Questions and Answers

By Christopher V. Anderson


Anderson, C.V. (2005). Questions and Answers. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, October 2005. (

Q: Death of a healthy chameleon

For many years I have been fascinated by chameleons, and in Feb 04 after much reading I felt that I had the knowledge, time, and money to take on the responsibility to care for a chameleon. My favorite has always been the veiled chameleon so I went to a reputable store and got a perfect 2-3 month old male and everything else that is suggested to make a happy cage. I have always known the difficulty and time needed to give proper care; I went with a big screen cage, ficus plant, three jungle vines, and three manzanita branches. With the exception of occasional wax worm or super worm, potato (his name short for couch potato- always sitting around) liked the traditional cricket. Seeing that nutrition is a big factor I used three types of gut load all enriched with calcium: cricket meal, cricket bites, and cricket drink. After potato was around a year old he would always eat 5-6 crickets a day. In addition potato s favorite thing is having his cage outside if it was nice weather down here in San Diego CA, which is pretty often in SD.

Since February 04 I have become very much attached to potato, even though he doesn't like if people are around he is a wonderful creature. Starting this June potato began some unusual behavior, he began to dig in the soil of the ficus pot (before you ask, no he is not a girl, he had spurs on the hind legs). I read that sometimes they will do this for the heat and humidity in the soil; however, there was a constant drip into the cage, and daily misting. Several days later he began to become weak spending most the day on the ground this went on for about two days. Starting two days ago he spent all day on the ground, unable to feed himself I was feeding him water from a dropper. I am very sad to say that potato passed on today. The reason I m writing this is because I would like to know what I could have possibly done wrong and let people learn from my mistake. His bone structure seemed to be strong. His eyes were not sunken so I don t believe that he was dehydrated, and his mouth was clean and healthy looking. Skin was brilliantly colored, especially at night (light green, white, and yellows- very very beautiful) there were no signs of any parasites on the skin, and his nostrils were clean. What can kill a chameleon that looks healthy?

A. Unfortunately I'm not going to be able to tell you why your chameleon died. I can only speculate as to the cause and a necropsy will be the only way to tell the cause of death in this case.

I often see people who have had a chameleon die after a few months of keeping it say something to the effect of "well I did everything right so there must have just been something wrong with the chameleon." The latter mentality is exactly what causes the premature death of so many chameleons and I applaud you for your desire to seek out the cause of death in your animal. Even sudden, seemingly unexplainable deaths are generally of husbandry origins. Due to the longevity of the animal up to this point, my suspicion is that this wasn't an issue of improper general care but rather a more subtle cause from the husbandry or possibly an unfortunate accident cause by some aspect of the husbandry.

Accepting that your animal is a female, we can rule out dystocia. I will comment that this behavior of digging is obviously generally indicative of a female in laying behavior. Keepers who observe this type of behavior should always eliminate any doubt on sex before ruling out this possibility. Since your chameleon seemed to have been in good health prior to this digging behavior, I would tend to think it has something to do with his health drop and subsequent death. What immediately comes to mind is impaction. Given the information, I personally would come to the possible conclusion that for some reason, your chameleon may have been seeking out some mineral, etc., from the soil causing him to ingest some quantity of it. It is highly possible that this could have led to impaction of the digestive system. Many keepers repot their plants with soil that doesn't have many of the artificial hydro products that some plant soils tend to have in it. Further, covering the soil with river stone of a size that can't be ingested can further help to prevent impaction. Unfortunately, this diagnosis of his death can only be exactly what it is-a guess. I hope that a necropsy sheds more light onto the situation for you.

