To avoid buying an animal that may be so stressed, dehydrated, and weakened by the whole process that you take them home essentially to die, there are some things to keep in mind.

1. Ask the vendor for the source of the animal. Was it captive bred (CB) or wild caught (WC)? A reputable breeder will be happy to tell you.

A Meller's chameleon. Sunken eyes & very skinny, definitely avoid.
2. Inspect the animal carefully. Some vendors are not above lying. Is the animal pitch black? Is it keeping its eyes closed? Is the animal lethargic or listless? Is it very thin? Are their eyes sunken in? Can you see what look like thin worms under the skin? Is it covered in bruises, scrapes, cuts, or injuries? These are all signs of a WC chameleon, or at the very least a sick one.

3. How are the animals housed? Typically, WC chameleons are not worth much in the eyes of the vendors and will be housed together in large numbers with minimal thought into their comfort. This includes males and females together, perhaps even different species together. A reputable breeder will put chameleons into individual cages, or at the very least separate the males and keep females in small groups, and put some sort of vegetation in the cage with them and some lighting for heat. Avoid chameleons kept in little deli cups, this shows a total disregard for the animal's needs. This is fine for snakes and geckos but totally inadequate for a chameleon for more than a short drive home.

4. Is the vendor knowledgeable about the animal? Someone who breeds animals will have to be familiar with the care of species, and more so with chameleons than with other animals. A vendor who is competent in answering your specific questions is more trust-worthy than one who has no clue or offers incorrect information. Someone who doesn't know about the species they are selling are probably not breeders but just dealers, who receive animals (possibly WC) and then just turn around and sell them.

As an example of someone who takes their animals seriously, here is the business card from a company called Ohio Gecko, from whom I've purchased geckos before. I was impressed to see that on the back of their business card they have a care sheet for leopard geckos, which shows that even if the buyer never does another ounce of research, that they have the very basics right on the back of their card. They also encouraged me to contact them if I had any more questions. I think breeders that want to give you a care sheet and encourage contact is a reputable one indeed. 




SPECIAL NOTE ON PANTHERS
Panthers are more expensive chameleons and may not be available at reptile shows very often, but when they can be largely CB, depending on the show. This is good news, but there are still things to be very careful about. The biggest concern is locale honesty, which is a tricky thing to navigate. To be able to identify whether you are looking at a pure locale individual or a cross takes a lot of becoming familiar with photos/individuals from each locale and training your eye to spot the differences. And even then it can become tricky, as not all offspring from a cross clutch will look like mixes and may look like either pure parent locale.

A panther for sale at a show, vendor unknown. I still regret not buying him, although he was advertised as an Ambilobe an was clearly not. In my opinion, with all that yellow on his face and how thin he was he was probably a WC animal, just not fresh off the boat. Also, it is my opinion that he was probably an Ambanja cross, possibly a faly-banja. 
By contrast, here is an actual Ambilobe, bred by Chamalot Chameleons out of Kissimmee, Florida. Ambilobes are always combinations of the 4 primary colors, green, blue, yellow, and red. The guy above is a very typical example of a beautiful Ambilobe. See why the animal above wasn't one?
1. Look for pet-only panthers. Do not go to find potential breeder stock from shows unless the vendor is a very reputable breeder or you are great at identifying the different locales in adults (in males only). Some prior research on who will be vending before the actual show goes a long way in determining who these are. Reputable breeders will be able to tell you accurate information about chameleons, should be able to show you the parents of any babies, and have both babies and adults properly housed during the show. If the vendor is not fitting this ideal, consider buying a panther as a pet-only animal, as to avoid any head-aches with breeding crosses down the line.

2. Avoid vendors that have mixed different locale females together. This is a huge red-flag for me. I once saw a cage with many females, advertising both Nosy Be and Ambilobe females. However, females all look the same, regardless of locale, so by mixing them together there is now no way to tell them apart. It strikes me as highly unethical for them to pull out and sell an Ambilobe female to someone inexperienced when they have no idea which of the two they are handing out. If they are this careless now, who's to say that they aren't just as careless when breeding, or doing day-to-day maintenance on their animals?

3. Do not buy baby panthers from a non-reputable breeder. Buying an adult because you like his or her colors as a pet chameleon is one thing, but do not buy a baby if you do not trust the expertise of the vendor, for reasons listed above. This is a good way to end up with the gender you did not want, such as a female instead of a male, because young panthers all look the same and someone inexperienced is much more likely to sex them incorrectly, or they will turn out to not be the locale/color you wanted. This probably means you will end up spending more money for a chameleon you didn't really want.

