[New!] One-on-one Coaching

A Look Through the Natural History Museum Zoo of Paris, France

Today I blog from my hotel room in Paris, France. My sister and I visited the Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle's zoo, which left us pleasantly surprised for the most part. Despite being a gray day, raining on and off occasionally, we were impressed by all the animal enclosures as we saw them. Clearly there was a good eye for habitat design, and pretty much all of the enclosures were ideally built to suit the animal and not the guest visiting the zoo.


I would post photos of all the beautiful animals we saw but I'll limit it to just reptiles and amphibians. These were divided into two buildings, Vivariums and Reptiles. The first, vivariums, featured more humid enclosures that featured a lot of moss or other plant-matter. I thought most of them were very beautiful designed, despite the fact that they seemed to use fairly inexpensive materials like moss, logs, ficus, and pothos.



At this cage, we were not happy with the sheer number of crickets in the cage with these lizards. There must have been hundreds of black crickets climbing over everything, and this is excessive. I'm not sure why there was such an over-abundance of food but I hope they aren't nipping at the lizards. 


I was also troubled by how thin the gaboon viper looked, as snakes should be more or less rounded, and not sagging like this one is. I don't know if perhaps this snake has chosen not to eat for whatever reason or if no one is feeding him enough but I hope they correct it quickly. 


The chameleon was also a sore sight for us, who looked thin and dehydrated besides having misted plants. However, at least his cage was properly set-up and he seemed to have access to food and water. Perhaps parasites or some underlying illness are the cause. Had I seen an employee I would have talked to them about it but no such luck. 

Besides these three cases, we were pretty happy with everyone else. 


I took photos of several enclosures, as I liked how they looked despite using very easily available and affordable materials. I'm always looking for ideas to redesign my African fat-tailed gecko enclosure, and I definitely left with a few from here. 


Afterwards, we saw the Reptile building where we were extremely pleased with everything we saw. I would have died for some of their enormous arboreal set-ups for my Meller's chameleons! 



Why You Shouldn't Believe What Pet Stores Tell You

Ok, so I've written about this before (Research, research, research!) but recent threads on the Chameleon Forums have triggered me to write about this topic again. 

All the time I see people come on the forum with an animal that is not doing well. And the first thing we ask them is to fill out the "How to ask for help form," which is just a questionnaire that helps us figure out what could be wrong and how to give people the most relevant advice. All too often the answers that people put down (like size of cage, basking bulbs, supplements, etc.) are all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. 

So when we start to suggest corrections to their husbandry, such as to replace the useless red bulb they have with a proper UVB one, or to switch out their supplements for a safer option, the answer we get is "but this is what the pet store told me to use.

Well, don't listen to the pet store

 Nearly 100% of the time, when someone shows up on the forum with the wrong supplies, it's the fault of the pet store. Practically without fail, it's the pet store that talked them into getting a cage that is too small, a light that is harmful, and supplements which are dangerous. 

Pet store chameleon display. 10 gallon tank with 7 juvie veileds. Woodchips as
substrate, a basking bulb that was too hot, and no UVB at all. This is what pet
stores consider acceptable husbandry. Scary, right? 
The employees at the pet store (whether it's Petsmart, Petco, or a smaller independent one) probably have no idea what they're talking about. They may tell you that they have a 2 year old veiled chameleon at home that's doing just awesome with the exact same supplies as he recommended to you. Well, I've seen the chameleons people think are "doing just awesome," and it really scares me. I've had people show me their absolutely deformed chameleon, with bent limbs, broken bones, and wavy tails and bragged about how great they were doing. All the while totally oblivious to how severe their issues were and how completely and utterly horrible their husbandry was. 

Let's face it, most pet store employees are either teenagers or young adults that couldn't find better work to do while going to school. In the case of the horrible co-worker I had that I mentioned in the other entry, he was a 30-year-old man with a felony who had never gone to college and couldn't find a better job even if he tried due to his poor behavior and ethics. And that's the person who is giving you advice about how best to care for your pet. It makes you cringe, right? 

I'm not saying pet store employees are bad people or doing it with malice, but they're ignorant and their job is to sell pets and supplies. So that's what they're going to do - sell supplies. Even if you don't need them at all or if they're the worst possible thing you could buy. And if you follow this blog you know how often I recommend one product or explain why one is a waste of money, I try to recommend what is best for your chameleon while trying to save you a little money in the process. That's why I emphasize doing your own research prior to making an investment like the one it takes to buy a pet. It's the best way to find out what products you actually need, which ones you don't, and which ones will actually be harmful. 

