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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 »

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 »

Chameleon Notes – Rare Belalanda Chameleon; Pet Choices; New Research

Bradypodion pumiliumHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Chameleons are one of those reptiles that fascinate both herpers and “regular people” alike.  How can they not – from tiny, ground-dwelling Dwarf Chameleons, Bradypodium spp. to huge, brilliantly-colored tree dwellers such as Parson’s Chameleon, Calumma parsonii (please see photos of both), the world’s 175+ species are wonderfully bizarre in both habits and appearance.  Today I’ll provide a pet care and research update, and am also happy to report the discovery of another population (the third) of one of the world’s rarest reptiles – the Belalanda Chameleon, Furcifer belalandensis. Read More »

Interesting Facts and the Care of the Senegal Chameleon

Today we’ll take another look at those oddest of lizards, the chameleons (Family Chamaeleonidae), followed by some tips on the care of the Senegal Chameleon (Chamaeleo senegalensis). 

Eyes

The cone shaped torrents that enclose the chameleon’s eyes are actually made up of fused, overlapping sets of eye lids.  By covering all but the eye’s pupil, they offer excellent protection to this most important organ.

Chameleon eyes contain far more visual cells than do our own, and can be rotated 180 degrees.  Uniquely among all animals, the eyes can focus either independently (on different objects) or together.

Vision, Learning and Hunting Accuracy

When a chameleon focuses both eyes on an insect, it hits its target 9 out of 10 times.  In laboratory situations, accuracy falls to 0 when 1 eye is covered.  However, by the second day hunting accuracy rises to 20%.  On day 4, the one-eyed hunters successfully capture insects on 50% of their attempts.

Senses of Hearing and Smell

Chameleons do not hear well …like snakes, they detect air vibrations and low-pitched sounds only. 

The Jacobsen’s organ, which allows many other reptiles to “smell” chemical particles in the air, is vestigial (much reduced) in chameleons.  It is therefore assumed that they do not detect most odors.

Distribution

Madagascar is the center of chameleon diversity, with over 75 species, many endemic, living there.  Neighboring Africa, despite being vastly larger, boasts only 100 or so species.  Only 2 species make their homes in the Middle East, 2 in Europe and 2 in India and Sri Lanka.

At least 2 species of chameleon have established feral populations in foreign habitats.  The veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) thrives in Florida, Hawaii and Mexico, while the Jackson’s chameleon (C. jacksonii) has been breeding on Hawaii since the 1970’s and has recently been discovered in California.

The Senegal Chameleon, Chamaeleo senegalensis

Hailing from tropical West Africa (Senegal to Cameroon), this dark-spotted, tan to olive chameleon inhabits brushy savannas and forest edges.  Often abundant and easy to collect, it has long been a pet trade staple.

Some Cautions

Despite its long history in captivity, the Senegal does not breed regularly, and presents some problems as a pet.  Wild caught specimens should be avoided, as they are usually heavily parasitized and afflicted with stress related ailments. 

Captive Environment

Senegal Chameleons need quite, heavily planted screen cages or an outdoor aviary , abundant UVB radiation and should be kept well-hydrated via frequent spraying or the use of a mister.  An ambient temperature of 76F with a basking site of 85F and a nighttime dip to 69-70F suits them well.

Breeding

If you are lucky enough to obtain a breeding pair, you’ll have your hands full…healthy females may lay 20-70 eggs at a time, twice each year!  Incubation time averages 6 months at 77 F, and sexual maturity may be reached by 5 months of age.

The Smooth Chameleon

The range of East Africa’s Smooth Chameleon overlaps that of the Senegal in Cameroon.  Formerly classified as a subspecies, the smooth chameleon has now been given full species status as Chamaeleo laevigata.

Further Reading

Captive care follows that of the veiled chameleon; however, the Senegal requires higher humidity than the veiled, and does not consume plants.  Please see my article Care of the Veiled Chameleon, for further details.

Please write in with your questions and comments. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Male Chameleon in Madagascar image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Mbz1
Veiled Chameleon in Madagascar image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Billybizkit

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