My Favorite Reptile Products & Tips

Friday, April 27, 2012
In the several years that I've been keeping chameleons, I've come to see a few products as invaluable to how I care for my pets. There are a few products that I find I could not live without at this point if for some reason I couldn't get them any more! Thinking back on it, I can't remember how I found it easy or comfortable to care for them before, especially as I added more chameleons into my home. They usually make my life easier AND make the lives of my chameleons better.
Female carpet enjoying the mist from her Mistking system. 
This list may continue to change as I discover new products or as new, better products come out. But for now these are my favorites.


Product: Mistking Starter Misting System
Price: $99.00 + shipping
Mistking makes several models of increasing strength, to serve keepers with a few cages (with the starter system, like mine) or with entire green houses with the Advanced System. The Starter System pump can mist up to 20 cages, which is more than enough for most people, who like me may only have 10 or fewer cages to mist. However, the starter system only comes with one nozzle, so each additional one is about $14. This system also comes with a timer that can be set to mist from a few seconds to hours, so I can set it to mist several times a day for lengths between 5-15 minutes at a time and not have to worry about being home to mist my chameleons at a reliable, predictable schedule. This allows me to be in class, out doing errands, or spend the day at the beach and not worry about running home because my chameleons need water. This is a huge life-saver for anyone who is a full-time student or works full-time. Additionally, this system can run dry without ruining it. So for people who are very busy and forget to fill up the reservoir one day, they will not come home to a burnt out pump at night. Accidents happen, we forget, and it's nice to have a system that allows for that.

And most importantly, Marty, the owner of Mistking, is a fantastic man and is always ready to answer questions or provide customer support. I've had an e-mail conversation with him at 2am, trying to figure out what nozzles were right for me while doing a late-night study session, and he was there willing to give me information. I highly recommend it, it is worth every penny!
My well used Mistking Starter System. Couldn't manage without it!

Product: Repashy Calcium Plus ICB
Available: (available in many other websites as well.)
Price: $7.99
Repashy makes a lot of my favorite products, so his name will come up again. I love this product because it is an all-in-one supplement. This is great because instead of having to provide plain calcium at most feedings, and then calcium with vitamin D3 or multivitamins a couple times a month, you can use this product every day and have it be your only mineral and vitamin supplement. This takes out the need to follow a monthly schedule with supplements and certainly makes life easier by only needing one product. It is fairly new to chameleons but the results so far are great.

Product: Repashy SuperCal No D3
Available: (available in many other websites as well.)
Price: $4.99
This is just a plain phosphorous-free, vitamin D3-free calcium that is great. Even though I use the Calcium Plus product, I like to supplement with extra calcium every few days a week, especially for my females. For anyone who does not want to use the Calcium Plus instead of the separate supplement method, I highly recommend this calcium as your plain calcium supplement because it contains no phosphorous - and this is important because phosphorous and calcium have to be in a 1:1 ratio within the body, but crickets are 3:1 phosphorous:calcium. So with a plain calcium like this, you can even out the ratio and have a more balanced animal, nutritionally.
Two supplements I couldn't live without. Calcium Plus and Supercal,
both by Repashy. 

Product: Repashy Superload Insect Gut Load
Available: (available in many other websites as well.)
Price:  $5.99
This powdered dry insect gut-load is great, because it provides me with a lot of the nutrition my insects need to be excellent food for my chameleons if I do not have time to grind up anything of my own. This, in conjunction with fresh fruits and vegetables, allows my insects to have a well-rounded diet so that they are healthy and full of good food when it's time to be fed off to my chameleons. Repashy also makes a gel food called Bug Burger that is also good because it is both wet and dry food in one, but I do not feel that it lasts me as long and it takes maybe 10 minutes to prepare and then a little while to cool into a gel. Not that this is terrible, but I prefer this one that is ready to go so I can shake in a little, throw in some fresh fruit, and get on with my day if I am busy with exams.

Product: DinoFuel 
Price:  $13.99 (free shipping)
This product is fantastic as well. Essentially, it is powdered super foods that are very healthy for human consumption so they are great for our feeders. This takes the effort out of going to the health food market and picking out all these ingredients yourself and grinding them up, but it still provides those great foods. I will usually mix this as gut-load with the Superload or dust the feeders in it directly, as if it were calcium. Also, Tom is a fantastic guy and will answer any questions about his product or work out a deal for higher quantities of DinoFuel. The insects go nuts for it as well, so I highly recommend getting at least one package of it to try out!
Rapashy Superload and DinoFuel, excellent food for insects.

