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My Chameleon Room & Cages

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. The left two contain a panther chameleon
pair and the right two contain a carpet chameleon pair. 
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 - LLLReptile.com 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 - Amazon.com, 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. 


37 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Just stumbled across your blog and I really like the clean, organized displays you've created - gorgeous! The pics are excellent as are the explanations!

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    2. Thank you! I always get asked what my set-up looks like or how I did it so it needed its own blog.

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  2. These are fabulous! I plan on setting up something similar to this once my chameleon outgrows his baby cage. How do you know if a tree is safe or not to place in the cage? What kinds did you use?

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    1. Thank you! There aren't a lot of good sources on what plants are toxic to chameleons (FL Chams has one on their website) but I try to at least check that they're on cat- and dog-safe lists. So nothing like oleander, Brazilian pepper, etc. It's unlikely that a chameleon will chew on any branches but still, better safe than sorry. Oh, and pine - these have been known to cause respiratory issues/irritation in snakes and other small animals.

      I can't recall the species anymore but I had someone from my university identify it and it wasn't on any toxic list.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. hi, I wanted first of all to congratulate you for your blog that is very well done.
    It is a pleasure to read.
    A neon 5.0 uvb ReptiSun is sufficient for an adult?
    You do not have to carrence or ostéométabolique disease?
    Again I'm a fan of your blog :)

    good luck

    ps: sorry for the mistakes, I do not speak English properly ...

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    1. Thank you Bruno!

      Yes, a Reptisun 5.0 is good. However, if you have access to a Reptisun 10.0, that would be better. I have been using these for years now - we know that cage screen cuts down UVB by a large amount, so the 10.0 is strong enough to make up for that loss and will last a little longer. And if you can find a fixture for the bulb with a reflector, that would enhance your UVB output and focus it downwards.

      No, I have never had any issues of metabolic bone disease or deficiencies with this lighting. With one of these bulbs and regular calcium supplementation it's enough to keep their bones and bodies strong.

      Don't worry, I understood you perfectly. If you have any more questions feel free to ask!

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    2. ok I currently have a female calyptratus and I'm having a male Furcifer Pardalis nosy be.
      Yours is beautiful.
      My female is under a lamp 3in1 100w solar raptor but its very hot.
      If a 10.0 ReptiSun should I take one with a heating lamp and more.

      This is perfect thank you very much I like your chameleon room

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  5. Very useful article!

    I just installed a pothos plant last weekend in my panther's enclosure. Can you share how do you maintain the plant like replacing its soil without disrupting well grown vines or supplementing it since fertilizers are not allowed?

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    1. Thank you!

      To be honest, once it's up in the cage I do very little to maintain it. The good thing about pothos (aka devil's ivy for a reason!) is that it is nearly impossible to kill. When I repot a plant I will take the root ball and gently wash away as much soil from around the roots as I can but it doesn't have to be all of it, and then I will replant it using organic top soil. Any soil that doesn't have fertilizers, pesticides, or perlite balls is perfect. Some people then add large stones over the top of the soil so the chameleon won't be able to shoot at and eat any dirt, but I'm happy as long as the soil itself is "poison"-free.

      And then perhaps every 6 months (when I remember) I will add more, fresh top soil to the pot. Usually the soil will compact in the pot over time so there should be room for a couple inches of fresh soil. That seems to be enough to keep the plant going, besides lots of water.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. I have a plan to do a write-up with photos on how to prepare and maintain plants but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

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    2. Thanks! Can't wait for my pothos to sprout all over the enclosure.

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  6. Hi
    Great site, well done.
    I live in the UK and have a Panther Chameleon which is an offspring from a Screameleons panther currently 6 months old. I am currently researching pairing him up with a female and breeding which is what led me to your site. I was wondering if you had any further info on the first few months after hatching as I have heard this is one of the hardest parts of panther breeding.

    Thank
    Darren

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    1. Thank you Darren!

      If you have any specific questions (now or down the road) feel free to ask, but what I've learned is that setting them up properly is very much half the battle. If you have the room to spare, opt to separate them out into smaller groups instead of keeping them all together. It will reduce competition to have, say, 5-6 hatchlings in a container/cage than 15, and you can monitor if some are not keeping up more easily. Some people don't believe in providing a basking light but I thought that something very gentle, like a 20w bulb, was enough to make a little warm spot in one end of their plastic tub baby cages, which they would use throughout the day.

      And if you have access to small roaches, I would start breeding them. Breeding your own food will always be cheaper but a small food like roach nymphs that are also very meaty will help the babies grow faster and stronger. I found that once they discovered roach nymphs they didn't bother with fruit flies or pinhead crickets anymore! And they grew more like little weeds.

