{ Updated } Keeping Organized & Useful Reptile Records

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
I few weeks ago I covered how to put together a useful chameleon (or other reptile) reference binder that would keep track of important information, Here. However, every time I would reach for the binder to input a new weight or to file away new documents I was left feeling a little like the binder, in the form I had it, was not quite living up to its potential. 

So yesterday I paid Staples a visit, found new tab dividers from Martha Stewart, purchased a beautiful new aqua binder from Office Depot, piled up my documents, vet receipts, and weight records on the bed, and sat at my computer and re-did all my digital print-outs for the binder. So in light of this, I wanted to show it to you again, in hopes that the new way I approach the information I track will be more useful for others. 

The binder, with the five major section tabs and the three tabs separating the three individual chameleons at the top.

I love this binder! It's a really bright aqua and white herringbone pattern from See Jane Work. I added a gold tape label with white marker. Easy to change if I want to rename the binder.

If something I do is functional as well as pretty, I'm much more likely to maintain it and keep it organized. I've always gotten extra points in biology from professors or peers for keeping the most visually aesthetic and neat lab reports! It's just how I am.

Without further ado, the binder is now divided into the following 5 sections:

1. Individual Profiles & Medical Records 
2. Periodic Weight & Health Logs and Husbandry Notes 
3. Breeding Logs
4. Investment & Profit
5. Future Melleri Project Plans

I'll talk a bit about each one below. 

Each chameleon still gets his or her own profile page. I have included all sorts of information I did not have included in the first version, things like the vendor or individual I purchased them from, their contact info, any known life history or family history, and that sort of thing. This is a much neater and more thorough individual profile for each of my chameleons now. 

Immediately following each individual's profile page are their medical records, if any. So above we have one of Guinevere's vet visit receipts from her treatment right after her profile. This allows me to go to each specific chameleon and track their medical treatment or costs. Because all the medicines each one has required are written right there on the receipt it makes it so much easier for me to go back and find the name of a specific medicine for reference. 

Then, in the following tab section "Periodic Weight & Health Checks" we have an example of an individual's health log. I decided to keep it one page per animal, in case I add more in the coming weeks/months. So above we have Charlotte's heath log, with the dates, her weights in grams, and her total length in inches (to see if she might still be growing). Below, towards the bottom of the page, there is another table where I track shedding dates. 

Following each individual health log I have a notes and observations page, where I write down any notes I may need with the date and the name of the animal it refers to. Things like changes in appetite, a strange behavior, the possible start of a medical issue, etc. 

Following that, I decided that I should probably write occasional "lab reports" about how the group is doing with their current husbandry (because husbandry & health go hand-in-hand). Here I would do an analysis of what I've been doing so far, what has worked, what hasn't, and what my next moves should be. These also jot down current husbandry parameters, such as average daily temperatures, amount of misting, and diet. 

 Under the "Breeding" tab, I have made logs for males and females separately, and then one for future neonates. The one for females is above, and tracks who she mated with, how long gestation lasted, how long it took her to lay the eggs, how many eggs, whether the eggs were fertile or not, and information about incubation. Towards the bottom of the page there is a table for the exact hatch dates of each neonate that results from said clutch. 

Here, on the other hand, is the log for males. It asks who the male mated with, how long the two were together, how copulation proceeded, if the copulation resulted in a fertile clutch, and other details of the resulting clutch. This method should allow me to track the verility of a clutch in respect of who the parents are. Say, if all of X and Y's clutches yield weak neonates, that will be a pairing I never do again. 

Finally, one of my new sections is "Investment and Profit." I have a horrendous memory for math and numbers, therefore it's important for me to track how much money goes into this project and then (down the line) track how much money I am able to make back (if any.) I find it important to know, especially for breeders, how much they are really investing in this hobby. If we ever want to sell hard-won captive bred offspring to the hobbyist market we have to know what is truly a fair market price for the animals we produce.

For example, when I was asked last year how much I spent on vet bills in 2013, I didn't know but I was pretty certain that I hadn't passed the $300 mark by much. How much did I really end up spending at the vet for my chameleons? Over $640! I was more than 50% under! Shows how valuable it is to track these types of things, especially when running a business or a rescue where money is vital. 