Q: Survival chances

I was given a female veiled chameleon as a gift. The person thought it was a nice gesture but didn't do her research enough to know the sensitivity of these animals. It was given to me in an aquarium with tropical cedar as a substrate, a small drip system and some calcitrate. Without getting into the inadequacies of its habitat i'll say that its not gonna support the chameleon as it needs. I watch the temperature closely and feel confident it is as it should be. As far as UV lighting, it has been a month since I got her and haven't gotten the light yet. As I read your postings I see the amount of water from the drip system and the frequency of misting is not sufficient. I know the ventilation is an issue. I have ordered a 175 gallon reptarium but haven't received it yet. Needless to say she stopped eating, I thought it was because she was tired of crickets and wax worms but I think she would have to try something else in order to reject those insects.

For a whole day she hung upside down close to the floor of the aquarium. Today I get home and shes on the ground laying on her side, moving nothing but her eyes. My heart sunk as I realized how bad the conditions were. I think shes dehydrated to the point she's gonna die overnight. I grabbed a shallow water dish and gently laid her head on/in it but not submerging her mouth at all so as not to dround her. Hopefully it won't be too late and she'll drink up and I can take her to a vet in the morning.

What do you think the chances are she'll survive? As a novice should I give her up...set up properly and get a male? I know I can keep them successfully but I get so sad to think it will be at her expense.

A. To be very blunt, in her condition, I feel she has a very slim chance of recovery. You obviously are well aware of the poor condition of her enclosure and her care to this point. Regardless of her fait, I hope you and whoever gave her to you learn from this and with any future animal, make every effort to set it up properly and act quickly to do so under whatever circumstance.

My feeling is that she will need a significant amount of veterinary attention if she survives. This will probably include fluid injections, force feeding and a complete and immediate change in husbandry. In the condition you describe, however, significant organ damage is very likely.

At any rate, there are plenty of information resources available to help you set a chameleon up properly. Please spend some time reviewing some of them in the "Links & Resources" link at the top of the page as well as the "Article Reference" page. Learn from this situation and do everything you can to correct it and prevent it from happening in the future.

Q: Crawling around upside down

I have a four month old veiled and yesterday I noticed he was crawling upside down on everything, even when i held him he would reach for the bottom side of my fingers. Is there anything wrong with the little guy or is he just figuring things out?

A. Chameleons will try to put an object between themselves and a perceived threat but by the sounds of your chameleon, this is not what it happening. It seems like you chameleon is somehow unable to hold itself up correctly. My first thoughts include a form of Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), emaciation or dehydration. You definitely should consider taking your chameleon to a vet for this.

As you should be well aware, captive chameleons require bulbs that emit UVB rays and calcium supplementation with D3 if they are not exposed regularly to unfiltered sunlight. Failure to provide for this adequately or imbalances in other vital nutrients commonly cause metabolic problems which could manifest itself in weakness and inability to move correctly. I would suggest completely reviewing your husbandry, consulting a vet and acting according to these findings.

Q: Ohh boy!

I recently bought a beautiful female veiled chameleon. She is very healthy! I keep her cage very clean, neat and well decorated (Suitable for her needs of disguise and traveling) and also at a good temperature at day and night! She eats a well balanced diet of spinach, vitamin sprinkled crickets, and mealworms. But there is one problem...I am too timid to handle her...I have to clean her cage and when I go in too reach her...she hisses and puffs up...she used to try to bite me but she kinda got over that with me..I know it is natural for her to be scared but can you give me some tips on how I can get to make her get use to me and some handling tips? I would greatly appreciate it!

A. To start with, I have some concerns about your care. First, spinach should not be used as a food item. It contains an enzyme that hinders the ability of the animal to utilize calcium in the diet. Further, I noticed that you specifically noted vitamin supplements but you've not made any mention of calcium supplementation, D3 or a UVB bulb. Considering that spinach seems to be a large part of the diet, the latter three nutritional requirements are of concern. Each is important for proper metabolic function in captive chameleons and their utilization limited in one way or another by spinach or a lack of one of the other three. Please reconsider the use of spinach and ensure that you are using the above mentioned requirements correctly.

