A Quick Guide to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

It’s the ailment that scares nearly all reptile keepers the most. It worries us and sends us online to do hours of research on proper lights, hoods, and vitamin supplements. And we hear about it continuously in online groups or forums. MBD, MBD, MBD, over and over again. Unfortunately, it is one of the leading causes of unnecessary (and easily preventable) death in captive reptiles, and it hits young, growing animals particularly hard. What is it, how do we prevent it from happening to our pets, and how do we recognize if an animal has it?

What is MBD?

MBD is the acronym for Metabolic Bone Disease, which is a catch-all term for a condition in which (in summary) the body cannot metabolize calcium properly and in severe cases leads to the bones of the body becoming brittle and rubbery, and problems with muscles and the nervous system. If it sounds painful it’s because it is; untreated, chameleons and other reptiles with severe MBD will develop brittle bones that can break, bend out of shape, and cannot support their movements. Chameleons can develop tremors (hypocalcemic tetany), problems moving, lethargy, digestive issues, and eventually death.

The good news is that is is preventable, early all cases of MBD could have been easily avoided. It is like heartworm in dogs; extremely easy to prevent but serious once the infestation has set in. Thankfully, MBD is also treatable and although broken or misshaped bones may never heal and look completely normal, the bone density can be corrected and the body brought back into balance. 

How to Order a Chameleon Online

People are often off-put by the idea of ordering a chameleon online. The idea of ordering an animal online and having it shipped to your front door in a box like a pair of new shoes seems a little unsettling. Dangerous or unethical, even. However it's actually an incredibly popular way for people in the Herp world to buy and sell animals that they wouldn't otherwise have access to. And as long as the person doing the shipping takes all the necessary responsible steps for a safe ship and the buyer takes all the necessary steps to ensure a safe delivery, it's something that carries little risk of going wrong.

That said, even for a veteran like me it is still a nail-biting experience! Between the excitement of waiting for a new pet and the nerves of making sure it all goes right, I'll admit it can be a sleepless night. But it is also an extremely easy and normally smooth experience, and I'm going to show you how.

Keeping the Cuban Knight Anole

The last few weeks have featured a lot of little Mojito, my Cuban knight anole (Anolis equestris.) To be perfectly frank, when I attended the Miami Repticon at the University of Miami campus earlier this Fall I was not planning on coming home with anything alive besides feeder insects. But when I saw cups with baby lime-green anoles I stopped and admired them for a brief moment, and then meandered onward to buy some cork bark for the leachies. But then I circled back. How cute they are, I thought. And then kept going so I could buy the crickets and hornworms I needed for my pets. And then I looped back around a third time, and looked at them again over the shoulders of other show-goers.

You get the idea, I’m sure.  

Long story short, by the time I made it home that afternoon I had a new pet. 

Yes, Mojito may have been an impulse purchase (do as I say, not as I do, anyone?) but as an underrated species that could make a very rewarding pet, I decided that I would try my hand at raising one and use him as another ambassador for the blog. So this week’s post will feature him exclusively, and we’ll take a look at how easy it is to care for these beautiful large anoles when you already have some experience with chameleons.

Taking Advantage of Space in a Reptile Cage

Unsurprisingly, my most popular post to date is How to Set Up a Proper Chameleon Enclosure, which even years later still generated the majority of the comments and emails I get regarding chameleon husbandry. Of course I’m guilty of repeating over and over that setting up a cage properly from the beginning sets you up for success more than anything else – a good cage with the correct parameters can help even a sickly pet store chameleon bounce back, where as a mediocre set-up will spell the downfall of any healthy chameleon given a little time.

This week I’ll delve a bit into one aspect which I think many chameleon owners tend to fall short; taking advantage of the usable space within a cage.

It’s no surprise that decorating a cage is my favorite part of the whole ordeal! I just love setting up cages, so I’ll walk you through what I keep in mind when I decorate a cage, whether it’s for a chameleon or a gecko or a snake. I want to decorate the inside of my cages in such a way that I meet  three basic requirements:

1. Provide natural gradients for regulation of temperature and UV.
2. Offer a variety of choices for basking, hiding, lounging, and eating.
3. Make all areas of the cage accessible.

Turning a Screen Cage into a Solid-Sided Cage

When I first purchased the R. leachianus geckos I found myself in a slight predicament – I wanted to snatch up the pair before the person selling them realized how insane they were to charge only a few hundred dollars for an adult, proven breeding pair of Nuu Ana geckos, but I wasn’t prepared to house animals of this size just yet. I only had a week to prepare the cage, and I didn’t want to order in something in the fear that shipping would take too long and I’d find myself with two animals without a proper home.

