Keeping Organized & Useful Reptile Records

Monday, January 27, 2014
Just as I keep records of my dogs' important medical records and information, such as vaccination receipts, rabies certificates, and training diplomas, so do I also keep records of my chameleons. I think this is a fairly overlooked aspect of successful pet keeping, especially among people who only keep a couple pets because it seems totally unnecessary to keep reptile records when they can easily remember their last recorded weight or the date of their last shed. But could they remember months of information? What about years?

You can see how even with a small handful of chameleons the amount of details that are worth remembering are probably best written down! Keeping track of weight gain or loss can be an incredibly powerful tool in recognizing the early signs of a health problem, and tracking whether a female's egg count is increasing or decreasing will help you keep their diet balanced. It costs nearly nothing to do and it can be extremely relevant to long-term breeding projects or in case the vet needs pertinent info.

At this time I only have three chameleons (albeit large chameleons!) and they still have their own binder. I would like to show you what my own personal chameleon binder looks like, how I have it organized, and what information you want to keep track of in case you ever need it. 

The binder I use is a 3-ring Kraft paper binder I purchased from Target for under $5. Inside the binder I have the following sections:

1. Individual Profiles & Medical Records
   Where I have a photo and a profile for each individual, followed by any and all medical receipts and vet visit notes. 
2. Periodic Weight & Health Logs
    Where I jot down their weights, measurements, sheds, and other relevant info every 2 weeks.
3. Breeding Logs
    Where I track breeding info such as mating dates, laying dates, number of eggs, etc.
4. Melleri Colony - Future Plans
    Where I keep brainstorm my breeding strategies, future cage builds, and general colony plans. 

Section 4 is probably just for me, but anyone considering serious breeding projects should probably lay out a long-term plan, keep track of costs and profits, and treat breeding like the business move it is. Additionally, since I am attempting to breed a species that is difficult to breed in captivity I want to make sure I keep good records, especially as they relate to changes in my husbandry - is everyone gaining weight better when kept outside or are they not thriving as well? Did keeping everyone on one free range inspire more mating activity or is keeping them separate and then introducing them yielding better results? This is all information that as a biologist I'm interested in keeping, so that I can potentially share it with other's also looking to breed Meller's.

Above is an example of a typical chameleon profile. I have an identifying profile photo, their name, and all pertinent info; breeder/vendor's name, date of purchase, age, species, sex, etc. Anything that might be useful to remember with each chameleon, not just for my own records but so that I can answer any of these questions if I ever sell the individual animal. 

Above is a receipt I have from one of Thaddeus's vet visits. These sit immediately behind his profile page, for my easy reference. 

Above is my current weight and stat log for all three chameleons. I take weights and measurements every 2 weeks, and I monitor length changes to monitor if any of my two WC individuals are still growing (and ergo, perhaps under 2 years of age.)

Any additional information goes in this log. Things like treated for parasites on such date, or any pertinent changes in behavior. I keep vet visit receipts and notes next to each animal but this log gives me a quick look over the last several weeks. 

And in my final section, my planning section, is where I maintain any notes or projected plans. In the example above, I have a page I sketched where I am planning an enormous outdoor melleri colony cage. Additionally, any interesting information regarding this species (especially tips or insight into how others are breeding them) goes here as well, for quick reference.

And that's it! Very simple to set up, and equally simple to maintain.

Does anyone else keep reptile records? How have you chosen to organize your own records, or what have you discovered to be a more efficient system? I'd love to hear what others are doing and recommending.


Leaving a Few Days: What to do with the Reptiles?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Most people have been here at some point. They're going on vacation or need to leave town for a few days and they think... what do we do with the reptiles? It's one thing to leave cats and dogs in a kennel but it's another thing to find someone to lodge your reptiles, especially if you have delicate ones like chameleons or have more than one or two. Just the cost of boarding reptiles at experienced pet stores or vet offices can be prohibitive if you have multiple animals or are leaving for a long time. 

