First Time Chameleon Owner

Spiderlash

New Member
I have worked at a locally owned pet shop for almost four years and it has really broadened my horizons for pet knowledge/care. I thought about getting a bearded dragon for a long time, but decided it was too generic for me. So I went out on a limb and decided to hold out for a panther chameleon - my favorite species of cham.

My patients paid off and two months ago I purchased a captive bred three-month-old blue-bar ambilobe panther chameleon. His name is Nebulas. He is about 5 months old right now and is aprox. 6" long from nose to tail. Neb has an excellent appetite (eats approx. 5 doz 3-wk crickets a week), is shedding normally and has no visible signs of stress or illness. I try to handle him at least a couple times a week in 5 - 10 minute intervals to keep him tame while not putting too much stress on him. This is my first reptile I have ever personally owned (other than caring for the ones at the shop), and with the last year and a half managing the Fish & Reptile Room, I'm finding it fun and rewarding - and I'm loving it!

Neb is currently in a 24"x18"x18" Exo-Terra glass terrarium (pictured below). I know he will soon out-grow this - but don't worry - I have easy access to larger enclosures for the future through my work.

This is a shot of his tank the first week - two months ago:

Neb Setup - First Week by ..:: Hilary ::.., on Flickr

And here's little Neb at about 4 inches - taken two months ago:

Because I can by ..:: Hilary ::.., on Flickr

I am interested in creating a self-sustaining ecosystem/natural terrarium in his current enclosure. I have both a small ficus and schefflera in pots covered with moss to create the illusion of being planted in the substrate. But I would like to take them out of the pots, and create a more natural environment for him to live in. I've also been thinking of building a screen enclosure to set on the top of his current tank for more climbing room/better ventilation.

The book I own (Natural Terrariums, by Phillip Purser) suggests the substrate mixture for a jungle terrarium as follows:
- 1 part coir (ground coconut husk)
- 2 parts orchid bark
- 2 parts composting leaves
- 1 part ground palm
- augment with 2 Tbs. general purpose organic fertilizer and 2 Tbs. trace elements to kick-start the live bacteria.


I was able to easily find and purchase the coir and orchid bark, but I'm having trouble locating good sources to purchase the others.

Any suggestions on where I can find composting leaves, ground palm, general purpose organic fertilizer and trace elements? These have me stumped.

Or other things that are more readily available/serve the same purpose?

Any suggestions/comments are welcome and encouraged!

Thanks!

~Hilary
 

Julirs

New Member
With the amount of misting is requires for these animals, you will soon find out that no substrate is a better way to go, not to mention that many substrates are an impaction danger. Your cham will quickly outgrow that Exo, and you will want to eventually have him in something at least 18X18X36 or 24X24X48-with the highest number being the vertical height. I would suggest adding some more horizontal vines to his current enclosure.
 

ferretinmyshoes

Veterinarian
Staff member
Welcome to the forums! That's a nice picture you took of your cute little guy! As others have said, substrate is actually not recommended for panthers because a lot of people have had problems with accidental (and sometimes deliberate) ingestion and impaction. Substrate can look pretty, but it's actually a pain and with the high level of mistings your little guy will receive it will be difficult to maintain. Most people on here use just a bare bottom cage, and their cages still look very nice! I use reptile carpet, which most people don't really like, but I take it out and wash it every week so it doesn't get gross, and my cage dries out completely between misting and I have a collection system for the drippers. All that stuff on the bottom is skin - they both just shed when I took this.



The self-sustaining terrariums are better for dart frogs and other animals, chameleons just don't make it very easy to keep natural cages like you're envisioning. Cute little guy though, can't wait to see pictures as he grows! :)
 
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kinyonga

Chameleon Enthusiast
Something I've been doing for over 20 years is keeping chameleons in glass cages with either screen lids or screen lids and doors or screen lids and glass doors with ventilation in them. I would not recommend them if you lived in a hot climate with no air conditioning, of course....and they do have some requirements/issues...but then so do screen ones. As long as these things are taken into consideration glass cages do not lead to certain failure.

The issue with substrates is that you usually find out which ones aren't safe when you end up with a chameleon with an impaction...so not using any is playing it on the safe side.

