Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) Care Sheet
Description: These are one of the most colorful reptiles in the world, with males displaying various shades of blue, orange, yellow, red, and green. Slight differences in the shape of the head and subtle to extreme differences in color of the males of this species have been documented based on their native locale. Naming of the "Panther Morphs" is based on this i.e. Nose Be, Ambanja, Tamatave. Males display a broken white stripe on their sides which starts near the head and continues almost to the tail. Adult females from all locations display only shades of the same color, especially when gravid. Females also have a faint lateral stripe and vertical bars which become more prominent when they are stressed or gravid. F. pardalis is one of the best chameleons for adapting to indoor housing. This makes it a great choice for a beginner, however, it should be emphasized that NO chameleon is easy to care for.
Male Furcifer pardalis ęDiana Rasmusson
Selection: The color of a chameleon is generally a good indicator of its condition. Dark and drab colors are generally indicative of stress or improper temperature. A healthy chameleon will have straight limbs. If you see a chameleon that looks "bowlegged", has difficulty grasping onto branches or walking, or has a crooked back or jaw, do not purchase it. These symptoms often indicate that an animal has developed metabolic bone disease, a preventable calcium deficiency. Healthy chameleons have their eyes open during the daytime and and are constantly surveying their environment. Chameleons that have their eyes closed for long periods of time during the day are usually sick. Sunken eyes generally indicate a dehydrated and stressed animal. There should be no elongated lumps beneath the skin (possible filarial worms). Look for any visible cuts bruises or broken skin. The skin should look well hydrated, not dry or withered. Large black or gray areas can be fungal infections.
Sexual dimorphism: Males panthers can reach 21" in total length but are typically smaller (12"-18") in captivity. Males have slightly larger and more pronounced casques than females. Color of the female is limited to gray, brown or light green unless threatened or gravid. Females are smaller than males and only reach sizes of 7"-9". Juvenile to adult size males are easily distinguished from females by the hemipenal bulge or thickened base of the tail. Hatchlings are difficult to sex reliably until their about 4 months old.
Sexual maturity: Sexual maturity is reached around 5 months, but it is recommended that breeding wait until the females are 9 -12 months old and fully developed.
Average life expectancy: Panther chameleons generally live between five and eight years in captivity, depending on husbandry and breeding history.
Size: Males can grow to 20 inches in length while females mature to a smaller size of 12 to 14 inches.
Growth and Breeding: When shedding occurs, it is is completed quickly. Shedded skin explodes off in pieces within 24 hrs. A common misconception with chameleons is that if a female chameleon is not mated she will die egg bound. If she is not given a suitable place to lay her eggs then this is possible. Female panther chameleons will produce 5-8 clutches of 12-30 eggs per year, whether they have been mated or not. Females are able to breed at about 5 months of age but waiting to full maturity (9-12 mos.) is highly recommended. At 5-6 months of age most males have not yet developed full colors (12 months of age), but the hemipenal bulge is quite evident and they are sexually mature. Colors will brighten and stripes stand out when courting males spot a female. Upon reaching sexual maturity, two to three weeks before oviposition (egg laying) females exhibit sexual receptivity. Brighter or lighter colors indicate her willingness to mate. Willing females allow males to approach from behind. Copulation typically lasts from 10-30 minutes. Gravid coloration is displayed during or within minutes following copulation but could take as long as a day or two. Gravid coloration is identified by intense black/brown and orange colors. Sperm retention is possible so mating may not be required for every clutch. Pairs can be separated after a single copulation or left together for extended time until the female acts threatened. Be prepared to provide a nesting area for her after mating. She will become restless, have reduced appetite, and constantly wander about her cage looking for a place to nest when she is ready to lay her eggs. Egg laying occurs 20-40 days after copulation. A five gallon bucket half filled with damp sandbox sand makes a good nest. The sand should be damp enough to build a sand castle, but not saturated. Once she lays the eggs, carefully remove the sand until you can see the eggs. Using a spoon remove the eggs and place them in a Tupperware type container half filled with damp vermiculite or perlite (Mix 1 1/2 parts vermiculite or perlite to 1 part water by weight). Leave 50% of egg showing. Put the lid on it tight and place it in where temperatures are 65-78║F. Hatching can occur in 6-9 months, but warmer temperatures can cause a longer diapause (dormant period) and hatching could take up to 12 months. Check the eggs weekly. If they shrivel up or turn dark and look moldy, they are no longer viable.
Temperament: Panther chameleons are more tame than many chameleons. All chameleons should be handled as little as possible.
Diet: Panther chameleons are insectivores. It is imperative that they receive enough calcium to prevent MBD. Babies take 5-10 two-week-old crickets 1-2 times per day. Feeder insects should be gutloaded with a high calcium diet and periodically dusted with vitamin supplements. Don't overfeed. This is especially critical with females. Overfeeding females causes larger clutch sizes (number of eggs per laying) and can greatly reduce their life expectancy. While crickets are the staple of their captive diet, meal worms (Tolebrio molitor) super worms (Zoophobus morio) waxworms (Galleria mellonella), and captured insects (from safe pesticide free fields) provide great variety in their diet. They really seem to jump on any green insect, but black and red colors usually indicate toxic if not distasteful.
