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How To Keep A Meller's Chamaleon (T. melleri)

I was asked to explain how I keep my Meller's chameleons (T. melleri) and I realized I'd never really done a caresheet about them! So here it is, my version of how to keep a Meller's chameleon.


Before I begin, however, I want to link you to an excellent Meller's resource site: Melleri Discovery
This website has a lot of great information and I highly recommend that you look through it if you are ever interested in owning one of these giant chameleons. It goes into the nuances of their care to a level of detail that I haven't attained personally yet, such as aspects of breeding. 

Meller's are the largest African mainland chameleon species, second in mass to the Parson's chameleon (C. parsonii) of Madagascar. They can be up to about 24" long and weigh in at over a pound! They are also considered a montaine species, which means they come from high and cool elevations with more rainfall. With these things in mind, it stands to reason that they need a very large enclosure, cooler temps, and lots of water.

They should not be considered lightly as a pet chameleon. They are very sensitive to stress, are usually WC, and need copious amounts of room, water, and food. So anyone who cannot meet these needs should consider a different or smaller species of chameleon to start off with first. 

CAGE SIZE

Due to their size, a Meller's should never be kept in a normal chameleon cage. The recommended minimum  for an adult is about 5-6' tall, another 5-6' wide, and at least 3' deep. Meller's will not go up and down like other chameleons do, they definitely prefer moving horizontally from side to size so a wider cage is better than a very tall narrow one. Additionally, the fine mesh of most screen cages cannot support the weight of an adult Meller's and will result in torn fingernails and food abrasions. When custom building a cage care must be taken to select a type of mesh (preferably plastic-coated) that will allow their feet to grip it safely and comfortably without causing injury to the feet.

And if considering keeping pairs, you must at least double the size of the enclosure/free range and add a basking light for each chameleon living there as well as visual dividers within the cage/free-range. They will compete for basking locations, even among very compatible individuals, so giving them different areas to meet their needs will keep things harmonious.

Remember to use sturdy horizontal branches, as these are heavy chameleons, and not rely solely on plants as your structural support. I keep pothos and umbrella plants in my free-ranges, but what the chameleons use as support and walkways are the natural branches of varying widths I have running horizontally through their habitats. 



These are shy chameleons, easily susceptible to stress, so providing plant cover in which to hide will be vital. Setting one up on a fake ficus in the corner of the living room will simply not do - care must be taken to ensure that they have enough space, enough privacy, and places within their enclosure to hide from view.

Additionally, until the gender of your Meller's is confirmed I would recommend having a laying bin available just in case, especially with fresh WC females who may be coming into the country gravid. I use a large plastic storage tote (like in the photo above) filled more than 12" deep with organic topsoil mixed with sand.

LIGHTING & TEMPERATURE

Meller's need UVB and a basking bulb, like other chameleons. I use a Reptisun 10.0 bulb as my UVB bulb and a 60W halogen spotlight as a heat light. This leaves my basking spot no higher than about 85F while the rest of the enclosure stays at room temperature (75F). And at night I let the temperature drop as it will, so they can cool off overnight. Like all chameleon species, they thrive with a nighttime temperature drop of about 10 degrees or more.

This is optional, but I do also use either one or two 5000K daylight fluorescent bulbs to add light to the free-ranges in order to brighten up their space more naturally and keep the plants thriving. I like 5000K because it's very white without being blue.

I have my basking lights clamped and angled downwards at an angle, this way they bask with light coming at them diagonally from the side. They warm up their sides this way and are less likely to burn their crests, as they might if the light were directly above them. This species does not enjoy the heat like panthers or veileds do, so care must be taken that temperatures do not soar in their enclosure to uncomfortable levels.


HYDRATION

Meller's love water, and they are famous for being long and slow drinkers. That is why most melleri keepers will offer them long showers, approximately 15-20 minutes in length, several times a day. They are capable of sitting and drinking water the entire time you are misting, so long sessions are a good idea. A dripper may also be a good idea, although none of mine are big users of the dripper. But it allows you to provide hours of water access if they should want it. 


Due to this amount of water, Meller's require pretty heavy-duty drainage. So a little free-range in one corner of your bedroom isn't going to be enough! You might be looking at gallons of water daily that you'll need to account for. So make sure that you invest in drainage when you are setting up a Meller's cage. 


DIET & SUPPLEMENTATION

FOOD: Needless to say, Meller's eat very large prey items! In the wild they wouldn't be above catching small birds, even! So offering appropriately sized feeder insects is a job in and of itself. I breed a couple species of large roaches on top of the discoid roaches I breed for my other chameleons, in order to have nymphs of a decent size. I also offer hornworms and the manduca moths that they turn into, as these are favorite treats. Grasshoppers, katydids, and anything else that is big is going to be a hit with this species. However, mine do still love crickets and superworms so they will still eat smaller items, they just need to eat more of them to compensate for their size.

