In 17 years of chameleon breeding & finding homes for hundreds of babies – it’s been honest mistakes that are the number one killer for beginners. We call this “Overcare” because it’s mistakes made in an eagerness to do one’s best. In parts of Asia, the number 4 is associated with “death”, so here are the 4 most common examples of overcare that can lead to the death of your chameleon.
You’ve just got home from a Reptile Expo, Breeder’s Home, or Pet Store, and you’re enamored with your new companion. You want to do the absolute best you can to provide your pet with a comfortable home. You’re about to setup your caging then you realize…. “Whose advice do I take?” As they say, opinions are like cloacas – everybody has one. You got advice from your breeder, your pet store, your best friend, a forum, a website, a care sheet, a book, and that random guy on Facebook who knows everything.
OVERCARE MISTAKE #1: Over-Misting. Moisture can be the first thing to kill your chameleon if you’re doing it wrong. Regular misting and proper hydration is important, but there must be a balance between misting and airflow – this balance is difference for every person’s cage setup. An environment that’s too humid for too long will act like an incubation chamber for bacteria. This will cause a lung infection. When the cage has insect debris, shed skin, decaying leaves, and chameleon poop this problem can become exacerbated. The most common chameleons, panthers and veiled, come from coastlines, islands, and arid regions. When rain falls, it dries up because of the ocean breeze and open space. Other chameleons, such as Jackson’s can handle a little more humidity but still require airflow and short dryout periods.
Find the balance: No care sheet was written specifically for you, and cannot provide you with the proper information applicable to your climate, your house, your room, or your chameleon’s environment. You must observe how the water behaves in the environment you’ve created for your chameleon and amend your misting schedule accordingly.
- Spray on the hour and time how long it takes to dry thoroughly – in Florida it might take 2 hours, in Arizona it might take 20 minutes. You should always let water droplets disappear completely, and remain dry for 1-2 hours, before spraying again. If you live in a humid region, you may only need to mist 3 times a day. If you live in a dry region, you may need to mist 5 times a day.
- Always mist your chameleon directly ONLY for 25-50% of the duration of the misting, and direct the spray to plants and screening for the remaining duration so water droplets collect. Spraying your chameleon directly for too long will cause fluid to get into the lungs, but some water is necessary to keep skin hydrated and eyes clear of debris (if you have an automatic mister, aim the nozzle at a plant & screen, not at the basking spot where your chameleon is likely to be).
- A dripper is always a handy device to keep a chameleon hydrated – just be sure to have a catch-bucket at the bottom with secured screen overtop to collect the falling water. Refresh and replace daily.
OVERCARE MISTAKE #2: Over-Supplementation. Time and time again, the oldest chameleons we meet received low supplementation compared to what most care sheets suggest. In fact, we had a veiled female live almost 9 years with reduced supplementation. Friends have had veiled males live 12 years on reduced supplementation. Why is the commonly accepted lifespan for veileds only 5 years? Chameleons have evolved to drink rain water, which is pure distilled water. There are only two ways to purify water: distillation, and reverse osmosis. This means that tap water, boiled water, spring water, well water, and most bottled water is not suitable for chameleons. If there is buildup around your sink, there will be buildup in your chameleon’s kidneys. Their organs have adapted to process pure water and acquire their essential minerals and nutrients from a variety of gutloaded insects eaten in the wild. The stomach contents of an insect are partially digested, making these nutrients “bio-available” to the chameleon. Powdered supplementation should be considered therapeutic and secondary to gutloading.
Find the balance: Many experts will agree that there are two factors to a healthy diet: variety, and gutloading.
- No single insect should makeup more than 20% of your chameleon’s diet. This means you should have 5 types of insects on rotation, and the occasional treat (such as a pinky mouse).
- For babies, let them eat as much as they want until adult size. For adults, offer the 5 food items during the 5 days of the week, and offer limited treats during the 2 day weekend.
- All supplementation should be treated as therapeutic and secondary to gutloading. When you do dust insects, the powder should just be barely visible on the insect – not caked on so much that the insect is pure white.
See our guide on supplementation.
OVERCARE MISTAKE #3: Over-Thinking. There’s a lot of information out there. Maybe you heard they do better with natural sunshine, so you think he’d like his cage near a window. Maybe you heard chameleons need good airflow, so you bought a fan or placed his cage near a vent register. These are mistakes that will cost your chameleon its life. If the afternoon Sun beats through that window, the cage will act like a heat trap and cook your chameleon to death – likewise, in the winter there will be cold air falling off the window into the cage, risking respiratory infection or slowed metabolism. When a cage is near a vent or fan, forced airflow will dry the habitat and cause dehydration. Ventilation and airflow must be PASSIVE, not FORCED. Forced airflow will bring dry air into the environment, pushing humidity out.
Find the balance: You have to come up with a floor plan of your reptile room, living room, or bedroom where you are keeping your chameleon.
- The best positions are in a corner or against a wall opposite a main window, door, or vent.
- Use a stick of incense in the area to see where airflow is pushing. You want passive airflow, not a whirlwind.
- If your chameleon is ill and you’ve tried everything, it could be the positioning of the cage. Try moving it and see if conditions improve.
See our guide on proper setup.
OVERCARE MISTAKE #4: Over-Handling. Yes, it’s okay to handle your chameleon. Even the meanest of veileds can be tamed with patience. But over-handling is a critical mistake all new chameleon owners make. Your cage setup is a micro-climate for your chameleon within the inhospitable conditions of your home. When he is taken out of this sanctuary, he’s subjected to alien conditions. All chameleons can handle periodic removal from their environment, but not for long or frequent periods of time. Chameleons need proper heat, humidity, and light to thrive, which they will not get while on your shoulder.
Seek the balance: To tame a chameleon, there are many methods. We find these steps to be the most effective.
- Handle your chameleon for 5-10 minutes per day when he is young (1-3 months old).
- If you bought an adult chameleon that your breeder did not handle, the best way to his heart is through his stomach. Offer their favorite food with an open, upward facing palm. He may not take it for the first several days. Let the insect crawl where it may, but keep your hand as still as possible. Letting the insect crawl around will stimulate a more natural feeding response than if you hold it between your fingers.
- Once the chameleon is used to your hand being present with something to eat, start to hold the insect between your fingers. Once your chameleon accepts food from your fingers, start luring him onto your free arm by inching the insect further and further away (up to your elbow or shoulder). He should start climbing you. Try to maintain this handling session for 5-10 minutes, then let him crawl back into his cage.
- Finally, never grab your chameleon from above like a predator, always gently coax him from beneath. Never rip him from the branch. If he is on the floor, it is okay to pick them up from their tails (they won’t fall off!)
See our guide on handling.