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P.O. Box 173
Sun City, CA 92586

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A Giant Among Chameleons

At up to 2 feet in length, the Oustalet's is the world's largest/longest chameleon. One of my first breeding projects in the early 1990s was with the Oustalet's chameleon (Furcifer [Chamaeleo] oustaleti), the giant chameleon from Madagascar's spiny desert. Sticky Tongue Farms was just beginning, and one day we received a
call from a man who needed to find a home for his chameleon because his wife didn't like it. We agreed to pick up the lizard.
I had never seen a captive-bred Oustalet's before, and this man had hatched his pet, named Oliver, on his own with very little breeding information available to him. This impressed me. The man was adamant
that we take Oliver only if we would promise to never sell him, as Oliver was
his baby. When we saw Oliver we knew he was special. He had so much personality
and spirit. He was a gentle giant.
We brought Oliver home to the farm, where he would later breed with the females of his choice. He liked to ride on the handlebars of my bike,  and he would often sit on my hat, flattened out and black to soak up the sun,
while eating flies as I did my gardening. His coloration was not as flashy as a panther chameleon's, but what he  lacked in flash he made up for in personality. The squamation (scale configuration/pattern) on his large body was fascinating. Oliver is the reason I became forever amazed by breeding chameleons.

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Signs of Health
If you're buying imported or store-bought Oustalet's go through the usual checklist of ailments. Dehydration is the number one priority as this is usually symptomatic of another condition, such as parasites, stress or improper care. The chameleon's skin should be plump. The eyes should be bright, round and alert. Mouths should be free of lesions or abrasions. The parasite load of imported F. oustaleti can be high. I have had more difficulty getting rid of the parasites in this species than any other with which I've worked. Because of the size and severe parasite load that is possible, I highly recommend that a veterinarian who is experienced with chameleons handle the treatment. If the chameleon's parasite count is low and taken care of quickly there is a good chance for a long, healthy life.

The parasite check/treatment regimen I have used with success is as follows: Always get a fecal check so you know what you are dealing with. If needed, a round of Panacur is my first course of action. This is followed by Flagyl, if necessary. After both treatments are completed a follow up fecal exam is done. If all tests are clean, I get a blood test to rule out
any other possible parasites. If all are negative, I wait three months and get another fecal. If the veterinarian says it's necessary, I repeat the process. I recommend an annual fecal exam as a preventative measure for all chameleons, even if they're captive bred. Oustalet's are often labeled as "advanced" chameleons, and I believe this may be due to the parasite issue, or the cost of the treatments involved to deparasitize the lizards. Once the parasite problem is resolved, however, Oustalet's are pretty much bullet proof in my experience.

Large Cages a Must
I encourage chameleon enthusiasts to as closely as possible simulate a species' natural environment in an outdoor situation. An outdoorenclosure with the closest possible match to the chameleon's natural
habitat will afford a longer, healthier life for your chameleon, and automated systems will make cleaning and watering easier. Chameleons that are kept outdoors can catch wild insects, too.
The Oustalet's chameleon is the world's largest and can attain a maximum adult length of about 2 feet. Therefore, they need large enclosures. A single adult should be kept in a screened enclosure measuring at least 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide and deep. Indoor enclosures need a dome light with an incandescent bulb to provide a hot spot, as well as reptile-specific UVB fluorescent lights on top of the enclosure. A cool mist humidifier with an automatic timer is also recommended to combat dehydration, especially if the area in which you live can get hot and dry. Some keepers build their own custom enclosures. As a rule, the taller the enclosure is the better. Keep in mind during construction to make it vermin proof using tough screening that rodents would not be able to chew through. Don't use chicken wire as this can injure a chameleon's feet. I recommend constructing enclosures using the PVC-coated fencing found at home improvement centers. It is sold in quarter-inch and half-inch square mesh.

If you might someday have a gravid female in the enclosure that is inegg-laying mode and will be digging into the substrate, be sure you construct the enclosure in such a way as to prevent her from digging out of it. Some keepers will construct a wire mesh floor to prevent digging altogether. We often choose pet chameleons by their looks and not their ability to adapt to the environment we can provide. This can result in complications. I reside in the Inland Empire of Southern California, where outdoor temperatures are conducive to keeping chameleons from the southern regions of Madagascar, a habitat with a typical annual rainfall of 14 inches.