I also have a summary sheet that my veterinarian printed out for me detailing all the medical procedures I had done last year. This puts all my vet expenses in one place, easy to refer back to. Vets are usually happy to re-print any receipts you ask for, so don't be nervous about asking for your pet's records.

And the final section in my binder, once again, is "Melleri Project Future Plans." I am still doodling, planning, and calculating what my next moves with this species will be as far as breeding, housing, and rehabilitating. 

I have a dream of setting up a successful breeding operation, yes, but also to take in and rehabilitate injured, sick, or neglected Meller's chameleons from around the country. Therefore, I am already planning how best to set up these two operations, where my own private stock will be safe but where I can attend to new rescues, get them healthy, and place them into homes with capable chameleon keepers who will contribute to breeding efforts. I still foresee this aspect of my planning to be at least 2 years away, but I am a planner at heart so I am already incorporating ideas as I see them. 

And that is it! The new look at my chameleon record binder for what I'm calling The Melleri Project. If anyone is interested in having any of these printables for their own binders please don't hesitate to send me a message - I will be happy to email out the Word files that you can print out as they are or edit to fit your own needs. And I'd love to hear any ideas anyone else may have regarding keeping reptile records neatly organized and accessible! 

Rescuing Guinevere - A Plea for Responsible Ownership

Monday, February 17, 2014
We had just lost a fresh WC Meller’s chameleon the week before to suspected kidney damage, so my boyfriend at the time and I were thrilled when we got the call from a friend letting us know that someone a drive away from us was willing to rehome their adult female for free. It sounded like the best possible thing that could have happened, given the circumstances, and we prepared to make the 3 hour drive to pick up this chameleon.

Shy Guin the day after being in her new home. We didn't know how sick she was... yet. 

When we arrived at the house we were greeted by a pleasant woman, a large dog, and the overwhelming smell of accumulated pet odor from within the house. Even as the owner of two dogs myself I was surprised by the pungent intensity but we chatted politely with the owner and proceeded to walk over to the room where she kept her reptiles. If the smell was intense, the sight of the animal cages was worse – they looked as if (like the carpets) no one had bothered to wash them in a substantial amount of time, so much so that glass terrariums were coated with a film of waste, tracked up by little crested gecko feet.

Guinevere's tail - this might indicate some level of
calcium deficiency at some point in her life. Part of
 her neglect, we suspect. 
The Meller’s chameleon, the one known now as Guinevere, was in a Reptarium cage much too small for her size, which was placed on the floor with only one bendy-vine stretched across the cage for her to perch on. On the floor of the cage was what looked like a shallow baking sheet with no more than an inch or two of soil – her laying bin? I was told that she never bothered to dig to lay her infertiles, she would just drop them from her perch onto the floor. What else would she do with them, I wondered. I saw no signs of any plants or surfaces within the cage from which to drink and no source of water.

 I was taken aback by how little this lady still cared about her reptiles. The geckos in the half a dozen glass tanks were filthy, so much so that their toes were no longer sticky, they had no identifiable source of food or water, and most had lost their tails to overcrowding. My boyfriend had not planned on bringing any other reptiles home but seeing the condition of the geckos he proceeded to pack as many as possible into our car.

When we got home he soaked the geckos in a warm bath and I settled Guinevere into her new home. Within a few days it was obvious that the geckos were going to be fine in their new lushly planted community tank, but that Guinevere had a serious respiratory infection, and what later turned out to be the beginning of mouth-rot (stomatitis) as well. When I contacted the previous owner about it she made excuse after excuse, and blamed the respiratory infection on my husbandry (“you keep her outdoors partly? It’s too humid, it leads to infections.”)

Six months later Guinevere was healthy and all the geckos were still in great shape, some of them even rehomed to other permanent residencies. But it really still shocks me how little some people value their pets, especially reptiles. This was a woman that was highly respected at one point within the reptile community, and here she was, burned out and disinterested. Had someone like me not taken Guinevere, she would surely have died, and the chameleon community would have lost a sweet, full-grown, beautiful CB, potential breeding female for no reason except neglect.