So then I looked through the reptile supplies that I did have and realized that I could probably emulate closed-sided cages like the Dragonstrand designs for less money and in less time than ordering a new one. I knew the quality wouldn’t compare, but for now it should prove to be more than adequate. I just needed something large, and with mostly solid sides. And then I realize that this could prove a useful tutorial for anyone else that perhaps wanted to add a solid side or two to their screen cages themselves.

Help Send Me To Madagascar | February 2017

The map shows the rough regions of Madagascar we will be visiting on the 10-day expedition.

Chameleon Education & Outreach, Inc. will be hosting an expedition to Madagascar in February of next year. Considered one of the most amazing places on Earth as far as its biodiversity, I can't think of anything else I would rather for for 10 days with a group of amazing, like-minded chameleon experts, breeders, and enthusiasts. Not only does it afford us all safety to travel in a group such as this, but being able to learn about chameleons in their natural habitat, make observations and take readings, and share opinions and experience with other chameleon-lovers would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth its weight in gold.

Weeks ago I signed up for the expedition with the backing of a sponsor, but recently he has fallen away and for sure I thought I would no longer be able to attend. I simply cannot come up with the funds as quickly as ChamEO needs them to book the trip. However, after telling friends about what a let-down this was they, along with various extremely generous readers, were able to donate a couple hundred dollars in just two days. This is amazing! So in a final pitch for help, I have started fundraising and will hope for more amazing help from people who recognize what an opportunity this is!

5 Things I’ve Learned about Keeping Leachies

So far this year has been a peculiar one, as far as my reptilian menagerie. Years ago I swore that I would never keep another creature besides a chameleon (dogs not withstanding) because nothing could be as interesting or challenging to keep as a chameleon. I was possibly right to a degree, but as I stand in my new little reptile room/office and admire my ten non-chameleon pets, I have contradicted myself on every regard!

In May, as a birthday present to myself I purchased a bonded pair of R. leachianus geckos (New Caledonian Giant Geckos), allegedly belonging to the Nuu Ana locality. I had always toyed with the idea of keeping leachies, but for the price of one of these beauties I was never sure I could justify it if they were going to be boring to keep. Who wants to pay $800+ for a giant blob of gecko wrinkles that you can’t handle and that doesn’t move all day? This pair was for sale at a ridiculously reasonable price, so I snatched them up and I’ve been so glad!

This is written with just about 5 months of experience with this species but as they are dominating my Instagram, I am getting bombarded with questions on how I care for mine. Below are 5 things I’ve learned about them while they’ve been part of my little household.

2016 Blog Updates

Hello everyone! I can’t believe it’s August already, I can’t believe the speed at which this year is flying by. I know the new blog layout has been live for several months now but I’m going to point out the cool new features for anyone that hasn’t taken advantage of them yet and mention some new projects that I’m going to be working on.

Are All-In-One Supplements Really Better?

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There are few topics that frighten and confuse like that of supplementation. It can all seem very complicated and difficult, and there are hundreds of different supplement schedules with recommended brands and products listed online so choosing one to trust is no easy matter either. It can be enough to make anyone curse at the heavens and reconsider chameleons altogether.

I wrote out a guide to what the key players are as far as the vitamins and minerals and why each one matters, HERE. It sounds intimidating but it’s not! And knowing this stuff will make supplements much more straightforward and logical.

I’ve seen a lot of talk lately in some of the Facebook chameleon groups regarding the use of supplements that worries me, particularly the heavy push to get new keepers on an all-in-one supplement such as the Repashy Calcium Plus, in the belief that using a single product as instructed by the manufacturer will be more fool-proof and will confuse new keepers less. So the point of this blog post is to outline why I think that is a well-meaning but terrible idea.

UVB for Crepuscular and Shade-Dwelling Species

Before anything else, I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for what is now over 4 years of support for this blog. I cannot believe that the little pet project I thought no one would ever read has become a blog that receives a quarter million views a year and that generates an inbox full of emailed questions, comments, and grateful messages of encouragement. Last year I did not write very much due to work and other priorities but this year I am pushing myself to get back into blogging, which I so enjoy. And all the encouragement reminds me that I don’t just write into the void. Thank you again and here’s to another 4 years! Cheers!

Now, I wanted to give an example of how relevant something like proper lighting is to reptiles in general and what an impact it can have on health, even those that traditionally aren’t given regular UVB access. I’ve explained in other posts how important UV lighting is, so in this post I just want to tell you a cautionary tale, as it were, from my time as an intern at the herpetology department of a major zoo here in Florida. This department had several major faults that I will not go into, primarily because this isn’t supposed to be an exposé on what is essentially a department of well-meaning but stifled zoo keepers mismanaged by a barely competent administration, but also because only one story is relevant here; the story of why the dart frogs were mysteriously ill.