Unfortunately, veiled chameleons are generally antisocial and have a reputation for being defensive. Chameleon bites can hurt and can break the skin but they aren't that bad, in my opinion. There are instances where you're probably just going to need to bite the bullet and take the chance of getting bit. You shouldn't be trying to handle your chameleon regularly so hopefully this won't be a frequent problem. If, however, you are still unsure and nervous, you can always put on a glove or an oven mitt for some added protection. Just be careful with the animal and if she ever does bite, don't pull your hand away as you can damage her mouth and cause serious problems.

Q: Veiled Cohabitation with other herps

Do you know where I can find any information on veiled chameleons cohabitating with other kinds of lizards, geckos et al? From what I've read so far it's not likely that a chameleon would integrate well into an environment with other animals (such as frogs or anoles) but I but I'm having trouble finding a definitive word.

A. Every time I get asked this question, I pull out Wolfgang Schmidt's book "Chamaeleo calyptratus-The Yemen Chameleon," and show them a picture of a veiled chameleon with the back end of a leopard gecko hanging out of its mouth. Chameleons in general are solitary and shouldn't be housed with other animals. There is an article on Cohabitation in the back issues of the E-Zine that you should read over. With Veileds and other large species, the additional concern of the welfare of the other animal is of concern. I would not recommend cohabitation and warn that it could cause illness, stress and death to either or both resident.

Q: Cohabitation - again!

Can you house a male and female Jackson Chameleon together without any problems??

A. I would not recommend this practice unless you have a considerable amount of chameleon experience to help you observe your pair and spot problems and a very large enclosure to keep them in. Chameleons are not forced into close quarters with other animals in the wild. They are always able to leave their tree to get away from any other animal they desire. In a cage-even a large one-they are unable to do this effectively and it can be extremely stressful. While Jackson's are rather easy going chameleons, different individuals will react to the situation differently and this is where a need for experience comes in. Without being able to notice subtle issues, this could easily lead to stress, illness or injury. It's best to keep them separate except for breeding. Please read the following article which can also be found in the above "Article Reference" page: Cohabitation.

Q: And again, Cohabitation!

I bought two graceful chameleons they were both placed at the same time in one cage back in May, recently the larger one is attacking continuously at the other. We tried separating them and then reintroducing the other but there has been no change in the larger chameleon's attitude. Not sure what to do. Is this normal territorial action?

A. Your chameleons are showing the most obvious example of behavior indicative of not being compatible for cohabitation. There are many other signs but this is often the one most noticed. In this case, one if being bullied by a cage mate and harm to the animal is a serious danger in addition to the continual stress on both animals. These animals simply need to be separated into their own enclosures. They should also be treated for stress by providing ample hydration and privacy as well as keeping an eye out for other secondary ailments. Please read the following article which can also be found in the above "Article Reference" page: Cohabitation.

Q: Tongue problems

I have a Portuguese chameleon caught on the wild for a year now...when I caught him he had a problem with the skin around his eye, but now he is great although since I caught him till know he is not able to change colors very easy. But know after all this time I tried to feed him his crickets as usual, he doest like the warms but he couldn't eat them and worst then that he had this strange movement: he/she opened the mouth wide open to the cricket but instead of throwing the tongue he seemed to try to vomit it for 2 times. I am really worried and i beg for your help. I read that chameleons don t take a nap but mine sometimes do ... so probably there is a problem with him and there is no vet specialized in chameleons in my city!