The average temperature in the Oustalet's native environment is 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but recorded temps have measured between 104 and 130 degrees. These chameleons survive very comfortably outside almost year  round in my area. Part of the enclosure should offer direct sun for part of the day, and areas of full shade should be available at all times. This will allow your chameleon to thermoregulate, which is a must to maintain health. A broad-leaf
evergreen bush I RECOMMEND FICUS TREE OF APPROPRIATE SIZE TO FIT IN THE ENCLOSURE. TEXAS PRIVIT  IS ANOTHER SPECIES I USE. ANY TREE OR BUSH THAT IS NON TOXIC IF EATEN BY CHILDREN OR ANIMALS IS FINE FOR ANY ENCLOSURE. will provide protection from heat and cold, as well as security. TREE OR BUSH IS FINE AS LONG AS THERE IS SOME COVER FOR THE FEMALE TO FEEL SAFE.
FOR SMALL ENCLOSURES A SIZE APPROPRIATE BUSH OR TREE WITH MEDIUM TO DENSE LEAF COVER.
ANY PLANT THAT IS NON TOXIC CHECK THE LOCAL HOME IMPROVEMENT OR GARDEN CENTER FOR LSIT OF PLANT SPECIES.
Add some sturdy branches for your chameleon to perch on, too.
The temperature in an Oustalet's enclosure can rise safely to the high end of the species' native habitat as long as the humidity rises too. Dry heat is much more dangerous to a chameleon than humid heat.
IN A SMALL CAGE WITH THE MILLIMEAN BOTTOMS I USE PAPER TOWELS. MOST SUBSTRATE CAN GET CAUGHT ON A CHAMELEONS TONGUE CAUSING INJURY. GRAVID FEMALE ENCLOSURE I USE POTTING SOIL, OR PROVIDE ACCESS TO A TRASH CAN DEPOSITORY OR NESTING BOX.
Chow
Offering a variety of food items is always better for the health of any chameleon. Prey items can be fed free range (my preference) or dish fed. Dust them with your choice of supplements per manufacturer directions (I, of course, use Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-All and Vit-All). Oustalet's will eat standard insect fare such as crickets, mealworms, etc. In the wild, they have been known to eat large hissing cockroaches, mice, other lizards and small birds. Oliver loved to eat paper wasps. He would stalk them, take aim and bite them in the middle every time. The wasp's head and stinger would fall to
the ground, leaving him a tasty wild treat.

My friend Debbie let her trio of Oustalet's roam free in her half-acre yard that was full of trees. The chameleons would descend from high in the trees to the lower branches when she brought food out. When the trio was down looking for Debbie she knew they were hungry and would take them food. I'm not sure who trained who.

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Breeding Oustalet's Chameleons
Introduce a pair by placing the female into the male's enclosure, and allow them to remain together for several days. If any violent behavior is detected separate the chameleons and try again in a few days. One breeding will provide the female enough sperm to produce many viable clutches of eggs.

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If a female is not bred often enough, the clutch viability will drop off due to the lack of usable sperm. This sperm retention ensures subsequent viable clutches even in the absence of a male. Approximately three to four weeks after copulation, try palpating the female for eggs. Hold her in one hand and, using two fingers, carefully massage her abdominal wall in a gentle circular motion moving toward the spine. If the female is gravid, eggs the size of jelly beans can be felt. Pacing back and forth in the bottom of the enclosure or exhibiting other restless behavior is a good indication that a gravid female is ready to lay her eggs.

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Most chameleons, including Oustalet's, seem to respond to the good old trash can method for egg deposition. Place a trash can filled with 12 inches of soil in the enclosure  where the female can see the soil. Try placing it under her favorite branch, and position another branch leading to the soil in the can for easy access in and out. A gravid female may dig and fill in several test holes when she is ready to lay eggs. Eventually she will lay eggs in one of these. It may take days until she is done digging, or hours. When she is finished laying she will look thinner, and she will stop covering up the holes she has dug. A female Oustalet's will lay 30 to 40 eggs per clutch potentially three times per year. Being aware of your chameleon's habits will help you recognize that the female may be ready to lay eggs. Inspecting females' claws every morning and evening to look for signs of digging is a good practice during laying season Wait until the female has covered all holes and returned to the tree before excavating the eggs. After a healthy female has laid her eggs it is usually safe to reintroduce her to a male two weeks after deposition. Breeding the female shortly after egg laying will ensure sufficient sperm retention for viable future egg clutches.

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Egg Incubation
Place eggs in Tupperware or a similar plastic container with a resealable lid. The container should be half filled with dampened vermiculite. Mix the vermiculite with enough water so that when you squeeze it, small droplets will emerge. Too much water will drown the eggs, and not enough will dry them out. To check dampness during incubation just pick up a pinch and squeeze it. Only a drop or two of water should be present when squeezed. Place the eggs in rows in the vermiculite so they are half covered. Seal the lid and place the container in an incubator. The eggs should be incubated for nine to 12 months at 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Simulate a spring rain after seven months by adding more water to the eggs. I recommend placing a high/low thermometer in the incubation container. Open the container once a week to check the temperature and the dampness of the vermiculite. When the eggs begin to swell and/or sweat, purchase some fruit flies or pinhead crickets -- hatchlings are usually hearty eaters. Hatchlings can be kept together for before they should be placed into individual enclosures.
In Conclusion
Last August, at the National Reptile Breeders Expo in Daytona Beach, I tried to find people who were selling or breeding Furcifer oustaletti. I have found them at this show in the past but was disappointed after two passes through the booths not to find any Oustalet's. Only one of my customers has been breeding these chameleons. I sincerely hope that in the future people will consider this giant chameleon for a breeding project before the species becomes extinct. The natural habitat of Furcifer oustaleti, like much of Madagascar, is suffering the strainof human encroachment. I hope this article inspires you to consider trying your hand at keeping Oustalet's chameleons, so we can raise and protect them for generations to enjoy.

Always take safety measures when handling your chameleon. I don't recommend going bike riding or gardening with a chameleon that doesn't like human contact. If a chameleon jumps away when you attempt to hold it, it doesn't want to be held. Don't stress these individuals by frequent
interaction, and definitely no bike riding with them!