It is not apparent to the public, but in this department there were hundreds of dart frogs in little terrariums lining the walls of all the back rooms, the ones not visible to anyone but employees. And among these, there were dozens of Golden poison frogs, Phyllobates terribilis, in various cages across these rooms. Small, adorable, and indeed golden in color, these frogs were an important breeding project for the department. However, over the span of a few weeks some of the frogs had started developing sores on the palms of their hands, on their noses, and on their thighs. The zoo veterinarian was doing everything she could think of; she had them change the substrate in their cages to a more sterile one, and she had them apply an ointment to the sores as well as a topical antibiotic. But none of this worked, the frogs were not improving. The sores stayed exactly the same for weeks at a time.

Contributor Post | Chameleons: A Threatened Species?

Canvas Chameleons is a small, family-owned breeding business that focuses on the healthy development of Chameleons as pets. We enjoy educating both new and experienced Chameleon owners in order to maximize their enjoyment of these amazing creatures. We offer a wide range of stunning chameleons, as well as everything you need to set up and maintain a quality habitat. For more information visit Canvas Chameleons today.


When you think of endangered and threatened species, chameleons don’t typically come to mind; however, they should come to mind. While only a few species are in immediate danger of becoming extinct and endangered, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) lists "all chameleons are being threatened” in some way (Kundinger, n.d.). Many circumstances contribute to animals becoming threatened and endangered, but chameleons have become threatened primarily due to habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change.  

Habitat destruction due to deforestation either for commercial gain or for increased human living space is a major concern. Chameleons are native to sub-Saharan Africa, Madagascar, and to some parts of southern Europe, south Asia, and Australia. Some species have been introduced to other parts of the world through breeding and release into the wild. Unfortunately this means their homes are primarily in third world countries and, as Anderson (2003) says, “The dangers of habitat destruction are particularly abundant in third world countries…Agriculture is a large part of the economy and therefore, the land has value that is too high to be ignored by the government, as well as families struggling to survive in these nations.”

When In Doubt, Offer Advice Cautiously

Anyone that is familiar with my presence on the Chameleon Forums will probably have noticed that I have been extremely absent in the last year or more, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if my account has been stripped of moderator privileges. I’ve been so caught up with so many other things that I’ve found it hard to find the energy to get online and continue participating in daily forum life as before. I have, however, been a  vaguely active member of chameleon groups on Facebook, specifically groups pertaining to Meller’s chameleons and other advanced species topics, with the exception of a Spanish general chameleon group. But this last week I was asked to join some of the bigger general chameleon community groups so that I might be able to help people with general questions.
As much as I am a huge advocate for free and accessible information, I cringe at the advice I witness on these chameleon groups, both in English and Spanish. It’s quickly apparent that the average experience level is very minimal, but the most vocal contributing members are exactly these. So when a new keeper asks a question  the cacophony of replies can be overwhelming, and it would be impossible for the person doing the asking to know with any certainty whose opinion to trust and whose opinion isn’t based on anything. This can be a nuisance if the question pertains to something like sexing a young chameleon or getting opinions regarding a product, but it can be catastrophic in the case of any medical emergency, for example.

Temperature Sexing and Chameleons

We’ve all shopped for chameleons before, and probably yearned for the beautiful male offspring of a certain species or locale but groaned at the added price. It can cost from $20 to a few hundred more to purchase a male compared to a female of the same species, especially when we talk about the ever-popular and flashy panther chameleon (F. pardalis.) It’s on an almost daily basis that I get emails from readers asking me to sex their baby chameleons, and to read their frustration after having paid more money for what they were told was a male only to discover they have a little female instead. I understand, as males in almost all the chameleon species are flashier, prettier, more ornate, and don’t come with the added challenge of egg-laying. So I see the appeal, especially for first-time keepers.

And for breeders of popular pet species like panthers or veileds (C. calyptratus), the Holy Grail for them would be to be able to produce more male offspring than female offspring, who sell more quickly and for a higher price. But why can’t we? Don’t other species like geckos or snakes develop their gender characteristics depending on incubation temperatures?

Quick Trick | Cleaning Glass with a Lemon

I get quite a few messages a week about how to clean cages properly and safely. This is not going to be a revolutionary blog post, but if you're anything like me then you might appreciate this easy, cheap trick to make life easier. If you have glass cages for any of your pet reptiles (and if you do not use RO/DI water for spraying) then you've inevitably going to get water spots on the glass that a normal cleaner just won't get out. And if you're afraid to use harsher chemicals there is a really easy trick that works pretty darn well, especially if you do use it every few weeks and don't allow the build-up to get too bad. Unfortunately, this will not work if you have etching on the glass due to uric acid in snake feces, for example, but it will work on typical hard water build up.