I completely understand how easily one can become burned out with a hobby. But you cannot put aside keeping animals like you would scrapbooking or cycling. They depend on us exclusively for their own survival, and it’s absolutely unethical to let the state of your animals deteriorate to such a degree. If you feel that your heart is no longer in this hobby then, please, give the animals away or sell them to appropriate new homes. But letting them wither away like this in their own filth is unforgivable.

Two of the female crested geckos in their new, significantly larger and cleaner community tank. Full of fresh water, food, and insects. 
Another of the geckos we rescued, now doing extremely beautifully.
Additionally, it’s important to be realistic about the number of animals you can safely and properly care for. If 25 is overwhelming, something has to be done. Narrow it down to just a small handful, so that each one of them can get the best care. There is a trend in the reptile world to collect reptiles (people have “collections” of geckos or snakes) to the point where we end up with rooms full of minimalistic, spartan housing racks full of animals that have become just another breeding individual.  It’s tempting because reptiles are relatively easy to keep, they don’t require the space or attention of something like a dog or a cat. But there is no reason it has to be like this for everyone, and we as individuals have to be much more conscious of how many animals we can each handle realistically. As much as I would love to have many more Meller's, for example, at this time I can only properly house the three I have and not one more. 

As a hobby we skate on thin ice already – not very many people like us or the animals we keep, and every time someone gets busted hoarding neglected reptiles the case for our opposition grows stronger. We look worse as a group, and eventually we’ll all pay for when they have enough ammunition to take our exotic reptiles away altogether.

So please, be responsible! At the end of the day we are a global community, and what we do affects all of us for better or worse. 

Update On The Meller's Trio - February

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
It's been 3 months since I added Charlotte to my trio of Meller's chameleons, and I wanted to do an update on how all of them are doing. I'm excited, first of all, to announce that all three are happy and healthy, which has been no small feat for me. Getting this small group together has been a multi-year endeavor, so I'm glad to have a thriving group that I hope to continue to add to as time goes on. 

Charlotte (left) and Guinevere (right), my two suspected females, hanging out together on the free-range that they share. 

HOUSING | I have settled on a housing arrangement that consists of having my two girls together (Charlotte and Guinevere) on a single free-range that measures about 7' tall x 4' wide x 3' deep with several large branches that hang over the sides, giving several more feet of horizontal space. Meanwhile, Thaddeus (who is smaller and much more nervous) has been moved permanently outdoors in a 4' wide by 4' tall x 2' deep cage and is much happier. 

I would love it if all three of them were capable of coexisting peacefully together but you can't force relationships, so this arrangement has proven to be the best alternative. It's possible that in a few more months when Thad reaches full size and weight he may have the confidence to handle himself with the ladies but as of right now they make him nervous and it means that he leaves the free-range to wander.

Guinevere (left) and Charlotte (right) enjoying some sunshine and misting outside. 
Thaddeus outside by himself in his cage. Since he's been here he has been much more content. 

EATING | These three have been eating like pigs now that our Florida cold front has moved on and we're back to having nice warm days. Each one is eating a handful of feeders every other day or so, which include a mix of roaches, superworms, hornworms, manduca moths, crickets, and anything else I happen to have on hand. They are all still gaining weight, so I will probably cut them down slightly when I feel they have reached their optimum weights. I think Thaddeus is still potentially growing, so I will continue to let him eat more vigorously until I think he plateaus. 

Charlotte enjoying some mist outside. 

WATER | True to form, they all drink like mermaids! In their respective cages/free-ranges I have gallon jugs of water acting as drippers most of the day and then spray down the enclosures several times for several minutes. Occasionally, like today, when it's warm and sunny I will put a few plants outside (my balcony is under construction), fill up the pump sprayer, and let them have a couple hours of warm outdoor misting. 

HEALTH | All three have undergone any treatment they needed for parasites and all of them are now clean and whistles. Guinevere's health is holding up beautifully and they are all in great physical condition. Melleri breeders report that these animals will not even begin to produce egg follicles unless conditions are perfect, including physical health, so getting them all in great shape is step one in breeding them successfully. 

