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- Common Group: CHAMELEONS
- Common Name: Panther Chameleon
- Scientific Name: Furcifer pardalis
- Distribution: Madagascar
- Size: 12" - 24"
Panther Chameleons are from the island of Madagascar, and are generally found throughout the entire island as well as the numerous smaller islands surrounding the main island. These chameleons often come with strange looking names, such as Nosy Be, Ambanja, or Ambilobe. These refer to the specific island or region that a specific line of chameleons originated from. Line breeding with other chameleons from the same region produces chameleons that will tend to have the same characteristics, for example bright oranges, greens, and reds are common with Sambava panther chameleons, while Ambilobe chameleons often have blue or red barring across their sides.
Because they inhabit such a wide range of habitats within their range, they are hardy and durable in captivity. Adults can take relatively wide temperature extremes, although they will only exhibit their best colors when kept within their ideal range. Panther chameleons also have calm dispositions and make ideal beginner chameleons. Male chameleons can get considerably larger than females, and also develop the brightest and most intense coloration of the species. Females stay smaller than males, and often do not become as bright as their male counterparts.
Baby panther chameleons do best in relatively small cages, which will make it easy for them to find things such as heat and food. Aluminum screen cages are the norm for housing chameleons, although appropriately sized Reptariums can also be used. For setting up babies, the 38 gallon Reptarium can be an inexpensive alternative to aluminum screen cages, as well as being easy to clean and place outside to provide your baby with natural sunlight.
Adults require a cage that's at least 24 x 24 x 36", which can be found in both aluminum screen cages or Reptariums. When it comes to cages for adult chameleons, however, bigger is always better. Ideally, an adult male panther chameleon can be kept indoors in an aluminum screen cage that measures 24" x 24" x 48", and then on days with good weather, housed outdoors in the largest size Reptarium available.
Lighting and Heating
Chameleons are diurnal, basking lizards, meaning that they are out during the day and prefer basking in sunlight. Because of this, they will require basking lights and UVB lights during the day in order to thrive. During the day, Panther Chameleons prefer to bask at temperatures between 90 and 95 degrees, although in a large enough cage a basking spot in the 100s is not out of the question. It is important to ensure that within the cage, the hotter the basking spot, the cooler the rest of the cage should be. The bottom of the cage should be no hotter than 80 degrees, while the top of the cage should be no cooler than 90 degrees. Because temperature is so important, use of a high quality thermometer is highly recommended.
In small, baby-sized cages, a basking bulb of 75 watts should be plenty, while in larger cages, hotter bulbs such as 100 watts should be used.
Panther chameleons are extremely sensitive to high quality UVB lighting, which is essential for their proper bone development and growth. Without a quality UVB light, your panther chameleon is likely to develop severe bone deformities and/or slowly die, often from a condition known as "metabolic bone disease". With this in mind, while corners can be cut when it comes to lighting your cage, the UVB lights are one place where no expense should be spared. As with anything else, there are options. The traditional UVB light setup is a strip light with a 5.0 ZooMed Reptisun bulb inside. This setup should be used in conjunction with a regular basking bulb, as the traditional basking bulbs do not emit any UVB. In larger cages with more room for heat to dissipate, a mercury vapor bulb is a highly recommended source of both heat and UVB. Mercury Vapor Bulbs are extremely large, hot, and bright bulbs that emit several times the UVB that a traditional UVB fluorescent tube will emit. Because of their extra heat and UVB production, chameleons housed under these lights often do better than chameleons housed under traditional lighting.
In addition to quality indoor lighting, whenever possible your chameleon should also be exposed to as much natural sunlight as possible. There is no substitute for natural sunlight, although the attempt to mimic it is the entire reason for all the fancy lighting just discussed above!
At night, Panther Chameleons can tolerate night time drops well into the 70s, and can take occasional drops into the high 60s. As long as daytime temperatures reach into the 90s, they can take relatively cold temperatures at night. As long as temperatures are above 70 degrees, night time heat is not needed. However, for those concerned about their chameleons, use of a60 watt nightlight red bulb will often provide plenty of heat for your chameleon at night.
Chameleons are arboreal, or tree dwelling, lizards, and as such prefer lots of branches and plants within their enclosure to climb on. In addition, branches should provide a basking spot that is within 6 inches of the basking and UVB lights. When it comes to exactly what items to use within the enclosure, most commercially available decor items are suitable. This includes but isn't limited to wood products such as sandblasted manzanita branches, sand blasted grapewood branches, bamboo roots, Sumba vines, or Surreal Vines.
In addition to wood products, use of live ficus trees is an excellent option to provide cover and help aid in boosting humidity within the cage. Another option for adding live plants to the cage is to mount them in small and larger sized magnetic potting ledges. In addition to live plants, there are many options to provide visual barriers for your chameleon to hide behind. Magnetically attached vines, magnetically attached vine bridges, magnetically attached basking ledges, tropical vines, and jungle vines are all popular options. In addition to these, you can also twist together small and large jungle vines to create naturalistic looking vines to stretch across your cage.
Panther chameleons do not typically drink from standing sources of water, although there are anecdotal stories of chameleons that have been taught how to drink from bowls of water. This is unusual, however, and you should expect to mist your cage at least twice a day, either with a hand spray bottle or pressure spray bottle. Use of a dripper can be one option to provide a running stream of water for your chameleon to drink from. An automated misting system can make your life considerably easier, although putting a fogger on a timer can be a close second to using a more expensive misting system.
Panther chameleons are primarily insectivores, and will live off of appropriately sized crickets, mealworms, giant mealworms, superworms, waxworms, dubia roaches, hissing cockroaches, lobster roaches, and many other roach species can all be offered for variety. In addition to live food, many chameleons can be taught to feed off of tongs, which opens up the door to canned and frozen prey items, which can double or triple the variety of food items offered to your chameleon. Examples of canned prey items include caterpillars, grasshoppers, snails, silkworms, dragonfly larvae, and earthworms.
Supplementing chameleons is sometimes considered a controversial topic, with many keepers arguing over frequency, brand of supplement, quantity, and use of D3 and/or vitamins. For the average keeper, however, it is recommended to use a quality supplement specifically designed for use with chameleons each time you feed, such as Minerall Indoor for chameleons housed indoors, and Minerall Outdoor for chameleons housed outdoors. For the advanced keeper, there are now many options for calcium with varying levels of vitamin D included. Repashy has designed new calcium formulas with high amounts of D3, medium amounts of D3, small amounts of D3, or no D3 at all. It is recommended to use a multivitamin in addition to plain calcium, although frequency is dependent on the manufacturer's directions and the keeper's discretion.
Panther chameleons are typically the most laid back and easy to handle of the beginner level chameleons, although not all chameleons tolerate handling as well as others. It is recommended to only handle your chameleon as often as it is comfortable with; it will tell you if it is stressed by turning black, hissing, and/or refusing to eat. If you are concerned about whether or not your chameleon enjoys handling, assume that it doesn't, and let it be a beautiful animal to display in your home!