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Chameleons as Pets – 5 Things You Should Know Before Getting a Chameleon

Veiled ChameleonHello, Frank Indiviglio here. Perhaps the most fantastically-bizarre of all lizards, chameleons have long been popular in private and public collections. However, the world’s 195 species, ranging in size from the 1.5 inch-long Pygmy Leaf Chameleons (Rhampholeon spp.) to the 30 inch Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti), often prove to be difficult captives.  Although great strides have been made, chameleon husbandry remains challenging, if intriguing. The following points, drawn from notes taken during my years working at the Bronx Zoo, are useful to consider before embarking on a chameleon-keeping venture.

Chameleons Do Not Like Company – Human or Otherwise!

Wolverines and Tasmanian Devils are more sociable than the average chameleon!  Highly territorial, both males and females will fight among themselves and with the opposite sex. Pairs may get along in large, heavily-planted enclosures, but they must be watched closely.

Chameleons abhor handling, and are best considered as animals to observe only.  Don’t worry, for when properly kept, chameleons will reward you by exhibiting fascinating behaviors…but this will not be the case if you disturb them with unnecessary handling! Read More »

Senegal Chameleon Diet Study – Nutrition Influences Prey Choice

Jackson’s ChameleonHello, Frank Indiviglio here. The Senegal Chameleon (Chamaeleo senegalensis) has long been common in the pet trade, yet there remain significant roadblocks to longevity and breeding. I recently re-read a 1990 study on prey choice in this species. I then considered it in light of newer research that established a link between Vitamin D levels and chameleon basking behavior. I believe both contain important findings that may be applicable to many species.

“What, grasshoppers again”!

In the study that examined prey choice in Senegal Chameleons (J. of Herpetology: V.24, N.4: p.383), different groups of chameleons were fed solely on either Long-Horned Grasshoppers or House Crickets. Over a period of several days, those lizards feeding upon crickets showed a strong preference for grasshoppers, and those on grasshopper-only diets favored crickets.

I have also observed this in other chameleon species under my care at the Bronx Zoo, and in a variety of reptiles and amphibians. As long as the species is acceptable, novel prey usually causes a very strong feeding response. Indeed, zookeepers and hobbyists commonly say that captive herps “become bored” with crickets, mealworms and other staples. Read More »

Senegal Chameleons and Related Species – Common Health Problems

Senegal ChameleonHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The Senegal Chameleon (Chamaeleo senegalensis) occupies a unique position in the pet trade.  Inexpensive and widely available, it can be a hearty captive if given proper care.  However, this West African native is more easily collected than bred, so most that become available are wild-caught.  Collection and shipment, hard on any creature, is particularly difficult for chameleons to endure.  As a result, a variety of health problems are commonly seen in newly-acquired Senegal Chameleons. 

In some ways, the Senegal Chameleon situation reminds me of that faced by Green Anoles in the 1960’s and ‘70’s.  Because they were interesting and cheap, these fascinating little lizards were often purchased without much forethought.  It took many years, and untold numbers of dead anoles, before we understood their specific husbandry needs. Read More »

Chameleons as Pets – an Overview of their Natural History and Captive Care

Chamaeleo calyptratusChameleons, the most unique of all lizards, are truly marvelous creatures to know and care for.  In the past, I’ve written about Veiled, Dwarf and Senegal Chameleons, and related topics (please see articles below).  Today I’d like to discuss some general principals of chameleon care. 

The following information can be applied to most available Chameleons; however, details will vary.  Please write in for specific information on individual species.

Natural History

To date, 186 Chameleon species have been described (Family Chamaeleonidae).   They range in size from the 1.5 inch-long Pygmy Leaf Chameleons (Rhampholeon spp.) to the Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti), which may top 30 inches in length. 

Unique characteristics include a tongue that may exceed the animal’s length, mobile eyes, a “swaying” walk that mimics wind-ruffled leaves, joined toes that form grasping “hands”, a prehensile tail and remarkable color-changing abilities.  Color changes are mainly used to communicate, but also serve as camouflage.  Read More »

Chameleon Diets – The Best Foods for Pet Chameleons

Oustelet’s Chameleon in MadagascarHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Most chameleons will eagerly accept crickets and mealworms.  However, even if you use reptile vitamin/mineral supplements, a diet comprised of 2-3 insect species is not suitable for chameleons – or for hardly any reptile or amphibian.  Your lizards will survive on such fare for awhile, but will inevitably develop nutritional disorders and die “long before their time”.  To avoid this, please read the following article before purchasing a chameleon; the information provided is applicable to Parson’s, Panther, Veiled and all other popularly-kept species.

Variety, an Essential Consideration

A varied diet is essential if you are to have success in keeping, much less breeding, chameleons long-term. The few field studies that have been done indicate that free-living chameleons consume dozens of invertebrate species.  Read More »

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