When In Doubt, Offer Advice Cautiously

Saturday, April 30, 2016
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.

So often I see people lunge at the chance to assist someone else with an opinion or some advice, which I understand is completely normal (and a great way to ingrain information into your own mind when all these ideas are still very fresh for someone) but I wish people exercised a bit more restraint. Below are just a couple examples of why, if you are unsure of the answer, you should either state as much or follow along silently for the sake of learning.

"Here is a photo of my baby panther chameleon. Is it a male or a female?"

A screenshot of a Facebook chameleon group conversation.

In the above screenshot you see someone (light blue) that rushes to offer advice without even knowing what species they are looking at in the photo, much less its gender. Not only do they confuse what is actually a young female panther chameleon (F. pardalis) with a veiled chameleon (C. calyptratus), but makes the assertion that it is specifically a male veiled chameleon, despite no possible evidence of spurs on the feet or any other cues to go off of. 

If you are not sure about the difference between the species, it's best to not take a wild guess. A female pather and a male veiled will have very different care requirements!
Thankfully someone quickly corrects the other person and the original poster of the question is hopefully not too confused by what signs they should be looking for to properly sex their new chameleon. In this scenario, the well-meaning but completely mistaken advice isn't harmful as it is quickly corrected, but I wish the person would have waited before posting if they were unsure of what advice they could offer. 

This is also true when it comes to answering more serious questions, such as anything medical or which might involve advanced husbandry knowledge. If your only experience is a couple months with a veiled chameleon, you will not be able to help someone who just bought a delicate montane species, wild-caught, from a reptile show and now needs emergency help getting the animal stable. Or you will not be able to help someone who might be having trouble with a medical issue. And that is ok! Someday you will, but you will need to read and learn first. Jumping to help someone with the wrong information doesn't help anyone, you or them, as it can derail a conversation/thread. 

The above is another screenshot from Facebook. The photo is not mine.
In the above example we see a veiled chameleon that very obviously has a problem with edema (a condition characterized by an excess of watery fluid collecting in the cavities or tissues of the body) and one person goes on to say that she looks normal to him. The second person has no idea either. If you don’t have enough experience with chameleons to recognize the difference between an aggressive display and swelling of the tissues, then you should not be offering advice at all yet. This could cost this person their chameleon.

Original Question
my 4 mo old just up and died everything fine what may have happened had black in mouth

Person 1: Mouth rot maybe?
Google it and see if it looks the same
Person 2: Mouth rot that sounds horrible
Person 3: It's highly unlikely that mouth rot killed a 4 month old Veiled. Could you go over what
exactly you're using to provide uvb, basking temps, cage set up, diet and supplements/routine.
Person 4: Any pics of him before he passed?
Me: I'm so sorry :( Answer Trevor's questions and hopefully we can help. We can't possibly make a
 guess with such little info, it would be a total stab in the dark.
Person 5: Mouth ROT!!

In the above example we have several people jumping to a diagnosis again without the slightest hint at what the actual cause could be. Again, well-meaning but inexperienced, people jump to give an answer without finding out more first. Mouth rot, an infection, doesn’t present itself as “black in the mouth,” it will present like other infections in the way of swelling (of the lips, gums, etc.), bleeding from the gums, missing teeth, thick saliva, build-up of bacteria (usually puss-colored, white or yellowish), and open wounds/sores. It may involve black at some point if areas have become severely necrotic, but the disease has to advance quite a bit first. Jumping to a diagnosis of mouth rot is not useful here, as there could be several other explanations for the sudden death, but we need more information and photos first to make a better guess. 

Essentially, please use caution. Remember that what you recommend may have far-reaching consequences, and that it's important that you are certain of what you are saying or label your comments as a best guess ("I'm not sure, but...") so that the one doing the asking recognizes the uncertainty. I do this as well, I do not always have all the answers to the questions I receive and I make it a point to say that I am using an educated guess. Definitely read, and participate, and ask questions to your heart's content! That's the best way to learn. But when it comes to offering advice, if you are not sure of what the right answer is then it's best to use a little restraint. 


  1. I'm sure I've done this in the past, even on chameleonforums, though not as egregious as mixing a veiled and a panther haha. Nowadays, I link to entries from your blog here as reference for answers for others, especially things I know only a little about.

    1. I'm sure I've probably said something I shouldn't have as well in the beginning, although I used to cover myself a lot with an "I'm not sure, but I think..." just in case haha. Thank you, I appreciate it!

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