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Are you setup for your new chameleon?

Introduction to Chameleon Care

Are you setting up for your new panther chameleon? Do you still have questions about what you need? Are you unsure about your current setup? Well you came to the right place. This article will focus on setting up a new home for your panther chameleon. Throughout the article, you will find helpful hints and tips that will save you both time and money!

Chameleon CageChameleon Cage

What kind of Cage do I need?

The first thing you will need is an all screen cage. Panther chameleons need a screen cage because they require good ventilation. Don't let anyone tell you different! Stagnant air and constant moisture can get them sick. A well-ventilated cage will dry everything out. The type of screen cage you purchase will depend on your budget and needs. The two most popular cages being used today are aluminum screen cages and Reptariums™. Both are good chameleon cages, and each has its pros and cons. The following is a quick overview and comparison of each:

Reptarium™Aluminum CageWinner
Price Very inexpensive, and they come in many sizes. Prices range from $22 to $85 depending on size. Can cost twice as much as Reptariums™ of a comparable size. Reptarium™
Maintenance Can be taken apart completely for cleaning. The material is lightweight and can either be hand washed or machine washed. The bottom of the cage will require a plastic tray. You have the option to buy the Soft Tray from the manufacture of the Reptarium™, or you can make one, using plastic/vinyl that can be purchased from a hardware store. Most come with a solid bottom that can be easily cleaned. Tie
Durability/Construction Light weight, packs away nicely, and has a PVC frame that can be used for attaching vines and other things to. Screen material is prone to being chewed up by crickets. Cup feeding can almost eliminate this problem. The zipper can cause wear on the fabric and seams. High temperature of Heat lamps can melt the material if not placed far enough. Hinged door, hard bottom, and cricket proof screen. Some are prone to corrosion. Heat lamps can be placed directly on top of the cage Aluminum Cage
Accessibility The zipper can be difficult to open and close at times. Hinged door makes very easy opening and closing of the cage Aluminum Cage
Mobility Very lightweight, and can be moved outdoors with very little effort. Some larger cages are difficult to move out doors. Adult cages of 2X2X4 are fairly difficult to move in and out. Reptarium™
Visibility The cage material is dark making visibility low. Screen material is easy to see through. Aluminum Cage

Chameleon Cage              Chameleon cage

The two cages are both better than a glass tank, which is not recommended to house most chameleons in. For panther chameleons, they should be avoided completely.

Hints and Tips on Cages:

  1. Do not use any medium/bedding on the bottom of the chameleon cage.
  2. If you decide to put something at the bottom, you can place paper towels on the bottom of the cage to collect waste and excess water. Be sure to replace it frequently as need. (it should be replaced at a minimum of once a week)

What size cage should I get?

The size of the cage will depend on the panther chameleon’s age and sex. At 3 months old, a 20”x18”x12” or similar sized screen cage will be fine for a male or female (see video here). As they grow and mature you will need to upgrade to a bigger cage. An adult female will need at minimum an 18”x18”x36” screen cage or larger. An adult male will need at minimum a 24”x24”x48” screen cage or larger.  The following table will help you choose the appropriate size cage for your chameleon.

Cage sizing chart
AgeReptariumAluminum Screen Cage
0-9 months 22 Gallon 20"x18"x12"
6-12 months 38 Gallon 36"x18"x18"
12+ months 100+ Gallon 48"x24"x24"

For chameleons 0-9 months old, do not deviate from the recommended cage size. If you are starting from scratch, we highly recommend that you consider ordering our setup kit. However, for chameleons 18 months and up, the rule of thumb is to give them the largest enclosure you can afford.

How do I furnish my chameleon’s cage?

Now the fun part! Your chameleon will need a few things to make it happy. Let’s start with the plants.

Chameleon plants

The live plants you choose will be helpful in many ways. They will keep the humidity up, while giving your cage a natural look. In addition to live plants, you will need some branches and or vines. A combination of live plants, branches, and vines makes for a complete enclosure. Place the taller plants in the back and the shorter plants upfront for maximum visibility.

Chameleon Plants

The most commonly used plants for chameleon cages is the ficus tree, umbrella tree, and pothos. All three are safe to use. They can be found at your local hardware/garden/nursery store. The pothos and umbrella tree are quite hardy. The ficus tree, on the other hand, can be a little tricky at times. The number of plants you use will depend on the size of the cage. You have to consider that the more plants you have, the more you will have to clean.

Hints and Tips on Vines and Branches:

  1. Arrange your branches diagonally. This makes cleaning easier. At 6 minutes and 42 seconds into this video, you'll see exactly how to do this.
  2. To attach artificial vines to the cage you can use small black UV resistant zip ties. These can be found at your locale hardware store in the electrical department. The zip ties will fit through any of the common cage screens.
  3. If you are using a Reptarium™ use the frame to your advantage, and attach the vines to it.
  4. Before you use any branches that have been collected outdoors, YOU MUST TREAT THEM FIRST! The easiest way is to bake them at 350F for 30 minutes. This works fine for smaller branches. If you have a larger branch that will not fit in the oven, then do the following: Fill a 32 gallon trash can with water add a 1 cup of bleach. Allow the branch to soak completely over night. Remove the branch and spray it off with the hose. Allow the branch to dry completely before placing it in the cage.
Chameleon BranchesChameleon Branches

Whether you use artificial branches and vines, or the real thing, you will need at least three pieces. One closer to the basking area, one in the middle, and one at the lower end of the cage. The important thing is to provide different temperature levels in the cage to allow the chameleon to thermo regulate. Keep in mind that you should use at least 3 pieces. The more the merrier. Panther chameleons are cold-blooded, which means they cannot generate their own body heat. In order to regulate their body temperature, they either move closer to, or away from a heat source.