Product: 30-50lb Fishing line
Available: Any fishing, sports, or general goods store.
Price: $4.00
Why do I love fishing line? Because I can never have too many uses for it in screen cages. A heavy weight, clean fishing line with thread through the screen on cages without ruining it and it can be used to secure branches, vines, plants, or anything else you need. I use it to hang all my plants off of the cage floor or to secure things like the thermometer/hydrometer to the front of the cage so I can read the display. And because it's clear you don't see it unless you're looking for it, so it's a great way to discretely tie things together or secure others without having a cage covered in zip-ties.

Product: Air-tight Food Containers
Available: General good stores or kitchen supply stores.
Price: $4.00+ each
I love these little jars for storing my supplements and gut load. Instead of having to fumble with those little baggies, I have them in safe, sealed, air-tight containers that won't let the products to bad early. And they look much neater! The labels are made by me on the computer.

All my supplements and gut loading products (specified above) in their little acrylic and bamboo food containers. 

Product: Hefty storage containers
Available: For now, Target and Home Depot
Price: $5.00+
I find these phenomenal. The way the lid and the edge of the bin overlap keeps my insects from escaping, particularly any roaches that are capable of climbing smooth surfaces. Plus I find them very sturdy, appropriately sized, and aesthetically acceptable. My roach colonies seem to be doing very well in these!

Additional products and tricks to come!

Photos - My Carpet Chameleons Outside

Sunday, April 22, 2012
Just for fun, here is the first of my photo-only blogs that simply show off my chameleons for the sake of photographing them. This one in particular features some photos of my carpet chameleons (F. lateralis lateralis) outside in the sun. This is an adorable, very fun species to keep and I highly recommend them. Not very difficult to keep either!

First, the male, Cassio at about 6 months old.

Then is Desdemona, my 5 month old female.


Keeping Insects - Chameleon Feeders

Saturday, April 21, 2012
An unexpected bi-product of chameleon keeping (and indeed, most reptile keeping) is suddenly finding that you're keeping all the things you never wanted to have in the house, on purpose and what's worse - breeding them! Of course I mean insects. This isn't something most of us are thrilled with, but after buying crickets at a dollar a dozen for weeks and finding that you're spending $30 a month on only 300 crickets you realize that it makes a lot more sense to order them in bulks of 500-1000 for less or about the same money online. But the successful keeping of any animal depends on a varied diet to be well-rounded and healthy, so buying only crickets simply won't do. And a few months later you find that you have a closet lined with plastic bins where you keep and breed various insects for your pets!
Blue hornworms come in a cup with pre-prepared food and will require no additional
care except emptying their poop. They grow very big very quickly! They are a
favorite in my house. 
These are good example "bug bins." I cut out large
 air holes and hot-glue window screen to the under-
side, so the bugs can breathe but can't get out.
 As gross as it seems for many, myself included, buying in bulk orders and breeding as many insects as you can will save you money (sometimes a lot of money), ensures that you know the quality of the food/environment of your feeders, and allows you to always have a supply of feeders in the house.

This blog will not go into detain on how to breed each species specifically, but I will provide a quick overview of what it means to keep insects. I prefer to keep all of my insects in plastic bins, with varying sizes depending on the insect and how many I'm keeping. For many of them I use bins that are twice as big as a plastic shoe box and this works well.  For my crickets I use ones much larger, so they cannot jump out if the lid is off.

I currently keep crickets, superworms, and roaches (P. nivea, P. surinamers, B. discoidales, and B. fusca), and order in butterworms, hornworms, and silkworms as often as I can. This ensures that they get a well-rounded diet and never go on hunger strikes out of boredom. Most people stick to just crickets and this will often result in bored chameleons that refuse to eat. Mixing things up eliminates this possibility. 

