Filarial worms


New Member
I recently had a terrible experience with a beautiful nosy be female that has been in my care since February. She was purchased as a CB animal, and was around 6 months old when I received her. I don't believe in breeding chameleons young, and so I waited to breed her until just recently. The breeding was successful, and she began showing the typical signs of being gravid. When it came time to lay her eggs, it was obvious that something was wrong. I suspected she was egg bound, and took her to the vet. X-rays confirmed that she was gravid, and believing she was egg bound, my vet prescribed medication to induce labor. X-rays also showed that her bone density was not good. This was extremely concerning for me, because she had been kept under UVB lights, supplemented, and fed well gutloaded feeders for her entire time with me.

Despite the drug to induce labor, she didn't lay. The following morning, she was in very bad shape. I took her back to the vet. After some discussion, my vet and I agreed that removing the eggs and spaying her at the same time was the best option. If she survived, I planned to rehab the MBD and then rehome her to a pet home. My vet began the procedure.. cut into her abdomen.. and a worm popped out of the incision. To my horror and his, her abdomen was filled with filarial worms. There were somewhere around a hundred or more of these worms, all feasting on her organs and eggs. My vet did his best to remove them all, but she died within 10 minutes of being sewn back up.

At no time was a subcutaneous worm ever visible on this female. In addition, fecals performed were all clear of parasites. All animals that I purchase are given routine fecals to make sure they don't need to be medicated, but filarial worms in a CB animal was simply not considered to be a problem, and she wasn't checked for them. Neither were the other animals, also CB, that I acquired from the same source. At least nutrient robbing, organ destroying worms explains why she had MBD, but that is very small consolation.

I have some questions for the experts on this forum, because I am simply at a loss as to how to proceed. The animals came to me in my region's winter from a more tropical location. Mosquitoes are the common carrier of these worms, and up until the last two or three weeks, it hasn't been warm enough for them. I haven't seen any in my shop, and all of the chameleons live in screen caging that would prevent mosquitoes from entering the cages to spread the disease from one animal to another. Due to the MBD, it is believed that this female carried the worms for quite some time before being overcome by them while she was gravid. I have reason to believe that at least one other chameleon from the same source is also infected with the worms.

Now, the questions. For the experts.. what are the chances that the rest of my chameleons, both from the same source and ones that I acquired from other breeders, are infected? Should I perform blood tests on all of the chameleons, or just the ones that were shipped from this breeder? Can filarial worms be transferred sexually? What is the best method for treating them? My vet prescribed panacur, which has now been administered to every single animal in the shop, as a precautionary step. He feels that low doses of orally administered ivermectin would be more effective. In researching, I have read that ivermectin kills the microfilarials too quickly, and causes them to clog the bloodstream, etc. Would the best strategy be to perform blood tests and cull any animals that have been infected? Will panacur kill the microfilarials? Finally, what is the best strategy for collecting blood from a chameleon for blood smears?

I do realize that admitting to a dangerous, contagious and deadly infestation in some of my chameleons could be considered economic suicide if I ever plan to sell any of my chameleon's offspring. I am asking for assistance on a public forum because the wellbeing of my animals is my primary concern and I know that the knowledge I seek is here amongst our members, whether they will publicly admit to it or not. If someone does not feel comfortable posting a reply on the forum and has information that can assist my vet (who primarily treats mammals) and I in treating this, please feel free to email me privately at [email protected].

Thanks for any help!

sorry about your loss...

imagine having something eating you from the inside...that's terrible, parasites/worms has to be the one thing that disgusts the most, almost like a phobia... the mental picture of a worm popping out of her abdomen gave me shivers/goosebumps

I'm interested to see the responses you will get...I get mosquitoe bites pretty frequently, can these worms be given to humans??

I have emailed you on the side regarding this, and am seeking more info as well. There are several things that we know about filarials that make it difficult to connect some of the dots here. One of the more problematic ones is the means of transmission, the mosquito. As of now, I do not believe that there are mosquitoe species endemic to the U.S. that are known to transmit the filarials found in chameleons. Almost all filarials are specific about the mosquitoe intermediary. Even if there were, it would require that the mosquito bite an infected chameleon, buzz around for a few days if not more, and then find another chameleon to stick. I am meeting with a very knowledgeable vet tonight as a social call, and will ask him to post his thoughts later, but my initial conversatons with this entity also rule out transmission via any known contact other than blood suckers and needle sharing druggies. At this point in time, the most likely candidate would be a mis-diagnosis, and that the parasites are of a different type. It would be important to take those extra steps to be certain of the diagnosis considering the long odds involved.

As to the MBD situation, or more specifically lack of bone density, it is exactly what you would expect to see in a female that was gestating and not at top shape or with top husbandry. While the parasite findings would seem to be more than enough to have doomed this animal, it is also my experience based on volumes of feedback and other anecdotal evidence, that more than 50% of all breeding/egg-producing attempts with hobbyists fail, even with the best of intentions and perceived husbandry. That would include lights, supplementation, etc.