A. Unfortunately I don't know that I will be able to help you solve your problem without you seeking a vet but I can try to help explain why this could be happening. Tongue problems often occur due to metabolic imbalances (Calcium, Vitamin E/Selenium, etc.) or trauma. Unfortunately, only a vet will be able to proscribe the medications needed to immediately and most effectively help your chameleon's tongue. One thing you can try to do as a temporary aid until a vet can be seen is to use a 0.9% Sodium Chloride solution to try to keep the tongue tissue moist and healthy. This solution mimics the natural chemistry of cellular fluid and will help prevent damage to the exposed cells that pure water can cause while keeping the tissue from drying out. Applying a few drops regularly may help until you can see a vet. You will need to be careful and make sure the chameleon doesn't swallow its tongue as this causes sever damage to the tongue tissue, strains the muscles and can cause difficulty breathing. In some cases, amputation of the tongue ends up being the required treatment and the animal will then need to be specially cared for to make up for this handicap. Please seek out a vet. It doesn't necessarily have to be one with chameleon experience. Exotic experience is preferred but something is better than nothing. The following two links may be helpful if brought to an inexperienced vet: Chameleon Tongue Problems, Tongue Amputation.

This female Chamaeleo (Trioceros) jacksonii xantholophus started being unable to retract her tongue during treatment for a temporal gland infection. She was initially treated hoping for her tongue to recover but it ended up being amputated. She is currently recovering well. Photo Courtesy of Chris Anderson

Q: Prolapse

Thanks so much for your time!! My chameleon seems to be very sick...I took her to the vet in town...and he though what we got her on would help her out...and it seemed to be...but now she seems to have this pink ball comin' out of her back end...she seems to be struggling at getting it out...I have no idea what to do...I don't know if she is laying eggs...or what is happening...I don't want to help her with this pink ball because I don't know if it is part of her insides comin' out by accident...I'm super scared...just wondering if you know what is going on...thank you so much!

A. Your chameleon sounds like it is experiencing what is called a prolapse. This is when an organ, or some part of it, is displaced from its normal position in this case outside the body. There are various forms of prolapses in chameleons but this is likely related to an inability to lay eggs. Unfortunately, a vet is going to need to treat this problem. She may require surgery to remove the clutch and prevent further return of the prolapse once the vet corrects this problem. The following discusses the treatment of a hemipenal prolapse but will help give you an idea of what is happening and what may be needed. Your case may be more serious, however, as it is likely related to oviposition issues. Treatment of Hemipenal Prolapse

Q: Ovoviviparous?

Can you tell me what chameleons are livebearers? The only one i know of is the jackson chameleon.

A. There are a number of ovoviviparous-what is often referred to as "livebearing"-chameleons. The most well known is the Jackson's Chameleon but there are, in fact quite a few more. These include: Bradypodion caffrum, Bradypodion damaranum, Bradypodion dracomontanum, Bradypodion gutterale, Bradypodion karrooicum, Bradypodion melanocephalum, Bradypodion nemorale, Bradypodion occidentale, Bradypodion pumilum, Bradypodion setaroi, Bradypodion taeniabronchum, Bradypodion thamnobates, Bradypodion transvaalense, Bradypodion ventrale, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) affinis, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) balebicornutus, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) bitaeniatus, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) ellioti, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) fuelleborni, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) goetzei, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) harennae, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) hoehnelii, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) incornutus, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) jacksonii, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) kinetensis, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) laterispinis, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) marsabitensis, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) narraioca, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) rudis, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) schoutedeni, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) schubotzi, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) sternfeldi, Chamaeleo (Trioceros) tempeli and Chamaeleo (Trioceros) werneri.

Newborn Chamaeleo (Trioceros) hoehnelii. Photo Courtesy of Chris Anderson.

Christopher V. Anderson

Chris Anderson is a herpetologist currently working on his Ph.D. at the University of South Florida after receiving his B.S. from Cornell University. He has spent time in the jungles of South East Asia, among other areas, aiding in research for publication. He has previously traveled throughout Madagascar in search of, and conducting personal research on, the chameleons of the region. He has traveled to over 35 countries, including chameleon habitat in 6. Currently, Chris is the Editor and Webmaster of the Chameleons! Online E-Zine and is studying the kinematics and morphological basis of ballistic tongue projection and tongue retraction in chameleons for his dissertation. Chris Can be emailed at or


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