I feed each of mine a different amount of food daily. But fewer items is usually better with most chameleons, as we don't want them to get overweight. Since most Meller's available are adults, the amount you feed them (usually every other day or every two days) will depend on what they need to maintain a healthy weight. Typically a small handful of feeder items every other day or every two days.

SUPPLEMENTS: This species is sensitive to over-supplementing, therefore I am very conservative with the amounts of powdered supplements I provide my Meller's. I use a plain, phosphorous-free calcium by Repashy a couple times a week. Before (when they didn't have daily access to natural sunshine) I also provided them with vitamin D3 and other vitamins via an all-in-one supplement by Repashy as well, using this only once a month. Because they are so sensitive to over-supplementing, I prefer to gut-load my food more thoroughly instead.




SEXING


It is extremely difficult to sex Meller's chameleons. They are not sexually dimorphic and there aren't any solid tricks yet to identify them. Some individuals have heel spurs, for example, but both known males and females can display them. However, there are a few very subtle clues that may hint at one sex vs. another. One is the width of the pelvis in adult females - their hip bones will always be pronounced, despite a good body weight, because the pelvis is wider than it would be in males. Abdomen shape may also be a clue. A female will tend to be more pear shaped when looked at from above (more width towards her lower abdomen, closest to her pelvis) than in males. Males will be more slender throughout. 

Another possible clue is how they behave with each other. When introducing two individuals to each other they may display very clear male or female behavior cues. While this species has been known to mimic behavior, this can still be a good indicator. 

For more detailed information please see the link I provided at the beginning of this entry. It goes into more depth and provides lots of photos. But if you have any questions about how I care for mine please don't hesitate to ask, I will be happy to answer. 

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this Olimpia, there isn't much info about Meller's chameleons out there. Do you free range your Mellers, or do you keep them in an enclosure? What size is your enclosure (if you use one)? Have you figured out the sex of your Mellers? I love your blog, thank you for sharing!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Erin,

      I have done a mix of both in the 2-3 years I've had Meller's now. Right now the two I have free range in an enclosed lanai I have, which a small balcony but great for the two of them. When I have done cages I have done cages about 6-7' high and at least 4' wide. The depth I don't worry about as much, but it was usually been about 2' deep. Like I mention in the blog, these guys love moving around horizontally more than up and down, so space side-to-side is important to them.

      I have not been able to sex them officially but I am leaning towards having two females, potentially. I used to think Thaddeus was a male but as he has continued to mature I am now leaning towards a female as well. No eggs though yet, so I don't have 100% certainty.

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  2. Sorry, I forgot to ask, how do you give them a shower? In an actual shower, or you spray them, or have you set up a shower in their enclosure? Thanks again!

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    Replies
    1. I use a Mistking on all my cages/free ranges to provide water. I know other people will move them into an actual shower once a day for a very long shower but I don't have time for that and I don't like moving my chameleons around like that, I feel they stress when they are moved and won't start drinking as quickly. So I spray the enclosure with my misting system and try to have great drainage under the cage if they are indoors!

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  3. Replies
    1. At this time I do not, I am not sure who (if anyone) has any eggs incubating at this time. It's normal to go a few years without anyone successfully breeding them in captivity, so most of the time the only animals you find are the wild caught imports that can be so fragile. Sorry, I wish I knew as well!

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    2. Hi Olimpia
      Very happy to see that you have melleri
      I have had 2 melleri one was a female since she laid
      Eggs but not fertile :( as time progressed year she began to have the same symptoms moving slow, turning more dark in color, and moving around and not stable when climbing, she really started to have issues and was worried and took her to the vet, X-ray showed eggs a lot of eggs but she got really sick
      I took the doctors advise and gave vitimin shot then
      Seem to really go down hill from there, forgot to mention before the shot she stopped eating 2.5 weeks And I started force feeding and hydration.

      She past away :( I opened her up thinking maybe we can save the eggs but they weren't to term.. But there were more the 70 eggs I counting.....
      I have pictures if you like to see.

      Now trying to find more meleri but nobody seems to have any?

      Would love to hear your thoughts?

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    3. Hi,

      Yes, no one seems to have any right now, especially not captive bred. Someone in Miami says they are incubating some eggs (I believe they posted on this FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/melleri.resource/) but I do not know when they will be ready. I'm sure the usuals, like Backwater Reptiles, may have fresh imports but those are always tricky.

      I'm sorry to hear about your female! I don't know what could have gone wrong, this species is so delicate that it's hard to know what could have made her go downhill like that.

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