AFTER THE PURCHASE
If you do find a chameleon that you bring home, congratulations! It's very exciting to bring your new pet home. Make sure to make the trip from the show to your home as short as possible (so no stopping for a long lunch!) and preferably you should have a cage ready for them at home. Remember that they have had a very stressful weekend (packing up at their first home, travel to the show, put out on display, packed away at night, put on display again the next day...) so put them in their new cage, provide lots of water, and leave them alone as much as possible. Give them a few days to settle in properly and then start handling your new chameleon. But allow them to drink, eat if they want, and settle in with peace and quiet.

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In conclusion, reptile shows are a great place to socialize with other reptile keepers, find great deals on supplies and feeders, and find lots of possible new pets. You just have to be careful to avoid bringing home a heartache. I certainly attend several a year and always have a great time.

The Strange Case of Charlotte's Tongue-Swallowing

Little over a year ago I experienced one of the strangest "freak accidents" possible with chameleons, something that I didn't even know was possible until I searched for it after the fact. This is my account of what happened with my female veiled chameleon, Charlotte, and the after-math of her continuing care.

On one of my birthdays a friend of mine wanted to give me one of her baby veiled chameleons, whom she had raised very lovingly and wanted to see re-homed with people who could care for them properly.  I was more than happy to take one of the females and named the little thing Charlotte. She grew up very typically, with lots of outdoor sunshine, proper nutrition, and lots of attention. The only thing I was doing differently at the time of her accident was free-ranging her, which meant that she had a few big trees in a bedroom by herself, with all the proper lighting hanging from the ceiling above, and I'd move her outside or to the bathroom for daily showers.

She had been living like this for about 6 months when one day I went into her room to feed her and she wasn't interested in the food. This was unusual because, as a female, she really never rejected the opportunity to eat. And since I had her on a diet she hadn't eaten the couple days prior either. I found this very unusual and stayed in the room handling her and observing her. What she getting ready to lay eggs? She didn't seem as rotund as the last time she had laid eggs. Her color was bright and her eyes looked good. I was really to just call it a fluke until she opened her mouth to gag and I saw what I have illustrated below.
The bony protrusion is the hyoid bone, the bone to which the whole tongue mechanism is anchored. 
I was immediately alarmed and called for my boyfriend, because I knew that I'd need help investigating and pulling her tongue out. Because I could see the thin tongue filament disappearing down her throat I knew she had somehow managed to swallow it. With my boyfriend holding her firmly I was able to grab some smooth, rubber-coated tongs and with the use of a finger very gently and slowly pull the tongue out and little at a time.

Warning: I have years of experience working with animals at vet clinics and wildlife centers. Do not attempt to pull out the tongue yourself unless you feel very confident that you will not cause more harm than good. When in any type of doubt, wait until you can reach a vet. 


 What came out was a very swollen, very tender tongue. Unfortunately there was no way to tell how long it had been in her stomach, digesting, but it had to have been several hours at least. Because it was a Sunday, finding an emergency reptile vet was impossible. I spoke by email to a leading national chameleon vet to try to get some tips as to what to do during the night. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything else we could do that we weren't doing already. So we tried to keep her comfortable all night and wait until morning to take her to a local reptile vet.

Below are some photos of her with her injured tongue. In an attempt to keep her comfortable until morning, we tried to keep it moist. So she went on a plant into the bathtub and we kept a nozzle almost continually spraying to keep it moist. She kept trying to get it back into her mouth but it was way too swollen. And if she did get it into her mouth she would swallow it again, and we'd have to pull it out again. We considered putting her in a plastic container with moist paper towels but the vet and I worried she would step or claw at the tongue and do more damage. So we opted to let it dangle.


The following day we rushed her to the local reptile vet, who kept her for 2 days, first giving her antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicine to try to save the tongue and then finally amputating the whole tongue. I would have been worried but I had heard of other owners having success keeping tongue-less chameleons alive for years by getting them used to hunting like other lizards so I knew we could be successful in keeping her alive. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for us.

After 8 months of fighting infections on and off, trying to get her to learn and having to force-feed her instead, she passed away. In my opinion, it may have been the oral infections that kept her from wanting to use her mouth, probably due to pain, which is why I resorted to syringe feeding her a mush diet made from insects and other dietary supplements.

In conclusion, after lots of research I still don't know what caused her to swallow her tongue. I have spoken to vets and other owners who have had this happen and no one quite knows why it happens or how they manage it. Unfortunately, it seems like just one of those random, freak accidents that will happen to one out of every thousands of chameleons. All I can do it write my experiences and hope it helps someone else who may have this happen to them.

