The Business of Breeding

By Bill Strand


Strand, B. (2002). The Business of Breeding. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, July 2002. (

The Business of Breeding


A common trend is for chameleon keepers to try and become chameleon breeders. For the person fascinated with these dragons the experience of reproducing them is very special indeed. The reality is that even one clutch of chameleons will produce more animals than the average keeper is able to maintain in a long term arrangement. Every chameleon breeder is faced with the decision as to what to do with the pending group of babies. Some may be kept for pets or future breeding stock, but most will end up going to other homes. This article will explore the inevitable result of a successful breeding program - the distribution of babies.

Responsibilities of the breeder

The responsible chameleon breeder accepts two main responsibilities. The first is the direct care of the chameleon babies. Before the first egg hatches or the first baby drops, you should already have caging and food arrangements made. If you intend to bring babies into the world it only makes sense to do it right. By prior research you should know the approximate time of hatching. Live-bearers are a little more challenging as they may extend their term or hide their gravid state. If you keep live-bearers it is always good to have a plan of action in case of the surprise arrival of babies. Baby care is beyond the scope of this article, but many sources of good information are available. One such source is an excellent piece at ADCHAM:Baby Care. Proper research and preparation must be made to produce babies worth producing. If you cannot muster the energy to both research and prepare then it is best not to muster the energy to put a male and female together in the first place!

The second responsibility is to the continuing care of the babies. You really have very little control over how the baby will be raised up in it's new home, but you are able to make sure that the person you sell to has enough knowledge to do the chameleon justice. If you sell to a wholesaler or retail outlet then sell to ones that have experience with chameleons. If you sell directly to the end customer (retail) then pass along book titles, web site addresses, and/or a care sheet. Some breeders go as far as to screen potential buyers with a questionnaire which must be passed before a chameleon baby will be released.

When to Sell?

Many factors go into determining the appropriate time to sell the babies. Among these factors are species, birth size, individual growth, and experience of the buyer. A good general rule is no earlier than three months. For most species, the three month point marks an age where the baby is big enough to handle the transfer to a new home and the adjustment to a new environment. Three months also establishes a good track record of eating and drinking.

To Whom to Sell the Babies?

Probably the biggest decision to make in this whole venture is to whom you will pass the babies.

Breeders: If money is not a consideration you will be able to network with a number of reputable breeders who would be happy to take your offspring to continue the work in breeding the species or would trade for animals they have produced to add different bloodlines to your breeding project.

Breeders may be found on any of the many listserves dedicated to chameleons. Search or for suitable listserves. This option should be started well in advance as it takes time to sort out who the solid breeders are and to develop a relationship with them.

Wholesalers: Generally speaking, a wholesaler will buy up large amounts of reptiles and sell them to various retail outlets. The advantage of selling to a wholesaler is that they will take entire clutches from you. This means that you have only one point of sale. It is quick and simple. The disadvantages of selling to a wholesaler are that your selling price may be 25% of the going retail price and you have no control over who the end buyer is.

Wholesalers may be found advertising in trade magazines (i.e. Reptiles Magazine) or on prominent websites (i.e. The dead give away that they are wholesalers is the big notice that they do not sell to the public. Some wholesalers even advertise specifically for captive bred clutches.

Retail Outlet: A retail outlet is a business (or person) that will sell chameleons to the general public. Examples of retail outlets include pet stores or sales-orientated websites. The advantages to selling to retail outlets is that you may be able to ask 50% of retail price and you know what kind of advice the end buyer will be exposed to. Often the end buyer relies on the seller for care information. Selling your babies to a retail outlet gives you some control over what quality advice the end buyer will receive. If you pass your babies on to the corner pet store that keeps its chameleons crammed into an aquarium with a water bowl chances are pretty high that the chameleons you worked so hard to bring up will lead a short and miserable life. Selling to a retail outlet that specializes in chameleons, or at least has solid experience with chameleons, will put the chances pretty high that the end buyer will be given good advice and have a helpful point of contact if they have questions in the future. The one disadvantage of selling to a retail outlet is that they may not be able to take your whole clutch and you may have to support more than one point of sale.

Retail outlets are where the public buys their chameleons. You may find respectable outlets at reptile shows, on the internet, or in trade magazines. The best way to separate the good ones from the questionable ones is experience. If you do not have this experience yourself become part of a knowledgeable community such as a local herp society or one of the above mentioned listserves and draw from their experience. Anyone can put up a storefront or a classy website. The ability to put on a good show is not related to the ability to properly deal with chameleons. Stick with the ones with a good reputation.

Retail: The big bucks! This is where you get the prices you quoted to your spouse to get permission to buy a female to go along with your male! (You remember - "Honey, if we spend a couple hundred dollars on a female now we will bring back a couple thousand when babies arrive. How can we afford NOT to?"). The dollar signs are attractive, but there is a lot of baggage that tags along! Retail sales is when you sell direct to the public. You have direct contact with the public with all the joys and tribulations that go with that. The advantages of retail sales are that you can charge retail prices, you have complete control over which home your babies go to, and you meet new chameleon people with every inquiry. The disadvantages of retail are plenty. Among the disadvantages are having to be your own salesperson, dealing with a variety of disagreeable people trying to take advantage of you, having to make multiple points of sale, having to make at least one personal contact path public, and taking the risk of losing money due to animals dead on arrival at the buyer's end. It is fully up to you as to whether it is worth it!