I feed the insects a well-rounded diet as well. This is called gut loading, because if your insects are full of good, nutritious food then that all goes to your chameleons when they eat. You are what you eat, after all. I feed my insects two types of food: wet and dry. The wet portion constitutes of fruits like apples, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, oranges, and veggies like butternut squash, collar greens, mustard greens, sweet potato, and carrots. While the dry portion is comprised primarily by commercially available gut-loads, like Rapashy Super Load, Cricket Crack, and Dinofuel. These are all available online and are great products. However, there are great ingredients available to make your own dry gut load recipe, below is a quote from an excellent blog by a chameleon nutritional expert on which ingredients constitute excellent gut loading food.
"The dry portion (the lesser portion) of a gutload can include (blend/grind fine with a coffee grinder or food processor): spirulina; dried seaweed/kelp/dulse; bee pollen; dried alfalfa; organic raw sunflower seedssesame seeds; flax seed; hemp seed; poppy seeds; fennel seed, dehydrated cranberry powder; beet powder; zucchini powder; dried Mulberries; fig powder; ground dried hibiscus; ground almonds; small amounts of ground brazil nuts; small amounts of ground/choppedbeechnuts; small occassional pieces of oak leaves; small amounts of kale powder; small amounts of quality whole grain cereal / barley /oats / cracked rye /wheat germ / stabalized rice bran/ quinoa; small amounts of quality monkey, avian or ignuana food (read the ingredients, be cautious of too much Vitamin A or animal fat)."
Dusky cave roaches eating happily at some strawberries and commercial dry gut load. This species
is incapable of flying or climbing smooth surfaces, so none ever escape. Idea for people who, like me, hate roaches. 

So consider yourself warned, keeping insects almost always becomes part of what it means to keep reptiles. But it will save you money and effort by investing a little time in keeping them well housed, fed, and cared for. The health of your chameleon will benefit from it!

How To Set Up A Proper Chameleon Enclosure

Before acquiring any new pet it is prudent to have their habitat set up properly so that they can settle in quickly into their new home and feel safe and comfortable. Chameleons have a reputation for being very difficult reptiles to keep, but their needs can be easily met by just providing a few specific things in their environment. There is no single right way to set up an enclosure but there are a few basics that must be met - how this is accomplished can vary depending on materials, personal preference, cage size, the specific animal, etc.

When a chameleon's cage is set up correctly half the battle is done for you! The best way to succeed with chameleons is to provide them with everything they need in their enclosures. Happy, content chameleons will be healthy chameleons in the long-run!

Note: I highly recommend automating your set-up as much as possible. Connecting the lights to a timer is not just convenient for you as the owner, but it provides the chameleon with a stable, predictable night and day period. Routine is often good for animals. You can also find automated misting systems with timers, and while these are optional, having the water on a timer is also good for both owner and pet. Also, having as much as possible on timers allows you to leave for the weekend without worrying about having someone to turn lights on/off and provide water.

Much Ado About Crossing Locales

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Below is the single clutch of panther chameleon (F. pardalis) eggs that I currently have incubating. This is a special clutch (batch of eggs) to me because it is the only time I will be breeding my current, and favorite, pair of panthers.

Also, it is a controversial clutch as well.

This is because panther chameleons come in different morphs (called locales because each color variety is specific to a location on their native Madagascar and named after that area). In this case, both parents are a mix of several different locales and are considered crosses. My male Daedalus is a Nosy Faly and Ambanja cross, while the female Azura is a Nosy Be, Ambanja, and Sambava cross. The male was an accidental cross, where his mother was purchased as one locale and turned out to be another. While the female was an intentional cross, produced from a pure locale father and a crossed mother by someone who was curious. To me they are fantastic chameleons, great pets, and beautiful animals. But not everyone would agree.

The Controversy 

In the chameleon community crossing panther chameleon locales on purpose is quite taboo, inciting very angry responses. While the the anti-cross people make good points, there is a lot of unnecessary anger and hostility towards both the animals themselves and their owners/breeders. The most important reason is that females of all locales look essentially identical - there is no definitive way to identify that a female belongs to one locale versus another, so the worry is that you buy a female for a breeding project and finding yourself with a clutch of chameleons that look nothing like you're supposed to. And sometimes not all male offspring look like a mix, so you may have some look like parent A while others look like parent B and others a mix of the two. Another good point is that dishonest breeders will sell the pure-looking male offspring and the females as pure locale animals for top-dollar, while wholesaling the rest to pet stores for them to deal with as they may. So the worries are not unfounded - the origins of two of my males are examples of mislabeled animals. 
Daedalus is a Nosy Faly and Ambanja cross. 

