Life, Death, and the beauty of Chameleon keeping

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by CauseNAffect, Feb 16, 2014.

  1. CauseNAffect

    CauseNAffect Member

    Hello keepers,

    I'd like start by saying thank you to all of you for being part of something truly amazing, and lending your advice and knowledge to others, who wish to join our little world of chameleon husbandry. The act of replicating an environment in such great detail, facilitating a peaceful and healthy life for a wild animal is something I have grown to appreciate more with time.

    Something happened to me 2 weeks ago and that I would like to share with you all. Keep in mind that my intentions have always been to do what is best for my animal, as well as educate and at times amuse myself with the behavior and lifestyle of such a wonderful creature.

    To begin, my name is Kirk, and I live in Manhattan, New York City. I have a melleri chameleon who is about 3 years old now and has been in my care since very early on in his life. He has a freerange setup with multiple basking spots, a highway to travel and look out the window, and enough space to make multiple chameleons quite comfortable. Misters running, frequent showers, a variety of insects....quite the life.

    About a month ago I decided that I wanted another chameleon. I was nervous knowing how delicate these chameleons are and I didn't want to upset the current Successful and stable environment that I had created. I was planning on getting a meller, but considering how territorial / difficult they are to sex, I didn't want to risk introducing a large potential problem by getting an animal shipped in the mail, which wouldn't work out, put stress on 2 animals... etc. I know that many people on this forum have more than one chameleon, some live together, some separate, but it didn't seem like an out of the question idea. I made the decision when buying crickets from petco to try out a medium sized beautifullllllllll veiled with gorgeous coloring that I had seen when waiting to get crickets at petco many times. It's typical look of desparity and climbing on that plastic ceiling grate in it's miserable GLASS cage made me want to save him as well. I also had a 10 day return in case it didn't work out... PERFECT. I could see how my chameleon reacted and monitor the new change closely, with insurance, seemed like a good idea.

    After 4 days of this new relationship, all seemed great. Separate spots in my freerange, separate food, out of direct sight. The veiled of about 5-6 inch length (base- no tail incl.) was following the big guy around, sleeping where he slept, basking with him, I was worried about finding the little guy at first, then I became aware I would just have to find the big one and sure enough the lil tike would be right there. It was interesting seeing the slight and subtle personality changes, as if the new visitor was simply an inconvenience, a scoughable new house guest, as if my meller didn't care to waste his time with the spoils of companionship. I woke up on the 5th day, and walked over to see my cham as I do first thing every morning to see where he could be and that he is allright. I noticed a tail and set of feet hanging out of his mouth, twitching slightly. My first reaction was to yell, YOU ATE HIM, you ******* ate him, how could you! Instantly I grabbed the tail and had about a 3-5 minute tug of war to pull the lifeless, crushed body of the veiled out of his mouth, fearing any type of parasites or illnesses the veiled might have had complicating my meller's health, or bones / other complications from eating him. I had to get that chameleon out of his mouth. I finally pulled out the dead veiled, really a pathetic waste, a dead body to mark a bad decision, quickly ran over and flushed it's body down the toilet. And got back to checking on my own chameleon and making sure he was Ok. Such an unsanctimonious saddening death for the beautiful veiled, I wish I could've buried it but considering the only fresh soil was in central park, frozen in winter, I didn't have much other choice.

    The interesting part of this experience came during the days after. The pondering, learning the lessons from this experience. Analyzing my own psychology, my ideas for a "companion" for the chameleon to have or a possible captive mating to happen. Was I irresponsible in not being able to forsee this attack, was it my interest in placing a human story / emotion / feelings onto an animal? Was it reckless or wrong of me to simply want to experiment with the behavior of my pet when introducing a slight change to it's environment on a scientific level?

