The Downsides to Free-Ranging

Monday, December 30, 2013
I've written about free-ranging before in my other entry called Free-Ranging - The Risks & Benefits, but this past week I had an experience that really made me want to touch on the topic again.

The face of my trouble-maker, Thaddeus. A young, recent WC that has a strong drive to wander. 
A couple years ago I made the leap from screen cages to free-ranging all my chameleons (since I had a spare bedroom) and became pretty vocal about how much I was loving the experience. It seemed like my chameleons were growing larger (although they were getting substantially more outdoor, natural sunshine time as well), they were calmer around me, friendlier with each other, and seemed to display a fascinating array of behaviors I hadn't seen before. By all accounts, I was on the free-ranging fan train and wasn't about to get off any time soon. 

But I did. I moved into a different apartment and started facing all sorts of health issues with my chameleons. After lots of testing we assumed it had to be something in the newly remodeled and repainted apartment, so I sold most of my chameleons and brought down the collection to just two, a male and female pair. And with just two, I decided to build them each a very large cage and just leave it at that. So I went back to caging after all - and I felt relieved. I didn't have to worry about stepping on them when I walked into the room, I didn't have to feel tense for the few seconds or moments it might take me to spot a chameleon that has left his free-range and is now hanging from my curtains, and I didn't have to worry about them fighting or succumbing to stress without me noticing the subtle warning signs. I was relieved, and I liked it. 

But now with Meller's chameleons, a normal 4' tall screen cage isn't going to cut it. Each one needs about 5' wide x 6' tall x 4' deep, at least, and as soon as you have more than one chameleon having multiple cages that size in the livingroom starts becoming prohibitive. So I found myself going back to free-ranging, to help acclimate my WC chameleons and to prevent chin rub and lost toenails on the others. For months this set-up has been working great for us, until last week. 

Tuesday night when I went to check in on my three Meller's they were all there, tucked away for the night. But on Wednesday morning, there were only two. I knew immediately my little wanderer, Thad, had managed to get down and was probably heading towards the bathroom or my bedroom, where he seems to always end up. But I couldn't find him in any of the usual spots, and I began to worry that maybe he'd found his way out a window and gotten out. By Wednesday night I had no sign of him, so I recruited my sister to search the bushes around our windows with flashlights when the sun went down. But still no luck. 

The next morning I looked again, in case he had shifted from wherever he was hiding. Still no luck. I even went so far as to print out "lost chameleon" posters, just in case. But as I stood there, staring at the window I thought might have been his most likely place of escape, I noticed something that no one else in the house had ever noticed before, either - a gap between the wall and the kitchen cabinets.

I grabbed a flashlight, looked in, and I saw Thad's little eyes looking back at me from way back in the corner. We managed to fish him out, dusty and covered with dog hair, but no worse for wear. A good bask and a good shower and looked good as new. But it reminded me of how tedious it can be to manage free-ranging chameleons, especially when they aren't in a room with a door. They can get themselves in serious trouble (Thad could have potentially died there, too cold to move until he starved to death), find their way to dangerous pets (like cats), or escape from the house altogether. 

Free-ranging is phenomenal if done correctly, with the proper safety precautions in place. But it takes more work, can be more stressful, and potentially more dangerous. You also have to work harder to provide a chameleon with everything he needs. That's why I don't think I'll be continuing with this method of housing once I move to my next home - I find the negatives outweigh the benefits. 

When Others Want You to Breed X and You Want to Breed Y

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
My chameleon room is undergoing a lot of change currently so I don’t really have any tutorials or informational topics to cover until my various little projects are done, so for the time being I’m going to write another opinion blog. I hope that everyone enjoys these as well, and that you feel free to add your input in the comments. I always enjoy seeing if my readers agree or disagree with me on some of these topics.

One of my T. melleri (Meller's chameleons), my favorite
species currently. But definitely not everyone's! 
I’m going to talk a little about something that pops up in my chameleon social circle and on the forum every so often. It’s totally normal for chameleon keepers to realize that they have a favorite species or genus that they love to work with, but sometimes they start feeling that everyone else should be interested exclusively in their favorite species as well. So the person that loves K. multituberculata starts thinking that everyone else should also focus on breeding this species. And the person who’s passionate about the Chamaeleo genus can’t understand why everyone else overlooks them. And another friend of mine, who has been keeping for years, can’t understand for the life of her why I love my Meller’s chameleons so much, as she finds them ugly! 

(What's most curious is that each of them has a completely different species that they feel is the most important for everyone to love and breed!)

And what’s perhaps worse, is when people insist that experienced keepers who do not break away from panthers and veileds are clearly not very good chameleon enthusiasts. Otherwise, they would be attempting to breed much rarer species because panthers and veileds are for novices, and other species for the more advanced, serious keepers in their opinion.