BREEDING | I hope to be able to report any breeding behavior I see soon, but as of right now none of them have shown any signs of being interested. I still have to determine for sure that I do have a male and two females, so if I'm unlucky enough to have three females we will not be getting any eggs any time soon! But time will tell for sure. If that is the case I will just have to get a fourth individual sooner rather than later, and try to see if anyone has a confirmed male for sale. 

I hope that sharing what I learn about keeping this species helps others, or that it inspires other capable chameleon keepers to try their hand at keeping and breeding this species as well. They are amazing chameleons, and we can't count on imports coming in forever, so establishing a captive bred population in North America and other areas would be amazing for these giants. They are difficult and require lots of space and resources, yes, but are well worth it for anyone who is interested in working with them. 


Protecting Chameleons from Other Pets/Animals

Monday, February 3, 2014
Unfortunately, a great number of medical emergency emails I get are about chameleons that have been injured by other pets, mainly pet cats. It’s hard to imagine your other pets ever wanting to harm your chameleons but it happens a lot more often than we want to think. Cats, especially, are very determined predators and are certainly capable of ripping into a cage and harming a chameleon. Dogs are also just as likely to jump up, perhaps knock a cage over, and cause havoc. And even though they aren’t directly harming them, keeping chameleon cages within sight of a large python or parrot cage, for example, is enough to cause chronic stress which may lead to issues down the line.

So it’s important to make sure that chameleons are kept safe from other pets in the home, to avoid any tragedies.

One of my dogs, Mina, checking out a little veiled. I trust her and she's
 trained not to hurt the chameleons but not all dogs are this good. 
  1. Put up visual barriers so that chameleons cannot see other pet cages, whether they contain other chameleons, snakes, birds, or ferrets. Looking at a potential predator all day is going to stress them out. 
  2. Make sure all cages are placed up high and on sturdy furniture. Not only will chameleons feel much safer in general when placed up high instead of on the floor or a low counter, but they will be out of reach of most pets (and small children!)
  3. Keep the chameleon cage in a closed room if possible. If you have an office space or bedroom where other pets are not allowed (particularly cats) then the cage should go in there. They will appreciate the peace of being in a room with low traffic, too.
  4. If there is no way to isolate the chameleon, consider switching to a safer cage design than screen, such as glass or wood. It’s evident that screen is always going to be easier to tear through than glass or plywood, so if there are cats in the house it might be worth investing in a much more solid cage, something they can neither knock over nor tear into. 
  5. When using a solid cage that has a screen top, make sure cats cannot sit on the screen or tear through it. Sometimes using a large dome or light fixture is enough to deter most cats, but a persistent one may need to be deterred by putting something else on the top to “block” it. You don’t want to use airflow in a glass or wooden cage via the top, but there are creative solutions.
  6. Don’t be afraid to discipline pets! I had to train both my sheepdogs to leave the chameleons alone, and I did this by giving them a sharp “ah-ah!” when they got too close. Don’t be afraid to use typical training methods to condition cats and dogs not to approach the cages. You can never trust an animal 100%, but if a cat or dog knows it will get in trouble if it pesters the chameleon it will be much less likely to try if you are always very consistent.
Some animals are great around chameleons, like my own dogs now, but you can’t expect animals which are naturally predatory to understand that the little green lizard in your living room is off-limits while the little green anoles outside are fair game. It is your responsibility to make sure that all pets in a given household are safe and to take precautions.

Additionally, for those of us who keep chameleons outdoors for days or months at a time, we also have to be very aware of wild animals. A screen cage is also not going to protect chameleons from something like hawks, rats, or raccoons, as these animals can very easily rip or cut through aluminum screen. The weather can also wreak havoc by knocking over screen cages and giving the chameleon a chance to escape. So I recommend the following:

  1. When using screen cages, secure them tightly to the ground using tethers so that the weather cannot blow them over.
  2. When building a cage, use strong materials and fencing. Chicken wire is not going to keep out animals like rats, so a much thicker type of screen will have to be used.
  3. When building a permanent outdoor cage, it might be a good idea to make the final foot or two of height from the bottom solid-sided and then screen up from there, to help keep out rats and snakes.

Mina being very curious with one of my African fat tailed geckos now.

How are your other pets with your chameleons? Do they even notice them at all? What other methods have worked for you that maybe I haven’t thought of? 
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