    After seeing my chameleon after the attack / kill, he was radiant for days after, displaying colors I haven't seen him display in some time. There was something about him that reeked of pride, and territorial dominance. But there was a very noticeable change in personality after this occurrence. I found it hard to not share that sense of pride with him, and respect him even more. Considering the fact that my own agenda, was very different from the agenda my meller had. His agenda, WAS SURVIVAL.

    The punchline to this cruel joke or story, is that I set up a wild environment, for what I thought was a captive animal. I thought I could control things. But the truth of the matter is that HE IS VERY MUCH, a wild animal whom simply happens to tolerate my caring for. I was reminded of the very reasons I got him in the first place, that the very beauty of this animal doesn't lie in it's bright colors, but in it's very existence. That something could evolve, and live, and behave, in such a unique and subtle way. In the same way that people find plants beautiful, to watch them blossom, and change subtly with time, like a good wine. It is the finer things that enrich us. And my chameleon certainly enriches my life.

    I guess the moral of the story is that in my case, my chameleon is a wild and solitary animal. My attempts at observing change for scientific reasons were met with reasons that science could not calculate or explain, that animals who are surviving will do WHATEVER it takes to live, and feed, even if we might not understand. All of your chameleons are built with this DNA, and all have this potential. Perhaps it's this unpredictability that makes them so interesting after all. That we can track, and montior beaviors and temperatures, but will never be able to predict what is truly WILD.

    Hopefully there is something to be taken away by some of you keepers from this or to share in my experience. I don't condone, nor defend my own behavior, us humans are quite complicated as well, but this isn't a psychology forum now is it. I apologize to any of whom might find me irresponsible, hopefully keepers can take away something from this.

    Thank you all for your continued exploration into such an awesome hobby.

    Cheers - K
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  2. ir0k

    ir0k New Member

    Great read
    Sorry for the other cham
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  3. Steven Davies

    Steven Davies New Member

    Really sorry but this is horrific , iv only been keeping chams a short time and even i know not to have 2 of them together , even more so different types. :(
  4. fluxlizard

    fluxlizard New Member

    Great story!
    Really well written.

    The more you truly understand them, the less "unpredictable" they are though.

    Melleri *love* eating other lizards and can take down surprisingly large prey. Veileds are the same by the way- I've seen them try to take down pretty large lizards through glass (giant day geckos on the other side of the glass). There is a nice pic of one eating a leopard gecko in the yemen chameleon book. Bad idea to mix either of those chameleons with another smaller lizard.

    I wouldn't call it survival instinct any more than any other meal. More like normal feeding instinct "Hey that looks delicious, I think I'll try it!".
  5. CauseNAffect

    CauseNAffect Member

    All of which is true, good observations, but I'd disagree with Survival bit, i think feeding is just as much a part of survival as anything else is. However my chameleo, had an abundant / full cricket pot, and most certainly a full stomach, eating a giant lizard didn't seem to factor into the picture.
  6. Kath44

    Kath44 Member

    I'm sorry for the veiled and there's no point in condemning or judging you. What's done is done. And whether it's survival or feeding, it's probably more instinct.
  7. Jamire

    Jamire New Member

    Really great writing.
  8. Lathelia

    Lathelia Established Member

    I'm so sorry, that's terrible what happened, but we all learn from our mistakes. Thanks for sharing.
  9. drdepo

    drdepo New Member

    Great read
  10. Decadancin

    Decadancin Moderatoris Americanus
    Staff Member

    One failure of many animal keepers is to put human emotions into them to explain their behavior. (Not implying that you did) It is very natural, and something I keep in the back of my mind all the time with my pets.
    Why is this chameleon "hanging out" with another? Does he "like" the other animal? Does he feel "safe" with it? Is he just trying to keep an eye on it? We don't truly know.
    To be honest, if we look at the end result here without emotion, there is probably a ton we could learn from it! It is a shame that your little veiled is gone, and I wish somehow that could be changed, but I also hope enough people read this and are reminded that these beautiful creatures are only trying to live out their lives as chameleons. We should not force them to be anything else! Of course we are "forcing" them to live in captivity, but hopefully you get what I'm trying to say.
    Thanks for sharing your story.
  11. Olimpia