So below are my tips on how to leave your chameleons at home if you elect to do this. I think letting your chameleons stay at home in their own cages is the best way to make sure that their life remains stress-free, that they don't catch an infection or parasites from other animals in boarding, and that their conditions remain ideal. 


This option makes people nervous, understandably, but this is the option I use most often. However, to be safe it depends on a few factors:

  1. Your set-up must be fully automated. This means that you have lights and a misting system on a reliable timer, so that their heat and water is provided automatically. 
  2. You do not have very young chameleons (under 6-8 months old) who should not skip 2-3 days of food. 
  3. You do not have sick or weakened chameleons (or laying females) who could suddenly get worse or need daily attention, medication, or supervision. 
  4. You do not live in an area that is prone to power outages or severe weather, at least during the time of your trip, that could leave the chameleons alone during life-threatening conditions (such as severe snow storms or hurricanes.) 
  5. You will only be gone 2-4 days. 

So, if I have a house full of healthy chameleons that are all fully grown, eating every couple days, and have a fully automated set-up, I feel pretty comfortable feeding them on Friday, filling up their misting water reservoir, emptying out the drainage buckets, and leaving for the weekend. They will be fine not eating until the next Monday or Tuesday, and will have sufficient water for that length of time. Additionally, if the worst case scenario happens and something goes wrong with their lights* or water, they will not be harmed by going without for 2-3 days (at least in most typical homes, where temperatures stay pretty mild.) 

*Tip: One reason I much prefer halogen spot lights for basking over incandescents is that the latter are extremely prone to burning out at the worst possible times, especially the cheap, multi-pack ones. I used to replace my incandescent bulbs quite often, where as I've had the same halogen bulbs now for 2 full years without replacing. So, when it comes to reliability I definitely prefer halogen bulbs. Little more money and a significant increase in dependability! 


In some cases, however, it is much better to have a pet sitter come by daily or every few days to check in on your reptiles instead of leaving them to their own devices: 
  1. When your set-up is not automated, or at least not your misting system. 
  2. When your chameleon is very young (under 6 months), weak, sick, or laying eggs. They will need daily feeding, medicine, or supervision to make sure nothing goes wrong. 
  3. When you are leaving for longer than about 3-4 days.
  4. When extenuating circumstances mean that visits are a good idea, such as inclement weather, common power outages, etc. 
When I do a longer trip away, such as a week or two, (and I only have adult chameleons) I will generally only make a pet sitter come by every 2 days. This is usually enough to make sure that the chameleons are fed, their water reservoir is re-filled, their drainage dumped away, and to make sure everyone is doing well. If I have babies or chameleons that need medicine, I will requite a sitter to come by every day. If you do not have an automated set-up (especially water), I would strongly recommend that you have them come by every day*. A combination of misting and having a large-sized dripper should be sufficient to make sure they have adequate water all day. 

*Tip - Invest in a light timer, at least! They are extremely affordable. Otherwise a sitter will have to come once in the morning to turn on the lights and again to turn them off at night.

But how do you make sure your sitter knows what to do?

I usually end up recruiting friends or family who volunteer to help, but a professional sitter will be more reliable. However, the problem with chameleons is that even most professional sitters do not have a lot of experience with these specialized animals, so it becomes a challenge making sure that whoever you choose will take care of them properly. 

My tips to making sure that even an inexperienced friend does well are as follows:
  1. Keep things simple! Do not confuse or overwhelm a sitter with a 20-page care-sheet. They do not need to learn all about supplements or gut loading to do a good job, and overwhelming them with too much information or too many things to do will only make it more likely that they forget or skip those things altogether. So show them how to mist, feed, and clean, but do not get carried away. Consider skipping all supplements besides plain calcium for the duration of the trip, as giving one supplement is much easier than alternating between 3, for example. 
  2. Leave as much prepared before you leave as you can. When I go away, I will leave small zip-lock baggies in the fridge prepared with pre-cut fruits and veggies for gutloading the bugs so that the sitter can simply throw the contents into the bins and move on. Or I will leave tiny plastic cups with the proper supplement and dose (write the day on the cup with a Sharpie, like Mon., Tues., Wed., etc.) so that they then only have to catch up bugs in a cup, dump in the little dose of calcium, swirl, and place in the cage. Doing little things like these for a sitter will ensure that things are not only easier for the sitter but that they are done correctly. 
  3. Leave very simple, easy to follow schedules. As with resumes or cover letters, these things should be ONE page long, and no longer. Usually, a large, easy to read calendar with chores or instructions is best, or bullet-point lists. Handing a person a long-wordy care-sheet is a guarantee that nothing will be read. 
By keeping things as simple as possible you're more likely to enjoy a seamless pet-sitting experience, and will be able to enjoy your vacation in peace. In all the years I've been keeping chameleons I have yet to have a bad experience with a pet sitter, whether they are friends or professionals, by keeping things simple and easy. 