As to "admitting to an infestation ... economic suicide", I think that a bit too self-incriminating considering the current diagnosis. Filarials in chameleons are not known to transmit stateside, and other parasites are easily dealt with. Every breeder out there that deals with imports has dealt with filarial worms. Not as an animal-to-animal problem, but just as some of their imports have them, and some don't. Melleri are notorious for such, but I have seen it often enough in panthers. I have yet to see a WC animal not affected with other parasites, many of which do present animal-to-animal transmission possibilities. No importer can accurately claim that their imports are parasite free, or that because of a couple doses of panacur, etc, that their animals are parasite free. The most honest statement would be that they are "parasite managed".
The only seller I knew that sold parasite-free imports was a guy in PA who actually did blood work, and treated for filiarials. Especially in Melleri. It was a pain, but he had the equipment, and patience. Certainly not a profitable enterprise, as he had to stop - wasn't' worth the time, though he was selling them for $200, and he bought them for $20 from importers. The work involved in testing and treating these things is a chore, especially when it comes to the subcutaneous ones - surgery is needed.

A friend of mine had lost a very long term captive melleri to these just a few months back. Fecals were clean, it was huge, healthy - then just "Dead". Filiarial worm chewed through a major artery. The vet said transmission via mosquitoes in the US would be impossible.

I am thinking that the female you got was an import. If it wasn't, I'm keeping ALL my animals indoors!
Last edited:
When I took in a wild caught panther (given to me because he was at deaths door), he had filarial worms. They had to be surgically removed plus Ivermectin was used. I learnt then that there are always at least three worms minimum in an infested chameleon (mine had three). I am posting this to state that even though I had a panther with these worms, my other three chameleons didn't suffer themselves from this, i.e it didn't get transmitted to them despite them all living in the same room. Over a year later my panther chameleon is free from any problems.
It looks as though my vet needs to go back to the drawing board on what these things are. He was pretty certain, but if they can't be transmitted by mosquitoes in the US, and I can be as certain as I can be without having seen her hatch myself that she is CB, then they probably aren't filiaral worms. I will wait for the sample he sent in to come back before making any final decisions on how to proceed.

Thank you for all of your input, I welcome any additional comments. I have a container of these things in the fridge and will photo them in the morning to give people something to dwell over.
It would be very interesting to see what the worms really are. I have seen filarial worms get "lost" in the skin and the coelomic cavity but never feasting on organs and eggs. Filarial worms are basically bloodstream parasites and their ocurrence in other places is an abnormality and generally non-pathological. Was a direct blood smear performed to see if there was any microfilaria in there? I will be quite interested in knowing if these guys are filarial worms indeed as it would be a first for me so definitely keep us posted.

Diagnosing calcium definiciency by just an X-ray is not a good way. Decreased bone density is expected in animals that are producing. Doing bloodwork and determining the Ca:p ratio is more reliable in the presence of clinical signs but due to the pet being gravid, it is hard to say if she was calcium deficient before or if being gravid caused the calcium depletion.

Last edited:
Diagnosing clacium definiciency by just an X-ray is not a good way. Decreased bone density is expected in animals that are producing. Doing bloodwork and deterriming .....

Thou typeth in too much of a hurry, dear doktor ! Fortunately, its the only thing thou doth do in a hurry :D
Great to see you posting Ivan! I remember you helped me out a lot several years ago with a Fischer chameleon when I needed help (on another forum).
As part of my training last fall, we went over the various native and nonnative species of mosquitoes. I'm wondering if any of these nonnative parasitic slimebags could be responsible for transmitting nonnative parasites. The tiger mosquito is pretty widespread, so I'm sure they'd have considered that one.

Could be a nonnative mosquito? But then again, it'd have to have other parasite ridden hosts to have the worms in the first place. Weird.


Here is a website that discusses the possibility of filarids. Like I said before, it is possible though unlikely if she was CB.

The questions that I'd have for you is:

If this was a CB cham, was it raised in an enviroment, before or after with wild-caught chams?

Do you have any wild caught chams?

Will your vet teach you how to do a blood blood draw out of the ventral tail vein? If so, it is easy to see the microfilaria on a simple smear (blood drop on a slide with a coverslip). There are "wiggly things" ("wiggly things is the scienctific name:)) that can be easily identified under low magnifications. Since you have quite a few lizards now, it might be worth investing in a microscope and learning how to do some of the diagnostic tests.

Talk to you later,
Last edited:
...I get mosquitoe bites pretty frequently, can these worms be given to humans??

Yep, although they usually dont do any harm. Parasites are usually very specific about their host. If a human gets a filarial worm here in the states, it usually ends up wandering the body looking for its "mating spot." The worm wanders in humans, however say if it normally infects ducks, it would home in on its preferred spot and wait for a signal from a mate. The wandering of these worms usually doesn't do much, if any, damage at all. These non-human specific species that sometimes infect man are called Dirofilaria conjunctivae.

Now thats not saying there aren't filarial worms for humans. Here are some disease filarial worms cause in humans:

Loa Loa
River Blindness

You could contract Elephantiasis here in the states for awhile, and there still may be evidence of it in the backwoods of the carolinas and Louisiana. But it was mostly eradicated in the last century here in the US.

Another filarial worm that is pretty common is Dirofilaria imitis which is the canine heartworm. I believe the CDC has documented half a dozen cases or so in humans since their inception.

Anyways, hope this helps ease your tensions, as well as give you some table talk in future. Just not the dinner table :D
Last edited:
Top Bottom