Yes! Chameleons have taste buds, and that’s why they go on hunger strikes. We only just discovered how chameleons change color last year, there may be many more things to discover about how they see, how they interact, and how they taste food. Imagine eating the same thing every day – you’d go crazy. When your chameleon goes on a hunger strike, it’s like he’s being held captive in jail and protesting the crappy prison food.
In places like Madagascar, there are over 100,000 species of insects chameleons can choose from to tickle their taste buds. In mountainous regions like Mt. Kenya, where the Jackson’s chameleon is from, one of their favorite foods is slugs and snails! In fact, it’s the endemic snail populations of Hawaii which are most threatened by the introduced Jackson’s chameleon.
Scientifically speaking, all snakes and lizards have a Jacobson’s Organ (or Vomeronasal Organ). This organ at the front of the face (read: nose) picks up basic scents. This is why snakes flick their tongue. The tongue and vomeronasal organ are closely related – for example, day geckos which eat fruit, will lick the air trying to locate exactly where the food is, as the tongue helps activate the sense of smell. Try plugging your nose when you eat food, and you won’t be able to taste the food! Because of the complex structure of the chameleon’s tongue, we don’t quite know yet just how or what chameleons can taste. But it’s evident that they get bored from the same foods and tastes over again, going so far as to ignore a bounty of crickets for weeks at a time, only to jump at the chance to munch down a hornworm or locust.
As the keeper of your chameleon, you must also become its chef (don’t worry, they’re not as picky as actual children). Fresh fruit and veggies – simple as that.
There are a few items to avoid…..particularly cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, cabbage, mustard, kale, turnips, which all contain goitrogen (which messes with the thyroid). Also spinach, which contains oxalates. Oxalic acid sticks to calcium, making it hard to absorb in the body. Prickly Pear Cactus also contains Oxalic acid. Generally, the stuff kids don’t like to eat at Thanksgiving isn’t the best option for your chameleon.
Safe gutload items:
Bee Pollen (really awesome source of amino acids and protein, you can even grind this into a powder and use as a supplement dust once a week – chameleons would eat a lot of pollen on the pollinating insects they eat in the wild)
Young Dandelion Leaves (great to harvest in the Spring)
Clover (yes, dandelion and clover are nutritious and free from your backyard!)
Pumpkin (all parts, including leaves and flowers)
Seaweeds (spirulina, kelp, nori….supplements can be ground into powder)
Brewer’s Yeast (excellent source of protein and B vitamins)
Dried coconut shavings (excellent source of healthy fats)
Lots of guides tell you to do a dry gutload and a wet gutload, but that can be cumbersome – your insects are fine with a wet gutload with dry stuff thrown into it.
As a rule of thumb. Use what’s easiest for you to buy, afford, and store. Once a week, or even every second week, spice things up a bit with something exotic or completely different. This will keep your chameleon’s taste buds satiated.
For the lazy chef…. buy Repashy SuperLoad, or something similar. Be warned that your chameleon will get bored of the taste if you constantly use the same insects and same gutloads all the time. Add scraps of fruits/veggies into the insect container at least 4-6 hours before you feed the insects to your chameleon, so they have a chance to get gutloaded thoroughly! It is also a good idea to buy two brands of each supplement. Two brands of calcium. Two brands of calcium + d3. Two brands of multivitamin. When one runs out, buy a totally new brand. It’s very good to have a variety in the diet, not just with insects and gutloads, but also with supplements.
For the healthy chef…. Do you make smoothies every morning? A few teaspoons of that good stuff could be an easy gutload you’d just be washing down the drain anyway! If it’s good enough for your taste buds it’s good enough for your chameleon’s taste buds.
Here’s an excellent article from the Chameleons! Online E-Zine: http://www.chameleonnews.com/05JunDescamps.html