Questions and Answers

By Don Wells


Wells, D. (2003). Questions and Answers. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, January 2003. (

Introduction by the CHAMELEONS! staff:

This Question and Answer column is a regular feature. CHAMELEONS! welcomes questions from the readership. Don will gather the submissions and pick representative questions to answer in forthcoming issues. As is typical with Q&A columns, Don cannot respond personally or answer all questions that are submitted. He will select the questions that he feels offer the most benefit to the general readership. As the questions are answered bi-monthly, only time insensitive questions should be submitted. Questions may be anything regarding chameleons from husbandry to politics. Submit questions to and include "Q&A" in the subject box. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

Sorry, even though my initials are D.R. it doesn't stand for Doctor or Vet!

1. I have a 1 year old female veiled chameleon, and she is not well at all. She suffered from MBD when she was younger, but when things started to turn around I put her into a bigger cage. Since being in there, she stopped eating, and fell from the top branches a few times. Her neck underneath became very, very swollen, and I don't think she has the ability to use her tongue anymore. She usually drinks water from an eyedropper held by me, but lately she isn't thirsty. Her eyes are very sunken in, and she spends the day lying on the bottom of her aquarium with her eyes half closed. I've been to the vet twice for her before, but not since the tongue situation. I have been force feeding her, and was wondering if there are any really nutritious vegetables or fruits that could give her body a good boost. Please help me help her, because I dont want her to die.


A. I get lots of inquiries such as this, nearly every week. I simply cannot be much help to folks that need such immediate attention. I wish things were different but I don't have a schedule that allows me to deal with everyone elses problems when I have plenty on my own plate! Unfortunately, most people who buy a chameleon don't realize that the animal they are getting often will need immediate attention with a vet that really knows their stuff! Often vets such as this aren't around unless you know how to find one.

I cannot say this enough, always, always, always buy your animals from a breeder or a specialist dealer that knows what they are selling and can advise you on the intricacies of keeping the animal you have chosen! These people have paid their dues and can teach you a lot more than some petstore can! There are good petstores but I really have to say most are pretty disappointing! Usually a breeder will already have sourced out a good vet in your area, likewise the speciality dealer will also have a vet they can recommend that can usually be a great source of help to you and your animal.

I could spend the next hour writing a response to all the above questions and I still might not be of any help! Do you know for instance that neck or throat swelling can be caused from several things not just a nutritional imbalance or overabundance of certain nutrients? Lack of tongue use is exactly the same. I have seen it come and go at times with animals that seemed healthy but usually some underlying bacterial problem surfaces and when it's taken care of the tongue use resumes. Does this mean that tongue use is always caused from a bacterial invasion? Absolutely not! There are just too many variables when it comes to trying to diagnose a illness over the computer, phone or through the mail. My best shot is to advise you in the future to seek out the best breeders or speciality dealers in your area and get the name of the most competant vet from them for this sort of problem. I am sorry I cant be of any further help other than that!(Editor's Note - This web site can help you find a vet in your area

Two hard ones?

I was not sure how your site worked, but since the only clickable items in it were the 3 mail addresses, I simply opened one of them. Assuming you're in the mood to answer questions, here are 2 tough ones:

1. What would make for a successful free range chameleon setting? If they cannot climb off a large house plant, would they jump off? Do you know anyone who practiced free range?

2. What do you think of shrimp as a possible substitute food?

A. I am not too sure how it works sometimes myself! I am just glad Bill and Ken do all the work and I only have to deal with the Q&A! What you have asked isn't that difficult really. Its just a bit off the wall!

1.I dont know what you really mean here? You mean inside the home or outside? I am going to assume inside the home. I can tell you that well over twenty years ago I had a friend that was the most successful keeper of Jacksons Chameleons at that time. He kept them almost effortlessly! His secret was that he allowed them free range of his house! The animals could sunbathe near a window faced towards the East and he lived near the coast of Southern California and always had his windows open and plenty of climbing surfaces for the animals to walk on and keep out of each other's way. This was back in the days when a chameleon's lifespan could be counted in the days and hours after importation! His thrived on what appeared no care at all and he watered them in the lawn sprinkler when he thought about it! Of course we now know that space and fresh air are what the doctor ordered for these lizards. I guess what I am trying to say here is if you know the right parameters for your particular animal and can provide them in a spacious setting, such as your home, and can offer lots of climbing surfaces such as dried vines or Biovine as a canopy above all the traffic this should be great for your animal. I have known of free range Panthers, Parsons, Senegal, and Four Horned to name a few and they all thrived because their owners had spent the time to assure that each species had all the requirements that they needed just in a much larger setting.

