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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:




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