      They can be delicate but it's not as difficult as it might sound! I think people fail more often when they try to put them all in one plastic tub and they end up bullying the weaker ones, or they don't feed them a lot and often.

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  7. Hi Olimpia,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.
    I now have my 2 female 12 week old panthers who are also from the screameleons range. They are at currently living in an exo terra with a divider till their 2x 36 inch mesh cages arrive.
    My male is now coming up 8 months old but I will obviously have to wait another 9 months till the females will be mature enough to breed, that will be a long hard 9 months! I will let you know how I get on.

    Thanks Darren

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  8. hi Olimpia

    how did you secure the branches on the sides of your Flexarium?

    How did you set?

    cordially

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    1. Hi Bruno, I used thumbtacks or push pins, poking them through the screen and into the branch. One or two will hold up a lot of weight and not ruin the screen. The push pin will be much easier to remove if you change your cage around a lot.

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  9. Hi Olimpia! I'm back with another question! :D Want to make sure I get this lighting situation right... If I have 2 of the dome light fixtures, is the mini Reptisun 10.0 Fluorescent light enough in one of them next to the basking bulb? I notice you have the sideways fluorescent light across the top of the cage which is wonderful. I just noticed ReptiSun made the mini compatable with a regular screw socket so that you don't need the special vertical hood. Hope I'm not over-thinking this, but I understand the importance! :)

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    1. Hey Renee :) It's ok, but I'm definitely a fan of the linear fluorescents better, just because they spread out UVB over more of the cage. But this double-fixture is totally fine for your chameleon.

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  10. Thanks so much for being such a reliable source of great info! I recently attended a reptile expo to meet some vendors, and ask lots of questions. Your blog has been so helpful, I still find I refer to it more than anything else! My fiance and I are assembling an x-large cage as we speak! Your response is greatly appreciated, it made my day! I'm sure I'll be back for something soon haha :) Thanks again!

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  11. Hi Olimpia!

    First let me tell that I LOVE your blog. It's just amazing and filled with incredible chameleon care tips, your blog has been my research tool since the moment I decided that I wanted to get a chameleon, your passion for this amazing reptiles is amazing and one of the reasons I always feel save and confident to seek your blog for all my chameleon concerns and questions.

    After months of research, saving and preparing, I have finally decided to purchase my first panther chameleon!! And I couldn't be more exited to add a new member to my family. I'd be getting my new baby -Lol-next week from some really amazing breeders, he's a 3 months old male Ambilobe Panther Chameleon. :)
    I'm currently working on setting up his enclosure and getting everything ready for his arrival but some questions had been rising in my head about his cage and it's size.
    I purchased a 18x18x36 all screen cage which was recommended for my Cham, but there is some cage accessories that I would like to buy big enough for when I upgrade my Cham's cage to a bigger one, but I was wondering how long would it take till I have to change his enclosure size?. I been told that a good age to make the change would be between 9-12 months of age depending on how fast he's growing. Do you think that age would be the appropriate to do it?. Or how big would he have to be before he outgrows his small cage? I know not all chameleons developed at the same rate, so I was just hoping you could give me some kind of inside on this since I've seen from some of your posts that you have dealt with both, fast growers and some "late bloomers" chameleons lol. Any tips you can give me would be greatly appreciated and surely very useful.

    Thank you

    Cecilia

    Ps. I'm so sorry for that horrible and annoying rant back there. Hope all your beautiful Chams are doing amazingly good :)






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  12. Hi Olimpia,

    I am wondering how you attached the plants to the top and/or sides of the cage? are they still in a pot?

    I would like to take everything off the floor of my jackson's cage.

    Thanks,

    Sarah

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    1. Hey Sarah. The plants are still inside their pots. 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.

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  13. Hi! I ran across your website while looking for info on Chameleons because I am interested in buying one. I wanted to get your opinion on if I should get one. I am only 12 and I have never had a reptile before but I have had guinea pigs, but there is not a lot of similarity between the two. Would a 16,16,30 cage be big enough for an adult chameleon?? And do you have to water the live plants or is the mister enough? Also, do you put the two lights side by side or opposite to eachother? Could you maybe also a make complete list of what you feed your chameleons and how often, that would help a lot. And how big do Male Ventiled chameleons grow to be? Are chameleons fast? Can they run away quickly if you bring them outside? Do they bite? Sorry about talking so much, I just have a lot of questions! I loved your section on handeling, that really got me excited! THANK YOU!!! - Katie

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    1. Hey Katie! Let me see if I can cover everything.

      I know getting a reptile when you've only kept mammals seems really intimidating but once you know what you're getting into you'll be in good shape.