What kind of lighting and heating do chameleons require?

Now let’s focus on providing the appropriate lighting and heating for your chameleon. Chameleons need two simple things with regard to heating and lighting. The first is a basking bulb to provide a heat source. The second is a UVB light source to help your chameleon produce the proper amount of D3. The following table outlines the various options you have for setting up a light and heat system:

AdvantageDisadvantage
OPTION 1: 60w basking bulb and a small light dome for heat + fluorescent light fixture and a Zoomed® Reptisun™ 5.0 UVB fluorescent bulb. (Included with our Ultimate Setup Kit) This setup is ideal for juvenile chameleons. The combo has proven to raise healthy chameleons consistently. UVB will only penetrate a maximum distance of 12 inches. More equipment on top of cage.
OPTION 2: Is to use a single mercury vapor (MV) bulb. MV bulbs contain UVB/UVA/heat all in one bulb. They require a 10” dome with a ceramic socket to handle the heat and spread the light out. We currently use one made by Zoomed® called the Powersun™. Good for larger enclosures. The bulb can penetrate up to 6 feet deep. Less clutter on top of the cage. All-in-one bulb. Can get very hot. Never appropriate for juveniles.  This should not be used with cages shorter than 48". 


Reptisun 5.0 Chameleon Light

WARNING. THERE ARE TWO REPTISUN BULBS. MAKE SURE YOU GET THE 5.0. THE 10.0 SHOULD BE AVOIDED.

Powersun Chameleon light Powersun Chameleon Light

Some Hints and Tips on Lighting/Heating

  1. If you are on a budget, you can use a regular 60w clear light bulb as a basking bulb.
  2. In extreme cold or heat you can change the wattage of the basking bulb to increase the temperature. You can also adjust the basking temperature by raising or lowering the basking bulb from the basking site.
  3. If you are buying a young chameleon, more than likely you will need to upgrade the cage size at a later date. Buy a 24” fluorescent bulb and fixture. When you upgrade the size of the cage, you won’t have to buy another bulb and fixture. At least not another fixture. Be sure you replace your bulbs frequently.
  4. Watch out for burning your plants! Make sure the bulb is not too close to any plants.
  5. Change your Reptisun 5.0 annually.

The basking lamp should be placed in the top corner of the cage. Place some vines and branches about 6 – 10 inches under the bulb. For smaller enclosures and  a lower watt bulb, place the branches 3-5 inches from the bulb. Your chameleon will suffer thermal burns if he/she gets too close to the basking light. Place the fluorescent bulb along the top of the cage. Remember, the fluorescent bulbs are only effective up to 12 inches. Make sure your chameleon can get close enough to the bulb to absorb the bulb’s UVB.

Never put a chameleon in a cage without first checking the temperature of his/her new enclosure. You will want to check the temperature of the basing spot with a thermometer, as well as various sections of the cage. Make sure you are providing a range of temperatures throughout the cage. A digital thermometer is recommended for an accurate reading. The following table outlines the appropriate temperature for panther chameleons.

Temperature Ranges
Cage AreaTemp
Basking area 85ºF - 90ºF
Daytime (ambient) 75ºF - 85ºF
Nighttime (ambient) 65ºF - 75ºF

How do I water my chameleon?

Chameleons will not drink standing water. They will only lick water drops from leaves. To simulate this in captivity we use a dripper, which can be as simple as a small cup with a hole in the bottom, or as elaborate as a store bought dripper. The BEST method is an automatic misting system.

Drippers

The least expensive device is the dripper. A dripper works by slowly dripping water over plants, which creates movement. The chameleon is attracted to this as it simulates rain-drops. Drippers should only drip water for a 20 minute duration, 3 times a day.  Many people make the mistake of letting it drip all day long, which floods the cage. This can get the chameleon sick.    

The placement of the dripper is very important. Place the dripper over a plant with heavy foliage like a pothos, ficus or an Umbrella tree. Make sure that your chameleon can drink from the leaves. You will also want to place a small bowl or pot saucer on the bottom of the cage to collect the excess water. Be careful that the water level in the collection bowl does not get too deep, as it can drown your chameleon.

Spray Bottles

Regardless of what type of watering device you decide to use, you should also supplement watering with a spray bottle. These can be purchased at your local hardware store for a few dollars. It is important to mist your cage and plants at least 3 times per day. This will help keep the humidity level up, and give your chameleon a chance to drink.  Do not mist the chameleon directly.  Spraying water directly on a chameleon will cause him/her stress, and can even get them sick. 

Automatic Misting System

This is by far the best way to hydrate a chameleon.  They solve many problems associated with drippers.  Since writing our first caresheets, many new products have hit the shelves.  Misting-system prices range from $59 to $159.  They offer the benefit of hands-free watering.  The biggest advantage is that a misting system can prevent many health problems assocated with over and under watering.  We strongly recommend that you invest in one if your budget permits.

Tip: Many high-end misting systems come with digital timers.  The problem is that these timer have a minimum duration of 1 minute.  This can also lead to over watering.  To correct this, there are timers that have a minimum duration of 1 second.  Ideally, you should mist for 30 seconds, 4 times a day. 

Conclusion

If you are starting from scratch, we highly recommend that you pick up our Ultimate Setup Kit. It takes the guess-work out of chameleon care, and ensure that you have everything.  We even give you a 30 Day Health Guarantee if purchased with a chameleon.    

Now that you know how to setup your chameleon’s new home, it would be wise to setup the cage a few days before you are expecting him/her. This will allow you to make adjustments, and make sure that everything is working properly. It is very stressful for a chameleon to be bothered during his first few weeks in his/her new home. Try to minimize the stress by getting everything setup in advance.

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