    Olimpia Biologist & Ecologist

    Yes, I would say so. There is nothing scientific about purchasing a smaller, unfamiliar chameleon, putting him directly onto the free-range that belongs to a much larger chameleon, without any further preparation, and waiting to see what happens (what about quarantine? What if the new veiled came with parasites, infections, fungi? It was an obvious potential health risk for the Meller's. What about allowing the veiled some time to settle into his new home, at the very least?)

    Even if the Meller's had not eaten the other chameleon, whether they only fought or did nothing at all, it is irresponsible to put a new animal, one you are not familiar with in the slightest, have not quarantined, and have not acclimated, in the same territory as another chameleon that has been there for years. At the very least it is a territorial squabble waiting to happen.

    I don't find anything in this story unpredictable, to be perfectly frank.
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  12. Deevo

    Deevo New Member

    I would have to agree. I don't doubt you had good intentions but it was bound to happen with a Mellers.
  13. fluxlizard

    fluxlizard New Member

    That was kind of my point too.

    The lizards did just what lizards do. Mellers eat lizards. They are delicious and this was a rare treat. He wasn't thinking that he needed to shank that dude to survive or something.

    But we are all still learning and making mistakes. That is just part of being human. Some mistakes are really dumb in hindsight. Obviously this was a difficult and sad lesson for the OP to learn.
  14. Olimpia

    Olimpia Biologist & Ecologist

    Of course, at the end of the day lizards are simple in their thought process.

    But I don't much care for a series of unfortunate decisions justified as "science." I'm sorry, but there was nothing carefully considered and executed about this situation.
    #14 Olimpia, Feb 17, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
  15. CauseNAffect

    CauseNAffect Member

    I'd be happy if you directed me to data to substantiate any of your behavioral claims with the meller's eating other large lizards and territorial behavioral studies. They are certainly not very readily available on this website. Go ahead and search Meller eating lizard, and you don't get a hell of a lot. The real fact of the matter here is that our very experiences and recordings of these instances build that record of behavior. I searched high and low and posted on THIS VERY WEBSITE, about the possibility of having two in a relative proximity. Keep in mind, my freerange is an entire living room, and was segregated to a very separate part, but eventually the veiled just started following around the big guy, which I aslo find interesting. Mabye you have an explanation for that as well? Additionally, the meller had no color / flaring of spots in any way when the veiled encroached on his area, I also find it interesting there was a delayed reaction and nothing instant to this change. There was no instant territorial displays of any kind, just a simple tolerance. I think there is merit in sharing my experience. And my surprise at the outcome doesn't seem to be foolishness, but a lack of information according to you. I see that you have all of your awards and commendations and MR. Science title (no disrespect) but what good is all of that knowledge in hindsight. All of the keepers on here, sharing their experience, and building a record of behavior is what I value, and it is something on a scale which a science lab couldn't replicate. It's a global community. And the way I see it, is that the more shared the better informed we all are. Meller's are territorial, and aggressive in nature, but my point was also in bringing up individual personalities and asking how much can really be predicted. Some chameleons appear affectionate, in running over and climbing on you, other's are sweet and very docile their entire lives, then kill a veiled living on the other side of the room. I'm not entirely sure how you can snub your nose with such certainty on anything Olimpia. I'd be really enthusiastic about reading any material you may have collected on this topic though. I'm not claiming to be a scientist here. I simply love animals and have a curious nature, Please share if you'd be so kind. Thanks for the response.
  16. Tyaeda

    Tyaeda Member

    Olimpia saved my chameleon's life, when two reptile vets couldn't even tell me what was wrong with him. She's been helping chameleon owners with their health problems for free, for a long time.

    Telling by your original post I would congratulate you for owning up to your mistakes, but now I see defensiveness over your actions.