{ NEW }

I got this really helpful idea from a reader that I thought was worth sharing:

"I wrap my supplement containers in different colored bright tape, so when I leave on vacation I color in the days on the calendar that correspond with each supplement. This makes it much easier for someone new, who may become confused by the 'calcium noD' or 'Calcium high-D' on the labels."

Love this idea! Simple, simple, simple. 

Traveling with a Chameleon

Sunday, January 19, 2014
 More than once you’re going to have to travel with your chameleon, whether it’s to the vet’s office or because you’re moving to a new home. I know the idea can be really stressful for new owners, who worry that they will emotionally traumatize their chameleon during the move, but it’s really not that scary. I've moved my chameleons around dozens of times, not just to the vet and back but they have accompanied me on 5 across-the-state moves, many of which were 3-4 hour drives.

First, you’ll need a box.

Any old box will do but you want to create a relatively small, dark space for the chameleon to sit in. I usually do not even poke air holes in the box if the temperature isn’t excessively hot because they’re only going to let in light. When you put a chameleon in a dark space they will automatically close their eyes and try to go to sleep – it’s just the way they are wired. It doesn’t matter if they just woke up after an 8 hour night, if there are no lights then it is obviously night. Sleeping through a move is going to be as close to stress-free as you can possibly get.

Add a sturdy perch and a towel or cloth.

I usually use a dowel or a length of natural branch and stab it through two sides of the box, so it is suspended across the box a couple inches above the ground. This will give them something sturdy to grab onto during the trip so that they don’t roll around. I will also take an old, small towel and put it on the bottom of the box to cushion them if they fall and to give them a little traction if they end up on the floor (cardboard boxes are slippery for chameleon nails.)

Then just close up the box and put it in a quiet place for 30+ minutes.

Once they’re inside the box I will close it up and leave the box in a quiet place for a while, usually while I finish packing up other things into the car or while I get ready. At first the chameleon will scratch at the sides a bit but very quickly (if the box is dark) they will find their way onto the perch, hold on, and shut down for the “night.” At that point, I will take the box, pack it into the car, and go wherever I need to go with them.

Usually when I arrive at my destination I will open up the box to find a chameleon in his sleeping colors, with just half an eye open, and totally unaware that we’ve traveled across the state or to see the vet!

This works for much longer trips than just 3-4 hours, of course. If you are doing a 2-3 day journey you can pack your chameleon away in a box like this and set them up in a temporary cage at night when you arrive at a hotel, so they can bask and get water. Some people travel in the car with the chameleons in a screen cage but I feel that chameleons never relax like this, and will pace the cage the entire duration of the trip trying to figure out what is happening. And even if you drape the cage in a sheet they still have more potential of falling, hitting branches and pots on the way down, and hurting themselves in transit. I feel that a small, safe container is always going to be safer and more stress-free than travelling in their screen cage, personally.

Moving to a new home: How best to set them up

As another tip, if you are moving homes and are wondering what to do with them during the duration of the move itself, this is what I do – I will usually put all the chameleons in their little boxes and let them relax while I take their cages apart and pack them. When I arrive at our new home I will usually leave the boxes somewhere quiet in the new house, unpack the truck, and then put their cages together. It’s only once their cages are done that I will take them out of their boxes. I always want it to feel like they come out of their travel boxes into their cages again, as if (almost) nothing had changed. It makes the transition infinitely easier for them, even if it means that they spent 10 hours in a box. But they certainly don’t realize it, because they sleep right through it!