Yes, if the animal is threatened and is of a nervous nature they often will hurl themselves out into thin air and then when reaching the ground will immediately make for the nearest hiding place. Often tamed or steady animals will remain happily on a large plant though. If you're planning to keep the animal in question free on just one plant then you must provide it with a basking site and plenty of water and access to food just as you would in a caged situation. I don't reccommend single plant habitats unless they are sizeable. Sooner or later an animal will wander if the habitat isn't to its liking and small hanging plants are not habitat enough to make a chameleon feel at home. I prefer a large potted Umbrella Tree ( Brassia or Tupidanthus sp) or open branched but somewhat dense, Ficus benjamina or other Ficus or other indoor tree type plants to such things as Wandering Jew, Philodendrons and Pothos. Most potted plants really are not what a chameleon would choose to live in if it had any choice!

2, Althouigh I am often testing unusual foods for all my animals I havent given much thought to shrimp as a alternative. If its given in moderation it might work fine? I don't know from any personal experience so its worth experiementing with but remember while shrimp are close in nutritional value to many insects they are vastly different in makeup and I would use it sparingly. Impaction on shell remnants might be an issue as well as low Calcium to Phosphorus ratios.

Sometimes you just can't please 'em!

3. My son has a red panther chameleon that is about seven months old. It has always been very active and has eaten very well. About ten days ago she almost stopped eating all together. She was spending a lot of time on the bottom of the cage pacing about. I was thinking that she was looking for a place to build a nest. I had placed a large flower pot with sand in it in her cage and she had nothing to do with it. I then placed her in a large tub with the same sand and left her for about a hour and she nothing but try and get out.

A. My first response when I read what you wrote was to suggest a nesting area but you beat me to the draw! Often, no matter what you give a female and, especially a first time female, they dont seem to like it. Sometimes you can try several things such as different containers and mediums and then return them to the original one and they all of a sudden seem to like it! I'll offer some suggestions to try in the future. Heat the media a bit before adding the female. This sometimes triggers a nesting response when nothing else will. I think it tricks the female into thinking the site is sun warmed? Another trick is to offer very damp but not soggy media or dry almost bone dry. Every female seems to have a different idea what they like. There are breeders in Europe that just put in a container like a large can full of sand and don't give the Veiled Chameleons they breed any other choice and they will use these. I don't, by any means, want you to do this. Offer your animals as much choice as you can and they will often reward you with a good clutch of eggs. Also, I don't like sand as a laying medium and I recommend that you try either damp vermiculite, clean dirt ( Ahahahahahaha) or my favorite: damp Coco-peat.

Oh no, not another one!

4. I have a 6 month old Sunburst Veiled Chameleon. He seems to always be sleeping and he doesn't really open his eyes any more. I have never personally seen him eat but we think he is because the crickets in his cage keep disappearing. Please write me back with any information you think will be helpful or with any questions you need to help me further.

A. Unfortunately, I dont have the time to correspond with folks like I would like to have! I want to refer you to the first question on this same page. In the meantime, make sure your animal has adequate light that's offered in bright to shaded patches and that its provided with the proper temps which includes a nighttime drop of at least fifteen degrees F. How much water has your animal been taking in? Sounds possibly dehydrated to me. If he is not eating he is most likely dehydrated since a healthy chameleon will usually eat eagerly when offered something it likes. Do you offer hiding places in your animal's cage where it can retreat when it wants to? Now it looks like I am asking more questions than you are! There are just too many variables for me to give you a pat answer here. I hope you can liason with the breeder or another knowledgeable person in your area. Sometimes it's just impossible to answer every question with a satisfactory answer and for that I apologize!

Don Wells

Don Wells has worked with animals much of his life. His present interests include disseminating proper husbandry techniques for animals kept in captivity. He has kept multitudes of insects and continues to experiment with new species.


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