Here's an article Chris Anderson wrote recently about keeping them in glass cages...
http://www.chameleonnews.com/10JulAndersonGlass.html
 

Spiderlash

New Member
Thanks for the advice guys!

I know screens are the way to go for most people, but I'm leaning toward the Exo Terra terariums for the added humidity and which are vented for airflow. It is possible and has been done before. I'm reading more into it for more info. (The water bowl you see has a air stone bubbler - not standing water. This isn't in the enclosure anymore since he didn't drink out of it. The photos were taken two months ago.)

I live in Oregon - 15 minutes away from Portland. It's pretty cold and humid here during the winter months (rain, rain, and more RAIN), but gets pretty hot and dry during the summer. My co-worker also got one of the baby panthers - Neb's sibling. She has her's in a all screen enclosure (Exo Terra Repti-breeze) and she has to mist constantly to keep the humidity levels up.

I'm probably going to get a larger enclosure someday, and since he will outgrow the Exo Terra terrarium series. I'm planning on having my husband build a custom screen enclosure and equipped it with a misting system - most likely Mistking, since I've been reading about it.

Thanks so much for your advice guys! Really appreciate it!

~Hilary
 

Spiderlash

New Member
Here's an article Chris Anderson wrote recently about keeping them in glass cages...
http://www.chameleonnews.com/10JulAndersonGlass.html
I read the article and i'm totally hooked on the glass terrariums! And he even touches on the natural terrarium bit I was talking about. (Notice in all the pictures the terrariums have live plants planted in the substrate with a drainage layer.) Too bad Exo Terra doesn't make a terrarium big enough to house panthers. :/

I think I'll build a custom 1/2 glass 1/2 screen enclosure for Neb when he out grows his current setup, and post the building process here. Im so excited! xD
 

Carlton

Chameleon Enthusiast
I read the article and i'm totally hooked on the glass terrariums! And he even touches on the natural terrarium bit I was talking about. (Notice in all the pictures the terrariums have live plants planted in the substrate with a drainage layer.) Too bad Exo Terra doesn't make a terrarium big enough to house panthers. :/

I think I'll build a custom 1/2 glass 1/2 screen enclosure for Neb when he out grows his current setup, and post the building process here. Im so excited! xD
A better way to look at the cham community classic debate on glass vs screen will be to consider the pros and cons of each type of housing, consider your local climate and house temps, make sure you are prepared to monitor temp, humidity, etc. carefully, understand the subtle signs of cham health problems, and be ready to change the setup you start with.

I would not say that glass CAN NEVER be used successfully though it is often harder for a newbie to manage. It does have it's problems; some of them behavioral. Some chams detect their own reflections in the glass if the light is right...leading to constant displaying and stress. Some chams roam the glass pawing at it for hours trying to escape. To me a better option is a combination of the two...some screen panels and some solid panels that can be adjusted to fit your particular situation. In some places or times of year a screen cage needs to be partially covered with plastic sheeting to help hold in humidity (but this is still not exactly the same as a glass cage really).

One of my biggest peeves about commercially produced caging is size...simply too small for most chams available in the same stores. The animal caging industry is all for convenience not animal comfort. The tiny little enclosures considered OK for most pets I would never use.
 

Texas Ranger

Avid Member
I still think you should go with a screen cage. If misting constently is a problem. Then get a Mistking. That will solve all the problems.
 

Spiderlash

New Member
A better way to look at the cham community classic debate on glass vs screen will be to consider the pros and cons of each type of housing, consider your local climate and house temps, make sure you are prepared to monitor temp, humidity, etc. carefully, understand the subtle signs of cham health problems, and be ready to change the setup you start with.

I would not say that glass CAN NEVER be used successfully though it is often harder for a newbie to manage. It does have it's problems; some of them behavioral. Some chams detect their own reflections in the glass if the light is right...leading to constant displaying and stress. Some chams roam the glass pawing at it for hours trying to escape. To me a better option is a combination of the two...some screen panels and some solid panels that can be adjusted to fit your particular situation. In some places or times of year a screen cage needs to be partially covered with plastic sheeting to help hold in humidity (but this is still not exactly the same as a glass cage really).