Oustaletti Oliver

Oliver's Worst Thanksgiving Oliver the Oustalet's chameleon was at the center of my single worst chameleon experience. In the midst of a cold snap we were bringing Oliver in at night to sleep on a large ficus, and then returning him outside when the sun came up. On Thanksgiving night we returned home late and forgot to bring Oliver inside. When I woke the next morning I went to put him outside as I had been doing all week, and only then realized I didn't bring him in the previous night. In a panic I ran outside to his enclosure and was horrified to find Oliver frozen in the bottom of the enclosure. The automated sprinklers went off in the early morning and this resulted in a layer of ice crystals covering poor Oliver. We were so mortified we could hardly contain our tears. As we cradled him in our hands, Oliver opened one eye, just a little. In a flash we got him under a dome light and began dabbing him with lukewarm water to wash off the crystals. After what seemed an eternity he was puffing up and taking deep breaths like a person who almost drowned. Slowly he started to wiggle and began walking around. It was truly a miracle. We never forgot to bring Oliver inside at night during a freeze again!

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The Shower Method
Offer water to your Oustalet's chameleon daily. Spray plant leaves and the chameleon's body twice daily if humidity is in the 70 percent or higher range. If the humidity is below 70 percent a weekly deep watering is necessary, and the "shower method" is very successful. Place the chameleon on a clothes drying rack or plant before placing it carefully into a shower stall or tub. Turn the shower on so a light rain is falling on your chameleon. Leave the chameleon in the shower to drink for 30 to 60 minutes once a week. During dry seasons showering may need to be repeated more often.

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If you keep your Oustalet's in an outdoor enclosure, an automated misting system is very handy. Regular lawn sprinklers can be set so individual stations activate one at a time during the day, and one of these might include the enclosure within its sprinkling radius.

 
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Carpet chameleons.

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One of the most amazing things that attract people to chameleons, is their ability to change color. The tongue thing is pretty cool as well. But the color is what attracts people in an obsessive way. The color morphs and nicknames are becoming confusing for some species of chameleon as the gimmicky names often are mis-labeled by people resulting in a mislabeled species. I try to keep to the scientific names whenever possible to avoid confusion. C.lateralis is called the jewel and the carpet chameleon in the pet trade, most commonly referred to as the carpet chameleon. Contrary to popular belief, chameleons do not change color to match the exact color of their surroundings. Instead they change color due to temperature and emotional changes. This remarkably swift change is believed to occur from a shift in hormones, or a reaction by the nervous system. Color change is also a response to environmental factors such as stress, heat or cold, or a willingness to mate. Difficult as it may be, try to control urge to make them color up for your entertainment.

C.lateralis is a very nice animal with interesting habits and can be kept in a smaller environment, which is important to a person desiring a chameleon species for a small home. Female carpet chameleons are even more ornate and colorful than the males and are often preferred by pet owners for this reason. They will do very well on a simple diet of medium sized crickets, house flies that are gut loaded and other small insects. There are two types of c.lateralis I have worked with. C.lateralis major and c.lateralis, a smaller more common species of C.lateralis. C.lateralis grows between 6-10 inches in overall length and tends to be a more delicate species than C.laterlais major in that they are more prone to stress related illness due to improper captive environments.

Although not as available in the pet stores or trade shows, C.lateralis major, a larger sub-species, has proven to be a much hardier animal that the C.laterlais  in captivity. These animals grow from 10-14 inches in over all length. Being a hardy species, the larger of the carpet chameleons will survive easily within a wide temperature range, but prefers temperature in the mid seventies. Carpet chameleons like to bask in the sun and should be given the opportunity to do so. Be careful to watch for signs of being over heated while in direct sun. Blanching (turning very light green, yellow or even white) is an indication the animal should be removed from the sun and allowed shade and water. A trip to the shower for deep hydration is a good idea if the chameleon is found blanched or panting open mouthed in the sun.

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This beautiful species is the most common and most plentiful species of chameleon found on the Island of Madagascar, located off the coast of Africa. It lives in a wide array of habitats favoring humid areas in the central to southern regions, where most of the native population can be found. Carpet chameleons have adapted over the ages to mountains, deserts, and rain forest habitats but seem to be most numerous where there is ample humidity. In captivity they fare better in 70% or better humidity. C.lateralis is one of the most attractive and available chameleons on the market. Unfortunately they have a shorter life compared to other easily attainable species in the pet stores, like C.pardalis (panther) chameleon, or a C.calyptratus (veiled).  C.lateralis can be found as imports (wild caught) quite often in the local pet store due to the amount and wide distribution of this particular species in the wild. Be careful purchasing an adult in a store or trade show. They may not live long if purchased too old, or the parasite issue is not controlled. When you purchase any chameleon from a trade show or pet store please do the animal and yourself a favor and get a fecal check. This is the only way to be completely assured the animal doesn’t have parasites. Any vet, even one who has no chameleon experience is capable of doing a fecal check, costing on the average 25$. This is a simple test, which can save lives if parasites are detected early. Simply take a stool fresh sample to the vet leaving the animal at home. Even a healthy looking chameleon, with full skin, a tight grip and strong tongue can harbor a fatal load of parasites, which become agitated and grow to unmanageable levels in a relatively short amount of time in captivity. Parasites are aggravated by stress, which is a huge issue with any chameleon. There is no reason for responsible chameleon owners to allow a chameleon to die from a parasite load. Even a very heavy load of parasites, if caught early, in an otherwise healthy chameleon, can be treated and cured. Not all parasites can be detected by only a fecal check. Additional tests such as blood tests may be needed as well. The average prospective chameleon owner needs to be prepared to spend not only time on this creature, but money. The chameleon itself will normally be the least expensive of the start up costs for your pet. Although I believe chameleon should be in natural sunlight as much as possible, an indoor environment is fine for most animals. You will need the right cage (full screen a minimum of 2 foot by one foot), lights (a full spectrum florescent and a heat dome light), plants (something non toxic like a ficus benjemin), Hudson Sprayer for the water, humidifier (do yourself a favor and pay for the more expensive one with the auto shut off), sticks and vines etc.  The hidden costs will include the parasite check, possible treatment, follow up vet visits as well as a follow up fecal check and possible blood work or other tests for bacterial infections may be needed.  Parasites sound scary. But in reality not only do chameleons usually come from the wild with some sort of parasite, captive animals can contract them at any time from their feeder insects. This is perfectly normal. An annual fecal check is a wise precaution for all long your chameleons, wild caught or captive bred.

