*NO CO-HABITATION (you will need 1 cage per chameleon)
The bigger the enclosure the more temperature/humidity gradients can be created. The enclosure must be big enough so that the chameleon may move freely from a warm corner with a basking light to a cooler area. (This is known as a temperature “gradient”). Chameleons are horizontal animals so you can go lower in height but you then must go wider. Screen cages will work for most cases as most chameleons, once warmed up, are comfortable in the same temperature ranges we humans are comfortable in. If your house stays cold or very dry then you will have to consider solid side enclosures to keep in the heat and/or humidity.
When setting up your enclosure interior, have a number of horizontal perching areas linked by vertical or diagonal climbing branches. Branch diameters can range from where the chameleon can just encircle the branch with its foot to where it can get half way around. This provides a nice variety of arboreal pathways. Branches can be secured with zip ties, a hot glue gun, fishing line, or push pins through the screen. A bare floor is easiest to clean and a substrate usually has little benefit for a chameleon.
Enclosure placement in your house is very important. Avoid drafty areas and areas where they might be harassed (or just checked out) by other pets. Chameleons derive security from height so you can take advantage of this by placing the cage on a dresser and making the highest perching branch at least at your head level. The height of the cage itself is less important than the height of the perching branch relative to the action outside the cage.
BASKING (heat): 50-75w incandescent bulb
VISUAL (light): 6500k fluorescent bulb
UVB ("sunlight"): T5 High Output linear flourescent bulb
TIMING: 12 hr on/off cycle
*NO NIGHT LIGHT
You will want to keep a bright environment (flourescent light) for both the chameleon’s sake and your enjoyment of the cage. As for the basking light, place this bulb to ensure the chameleon cannot touch the bulb and that the chameleon can move in and out of the heat. Make sure you can hold your hand at the closest perch point inside the enclosure to the bulb without discomfort for a couple of minutes. Chameleons will burn themselves if the light is too hot! Except for large chameleons, a screen top counts as a perch point. Chameleons will burn their back and heads trying to warm their body. Remember that they have no concept of the “sun” being close enough to burn them! A UV Index range (UVI) of 3-6 is a standard range used for the most common species, and be achieved by a basking branch about six inches below the screen top of the cage.
The greatest husbandry challenge of chameleons is keeping them well hydrated. You will need to provide a daily misting of the leaves and a water drip. Chameleons will drink the water droplets off the leaves. At a minimum, watering may be done by hand with a spray bottle misting the leaves or by poking a small hole in a cup and placing it, full of water, on top of the enclosure. Make sure it takes at least 15 minutes for the cup to empty. The most reliable and recommended hydration method is an automatic misting system (MistKing).
Observe your chameleon drinking. If a chameleon rushes in to get water then the chameleon is probably dehydrated and you will need to ensure that your watering sessions are either more frequent and/or longer. Spray in the morning and evening, at a minimum, with the drip going during the day.
Hydration is CRITICAL to the chameleon’s health. Do not cut corners in this area!
The common staple food of panther chameleons is crickets. A standard community guideline on cricket feeder size is to feed crickets that are a length equal to the distance between the ends of the chameleon’s eyes. You will see them chomp down larger insects, but err on the side of smaller.
Offer food in a way that the chameleon will find the food. Most of the food items available are nocturnal and like to hide on the floor of the enclosure so they cannot be just released in the enclosure and hope that they will be eaten. You will have to hand feed, do controlled release, or cup feed. Hand feeding is where you hold the feeder for the chameleon to shoot at. This is great fun, but has the drawback that shy chameleons will either not eat or else they will not eat enough. Controlled release is where you release a feeder or two on the inside screen wall until the chameleon zaps them and then you release a couple more when the chameleon is ready. Cup feeding is when you put the feeders in a cup that prevents the insect from climbing out and place the cup where the chameleon can have easy access. I, personally, hand feed or control release the first two feeders and then cup feed the rest. This gives me the opportunity to observe eating each time to verify that the chameleon is looking and acting healthy.
Once they are full grown I suggest five food items every other day. Crickets, and many other feeder insects (dubia roaches, silkworms, horned worms, super worms) commonly available, are low in calcium so supplementation is important
Gutloading & Supplements
Getting minerals, vitamins, and nutrients into your chameleon starts with gut-loading your feeder insects. This means that you feed your crickets (and/or other feeders) with grains, fruits, and vegetables before feeding them to the chameleon. Place your feeders in a container and give them gutload to eat. Put the wet parts on one plate and the dry on another to avoid spoiling. With feeder insects, fresh food and clean holding bins are critical!
Supplementation and the UVB bulb are inextricably intertwined so any discussion of supplementation without mention of the UVB bulb is incomplete. Most of our feeder insects are high in phosphorus which creates an imbalance relative to the calcium in your chameleon. To combat this, commercial mineral powders are available which will provide more calcium and D3 to your chameleon. We personally uses T8 or T5 Reptisun 5.0 UVB bulbs through screen for a UVB level of 30 to 50 uw/cm2 and a dusting schedule of Repashy Calcium Plus on gutloaded insects every feeding.
Calcium is required for proper body function including bone development. Vitamin D3 is required for the body to absorb the calcium. Calcium is obtained through diet while Vitamin D3 is synthesized from UVB rays hitting the skin. UVB is the band of sunlight that the chameleon's body uses to produce vitamin D3, which is critical in building a healthy body. Chameleons need sufficient UVB light, calcium, and vitamin D3 supplementation. If not, they will die a horrible death from Metabolic Bone Disease (bones are not hard enough and can look “rubbery”), which results in weak legs, broken jaws and curved spines. Too much calcium and/or D3 can create organ failure and edema (excess fluid in the body). The UVB bulb and vitamin D3 component in the supplement must be balanced.
To supplement with a powder, place the feeders in a bag or cup with a small amount of power, gently shake the bag/cup to lightly coat the feeder, and then feed it to your chameleon. Over supplementation can lead to as many problems as supplementation can prevent so do not think more is better and overdo it.