It is also a problem that stems at the source, straight from the importers in Madagascar that are in charge of picking out and exporting out the different locales purchased by breeders across the world. For example, for orders comprised of Nosy Faly panthers are often filled with Ambanja females to meet the quota, which results in captive hatched clutches of crosses like my male, Daedalus. This is why breeders, while they need wild blood every few generations to strengthen the lines, are cautious about using wild caught females because they may not prove to be what they are labelled as.

Intense Opinions

It's understandable that if you run a breeding program that might be your livelihood, taking all these precautions against crosses is important. Your reputation as reputable breeder may be at stake. But the anger seen in the chameleon community surrounding personal opinions on crosses is a little disproportional, in my opinion. I once saw a man go on a forum to share photos of his favorite breeder male, and after getting a few doubts regarding purity of the animal, this man was in such a terrified frenzy that he was ready to sell his beloved animal and destroy all the eggs he had incubating from this male just to distance himself from crosses. Another man also sought confirmation that his male's identity what what he thought it was and announced, when relieved that it was, that he was glad he did not have a "retarded mutt."

I have gotten plenty of attacks as well for being perfectly happy with my crosses, and for having sought to purchase/breed only crossed panthers due to several reasons including curiosity. I have even gotten hate male regarding my male, Daedalus, telling me that he is worthless and ugly. When arguing with one man about his attitude on the matter, he told me "you stick to your bargin brand crosses an leave the real business [to others.]" Besides not being able to spell very well, this man's opinion is revealing about how many people feel about crosses. It is true that due to lower demand they do not usually sell for as much, which is a plus for keepers who may not be able to afford the $250-300 a pure panther is worth. But it is unfortunate that people feel that my breeding projects and preferences, as well as those of others like me, are not of the same caliber and that they choose to demean us. 

My Thoughts on the Matter

As a biologist, I believe in mixing and tinkering to see what happens. I have a lot of curiosity and a lot of admiration at the different color combinations and patterns that occur in crossed panthers that do not occur naturally. I think my crosses are the most beautiful panthers I have owned (and I have owned pures are well) and cannot wait to see what the next generation brings. Others, like me, are also interested in seeing what happens, as as long as all parties involved are responsible, there should be no harm done. 
Daedalus and Azura, both crosses.

As a conservation ecologist, I also know that none of these panthers are ever going to contribute to a re-population effort in the wild to preserve the locales and species. None of the animals that we breed in the private sector will ever join conservation projects like those run by zoos. Therefore, there is no bigger-picture reason to keep the locales pure and only pure, as these animals are strictly for the pet trade and not for any professional genetic or conservation projects. 

Also, having one does not negate the other. Like we have pure lab and poodle breeders we can have labradoodle breeders simultaneously; there will always be people breeding for purity and others breeding for curiosity. The existence of one does not negate the other. 

And so I breed crosses. I and the people on my hatchling waiting list are excited to see what happens, what emerges from those 23 perfect little while eggs. Each will be different from its sibling, and how each one matures is a mystery. Some will look very blue and others may look much more red, with varying combinations of these and orange, yellow, and green. It will be exciting to see what happens. It is just a shame that they should be demeaned and despised by others in the community, for no fault of their own. 

So in conclusion, to each their own. Enjoy these beautiful, amazing animals and let others do the same.

I, for one, eagerly await the mystery.

Thoughts On Handling: How to Tame a Chameleon

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Handling chameleons is a topic that comes up quite often. Chameleons aren't like other common reptiles in the pet trade (like ball pythons or leopard geckos) that tolerate handling pretty well; chameleons in general are more easily stressed by the ordeal - to the point where many people believe that you should treat all chameleons like fish in an aquarium; a look-but-don’t-touch pet. I don’t agree with this statement.

That being said, each animal is an individual with his or her respective personality, and this can play a big part in how they react to you and being held. I have had some very docile, “friendly” chameleons, while I've had some very aggressive and terrified ones, so their disposition will have a big effect on how you go about dealing with them. But in my experience any chameleon can turn around and get to the point where it tolerates short handling sessions, regardless of how aggressive or scared they were when they started. I will describe how I have “tamed” some of my chameleons and offer my opinions on handling them in general.

Note: Getting them comfortable with handling goes beyond just wanting to hold your pet - this may save both of you a lot of stress if they ever need to go to the vet. Taking a hissing, biting, horrified animal to the vet to be handled and looked over is not fun for anyone. And being able to administer medicine to an animal that isn't having a breakdown is potentially life-saving.