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Take precautions to make sure they have been deparasitized if they are wild caught, keep humidity at a high level and house separately. Chameleons will become stressed by viewing another chameleon in a cage across the room. If you notice solitary the chameleon being stressed, coloring up, hissing or puffing up for no apparent reason, they may be seeing their own reflection or have view of a chameleon in another cage.

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Breeding

If you are intending to try to breed your animals, and I hope you will, then please purchase only unrelated animals to start. If every breeder does this, it will insure the future gene pool of all species currently kept in captivity. Some species are represented by very small gene pools and extra effort must be made to keep these animals genetically divergent and pure to avoid genetic depression and hybridization. Captive breed or wild caught c.lateralis mature and breed at an early age and are subsequently gravid for the rest of their reproductive lives, reaching sexually mature a 8-12 months of age. Breeding only the strongest and healthiest chameleons will also add to the future strength of the gene pool. Most acclimated wild caught chameleons that have adapted to our seasonal changes for at least a year will choose to mate in our springtime. Both species of C.lateralis are avid breeders and will produce a clutch every 6-8 weeks, this can total upwards of 200 babies per year or more. These little breeders really never have an off  season so breeding can literally happen year round in some females. There are some species that are not particular about a breeding season and will mate throughout the year. The flip side of this short lived species is that they reproduce clutches of eggs that are usually 15-20 eggs per clutch with a high to perfect hatch rate every 6-8 weeks from time of sexual maturity until they expire. Probably from all those kids.

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After having kept chameleons a while, most people have caught the fever of maintaining and studying these fascinating animals and will usually follow the natural progression and will want to breed their animals. The challenge of keeping and finally breeding these animals under captive conditions is both fascinating and a worthwhile objective and can be accomplished if the keeper has done his homework and knows his animals well. Breeding animals need to be in healthy condition, well fed and filled out. A thin, undernourished animal might mate, but the number and health of the offspring often reflect the malnourishment of the female. Offer 5to6 feeder insects of your choice per meal. I generally feed twice per week. I allow the feeder insects to roam the cage freely. This allows the chameleon to use it’s hunting abilities and keep the tongue strong. Dish feeding is also an option, but there is a higher risk of tongue damage using a dish.  Supply water to your chameleon twice daily in the form of a mist, spray or dripper. Make sure to wet the chamelons body as well as the plants in the enclosure. If the humidity in the enclosure is below 70 percent, a weekly deep watering is necessary. I prefer the shower method. Place gently chameleon on a clothes-drying rack or plant in the shower stall. Turn the shower on, so a light rain is falling on the chameleon. Leave in shower to fully hydrate for 30 -60 minutes, once a week. During dryer climates the shower method may be used twice a week or more. Outdoor enclosures can be fitted with a mister system to go off automatically each day reducing the risk of dehydration.

It is important to note that overly nourished animals should also not be bred. When a female chameleon of any species is too fat she becomes an egg producing factory that often overloads with an inordinate amount of fertile, growing eggs within her body. I have seen young over weight females that have been bred and have developed so many eggs within their bodies that they were unable to expel the eggs when the time was right, becoming egg bound, toxic and finally dying.  Females that are full of eggs usually do not have much room for food intake and this can also be a problem with the overly productive female. Egg production takes a lot out of the female’s system and she must be adequately nourished with proper calcium, vitamins and minerals. Sticky tongue Farms Miner-All and Vit-all were developed for our breeding farm to provide adequate nourishment which enables the female to produce viable eggs, that in turn produce strong healthy young. A strong healthy female can endure this life of egg production and fulfill her destiny to go forth and propigate. During this time of internal egg development a female should be fed on a varied diet of high quality insects. The females and the babies suffer and often die from poor diets.

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In those species it is generally the rule that these are the multiple clutch species where the females  need to be bred shortly after laying eggs to make sure there is enough sperm to fertilize subsequent clutches. Sperm retention is prevalent in all species of chameleons. It is possible if a female breeds once, she can have fertile eggs clutch after clutch. Normally the fertility in this case diminishes per clutch allowing for more infertile eggs, as the sperm is being used and not replenished. Allow the female to rest at least a week or two and reintroduce the female to the male in his enclosure. This will ensure subsequent clutches are fertile. The female with retain the active sperm and autofertilize more than one clutch of eggs so it is possible to have an impregnated female lay several clutches of fertile eggs with out being exposed to a male for many months. Unfortunately with all chameleons, especially the short lived ones, a female can potentially breed with an infertile male and not show signs of infertility until the female has expired and the eggs all turn up useless. I recommend that all chameleon females breed with several males per season to ensure proper fertilization. A gravid female chameleon does not like to be in the proximity of an amorous male and will usually exhibit gravid-nonreceptive coloration, which is different from what she normally displays at rest. This beautiful display of color will announce to the males that she does not want anything to do with them. Even when the females exhibit this defensive pattern, some males will try to mount them repeatedly and it is advisable to remove a gravid female after mating has taken place so that she does not become overly stressed. Reintroduce the females into the males cage for a few hours per day over a weeks time. The female should show gravid coloration at that point if breeding was successful. A gravid female will display this coloration, hissing and possible biting of the male even if they are carrying infertile eggs. After the female lays eggs, has time to fatten up and feel stronger, reintrocution to the male may show a gravid, non receptive coloration. The time period for actual mating can vary from a few minutes to more than an hour and the animals should not be disturbed during this time. After the mating has taken place the pair will pull apart and the female will usually try to escape the vicinity of the male. I usually remove the female to her own enclosure, offer food and water and let her relax. If female doesn’t show any signs of being gravid mating should be retried. Sometimes breeding does not go as planned and the animals will take their sweet time. The male may be uninterested in this particular female. Therefore, a back up male is always a good idea not only for the viable sperm and another bloodline but to make sure she get an uninterested male, interested. Sometimes a break of a few days between breeding attempts will get the male interested. Make sure they can not see from their cages. Absence makes the heart grow fonder in a lot of males, especially the young ones.