Whenever I see any comments or threads about this I just have to laugh to myself. People forget that it all comes down to personal preference. It’s why I find Meller’s to be beautiful while my friend finds them ugly. It’s why another friend finds Veileds to be the most amazing species while they bore me tremendously. It’s why some people love working with tiny, dwarf species and I like working with very large species instead. We cannot control other people’s preferences and interests, regardless of how much we would like everyone to love what we love. And we can’t make people feel inadequate because they choose to make one species their pet project instead of another.

Are there certain species that deserve more attention and dedication from more people, especially to establish a thriving captive-bred population? Sure, I don’t deny that. But the only hope these projects have of succeeding long-term is to be in the capable hands of someone who has a genuine passion and drive to see them succeed. Breeding, especially rare species that may only be available as WC individuals takes a tremendous amount of money, time, and effort. Without a genuine interest you can see why these projects are more likely to fail in time. So more than encouraging people to pursue the breeding project we are passionate about, we need to encourage people to pursue their own, individual passion.

So while I hope to succeed in breeding Meller’s in captivity, I also hope that everyone else has as much success with their own species of choice, even the ones I don’t particularly care for. And I also hope that the people who are happy with their pet panthers and veileds who don’t want to take on the financial and ethical responsibility of breeding don’t feel pressured into doing it, because it’s ok to just keep these animals as pets too. Thankfully, there’s enough room for everyone to follow their own vocation within this hobby. The best we can do is encourage each other to pursue individual interests and to never stop sharing what we learn with each other.  

Roaches - A Feeder Choice Worth Considering

Thursday, December 5, 2013
There are lots of reasons to love living in Florida, with the weather being one of the top ones for me. It’s early December and it’s a lovely 76 degrees F right now! I have the windows wide open and a chameleon basking outside in the sun. However, it has one very frustrating problem for those of us who keep reptiles – we have such a hard time finding feeder roaches!

It’s terrible, those of us who want to purchase and use feeder roaches end up spending an exaggerated amount of time looking around for legal roaches to purchase, end up paying more money for them, and sometimes can’t find any for purchase at all! For example, the standard roach for most reptile keepers is the dubia but they are illegal to own here in Florida. So while people in other states can find them for sale at perhaps $50 for 1000 or more, we are stuck paying $10 or more for 25 measly discoid nymphs (the legal sister species of the dubia). And that’s if we can find discoids for sale at all! Since they are less popular, they’re often sold out on feeder websites and we can’t purchase any. The only alternative is to get dubias illegally from others that have them, but I don’t personally want to risk getting into legal trouble over some roaches!

Charlotte the Meller's enjoys a discoid roach nymph for breakfast. 
So rejoice if you live in a state where you have access to dubia roaches! Roaches make an excellent, truly cost-effective feeder. 

Here are a few reasons to look into starting a small (or large!) colony:

1. Much meatier than crickets.

2. Live significantly longer than crickets (about a year or so.)

3. Breed prolifically and easily (an adult female could give birth to about 20 nymphs a month.

4. Very easy to care for. Just need a plastic tub, some egg flats, food, water, and heat. 

5. Do not climb smooth surfaces, fly, or jump.

6. Do not make noise (just the pitter-patter of roach feet on egg flats.)

7. Do not smell if bin is kept clean and dry, not like crickets which always seem to smell.

8.  Gut load extremely well and are voracious eaters.

I understand that keeping roaches is a hurdle to get over for some people (I understand, I have a roach phobia and get goosebumps just writing about them) but they are well worth the investment.

Not all pet reptiles will eat roaches readily, and some will never accept them as part of their diet. They are not as active or fast as crickets and sometimes don’t interest some reptiles. But I think trying is well worth it.

A year ago, when I was living in a different home with as many as 5 species of Florida legal roaches, all of which were thriving, I was completely self-sufficient when it came to chameleon food. I had roaches and superworms breeding readily at home, and would supplement my feeders with pods of worms or small batches of crickets every so often, but it was a delight (and much more affordable) to not have to purchase 2-3 thousand crickets every month. I was saving around $100 a month on crickets and shipping.

So I highly recommend that everyone who might be interested in a better feeder, getting tired of crickets, or just wants to be more self-sufficient by breeding their own feeders should look long and hard into keeping roaches.

Some very easy species to keep that don’t climb or fly are:
  •          Dubias
  •           Discoids
  •           Dusky cave roaches
  •           Giant cave roaches
  •           Orange head roaches

Others that do climb but might be worth looking into if you’re brave*:
  •          Madagascar hissing roaches
  •           Green banana roaches
  •           Surinam roaches
  •           Turkistan roaches

*These do climb and might be difficult to contain in normal tubs. Care must be taken to use Vaseline or something similar around the top edge to keep them in.

So as I sit here trying to find someone to sell me Florida-legal roaches to supplement my own colonies, look into colonies of your own. You may find a healthy new food source for your pets and save a lot of money down the line because of it. 
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