    There are multiple posts on this site regarding housing chameleons together.
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  17. Psychobunny

    Psychobunny Avid Member

    Well said Olimpia, my sentiments exactly
  18. Deevo

    Deevo New Member

    There are way more videos on youtube of vields eating lizards then there are mellers simply because I have never seen a mellers for sale in a store.

    I have seen a few websites that claim parsons and mellers will eat small birds on occasion.
  19. Olimpia

    Olimpia Biologist & Ecologist

    You failed to address any of my other concerns. Why not quarantine the veiled? Why not allow him to adjust first to a separate, isolated enclosure/environment? Why not ensure that your new pet, from a chain pet store that doesn't have the best track record for husbandry, is healthy before putting your Meller's at risk? Why allow a new chameleon whose personality you do not know to spend every waking moment with another chameleon instead of supervising short stints first? Why allow an animal that is maybe 1/4th the size of the other to interact unsupervised (a bad bite could have been lethal as well)? Why not assume that chameleons will react like chameleons often do, unfavorably to company, and proceed with caution?

    That's why I consider this a series of poor decisions and not just an experiment gone awry. I currently have a group of Meller's chameleons FRing together, and it took me months to bring them all together; to quarantine each individual, to test their reactions, to supervise longer stints together, monitor their behavior and appetites, determine how compatible their temperaments are, etc. before finally settling into their housing arrangements. I also had a FR of male panthers, with whom I did the same thing. I have never had any issues or tragedies because I've approached community living with a lot of caution.

    Here's one paper on vertebrates in the diet, I should have others on Parson's chameleons saved on my home computer somewhere, they also mention chameleons eating other reptiles and birds.

    Here's one paper that mentions territorial aggression and defense in males, especially when regarding a female.

    Another, how sexual selection can drive the evolution of male characters beneficial to winning fights for mates, get better territories, mate more, etc.:

  20. fluxlizard

    fluxlizard New Member

    I think the problem here is that the OP really does not understand the nature of lizards.

    Some things that seem so obvious and simple to me, are often not so to those without a lot of experience. With nature and animals.

    Someone recently posting about a chameleon drowning in a drip catch bowl is a good case in point. Seems so obvious that if a smooth sided dish is too large for a lizard to escape that an escape ladder needs to be provided or a smaller dish used. Yet somehow it is not obvious to some.

    I mentioned the other day about an adult male iguana I was given after it bit it's owner, causing her surgery and nearly the loss of her finger. The iguana's owner was an older lady who taught at a college. Read the last part of that sentence again- taught at a college. Her adult children begged her to give up the iguana after the surgery, so she called me and asked me to care for it. When I came to pick it up, although the iguana was super healthy and pampered (it ate on the table at a plate LOL) it quickly became obvious that she had no clue how to read what was going on with it. When she approached it, it gave a big time threat display- puffed up, flattened out, stood on his toes, the whole nine years. I'll never forget her response "OH Look! He knows his mommy! He loves me! And I love him sooo much!" LOL I suddenly understood how she was bitten. This was an educated woman who had raised a healthy, big, adult male iguana from a baby. Although she understood how to provide for it, she still did not understand its nature...

    The OP lives in New York City, and obviously has limited understanding of how chameleons see the world. Probably very limited experience with nature. Case in point:

    The idea that a "wild environment" was set up in his living room, the fact that he doesn't understand that just because an animal is captive it's nature does not change, and his puzzling that his melleri would not flash warning colors to a prey item all illustrate that he doesn't "get it" yet.

    Probably the brilliant colorations after the incident that he mentioned in his post are also attributable to the stress of having the meal ripped out of his mouth.

    But still- he's had his melleri for 3 years. He must be doing something right...

    And he did have some bad examples to follow here on the forums- I've raised an eyebrow at some of the communal free-ranging with male pardalis who are "friends" for example. Probably where he got the idea from...

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