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It is important to remember that the gravid female will most likely go off her food after her body becomes so engorged with eggs that she no longer has room for food. It is important to give good concentrated nutrition to her during the initial period shortly after breeding has taken place. When a gravid female is ready to lay eggs, she should have a nesting site available. I provide a plastic tub or a new, clean trash can filled with at least 12 inches of potting soil. Rule of thumb is twice as deep as the length of the female’s body. Provide a nontoxic plant, sticks and a clamp light on dome light near the egg laying container. I use damp potting soil that’s wet enough so as not to collapse in on its self when a hole is dug. Take care to not allow water pooling at the bottom of the container. This could drown the eggs. The females may dig several test holes. This may take days or hours, or days to accomplish. Leave her alone and let her dig. Do not remove her until she is finished covering her holes or returns to her branch for a length of time. She may return to the test holes and cover only a few them. Be patient. Carefully dig up the eggs, and place them in a plastic container with a sealed lid for incubation. The container should be filled ½ up way with damp vermiculite that can be purchased at a garden center. Mixed with enough water so when squeezed, few drops of water droplets dribble off. Too much water will drown the eggs. Place eggs in rows half buried in the vermiculite. Place the container in an incubator or a closet where the temp is an average of 68-72 degrees fahrenheight . I recommend a high low thermometer be placed in the incubation area. Check the eggs for temperature and moisture once a week. Hatchlings can be kept in much the same way as the adults, though even more care should be taken to make sure the temp and humidity are precise. Hatchlings are very strong and usually eat in a day or two with a vengeance. This species grows so quickly it is imperative that the supplements are a high quality form of calcium to ensure proper growth of bones and muscles. Hatchlings may be kept together in a screen cage for a month or so before separating.  Both species is a quick to mature and quick to grow old and die species, having a normal life span of only a couple of years. Because it is so prolific and will produce a couple hundred young during its lifetime, it is still worth keeping.

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Mini Dinosaurs

Jackson’s chameleon may bear a resemblance to triceratops, but are considerably more colorful.

By Linda Davison

 During the early 1960s, the little triceratops-looking Jackson’s chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii xantholophus) was exported out of Kenya, Africa, and into the pet trade. It is rumored that in the 1970s,  an Oahu pet shop owner imported several shipments. When one shipment did not appear healthy, the owner allegedly released them into his backyard in Kaneohe, Oahu, thinking he could recollect them once they were healthy. This quickly led to populations expanding throughout Oahu and other islands. In 1981, exportation from Kenya, Africa, was banned. However, exports did still come from the Hawaiian Islands.

 

There are three types of Jackson’s chameleons found in Africa.

1.       Jackson’s Chameleons are the only common name I have heard pertaining to both larger species Chamaeleo jacksonii jacksonii, measuring approximately 4 inches from snout to vent, is typically found in the Nairobi area of Kenya at 5,000 to 8,000 feet. I personally have never seen this type of Jackson’s chameleon in captivity.

2.      Dwarf Jackson’s chameleon) Chamaeleo jacksonii merumontana, measuring around 3 inches from snout to vent, is only located in the Mount Meru region of Tanzania. Per CITIES, 500 of these chameleons are allowed to be exported into the pet trade from the wild annually, as well as 143 farm-raised or captive-bred from Tanzania. This species has the same coloration as the larger Jackson’s chameleon, except the males have a bright-yellow head with much longer horns that are more brittle in comparison to the larger species. My experience with this type of Jackson’s chameleon is limited. This species requires a cooler environment than I am able to provide.

3.     The yellow-crested Jackson’s chameleon (C. j. xantholophus), measuring approximately 5 inches  from snout to vent, is located in the Mount Kenya region of Kenya at 6,000 to 8,000 feet. This species is the most common in the pet trade today and the one I have the most experience with.

My personal chameleon fever was solidified due to my experience with the Jackson’s chameleons. In 1992 my second chameleon purchase, a pair of Jackson’s chameleons were so happy in their new environment they started to breed. Our female was so huge she looked like a bag of marbles with legs. I thought for sure she would lay her eggs at any moment. Not much information was available at the pet store and I didn’t have internet then to go to for information. One morning I woke around 6:00am went to turn on the chameleon’s lights, and noticed about 15 things I thought might be really large crickets in the vivarium. In my drowsy state, It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening. Surprise! These were babies not crickets. I witnessed the female sticking an egg sack to the branch and the baby emerging, falling to the ground, and race up the branches. Then she hung by her front limbs and dropped an egg sack over the side, which plummeted to the ground about 4 feet below. I thought the poor little baby was dead. Suddenly this little creature wiggled out of the sack, perfectly fine. This was so fascinating and alien, I instantly caught an incurable case of chameleon fever that to this day, no other species of reptiles or amphibians has been able to match.