One of my biggest peeves about commercially produced caging is size...simply too small for most chams available in the same stores. The animal caging industry is all for convenience not animal comfort. The tiny little enclosures considered OK for most pets I would never use.
Thanks for your oppinion. I'm planning on building a partial screen, partial glass enclosure. I know the warning signs of stress (I've worked with chameleons for the last four years at my work).
;-)
 

lisa h

New Member
A couple of things: If you can keep proper temps and humidity levels in glass, then I say go for it. One thing I don't like about your setup is the substrate. I had that stuff in my pygmy enclosure, and ended up pulling it out of my cham's mouth when she took some in while feeding. I feel lucky that I was right there. I would go for a layer of hydro balls, then somethng like the coconut fibre (the one that comes in those blocks), or Jungle Mix. I use them mixed together. My plants grow very well in that combination (I don't pot the plants, just plant them in the substrate).

There is a company called Penn Plax, and they build large glass enclosures (or plexi, can't remember), that come in large sizes. They have good ventilation, and I would personally use them for larger species.

I find for my climate glass is the way to go, but it's not for everyone. Just my opinion. There are others here with many more years of experience.
 

oliveblanche

New Member
I read the article and i'm totally hooked on the glass terrariums! And he even touches on the natural terrarium bit I was talking about. (Notice in all the pictures the terrariums have live plants planted in the substrate with a drainage layer.) Too bad Exo Terra doesn't make a terrarium big enough to house panthers. :/

I think I'll build a custom 1/2 glass 1/2 screen enclosure for Neb when he out grows his current setup, and post the building process here. Im so excited! xD
I went with the glass terrarium as well! Looks so much better and I just hate fake plants. I have the clay balls about 2 inches at the bottom, filled with water. I covered them with a mesh screen and cut little holes for the plants to root throughout the balls. Then I put the expandable reptile dirt down over the screen so if I need to I can just scoop it off and put new. Along with live moss and all the plants/drift wood/vines it looks awesome and I think my little girl likes it better! (I am a total amature! lol)
 

Lingling

New Member
Well when your little guy does outgrow the Exo (and it won't be long!), you should think about turning it into a pygmy viv. Pygmy chameleons are commonly kept in naturalistic terrariums with live plants and substrate. My pygs are in a heavily planted 18x18x18 exo-terra viv. That way you could upgrade the panther to a more suitable enclosure and still use that pretty viv you've got.
 

Spiderlash

New Member
Well when your little guy does outgrow the Exo (and it won't be long!), you should think about turning it into a pygmy viv. Pygmy chameleons are commonly kept in naturalistic terrariums with live plants and substrate. My pygs are in a heavily planted 18x18x18 exo-terra viv. That way you could upgrade the panther to a more suitable enclosure and still use that pretty viv you've got.
That's a great idea! Pygmies are super cute! What type would be best? The Leaf ones we get at the store always don't seem to do well. ;/
 

Lingling

New Member
That's a great idea! Pygmies are super cute! What type would be best? The Leaf ones we get at the store always don't seem to do well. ;/
Brevs are a good one to start out with and easiest to find, usually. I ordered mine from a place in FL. They were wild caught, but they came in great and have been doing excellent. I'm not sure I know what type you mean by "leaf". Common names can refer to several species. And just because they don't do well in a pet store, I wouldn't rule them out. Does your store get WC animals? Pet stores are generally not the best environment for chameleons - they just don't get the care they need, usually. It's a stressful environment. I work at a pet store too.
 

laurie

Retired Moderator
There are a couple companies who do make very large terrariums. I can't remember who, but I can get the info, just give me a couple of days and yell at me if I forget.
 

Spiderlash

New Member
Brevs are a good one to start out with and easiest to find, usually. I ordered mine from a place in FL. They were wild caught, but they came in great and have been doing excellent. I'm not sure I know what type you mean by "leaf". Common names can refer to several species. And just because they don't do well in a pet store, I wouldn't rule them out. Does your store get WC animals? Pet stores are generally not the best environment for chameleons - they just don't get the care they need, usually. It's a stressful environment. I work at a pet store too.
All I know is they were called "pygmy leaf". I'm not sure what the genus was. Usually we get CB for most of our reptiles in general. The pygmy's were most likely WC, but I don't remember - as it was about 4 months ago last time we got them in. I'll defiantly check into the Brevs species.
 
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