My Chameleon Room & Cages

Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I recently decided to redesign my chameleon room to better suit what I wanted. I wanted insect-proof cages (the DIY wood ones built by yours truly were anything but), a clean, organized set-up, and cages that were a better fit for my animals. The result is documented in the photos below:

The row of finished cages on their shelving unit from Lowe's. 
Now on to the details of the build. Below I have attached photos of the step-by-step process of building this set-up. Here is the break-down of all the materials and what they cost:

  1. Shelving Unit - Heavy-duty garage shelving unit from Lowe's ($90)
  2. Cages - 48" x 24" screen cages in Grey ($80 each + shipping)
  3. Branches - Outside (free)
  4. Thumbtacks (to hold up the branches) - Walmart ($4)
  5. 50lb Fishing line (to hold up the plants) - Walmart ($4)
  6. Plants - Local nursery ($80 for everything)
  7. Light fixtures - Lowe's or Home Depot ($60?)
  8. Light bulbs - Basking bulbs (60w halogens) and daylight bulbs (5000k fluorescents) from Lowe's ($30)
  9. UVB bulbs -, Reptisun 10.0 ($20 each)
  10. Drainage trays and PVC - Trays from Walmart ($1 each) and PVC Home Depot ($10 total)
  11. Buckets - Home Depot or Lowe's ($5 each)

       The first step was to set up the stands. The shelving unit divides in half to make two stands that measure 36" high. It comes with 5 shelves but I decided to only use 4, so I saved the extra so that when I get a second set of shelving units and do something similar, I'll have an even number of shelves.

The first two cages with most of the
branches already secured.
The stand top with the wood support bars to sit the cages
on and the catch plates that funnel water into the PVC pipes

After setting up the shelves I had to prepare drainage. I did this by drilling two holes (one on each half of the shelving unit) on the wood level 1" wide and attaching PVC to a plastic serving dish that would act as a catch basin for the water that would fall from the cage. The cage floors themselves have holes drilled in them that line up with where the plate is below. Then everything was heavily waterproofed with aquarium sealant around the edges of the joints. The PVC pipes under the level would funnel water into a bucket located on the second level of the table, neatly and efficiently dealing with water in the cage.

The underside of the drainage system. The PVC pipes
funnel the water from two cages into a single bucket. 
       Then 8' wooden bars were laid across the whole thing so the cages themselves could sit above the catch plate.

       I wanted to rely more heavily on branches rather than plants, since I have always used plants as the main support in a cage and I feel that they don't always provide the horizontal branches that chameleons prefer, nor do they usually provide a lot of stable support. So I went to a wild area and cut some branches from safe trees and then attached them to the screen using thumbtacks. Using this method the screen is not damaged and I can put branches horizontally instead of having them vertically and resting on the floor. As each cage went up, a sheet of translucent plastic was put up on the wall facing a neighbor so each chameleon will not be able to see the others, which could stress them out and make them ill in the long run, or make them try to fight through the screen. Luckily mine are docile but I prefer not to subject them to stress needlessly.

Three cages with their branches. 

Cutting some fishing line to attach
the last bromeliad to some branches. 
The next step was to attach the plants. These plants (I used pothos and bromeliads) were purchased from a local nursery. I highly recommend nurseries over the plant departments are large chain home improvement stores, usually their plants are better taken care of and their prices are more reasonable. To attach the small bromeliads to the branches I used 50lb fishing line. To secure the pothos, a wooden bar was run across the top frame of the cage and then fishing line was threaded through the screen and tied to the bar, so the weight of the plant is spread out over the frame of the cage and the screen isn't ruined. I really wanted all the plants to be suspended so that I would have nothing on the floor of the cage.

The finished result is a really easy to clean cage and a really neat and organized set-up for my chameleons. The plant will grow to fill in the cage more and they will have more places to hide in with time, but for now they seem very content in their cages. Better than they were with the old ones! Also, by having nothing on the floor of the cages I am more easily able to place a laying bin in the cage for my females when they get close to laying eggs. When I have a cage full of potted plants more often than not I have to sacrifice plant cover for a laying bin, while this way I don't have to.

The finished product! With Daedalus, a panther male, as the model.
The left is the cage when it was set up in April, the right is the cage the following January.

Below is the cage as it was in February. The pothos had taken over the cages and needed regular trimming. The bromeliads had been removed, as they weren't doing well under the misting nozzles. 

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