By 1995 my new business, Sticky Tongue Farms had evolved. We were importing and deparasitizing, as well as breeding many species of chameleons from around the world. The ban on owning the chameleons in Hawaii had recently been lifted by State Department of  Agriculture, who until that point thought the nonindigenous  species to be a threat to the native flora and fauna. Our importers from Hawaii helped us organize and host the Jackson Fest on the big island of Hawaii in Kailua Kona. Some people from the Hawaiian community were misinformed as to what the chameleons ate and how they lived. The Jackson Fest attracted 1000's of people. Sticky Tongue Farms helped educate the locals on basic care and feeding, while learning from the crowd their personal experiences, including where the chameleons were located in their neighborhoods. We were granted access to visit several feral populations on the island. The Jackson’s chameleons seemed to adapt well to many different environments. Temperature and humidity variables were unlike their original habitat in Africa. From back yards to Macadamia nut orchards, these chameleons were in arid areas as well as cooler rainforest areas. I experienced this degree of fluctuation as well in our green house back on the mainland. Our temperatures often rose above 100 degrees in the summer, and below 40 degrees in the winter months. Our breeding stock showed no apparent adverse effects to this climate Fluctuation. I kept the humidity between 70- 100 percent, and provided shade in the summer months, while offering full sun for basking in the winter months.

Over the 2 weeks we spent studying the Jackson’s chameleons on the Big Island I learned another interesting lesson about collecting chameleons. The Jackson’s chameleons were easier to collect at night especially under the full moon that luckily for me happened to be on this occasion. The chameleons for some strange reason came to the end of the branches to sleep. My Hawaiian friends said they were moon basking. It was truly amazing to see the chameleons of all different sizes hanging on the tips of the trees swaying gently in the breeze.  When the flashlight shone on them, they glowed a luminescent light green. This made collection very easy. A word of caution, if you find yourself in Hawaii and want to look for chameleons, do so will permission of the landowners. On one occasion we thought we had authorization to visit a grove at night. After gunshots rang out, we communicated to the caretaker that the owner had in fact given us permission to be there. The situation was actually caused by a miscommunication with the caretaker. He did not make it to the Jackson Fest earlier in the week and wanted a t-shirt like his friends received for helping at the event. Luckily the shirts were in the rental car and all was easily resolved.

Once back to the mainland when subsequent escapees were not found in the daytime we employed this method. A trip through the neighborhood, and a polite knock on the neighbors’ door requesting backyard access has resulted in many found escapees of several different chameleon species.

Chameleon Cage requirements

As with all chameleon species, I recommend housing your chameleons separately in screen cages measuring at least 3 feet tall, 2 feet long and 2 feet wide. Neonates can be housed singly or in groups for a month and then separated to smaller groups as long as aggression or competition for food is not an issue. If an adult chameleon sees its own reflection or another chameleon in the room, they could perceive this as a threat. Without the ability to escape, they will become stressed. Constant stress of this nature can be detrimental to any chameleon. Housing animals separately is one way to reduce the stress of captivity. Removing the chameleon for watering, cage maintenance or holding are a short-term, occasional stressors that are not as harmful as improper husbandry.

 

Enclosures should include a large tree with ample climbing and hiding spaces so that the chameleon can conceal itself and feel secure. I use Ficus benjamina trees with sticks of various sizes. Any plants or bushes that are non-toxic if eaten are suitable as well. Many chameleons have been housed with plastic plants with no apparent problems. However, some may occasionally chew on or accidentally ingest leaves and need to be monitored. I prefer paper towels as a ground cover or nothing at all. Clean the chameleon’s enclosure at least three times per week. Once a month remove the chameleon and plant to give the enclosure a thorough cleaning using a reptile-safe disinfectant.

 

Hydration

Rainfall averages 30 to 60 inches per year in Kenya and Tanzania. Daily moisture is still available from high humidity even though no measurable rainfall may be present. The humidity droplets are all the chameleons have for a water source at times.

 

Keeping a Jackson's chameleon fully hydrated is important. If the chameleon is not properly hydrated when shedding, a skin tourniquet may form on toes and joints. This can result in loss of the digit or foot. Take note if your chameleon repeatedly rubs its eyes on branches. This could be the first stage of an eye infection or simply trying to clean dirt out of it. Proper hydration again plays an important roll here. When the chameleon is in a rainstorm shower, it has an opportunity to clean its eyes. If the eyes do become infected, contact your veterinarian for antibiotics.

 Gently mist the chameleon’s entire tree and body with water a minimum of twice daily. Use a cool mist ultrasonic humidifier if the humidity drops lower than 50 percent. Even if you supply a humidifier, your chameleons will benefit from being placed in a “rainstorm” in your shower once a week. Position the chameleon on a plant or clothes-drying rack under a light rain or mist for a half-hour minimum weekly. To avoid a sudden shock to your chameleon, allow them to walk onto the plant or clothes-drying rack on the side devoid of rain fall.

 When I studied Jackson’s chameleons in Hawaii it rained daily. If the rain was slow to start, the chameleons seemed undisturbed, but if the rainfall came on fast, quite a few chameleons jumped off their branches with a thud onto the ground and scampered for cover. This sudden shock can be stressful and result in injury to a captive chameleon.  Be aware of how this little creature is going to react to what you are doing to them.

