Eating soil


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I have had my 3 month old panther chameleon for about a week now and he is doing well. He eats a good variety of food such as crickets, silkworms, and a few small wild grasshoppers. I dust them every other day with rep-cal and once a week with herptivite. He has a basking bulb and 2 reptiglo uv lights. I mist his cage twice a day for 5-10 minutes and set up a dripper after misting, which lasts about another hour or two.

The problem I am seeing is theat every once in a while he will go to the base of his favorite plant (schefflera) and take a bite of the soil. It is pesticide free soil with no styrofoam balls in it. Why could he be doing this? Is it harmful? I was thinking he could be trying to get nutrients from the soil that he is not getting from food/supplements, but as to what that nutrient is i have no idea. Any help or similar experiences would be greatly appreciated
This is pretty common.. but can also be an impaction risk. If I were you I would try to cover the soil in the plant with some large rocks (baked and cooled to remove any mites or parasites).
My 6 month old veiled eats soil, too. I recommend sifting chunks out of the soil with a screen or getting some kind of chunk-free soil. I also try to keep it plenty moist in case she's doing this for hydration.
I have veiled chameleons do it as well and a good friend and fellow keeper told me they did it for some minerals that they are lacking in there diet. The only thing you need to be carefull off is constapation. If they do get cloged up a drop of vegtable oil in there mouth could work to help that problem.

As noted by others, eating of dirt, bark, small stones, dead leaves, etc, is not uncommon in just about all chameleon species that we work with. As it seems to be normal, I have a hard time substantiating such claims that the "chameleon is looking to fix a deficiency in its diet", or it is to be prevented or avoided, etc. As such a commonly observed behavior by many keepers in an abundance of varying conditions, I think advice such as that is often to assume too much. However, if this is a normal behavior, it does warrant a look to be sure that we have also provided a "normal" environment in which this behavior would not be tripped-up by an "abnormality". Such things would be artificial or non-common items in the dirt (vermiculite or perlite, plastic debris, etc), or an excessive amount of bacteria causing conditions (fecal matter, dead bugs, etc) which are concentrated in cage environments (vs. in the wild) which could also increase concerns of parasites in addition to excessive bacteria. The best remedy that I know of is to keep the surface of the dirt relatively clean, removing such things as noticed. You may also want to replace the top 1" of dirt weekly.

As mentioned, we do not know why chameleons do it, or what the long term effects are of not letting them do it. It is also something that will likely vary from animal to animal, husbandry to husbandry. My own belief is that it is a beneficial part of their wild existence, and if we can safely maintain their ability to do it in captivity, we should. Happy keeping.
One more thing.

I have to caution heavily against the recommendation of giving the chameleon a drop of anything oil, as was recommended above for constipation. While it may work, it also invites significant potential for harm. Chameleons have an extreme dislike for things "oil" in their mouths. In very small amounts, such as swabbing their mouth with an oil-based vitamin, such as to leave behind only a fraction of a drop, it is pretty safe. But a full drop or more of anything oil can cause noticeable if not violent attempts at regurgitation, often successful, and the added risk of inhalation of the oil during this process, causing additional stress, to include death. This is based on personal observation in quantity. If you were to take 100 adult chameleons, and put 2-3 drops of anything oil in their mouths, you will see significant distress in 20-40% of them, and death in 5-30 minutes in approximately 1/3rd of those reactions. While just one drop is below the threshold I mention, it is still playing with fire.
I have to agree with Jim concerning soil and oil.
Although I do not have the experience with the oil issue I would have to defer to his expertise and play the better safe than sorry card.
Concerning soil....I am beginning to come to the conclusion that for whatever reason.... they need it. Kitty eats it regularly and not by accident. He goes specifically to it and has a "dirt snack" almost daily.
He has plenty of water and variety of feeder insects available but insists
on including soil in the menu.
To this end I have made a great effort to provide him with fresh, organic, sifted soil and have seen no ill effects so far.
I worried like crazy about impaction after the first time I saw him eat dirt (he was about 6 weeks old) and tried various ways of keeping it from him.
He has been very good at thwarting these efforts....even to the point of pushing away rocks and digging out landscape fabric to expose the soil.
I finally decided that if he wanted it that bad he must need it and I should be providing the safest soil for him rather than trying to keep it from him.
I have thought that rather than causing blockage ... it may be a source of fiber which would have an opposite, more beneficial effect.
I don't know...but this is what I do now.

So now you've got me thinking about providing a supply of fresh, clean organic soil (not sure where I'll be able to source that) for my cham, and it makes me wonder: how can I make sure my soil is as nutritious as possible? ;-)
So now you've got me thinking about providing a supply of fresh, clean organic soil (not sure where I'll be able to source that) for my cham, and it makes me wonder: how can I make sure my soil is as nutritious as possible? ;-)

Hello! not sure how to make you soil more nutritious,But i have just discovered Eco earth from Zoomed,i have been using this in my Nesting box and its lovely stuff,very clean and sterile... comes in a dry pressed brick that you soak in water for 20 mins to give you some great substrate:)
So now you've got me thinking about providing a supply of fresh, clean organic soil (not sure where I'll be able to source that) for my cham, and it makes me wonder: how can I make sure my soil is as nutritious as possible

I think that the goal might be more to just make the soil as "normal" as possible. As we aren't sure exactly what the reason for eating dirt and debris is, its hard to then assume what we are looking for. While the best answer might be to get a boatload of dirt from Nosy Be, dug from beneath a chameleon tree, the practical answer might be to just get clean dirt from out in the woods, and then keep it as clean as possible by removing fecal matter, etc, and changing the top 1-2" weekly.