So that’s it, that’s how easy it is to travel with a chameleon in my opinion! 

Like Father Like Son

Monday, January 6, 2014
How much will any baby chameleon look like its parents? It's a tough question to answer, and it depends on lots of genetic factors. But it's a question that many new chameleon keepers (particularly when considering a panther or veiled for the first time) ask themselves when they order a baby sired (fathered) by one male or another. 

On one hand, the chameleon breeders' method of advertising offspring from a specific male or another is a little deceptive. It seems to imply that the baby you choose will look like its father, which may or may not be the case at all. But on the other, it's the only way to give buyers a look into the potential behind these little brown or green babies for sale. 

If you're anything like I am, when you see a male panther you love, for example, you would do anything to buy a carbon copy of that male. I've certainly paid more money and waited a long time to try to do just that before, with mixed results. In one instance, I wanted a solid red and blue Ambilobe panther just like Fierce (pictured below, first photo) and waited a good year before I was able to purchase a son that had the same potential. However, I also tried to purchase a blue and red Nosy Be from a different breeder and got a son that was the total opposite. 

Fathers on the left and sons on the right. Above is an Ambilobe named Fierce and the son I purchased. The son had a lot of white but the blue and red was exactly what I was looking for. I was very pleased! But below, as a good example of the "wild card" that WC parents can be, you can see the dramatic difference between father Greaseball and son Cobalt, who grew up to be extremely yellow!

So how likely is it that you'll get a baby male that will look just like his father? Depending on what type of chameleon you're getting, I think it's fairly unlikely. If you're purchasing a panther locale that naturally has a lot of variation, like Ambilobe, I think it's very unlikely to get one specific look to manifest in every offspring every time. If there is wild caught blood recently in the family line, I also think that adds a high probability of "wild card" genes popping up. Additionally, remember that the offspring have 50% of their mother's genetics as well, so her half of the bloodline will make a big impact on what the offspring look like. 

If you truly want to improve your chances of buying a panther or veiled chameleon with a specific look:

  • Ask to see as many males on both sides of the bloodline as possible: Most breeders will be happy to show you the father, the grandfathers on both sides, and great-grandfathers if available.
  • Related to point one, see if the breeder is breeding for a specific look: Are all the males yellow-bodied blue-bar Ambilobes? Is that the look the breeder is trying to attain or are they breeding all sorts of different varieties of Ambilobes together?
  • Talk to the breeder and request an animal with a specific look: Most breeders will be happy to accomodate you if they can. Typically they will keep an eye out in their stock for an animal that shows the potential you are looking for and will let you know. 
  • Be willing to wait longer and pay a little more: It's harder to see what a baby panther or veiled will grow up to be when they are small and tan; be willing to pay a little more for a hold-back (a chameleon that was held back a little longer in case it was breeding-stock-worthy) that may be showing more obvious color and pattern. 
  • Consider buying an adult instead: There's nothing more certain than buying an adult chameleon that already has his full color and pattern potential. This is the only way to certify 100% that you're getting the exact chameleon you want. People re-home adult chameleons all the time, so keep an eye out in classified ads online. 

With a little patience, perhaps a little more money, and some luck you can certainly get the chameleon you want if you're willing to look for it. I will be following these same steps later this coming year as I look for my next panther chameleon! So wish me luck, and good luck to you as well!

Another example - Sire Iceman, from The Chameleon Company (a pure Nosy Faly), and the son from him I had, Daedalus. Daedalus was a Faly and Ambanja mix, an accident that happened when the mother turned out to not be a Nosy Faly as well. See what a difference the mother's genetic contribution makes. 
Two chameleons, both owned by Dr. O's Tie-Dyed Chameleons, with the sire, Pixel on the left and one of his hold-back sons, Prism, on the right. They both look very similar, but most of Prism's siblings were much more blue and green. They do not share his bright reds and yellows (yet, anyway!) 

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