 

The Right Ambiance

I thought this information would be helpful to the reader here to understand how adaptable these chameleons can be since I am asking them to put their animals outside as much as possible.

The Jackson’s chameleons in Hawaii seemed to adapt well to many different environments. Temperature and humidity variables were unlike their original habitat in Africa. From back yards to Macadamia nut orchards, these chameleons were in arid areas as well as cooler rainforest areas.  I experienced a degree of fluctuation as well in our green house back on the mainland. Our temperatures often rose above 100 degrees in the summer, and below 40 degrees in the winter months. Our breeding stock showed no apparent adverse effects to this climate Fluctuation. I kept the humidity between 70- 100 percent, and provided shade in the summer months, while offering full sun for basking in the winter months.

   Ambient daytime temperatures around 80 degrees Fahrenheit with night temperatures around 60 degrees are acceptable for most captive Jackson’s chameleons. Pushing the parameter of temperature may be fine in a well-established pet. Close observation is always needed when fluctuation of temperature is past the recommended range in captivity.

   Exposure to natural sunlight cannot be over stated, especially in a live-bearing species. The survival rate of my adult and new-born chameleons rose dramatically when I started offering more direct, unfiltered sunlight. Never leave your chameleon unattended if they are outside and not in an enclosure.

  On top of the indoor enclosure I place a full-spectrum UVB tube as well as a hotspot lamp. Remember that no light bulb will give the same long-term benefits as natural sunlight. Take care that the chameleon doesn’t come in direct contact with any artificial heat source. A branch 3 to 4 inches from the basking site ensures the chameleon won’t get burned. Make sure the chameleons cannot get close to any lighting if hanging on the screen.

 

Diet and Supplementation

Captive chameleons will eat crickets, flies, cockroaches and snails. Offer an average of five to seven size-appropriate insects to your sub-adult to adult chameleons per feeding. Allow neonates and juveniles free access to food for up to 3-6 months . Rule of thumb is to keep insects smaller in length than the gap between the chameleons eyes  I prefer free-range feeding, which allows the chameleon to hunt for its food and exercise. However, a plastic feeding dish placed under a branch for easy access is fine. The adult chameleon may eat every other day at times or even go off food for a longer period in the cooler months. Fully hydrating chameleons is essential at these times.

 Gut loading feeder insects is the best way to get usable vitamins to your chameleons.

Jackson’s chameleons are especially sensitive to excess amounts of synthetic vitamin A. When vitamins are used improperly, it may cause either an inferior amount of vitamins to your chameleons or vitamin toxicity, which can lead to gout or edema and even become fatal.

 Dusting with dry vitamins is questionable, because beta carotene and other essential ingredients do not work well in a dust form. It is better to gut load these vitamins into the insect and then feed them to the chameleon? The beta carotene beadlet, in particular are so large due to the fat lipid which protects the viability of the  beta carotene (the vitamin A source) it is far too large to stick to any feeder prey item. Beta-carotene builds immunity and is a powerful antioxidant that improves immune function and promotes mucous membrane health. This helps reduce upper respiratory infections chameleons are prone to. In fact, dietary intake of beta carotene can enhance cell-mediated immune responses.

 

This type of gut loading ensures the insects are properly vitamin rich, and free of any toxins which may be used to grow the insects. Insects are grown often on items such as chicken mass, which when fed to crickets can have toxic levels of vitamin A for chameleons needing to be purged through the gutloading process, and replaced with healthy types and amounts of vitamins which the chameleon can use . I gut load my feeder insects with Sticky Tongue Farms Vit-All to provide vitamins and amino acids, and then I dust prey with Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-All to provide calcium and trace elements. I use the indoor formula for chameleons kept indoors and the outdoor formula for chameleons exposed to natural unblocked sunshine for more than 12 hours throughout the week.

Jackson’s chameleons are one of the most readily available chameleons in the market place today. They can easily be found in pet stores, and at expos. I prefer to be able to see a chameleon before purchase for a health check. However, Internet sales can be a safe and rewarding experience with a reputable dealer. These fascinating gentle mini dinosaurs are a good choice for any level of hobbyist.  Once a healthy chameleon is purchased, guidelines for housing and husbandry are followed, the biggest challenge any keeper will encounter is exposing this chameleon to unfiltered sunshine.  I cannot stress enough the importance of natural sunshine, especially for a live bearing species.  The joy and entertainment these animals can bring is ultimately worth the effort and research for setting them up properly from the beginning of your relationship.

In 1992 my second chameleon purchase, a pair of Jackson’s chameleons were so happy in their new environment they started to breed. One morning I witnessed the female sticking an egg sack to the branch and the baby emerging, falling to the ground, and race up the branches. Hanging by her front limbs, she then dropped an egg sack over the side, plummeting 4 feet below. The little creature wiggled out of the sack unharmed. This was so fascinating and alien I instantly caught an incurable case of chameleon fever. Which to this day, no other species of reptiles or amphibians I have owned or breed has been able to match.

 Breeding Jackson’s

When your chameleons come of age, approximately nine months to one year old, place the female into the male’s enclosure for breeding. Allow the male to breed for 3-5 days. Watch for signs of disinterest, or aggression, such as the female rocking back and forth when approached by the male, hissing or biting. If this occurs, separate the animals for a week and try again.

 All Jackson's chameleons are ovoviviparous, a live-bearing species that produces approximately 20 to 30 offspring per brood. The Mount Meru Jackson’s usually produce less than 20 per brood. The neonates are actually incubated in a soft-shell membrane inside the mother as opposed to being deposited in the ground in a harder shell.