The acid in citrus, like limes, lemons, or oranges, works wonders to break apart the water stains on glass. And it is non-toxic, so you should feel comfortable using it. I will clean the entire cage's glass when I do a deep clean (along with a bit of bleach to disinfect), but sometimes I just get irritated with how the doors are starting to look and clean those quickly when I can. Especially if I am expecting guests so that they can have a clear view into the cages.

A Case for Ethical Breeding

This is the third in a multi-part opinion series on Ethical Reptile Keeping. The series seeks to urge keepers, new and old alike, to evaluate their own husbandry habits and to think about the impact their choices, from housing to breeding, have on their personal animals as well as on the herpetology hobby as a whole. While some aspects of reptile and amphibian keeping have evolved to focus on pushing and advancing husbandry techniques to ensure that a species thrives in captivity, others have become stuck in antiquated and short-sighted practices which do not promote progress. And certain species, particularly entry-level species, are suffering as a result. I wish to draw attention to these embarrassing aspects of the herp community and encourage people to take a look at how they can grow as hobbyists and keepers, push what we know about great husbandry together, and strive for excellence, personally and as a community.

Having already touched upon issues in housing that I feel desperately need more conscious thought in the industry, this week I will be touching a bit more about breeding and breeding experience. The two (housing and breeding) so often go hand in hand, but I find that in many cases ambitions of breeding dictate housing, and almost always in the direction of cheap, mass housing and streamlined husbandry practices. Ideally, proper housing should dictate breeding projects! And limit a person to how many animals they can responsibly own and care for properly, much less breed, instead of getting carried away and amassing dozens of "breeders" into plastic totes because it's possible. Additionally, ambitions of becoming like the large rack system breeders push people into over-breeding popular species like leopard geckos or bearded dragons, which are easy first-time reptiles, and flood an over-saturated market with offspring no one may want. Breeding ethically needs to take into account the long-term welfare of the offspring you are directly responsible for.

A Case for Environmental Enrichment in Reptiles

This is the second in a multi-part opinion series on Ethical Reptile Keeping. The series seeks to urge keepers, new and old alike, to evaluate their own husbandry habits and to think about the impact their choices, from housing to breeding, have on their personal animals as well as on the herpetology hobby as a whole. While some aspects of reptile and amphibian keeping have evolved to focus on pushing and advancing husbandry techniques to ensure that a species thrives in captivity, others have become stuck in antiquated and short-sighted practices which do not promote progress. And certain species, particularly entry-level species, are suffering as a result. I wish to draw attention to these embarrassing aspects of the herp community and encourage people to take a look at how they can grow as hobbyists and keepers, push what we know about great husbandry together, and strive for excellence, personally and as a community.

To follow along the vein of ethical housing, I wanted to elaborate upon some points I made regarding enrichment and stimulation. In an act of cosmic coincidence, I came across this phenomenal blog post in my social media, which I fully recommend that everyone read carefully and which I will discuss a little bit here.

The blog is absolutely thorough in its references and detailed in its information. The case it makes is simple; more and more we are discovering that reptiles and amphibians are more intelligent than previously thought, and that they need enrichment like any other animal in order to stay healhty and sharp. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we must be willing to provide for a pet's mental needs as well if we are going to keep animals in captivity.

A Case Against Minimalist Keeping

This is the first in a multi-part opinion series on Ethical Reptile Keeping. The series seeks to urge keepers, new and old alike, to evaluate their own husbandry habits and to think about the impact their choices, from housing to breeding, have on their personal animals as well as on the herpetology hobby as a whole. While some aspects of reptile and amphibian keeping have evolved to focus on pushing and advancing husbandry techniques to ensure that a species thrives in captivity, others have become stuck in antiquated and short-sighted practices which do not promote progress. And certain species, particularly entry-level species, are suffering as a result. I wish to draw attention to these embarrassing aspects of the herp community and encourage people to take a look at how they can grow as hobbyists and keepers, push what we know about great husbandry together, and strive for excellence, personally and as a community.

I came across a blog entry from Sean McCormack on his blog, The Exotic Pet Vet Blog, for the second time in a few months and I thought it would be a great idea to share it here as well. I think it really is spot-on. The blog is titled:

"Reptile Keeping: 9 Signs You're Doing It Wrong!"