So next time you're in a pet store and the employee brags about how great his chameleons are doing living under a red light bulb with no UVB, stop, and take your questions elsewhere. Best-case scenario you're just going to be wasting a few dollars. But worst-case scenario your chameleon could end up with serious, and costly, medical issues. 

So shop smart! And take advice with a heavy grain of salt. 

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. 

Acclimating & Quarantining Thaddeus { WC Meller's Log }

On September 7th I received an email from someone who was trying to rehome their Meller's chameleon in the Miami area. They had purchased him as a fresh WC animal about a month earlier and had decided that he wasn't for them. I met up with them to see the condition of the animal and was pleasantly surprised to see that he was in excellent shape (I use the term "he" loosely, as we have no idea what he is yet.) His eyes were full and clear, mouth was clean and clear, his skin looked great, and he had no breaks or injuries. He looked a little thin but nothing too serious. So I agreed to take him home with me. 

 QUARANTINE

As a fresh wild caught animal the most important thing is to quarantine. This is something I haven't touched on in depth yet, but this is a good time to highlight it. This is something we should all do any time we get a new reptile, but particularly with any WC animals, as we just don't know what diseases or parasites they may be harboring. Ideally, you want to quarantine an animal a minimum of 60 days, which would give most normal illnesses or parasites time to incubate and show themselves. 

When quarantining an animal you want them to have absolutely zero contact with other pets. This means that their cage should be somewhere nice and far from everyone else, preferably in another room. None of the equipment should be shared - so no using the same tongs to feed everyone, no swapping plants from one cage to another, and definitely no touching one and then another without properly cleaning your hands. For this guy, who I decided to name Thaddeus for now, this meant that his cage was on the opposite side of the house and that his gear was his and his alone. 


TREATING FOR PARASITES

You can pretty much be certain that any WC animal you bring into your home will be loaded with parasites and other nasties. It's important to treat for these so A, your other pets don't catch any of it, and B, so the parasites don't take over your new pet while he or she is dealing with the stress of their new home. Parasites aren't usually a problem in healthy animals, there's a certain interest on the part of the parasite to live in relative harmony with its host. But when you put that animal through the horror of importation, trading hands with a dealer, ending up in someone's house, and then learning to live in a cage indoors the stress from it all can weaken their immune system and parasites can become a danger. 

So, it's time to do a fecal. Thankfully, you can have this done even in the first days of having your new animal since all you need is their poop. So scoop up a fresh sample and take it to the vet (or store it in a zip-lock bag in the fridge until you can go to the vet) and they will usually check it for about $20. 

If (when) it comes back positive, your vet will want to see the chameleon so they can prescribe anti-parasitic meds. In the case of Thaddeus, his results came back positive for: 

1. Giardia 
2. Roundworms 
3. Trichomonas

So he was prescribed Panacur (a very common anti-parasitic) for 5 days. At this point we have to wait a week after treatment was over, bring in another fecal, and test again. Ideally the next fecal will be clean. If not, we will continue with a second round of Panacur. 

HYDRATION & NUTRITION

Particularly with chameleons, the most important thing you want to focus on while they acclimate is water. So water, water, water. Allow the cage to dry out between mistings but you definitely want to focus on providing water for long sessions and perhaps even having a dripper going most of the day. Thankfully with Thad, he had been in the care of someone else for a month and did not need as much heavy rehydration but it never hurts to provide lots of water to an animal adjusting to its new home. 

Food is also important. Thad was a little thin when he first arrived but thankfully started eating the same day. Since then he has not stopped eating and has put on 20 grams in over a month. I can see his bones and musculature less and that's a great sign. 


ACCLIMATING TO CAPTIVITY

In a perfect world I would have huge walk-in cages outside and let my chameleons acclimate outside, where they would be most comfortable. Unfortunately, I don't, and they suddenly find themselves living in a bedroom/living room in AC and with people. The first two weeks I kept Thad in a large screen cage, as he was small and I could keep him better controlled. But as soon as I saw that he was eating and drinking well I moved him onto a large, tall free range. I think free ranges are a good idea with WC chameleons as they don't have to deal with a cage, so it's a tiny bit more natural for them. With plenty of foliage and branches it's typically a good environment. 

