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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