 

Gestation is typically between seven and nine months for the first brood. After which time, if proper breeding has occurred, another brood will be born every three months thereafter.  I always re introduce males to make sure the sperm count is enough to fertilize the new brood she is incubating. Upon necropsy of expired females, three different generations have been found growing simultaneously inside a female. The females will produce only yolks if the stored sperm count goes down and so does the number of fertile eggs if sperm count is not high enough to fertilize all the developing eggs. For this reason, reintroduction to the male two weeks after giving birth is recommended if the female is in good health.

 

Feeding Hatchlings

Neonates often start eating very soon after birth.  Feeding may occur in hours or days from birth. Lightly misting with luke warm water will keep the neonates from becoming dehydrated and stimulate their eating.) Be observant during gestation and have your plan for feeding prearranged. Live births can be hard to time. Being observant of the female as she grows larger and starts to look like a marble bag, or slows down on the eating, may be indications that she is ready to give birth.

 

One of the most common mistakes is feeding only one type of insect to your reptiles. In my opinion, any herper keeping insectivores needs to be an amateur entomologist to keep healthy long-term animals. Here are just a few suggestions that have worked well for me at Sticky Tongue Farms. Please be advised that these versions of insect rearing are a brief description that has worked well for a small number of insects. Further information on large colonies of a given insect may be available from the supplier.

 

Zoophobia Meal Worms

Place 2 to 3 inches of oat bran/wheat germ mix in the bottom of the enclosure. Gut load the insects with fresh fruit, vegetables and the bran mixture. To pupate worms into beetles, put them into deli cups with the bran mix, and place them in a dark cupboard. They will pupate into beetles in two to three weeks. House the beetles in an aquarium with damp soil. These insects will cannibalize each other if not properly feed. When you see the worms hatching out, remove them to a separate container. When ready to feed to your chameleons, remove adult worms to a container that has no substrate. Place the recommended amount of Vit-All in the container. Follow directions for use on the can. After properly gut loaded, dust with Miner-All as directed.  Vit-all can be used dry as a substrate or fed wet as a supplement.

 

House Flies

We have had very good luck with Jackson's chameleons on a fly diet. Acquire the pupae from a biological supply house or try our recipe. Adults are egged using a small cup with waded tissue wetted with water and evaporated milk. Tissues can be rinsed and reused, as a pheromone is released by the female flies when they deposit ova. The thick brown industrial or school type towel is best for repeated use. To acquire wild-caught flies, simply place the wetted tissues with the milk and water mixture in the yard. In a few days, thread like worms will be visible on the damp towel.

 

In a bag combine 4 quarts of flaky red wheat bran, 2 cups rehydrated alfalfa pellets, 2 pints dry milk and 2 teaspoons active dry yeast. Mix and add 3 quarts of water and knead the mixture in a plastic bag until it resembles bread dough. Pack loosely into a Rubbermaid dishpan and add fly eggs to the surface by rinsing the towel into the dishpan. Cover the pan with cheesecloth or fine screening.

 On approximately the fourth day 1 to 1 1/2 quarts of water should be added to mix. The pan is then placed in a large sweater box with a screened lid. Dry bran is poured around the outer margin of the box to dry the emergent larvae and encourage pupation. If the majority of the larvae have not been driven out in a few hours, add an additional half to 1 quart of water. Allow larvae to pupate in this mixture. Pupae are sifted from the bran and stored in deli cups. Adults will emerge in two to four days thereafter, depending upon the temperature. Pupae can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.

 Feed adults a mixture of dried milk and sugar in a container of water with waded paper towels to prevent drowning. Adult flies can be egged one week after emergence and will produce eggs for two to three weeks. Each pan should produce 10,000 to 15,000 flies. The recipe can be tailored for demand. Smaller pans may develop more slowly due to decreased thermal output generated by the larvae. To feed out the flies upon hatching, place flies in a small receptacle containing Vit-All for gut loading. The newly hatched flies will not be capable of flight right away. After properly gut loaded, Miner-All is then added to the container and shaken until the insects are evenly coated. The Miner-All will weigh down the newly hatched flies and make it easier to place them into the cage for feeding.

 

Fruit Flies For Neonates

This food item is easily purchased from a supplier or started on your own in warm weather for newborn chameleons. Place a bowl of fruit in the enclosure, sprinkle with yeast and keeping the culture damp. Add fresh fruit weekly for months of production.  I occasionally add some Vit-All as well.

 

 Basic Chameleon Buying Guide

When purchasing a new chameleon, go through this checklist to make your purchase and assess your new captive’s health.

1. Check your chameleon for full, alert eyes that are free from matter and injury.

2. Place your hand under the chameleon and lift gently. Allow the chameleon to walk onto your hand to check its grip. Never yank or pull the animal from a branch, even a small tug can result in damage to the joints. If your chameleon’s digits or joints are swollen, it could be an infection or an injury. Seek qualified veterinary treatment right away.

3. If able, try to see if the chameleon will eat or drink. No visible drool or mouth injury should be present when looking inside the mouth.

4. Listen for popping or wheezing when the chameleon breathes. This may be an indication of an upper respiratory disease.

5. Always check the skin for bruising, cuts, ticks or mites.

6. Obtain a fecal check for parasites as soon as you acquire your chameleon. Even the Hawaiian species can contract parasites. All insectivores in stressful conditions have the potential for a spike in parasite production