Thad did not take to his free range immediately, however, and kept trying to get down and walk away. But the room he is in is chameleon safe so I don't discourage him from exploring if he really wants to. Meanwhile I will sit in the room with my laptop and work online quietly, and this lets him realize that he lives his life and I don't bother him. I also offer food by hand, and between one thing and another he is already actively eating from my hands and is less and less nervous around me every day. 
__

We will see what the next couple months bring with him as he continues to settle in. Meller's chameleons are delicate and can still crash even if they've been stable for weeks. However, for now he is doing well and I have hopes of introducing him to Guinevere when his quarantine period is over in another month. There is no guarantee that these two will get along just yet (if at all) but I will approach the subject slowly and see how they do. 

Hopefully this is the first step in putting together a colony of Meller's chameleons and starting a captive breeding project. This is such an amazing species and there aren't enough people successfully breeding them yet. So fingers crossed that with patience, experience, and a little luck this project can be successful. 

Daedalus & His Intestinal Prolapse

Graphic Photo Warning

Late last evening I came back home from work and found my 3 year old panther chameleon, Daedalus, suffering from a prolapse of some sort. I got him out of his cage to inspect it and saw that the red mass was somewhat translucent and looked like an enormous bubble, so I determined it was an intestinal prolapse vs. a hemipenal prolapse. They can happen for a few reasons, such as stress, parasites, dehydration (too much of a strain to defaecate when everything is dry), etc. It's not clear what may have happened in Daedalus's case, but the most  likely culprit may be parasites.

Because it was late I didn't have the option of going to a vet right away so I did plan B, which is to try to reduce the swelling yourself with a cool bath with a heavy sugar saturation. The cold water reduces swelling and the heavy sugar saturation should draw fluids out of the tissue, both of which should reduce the size of the prolapse and maybe help to push it back in. This did not work in this instance so I was left to pursue plan C.

The plan at this point was to keep the affected area moist, clean, and safe overnight until out appointment in the morning. I didn't want him to dry it out or to accidentally tear it on a branch or with a toenail so I came up with a quick idea for a chameleon diaper.

A view of the prolapse with the diaper on.
I took a rectangle of gauze I had in my first aid kit and cut it down the long size, so I would get a long and narrow strip just large enough to cover the prolapse. Then I cut two holes for his legs and wiped generous amounts of vaseline and lube along the inside of the gauze. I put his little legs through each hole and secured the two ends along the top of his tail with a tight bobby pin. This kept his intestinal prolapse in a moist, lubricated sling and kept it protected from branches, his own nails, or debris.

This morning he was still fine so I swapped out his diaper for a fresh, new one and headed to the vet.

Because it was an intestinal prolapse he needed to be put under so the vets could manipulate the tissue back in and then do a purse string stitch at his cloaca, to keep everything in for a few days. So I went to go get lunch and I got the call that he was ready a short while later. When they brought him out he was back to bright blue and red and looked as if nothing had happened! The staff were totally smitten with him and he, being the very relaxed chameleon that he is, posed for several photos!

So now we're home and I just have to watch his stitches and feed him wet food only until Saturday, at which point the vet will pull out the stitches (2 days).


And that's that! If all goes well his stitches will come out in a couple days and that will be the end of it. We'll check him for parasites and treat if necessary. But this goes to show that a prolapse is something usually easy to take care of if professional help is sought promptly and the prolapse is kept moist and clean meanwhile. After exactly $192 Daedalus is back in his cage, basking and happy to be home.

A few days later we went back to the vet to remove the stitches. The entire car ride he was pushing as hard as he could to defaecate, so I was sure that when we removed the stitches he would feel immediately better. The vet quickly removed the stitch and we left him to see if he would go on his own without problems.

About an hour and a half later he finally began to push again, and was straining extremely hard. At one point he was pushing so hard that both his back feet were in the air! The vet and I both worried he would prolapse again just from the effort. He did push out his rectum a little bit but when he was done it sucked back in without problems, thankfully! A few more days of mushy food and he was probably going to be ok.


It's been a few days and so far so good! I think Daedalus is probably going to be fine at this point. What little he did poop at the clinic was immediately tested for parasites and came back negative so we will recheck again in a couple weeks.

October 29, 2013 Update

I am sad to report that Daedalus, my favorite chameleon of all time, passed away about a week after getting his stitches removed. We don't know why, and we didn't see any signs at all of him being in any discomfort, but he was found dead in his cage tonight. It just goes to show how well chameleons hide any signs of trouble until sometimes it is too late. But he had been eating, drinking, and defecating so we did not expect there to be any complications from surgery. We chose not to perform a necropsy to see what had caused his death.
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