The Importance of UVB Light and Sunshine

For diurnal (day-time) reptiles, not providing the proper lighting is like not providing fish with water. They aren't thrashing around but they are doomed to perish none the less. So the importance of making sure your reptile has proper lighting cannot be understated. It extends far beyond the need for heat, which is also vital, but also to the need to replicate the full spectrum of light that the sun is outputting. In this blog, I will be talking about the all-important light: the ultraviolet spectrum, particularly UVB.

Basking bulbs not only provide reptiles with a heat spot in which to bask and warm up, but they provide the visible spectrum of light that mimics daylight. Just as the mood of people declines when they do not experience daylight, so do reptiles. So it's important to use white light bulbs, and not blue or red when keeping a diurnal reptile.

However, the UVB is the spectrum of light that we humans cannot see but that is supremely important to the long-term health of reptiles. Like us, reptiles make the vital vitamin D3 in their skin when exposed to the UVB from the sun, and this vitamin in turn allows calcium to be absorbed by the bones. Therefore, when this light spectrum is not provided they cannot absorb calcium as efficiently and a young reptile will begin to show calcium deficiencies in the form of bone deformities (bowing of the long bones in the arms and legs, bone fractures, curving in the spine and tail, etc.) and loss of muscle control. To learn more about the effects of different vitamins and minerals in the body of  chameleons, refer to  this blog: Chameleon Physiology & Supplements

A chameleon showing severe calcium deficiency deformities and fractures. Photo from this forum thread:  What MBD Looks Like, Chameleonforums.com
Even though we use powered vitamin D3 as a supplement, studies in scientific journals show that providing D3 only via diet is not an effective long-term solution and that the reptile will develop deficiencies anyway (and worse, artificial D3 overdoses, which can lead to the calcification of the tissues). The only way to ensure that your reptile is getting the adequate levels of natural D3 is to provide a good UVB light from a reptile brand. People are often reluctant to purchase them because they can be a little expensive but they are vital, and can be found cheaper from online sources if one knows where to look. Providing one is the best way to make sure your reptile's bones and system absorb calcium properly. 

CHOOSING A UVB BULB

This can be confusing, but it doesn't have to be. The most commonly recommended brand is Zoo Med Reptisun 5.0 or 10.0, which is easily available. A cheaper bulb is the Exo Terra Reptiglo 5.0, but I would not buy these (at least go for the 10.0 bulb) because its UV output is really minimal, in my opinion. 

Then there are very powerful (and slightly more expensive bulbs) from brands such as ReptileUV or Arcadia, but these are excellent bulbs and have much more powerful UV outputs. The Megaray bulbs by ReptileUV are better for free ranges or huge cages, as they are both heat and UVB bulbs and are very powerful. These would roast a chameleon in a small cage who cannot escape the light. The Arcadia 6% or 12% bulbs are only UVB lights and provide much stronger levels than the common brands and therefore last much longer between replacements. 

With any UVB bulb it is important to provide areas of shade so the chameleon can choose whether to be in the light or not. 

NATURAL SUNSHINE

In addition, if your weather allows, I believe that getting your reptiles outside for some natural sunshine is one of the best things you can do for them. There isn't an artificial bulb available that recreates the sun in everything that it provides, so outside is when you usually see your reptiles (chameleons particularly) at their very best, color-wise. While these commercial bulbs provide the adequate UVB output for reptiles to do well throughout their lives, nothing compares to the sun itself. 

 Below is a graph showing the UVB readings throughout the day at different locations across the planet. The graph comes from UV Guide UK, which is an excellent source to not just buy a UV meter but to learn about the different UV readings, either outside or by different bulb brands. 

SOURCE: http://www.uvguide.co.uk/uvinnature.htm.
But graph shows UVB readings throughout the day at different locations across the planet. 
In my particular location, I am looking at the biggest orange line, the one with squares that corresponds with Sarasota, Florida. The only time the UVB output is at 30 (the typical output of a new UVB bulb, like Reptisun) is before 8am and after 4pm. This is very low compared to the almost 250 it reads at the height of the day. In longitudes corresponding to the northern hemisphere equivalent of southern Africa and Madagascar, the daily maximum is even higher! Therefore, providing your chameleon with at least 20 minutes of natural sunlight during most of the day as often as possible will give reptiles a healthy boost of natural UVB.*

*IMPORTANT: Make sure you provide your chameleon with shaded areas and access to water in case it is very hot out. While you want them to get some sun, you don't want them to overheat in the process. And never ever have them outside in a glass tank!  