Hydration: Clean water should be provided daily via a drip bottle dripping over the foliage within the enclosure. Chameleons will typically not recognize water unless it is moving i.e. rolling off the foliage after misting or dripping. A drip bottle can be purchased at about any reptile supply site on the Internet or at your local pet store. They can also be easily made from a cup with a pin hole poked in the bottom. Just misting the enclosure for a primary water source is inadequate. It will cause problems in the long run, the chameleon will not get sufficient water.
Enclosure: Their enclosure should allow air circulation which is typically achieved by two or more sides made of screen. Only one chameleon should be kept per enclosure because they are solitary animals and stress easily. Stress can lead to health problems.
Enclosure - temperature: Reptiles are ectothermic (cold-blooded). They do not manufacture their own body heat and rely on environmental elements to regulate body temperature. In order to raise or lower their body temperature, reptiles move from hot or cold area as needed. Chameleons also use color change (darker colors absorb heat, while lighter colors repel heat) and slight body shape manipulation (they flatten themselves out to absorb more heat) In captivity, we need to provide reptiles with a range of temperatures so that the animals may thermoregulate as they would in the wild. That means one end of the cage should be the preferred ambient temperature, and one end should be at the basking temperature. If the enclosure is large enough, there may also be temperature differences at different heights. It is best to put the basking site at the highest point of the cage, so that the vertical temperature change mimics what occurs in nature. It is critically important that the owner provide a heating lamp to create a basking spot of 90-105 degrees F at one end of the enclosure. The ambient air temperature in the rest of the cage should be 80's over the course of the day with a preferred drop to the mid 60's at night. There is no need for heat rocks or warming pads.
Enclosure - lighting: The lighting should include a basking light (any bulb placed near the top to create a warmer area) and ReptiSun 5.0 or similar UVB output bulbs. Make sure the chameleon can not come into contact with the bulbs!!!
Enclosure - humidity: The enclosure should be misted with warm to hot water several times daily. This aids in shedding and adds a little humidity. Baby chameleons (and adults) will usually lap the water off the foliage. Fifty to sixty percent humidity is desirable and fresh airflow is mandatory to prevent bacterial growth.
Enclosure - size: Because of their large size, a screen cage of at least 24"x24"x36" is recommended but 24"x24"x48" is more preferable. As a guide cage dimensions should meet this criteria:
A good formula for calculating this is:
(HBL=snout to vent length)
For arboreal (height loving tree dwellers) species:
short side of bottom = 3 x HBL - long side of bottom = 4 x HBL - height = 6 x HBL
For terrestrial (ground dwellers) species i.e. Brookesia:
short side of bottom = 4 x HBL - long side of bottom = 6 x HBL - height = 4 x HBL
So a Veiled measuring 10 inches HBL would need an enclosure measuring 30" X 40" X 60"
Enclosure - plants: There are many plants suitable for chameleon cages. The plant must have similar temperature and humidity requirements, and must not be considered toxic. This is a short list of the acceptable and unacceptable plants for chameleon enclosures:
Acceptable - Weeping fig Ficus benjamina, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, pothos or devil's ivy Epipremnum aureum, Dwarf Umbrella Schefflera arboricola
Unacceptable - Octopus Tree or Queensland Umbrella
Tree Schefflera actinophylla, Rubber Tree or Rubber Plant
Health problems and veterinary care: Dystocia (egg binding) is a relatively common problem in reptiles. Dystocia can occur in live-bearing and ovoviviparous (reproducing by eggs which the female carries in her body until they hatch) species. Parasites are common in wild caught specimens. Metabolic Bone Disease is another common health problem. Improper diet and poor lighting or lack of UVB light contribute to MBD. Symptoms are described under the "Selection" heading. Salt crystals may form on their nostrils. This is not uncommon but could indicate a need for more water.
Sources:(1) Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett Patricia P. 1995. Chameleons: Everything about Selection, Care, Nutrition, Diseases, Breeding, and Behavior. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
(2) Davison, Linda, J. 1997. Chameleons: Their Care and Breeding . Blaine, WA : Hancock House Publishers
(3) De Vosjoli, Philippe, and Ferguson, Gary. 1995. Care and Breeding of : Panther, Jackson's, Veiled, and Parson's Chameleons. Santee, CA : Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc.
(4) De Vosjoli, Philippe. 1990. The General Care and Maintenance of True Chameleons: Part I Husbandry. Lakeside, CA: Advanced Vivarium Systems, Inc.
(5) Le Berre, Francois. 1995. The New Chameleon Handbook: Everything about Selection, Care, Diet, Diseases, Reproduction, and Behavior. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
(6) ADCHAM.com species profile http://www.adcham.com/html/taxonomy/species/fpardalis.html edited 11/27/02 Contributed by Jim Amirian and Olaf Pronk.