Here's an observation for which I will not pretend to know the reason. Many times I have scattered a few small calcium carbonate pellets (1/8"), crushed limerock, etc, in a flower pot beneath juvenile (6-10" panther chameleons). Maybe a dozen or so in a 100 sq in area. Often the chameleon will make a deliberate motion to the pebbles and consume a few. There's a lot of limestone on Madagascar. Hmmmmmmmm .
Hmmm..interesting observation, Jim. Like Brad, and as you suggest, I'm more than convinced that there is something natural and necessary in this behavior. I've assumed that the draw was the organic (decaying plant matter, microbes, etc) part of the soil, humic acid, etc, rather than its rock/mineral consituents -- it sure would be interesting to know. I now offer my panthers a couple tablespoons of carefully picked through garden leaf compost about once a week, which they consume with gusto.
Could there be a blood pH they are trying to maintain?

There ought to be a way to establish a research fellowship in cham biochemistry at one or two of the Vet schools in Florida or California in parntership with large breeders in those places.
Realistically, it could have many beneficial effects, and we can only speculate endlessly. As for further research, it is so much easier said than done, as we all must operate for profit (no grants here), and any testing regimen requires a control group that doesn't get the goods. One way or the other, some chameleons have to be guinea pigs, and its not in anyone's budget. The best answer is to give them what they want as best as you can replicate what they get in the wild.

As surfaced earlier in this thread, as well as others here, what makes me cringe is the haste with which people assume a cause and effect and problem and solution, or impart otherwise baseless conclusions, in adjusting their chameleon husbandry. This isn't the first thread in this forum about "dirt eating". And the same tired "it must be correcting a deficiency" excuse comes up every time. I've seen other threads where an increase in supplemention is then recommended ! I guess that eating bugs and drinking is "correcting a deficiency" under the same logic ! I would ask many when pondering a "problem" based on an observation or concern is to first ask themselves "what does Mother Nature do?" In this case, many replies did eventually go to the best logic trail. Along the same thought process, I will cite another example of people not deferring to Mother Nature ... that would be the choice to use of foggers and misters. Last time I checked, it rained in Madagascar, as in drip-drip. The humidity also fluctuates there just as it does here in Florida, and the need for constant higher humidity as a trade off for increased risk of respiratory and fungal problems, which is what foggers and misters lend themselves to, just isn't what Mother Nature does. When the humidity is low, drip the animal twice a day instead of once, so that it can drink if its thirsty. This latter part of my post may seem a tangent, but the issue to me in this thread, as in so many of the forums, is more one of thought process. Be sure its broke before you attempt to fix it, and assumption is the mother of all screw-ups !!

I do think that chameleons are trying to fix some mineral inbalance. Pica in humans, or the eating of non-food substance is linked to multiple things but predominately pregnancy and iron-defiency. Lots of animals from chimps to macaws will eat dirt from certain areas to get the minerals that they need, iron usually is one of the top ones they are after. In herps many spieces of geckos will eat sand to get calcium carbonate (limestone), iron, and other minerals. Since most of our pets are fed between a couple and several different types of food I can see that there is room for missing some trace elements. Your a breeder, on the average week how many types of feeders do you offer? In the wild they maybe be eating a different type of feeder insect everytime they eat, feeding on spiders, flies, and bugs of all sorts. Those bugs are all going to have slightly/highly different nutriotional values and among those values is going to be trace elements and minerals. Of course the chameleon is not eating a fully balanced diet all the time, wether do to food availibity, preference, or whatever other natural circumstance happens. Trace elements are not life threatening but they certainly hurt the chameleon's body to function. So nature gave the chameleons a little back-up security plan, if you can't get the nutrients in your food, get them from the soil. So yes chameleons would be eating soil if they had deficiency, though it maybe an instinct just to go down and grab bite every once in a while.

For your question about what does mother nature do? Kills off the chameleons that are dehydrated, mal-nurtioned, or in some other way fails to survive. In captivity, our goal is to keep them all alive. Next time you find yourself thinking what would nature do, release a boomslang in your chameleon room, and it will show you exactly what nature intended.

The way I see it,

The consensus among those with the most experience here is that it is a normal behavior. Whether triggered by an imbalance, or a normal behavior to preclude an imbalance, is all speculation, and all are welcome to adjust their husbandry where they see fit.

As to boomslangs in chameleon rooms and Mother Nature ....... or just the frustration of leading a horse to water ...... :cool:
LOL .... No problem ! The boomslang just didn't seem like a relevent concern when evaluating chameleon husbandry issues ... if you could only see the emails we get here where, while we understand folks needing help, we also lament their lack of employing a thinking cap ! :D
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