KEEPING REPTILES OUTSIDE?


If you are reading this and wondering, "could I keep my reptile outside instead of indoors?" the answer is yes! If your climate meets your animal's temperature and humidity needs and if the enclosure provides shade, water, hiding places, and protection from wildlife like raccoons or hawks. I will keep my chameleons in outdoor cages for days or weeks at a time and they do really well, but my climate here in Florida will be very different from that of Montana or Germany, so your climate needs to be considered very carefully.

Two Panthers Growing Up - Photo Progression

People often worry that their panther chameleon males are not coloring up or growing as quickly as other panthers they may see online or in stores. Breeder websites may advertise the "picks of the litter," 2-3 month old panther males who have a lot more color than their brothers at the same age, and this may trick new panther owners into thinking that all young panthers should show lots of color by a certain age. And people on forums may post photos of their 4 month old chameleons weighing in at 80 grams, while theirs is still only at 25 grams at the same age, and worry owners into thinking that their animal is a runt or not growing as well. And this is just not true; like any animal, individual chameleons will grow at their own pace, but if provided with proper husbandry, will eventually arrive at more or less the same place.

Typically a panther male will get a significant change in color by the age of 6 months, but may or may not show color before this. All panthers are born a tan-brown color, and develop their colors as they age. Each individual will also grow at his own pace, with some getting very large very young, and others growing more steadily throughout their first year.

As examples, I present below the photo progression of two very different panther males from the age of 3 months to 12 months. Daedalus (on the left) is a Nosy Faly x Ambanja cross and Cerberus (on the right) is a blue-bar Ambilobe.

Daedalus (left) and Cerberus (right) at 3 MONTHS OLD. Daedalus was twice as big and already had blues and oranges here and there. Cerberus looked very much like a baby still, only tans and browns. 
By 4 MONTHS OLD Daedalus was already bigger and his blue-teal color had completely taken over. Cerberus was still very small and still very tan in color. At this point he could have been confused as a female. 
At 5 MONTHS OLD, Daedalus had grown more still and Cerberus hadn't grown much at all. He was still mostly tan with a few hints of green here and there. 
Finally, by the age of 6 MONTHS OLD Cerberus was finally catching up color-wise. His greens had become way more prominent, as well as reds and yellows. He was still small for his age. Daedalus on the other hand was still growing nicely. 
At 8 MONTHS OLD both males are looking really well. Cerberus is growing more an more and each shed brings more beautiful, saturated colors. They say warm colors (reds and yellows) take longer to become apparent in most chameleons. Daedalus still growing normally. 
By the age of 9 MONTHS OLD both boys look very different from how they looked just a short while ago. Daedalus lost most of his reds and yellows for a short time and looked solid greenish-blue. While Cerberus was showing a substantial amount of red and yellow by now. 
Daedalus got his reds and yellows back just a month later at 10 MONTHS OLD and Cerberus was starting to fire up nearly solid yellow and red. He was also now as big as any typical panther male. 
At 11 MONTHS OLD both boys look big, healthy, and very colorful. Cerberus was even bigger now than Daedalus, and weighed a good bit more than his blue counterpart. 
And finally, by 12 MONTHS OLD both have come a very long way from where they were as babies. Both are large, healthy, and very bright. By now their colors have reached a good approximation of where they will remain most of their lives. They may continue to undergo changes beyond now, but by 12 months we have a very good idea of what they will look like the rest of their adult lives. 
Hopefully these two panthers show that two males, purchased at about the same age, raised in very similar conditions, and cared for in very similar ways (Daedalus got the benefit of a better camera though!) can still develop at very different rates. Even Cerberus, who took much longer to color up and to grow still turned out to be a large and healthy male, with very beautiful colors. He is now a breeding male for a great breeder in Las Vegas, who takes him to reptile shows to show off how beautiful he is. Imagine that, having started as the dinky little tan baby he was.

So, do not be alarmed, or discouraged, or worried, or anything of the sort if your panther male isn't developing at the pace you think he should be. As long as your husbandry is in order and they are healthy (checking with an experienced vet, a professional, or a reptile forum is a good thing to do if you have doubts or worries about this) there should be no reason to worry. They may catch up in their own time.


Photos - Daedalus my panther turns two

My panther male, Daedalus, turned two years old yesterday so I took a few photos of him aiming for some treats. He is a cross panther male, a mix of Nosy Faly and Ambanja that I purchased when he was 2.5 months old from a breeder in Florida. Hopefully he will live to the ripe old age of 6-8 years old.







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