I'm going to go into some of the points he makes, and why I wholeheartedly agree with him. I think the most striking statement is that most people cannot recognize the difference between an animal surviving vs. an animal thriving. Thriving. This is what we should be striving for if we're going to take on the responsibility of keeping any sort of pet in captivity, and if we're not, then we shouldn't be keeping these animals at all. It just seems to obvious, but somewhere in the miasma of information online, Youtube video tutorials, and forum ramblings, it seems that people miss the mark.

On Hybridizing Chameleon Species

Two male panther chameleons share an "intimate" moment in the shower. If one of these were a female and they mated, their offspring, though of different locales, would not be a true hybrid. Different panther locales are still the same species, F. pardalis. 

"Can I breed my panther to my veiled chameleon?" 

(Or some such combination.)

In honor of Valentine’s day this year, I thought I would write a little something on chameleon relationships. Or well, perhaps “relationship” is too romantic a word… let’s just say chameleon breeding. I get all sorts of questions emailed to me on an almost daily basis and one I see quite often revolves around a curiosity regarding hybridizing different species. I understand this curiosity, and can even relate to why people would like to do this; to be able to, in a moment of Jurassic World-like manipulation, create a creature that brings together the best components of a few species. Say, the size of a Meller’s chameleon (T. melleri) and the triple horns of a Jackson’s chameleon (T. jacksonii), but with the colors of a panther (F. pardalis.) If such a phenomenal cocktail chameleon existed it’s quite possible that I would be standing in line, money in hand, to purchase one immediately. However, since most of us do not have access to the latest gene splicing lab techniques, this limits us to the basic truths and limitations of breeding and genetics.

Can these various species mate with each other?

The answer to this question is that technically, yes, they physically could. Leave a male and female of two different species together and they may do the deed instead of fight with each other. The right question, however, is would such a mating result in fertile and viable eggs? This is where it gets tricky. In order for two species to make viable babies the two species need to be very closely related, and usually that means they are in the same genus (i.e., Furcifer pardalis and Furcifer oustaletii), which usually goes hand-in-hand with how closely the natural territories of the two species overlap. In the case of the two I just mentioned, panthers and Oustalet’s, they would naturally overlap in regions of Madagascar. A panther and a Jackson’s chameleon are too distant, genetically as well as geographically, and not only are they too dissimilar genetically, but they don’t even use the same egg-laying strategy! One lays eggs to incubate while the other incubates internally and gives birth to live young. So such a pairing would never result in anything (except perhaps in injuries!) We face the same problem with a veiled and a panther chameleon, one belongs to the genus Chamaeleo and the other to Furcifer, they are too distantly related because one resides in Yemen and the surrounding areas while one is native to Madagascar. This means the two species probably haven’t shared a common ancestor in some time.

This is not the same type of hybridization people talk about (as a misnomer, in my opinion) when they refer to crossing panther chameleon localities. Panther chameleons, whether they are Nosy Be or Ambilobe or Sambava, are all one single species; Furcifer pardalis. The different color locales came about from a mix of sexual selection and geographical isolation, but they are all the same species nonetheless. So when you cross an Ambilobe with a Nosy Be you are not creating a new species or a hybrid species, like a mule, you still have a panther chameleon but the offspring have lost the uniqueness of each parent’s particular locale.

A panther and a veiled chameleon female roost together for the night. This combination would never result in viable offspring. 

Your next question may be, “Well, Olimpia, what I’m taking away from this is that certain species could technically hybridize, no?” And you’d be right, very tentatively. There have been reports of chameleon hybrids, but none that I am particularly familiar with nor that I could verify with any certainty. On the Chameleon Forums there was an entire thread about someone who had a clutch of live, viable offspring from a veiled and a Senegal chameleon, if memory serves, but as the months went on the babies perished and they never matured enough to tell if physically they looked differently enough to verify the claim that they were true hybrids. There have also been reports of panther and Oustalet’s chameleon hybrids, but none that I’ve heard about in a long time.

What we can’t say with any certainty at all is whether hybrid chameleons grow up to be healthy, sexually productive individuals or not. I don’t have any information about this, unfortunately. And no one, that I am aware of, has ever raised up a hybrid (or several) and bred them to see if viable eggs could be produced.

My recommendation is to leave the subject well enough alone if you are a new keeper and breeder. I understand the curiosity but I would not recommend that anyone try to do this. It is difficult enough for most people to take care of the chameleon species we already have, I would not encourage anyone to try and come up with their own hybrids now and go through what could be an exercise in futility trying to raise weak or sickly babies. Not to mention that it seems like an unnecessary risk to put two adult animals at risk of fighting and injuring each other. This is one of those questions that might be better left as theory and not as practice!
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