      1. Cage size will depend on the chameleon you're looking to get. Since you mention a veiled then that size is too small for an adult, as an adult veiled can be 18-20" from tip to tip, so a 16" wide cage is too small. The recommended minimum is 2' x 2' x 4'.

      2. It will depend, it's possible that you may need to water the plants a tiny bit, you'll have to stick a finger in all the plant pots and see if they are too dry or moist.

      3. I usually have my heat light in a dome and then my UVB light in a long fixture, so I will put the heat light in one corner of the top and then run the linear fixture across the top close but not super close. You want him to have the option of basking under both at the same time or under just the UVB but no heat.

      4. I could give you a list of what my guys are eating but it wouldn't be super useful, since I have huge chameleons that are adults so they don't eat very often. But a good rule is that the younger they are the more they eat, and variety is great. So if you start off with a 3 month old baby you will want them to eat about 15ish small feeders a day, so some can be crickets, some can be tiny worms, and some can be flies - as an example. And the next day some crickets, some tiny roaches, and maybe some different worms. Etc.

      5. Veileds do get relatively big, they can be 18" long with their tails stretched out. There are smaller chameleon species but veileds are really hardy so they make very popular chameleons.

      6. Chameleons are not super fast, but because they can bllend in so well it's easy to lose sight of them if you get into the grass or anything like that. Also, birds have been known to swoop in and snatch away chameleons, so it's a great idea to make sure any outside time is either on you (your hand/shoulder) or in a screen cage. Just in case!

      7. Chameleons can bite, just like anything, but if you know how to handle them from when they're little they can turn out to be very docile, great pets. I have a blog post on how to tame chameleons so if you look through that it will give you a good idea of how to start with them.

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  14. Hello Olimpia! I’ve been researching enclosures for chameleons. What are your thoughts on buying an adult size aluminum screen cage (29”x29”x48”) and installing a false floor to limit the cage size for a baby or juvenile Veiled Chameleon? This could be adjusted gradually over time. I imagine the initial cage size would be about 29”x29”x24” or something similar. Is this a good idea? Excellent photography on your blog, by the way!

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    1. Sorry for the delay, Chris, I've been swamped at my new job. Yes, I think that is a great idea. For me, it has always depended on the size of the baby at the time of purchase, since some 3-month-olds are huge and others are tiny. Small ones will go into a cage about the size you stated and the larger ones may go straight into an adult cage, with the addition of a good feeding-cup so they never have to go far to find food. As long as babies can find food easily I don't worry too much about size, it's more about my ability to find them in a big cage or not!

      Thank you for the kind words! Let me know if you need anything else.

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  15. Do you sterilize or clean the branches in any way?

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    1. I personally do not, I just rinse them with water and make sure there aren't any blobs of bird waste or bugs on the branch but I don't feel the need to sterilize the branches.

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  16. Hello Olimpia,
    Love love love the post! Has inspired me on how to do our own cages.I do have a question that may seem a little silly but i dont see how the water gets from the cage into the catch pans? Any information or picture would be greatl y appreciated!

    Thank you,
    Kalyn

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    1. Hey Kalyn, thanks for the kind words! I drilled like 5-8 little holes with a drill bit right in the center of the PVC cage bottom. Since there is nothing under the cage floor the bottom slumps a little in the center anyway, acting like a natural funnel. Then that water drips to the blue catch plate below.

      This set up works because I didn't have water running down any of the cage sides, it all basically fell int eh center of the cage. If you have that issue you may have to make a larger catch pan that the entire cage floor can sit on. LLLReptile makes some catch pans like these but when you have more than 1-2 cages the price really adds up. I'm sure there have to be cheaper alternatives out there but I haven't found them yet!

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  17. So I love the idea of no plants on the floor but how are the plants alive ?is there a soil pot that I can't see

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    1. Hi Gabriel, yes, the plants are still in their pots. You just can't see them because I try to keep them facing the back of the cage because pots are ugly, but the plants are still totally rooted in their soil. Bromeliads could technically have no pot since they are air plants but it's more work to make sure they don't dry out as much.

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  18. Hi Olimpia, I know that you have answered a ton of questions about your set up but I have another one. How did you attach the fishing line to the Pothos pot? I understand the part about using the wood dowel to support the plant but it's actually the connection to the pot that I am uncertain about.

    Thank you,
    Tracy

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    1. Hey, not a bother at all. It helps that I bought a hanging pothos to begin with, so I removed the hanger part from the pot and tied the fishing line to the 3 holes the pot has for the hanger. If the pot doesn't have any holes then you can take a small drill bit or a hot screwdriver and make 3-4 holes in the plastic, just big enough to tie a good knot with the line.

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