As a small time breeder your best bet is to learn how to ship chameleons and advertise in a national publication. The subject of shipping is quite involved and will be addressed in a future installment of this EZine. To get a response to your advertisement you will have to a phone number and/or an email address. The best way to maintain a bit of privacy is to sign up for a free email account through or Advertising may be done in the same magazines and websites listed before (including, but not limited to, Reptiles Magazine or If you live in a high density area such as Los Angeles or New York you may be able to get away with requiring purchases that require no shipping. The more people you advertise to the more likely you will be successful. Getting comfortable with shipping will allow you a greater range of customers.

If you decide to allow people to come to your house to see your stock be ready for the strangest bands of people to come through your house. There are some truly enjoyable people that I have met through selling chameleons. But many of them were invasive and I was glad they left. They seemed more interested in using the visit as a field trip to view my setup and pick my brain. To avoid this either ship the chameleons or arrange for a meeting in a public place. Something that may make your job quite a bit easier is to have pictures available of either the babies themselves or the parents (whichever is most appropriate). Have these available for emailing especially if you are selling or communicating over the internet..

How Much to Sell Them For?

There is no universal standard with which to determine price, but history suggests that a healthy captive born baby may command 150% to 200% of the wild-caught price. Resist "dumping" your babies on the market. This happens when a breeder produces more than he can take care of and wants to get rid of the babies quickly. He will lower the price to move the chameleons. This dumping also happens when the small time breeder suddenly finds out that selling a bunch of chameleons wasn't the quick money he thought it was and now just wants to get rid of them so he can stop spending money to feed the things. The problem is that this can drag the market price of that species down. You may not care about the market condition or what bringing the price down does to people who rely on this income more than you, but consider what it does to the animal. The purchase price of a chameleon is impressive compared to other reptiles as they consistently command higher prices. But the purchase price is actually a small part of the whole cage/mister/food/vet bill/etc setup that must be invested to properly setup and maintain a chameleon. There is a direct correlation between the purchase price of the animal and how much the new owner is going to spend to set it up and maintain it! A $1000 captive bred Calumma parsonii will go to the vet at the first sniffle. A $35 baby veiled chameleon has a 50/50 chance of going to a vet visit that will cost more than its purchase price. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes. Check what the going rates are. You may not be able to charge the same prices as the established breeder that has a good reputation and a reliable customer support system, but giving them away or selling them at a greatly reduced price is good for the chameleon only if you are engaged in a transaction with a serious breeder.

How to Handle Terms of Sale?

Whether you require payment before shipping the animal or will trust the buyer is strictly up to you. The standard is that the buyer sends money up front trusting that you will send the animal. It takes just a little leg work for the buyer to get a money order from the post office. If the buyer sends a personal check it is up to you whether you will wait until it clears. But each situation is different. If the buyer has a large order they may be reluctant to send the full amount. It may be appropriate to do a 50% before order and 50% upon arrival arrangement. Whatever the arrangement, once you have the buyer's money do not fool around! Get the animal out as agreed and be quick about it. The buyer has trusted you with his money and that trust deserves the respect of speedy service. The chameleon world is connected. If you send bad animals, steal money, or wait forever to send the animals word will get around! There are buyers that I work with that I trust beyond any doubt and I ship them animals with or without payment in my hand. I know I will get paid. Likewise, they have no problem sending me money ahead of time as they know I will take them seriously. Thus the power of trust and respect. It is sometimes easy to get at first, but lose it and you will find it difficult to rebuild.

At some time you may have a claim made against you. That is when the buyer notifies you that the animal arrived dead or very weak. Work out your terms before the buyer sends money and make sure you both agree to them. The standard length of time where a claim is acceptable is within 24 hours of arrival of the animal. You must decide and have the buyer agree before hand what level of proof is required. Is the buyer's word good enough for you? A picture of the dead body? A body part mailed to you? In any case, a a course of action must be decided. Will you return the buyer's money or replace the animal? There is no standard and you and the buyer must work out a course of action appropriate for the current conditions. But what to do about the money spent on shipping? This, like all terms, are up to you to establish before the buyer sends money. A standard approach is to recognize that, in the animal business, there is always risk. If the death of the animal was the fault of neither the shipper nor the buyer it is reasonable that the risk be shared between the two. An acceptable compromise that has been used in many animal transaction is that the buyer pays for the animal and the shipping. If the animal dies in transit, due to no fault of the shipper, the seller refunds the price of the animal, but not the shipping money. The most important thing is to agree on terms before taking money. Major terms to determine are as follows:

  1. Price of animal

  2. Acceptable forms of payment

  3. When payment is to be made

  4. Shipping method

  5. Acceptable claim period

  6. Acceptable proof of claim

  7. Who pays for shipping in case of claim

  8. What are acceptable options in case of claim


Raising chameleons from neonate level has been the greatest joy I, personally, have found in working with chameleons. Selling them has been the least favorite part! If all goes well in a sale you only have to deal with the sadness of parting with such a special creature (and the frustration when you see it six months later and it is absolutely gorgeous!). If things do not go well, no matter who is at fault, your troubles are only limited by the combined maturity of you and the buyer! Defuse potential trouble situations as much as possible with terms and agreements before hand, conduct transactions with the upmost speed and integrity, and you just might make it out of the exit stage of the breeding cycle smiling!

Bill Strand

Bill Strand currently works in the area of exotic animal breeding and continues to refine husbandry techniques with a broad range of chameleon species. A special interest of his is the creation of captive environments. He was the Assistant Editor and Webmaster of this Chameleons! E-Zine from March 2002-March 2004.


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