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P.O. Box 173
Sun City, CA 92586

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Carpet chameleons.

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One of the most amazing things that attract people to chameleons, is their ability to change color. The tongue thing is pretty cool as well. But the color is what attracts people in an obsessive way. The color morphs and nicknames are becoming confusing for some species of chameleon as the gimmicky names often are mis-labeled by people resulting in a mislabeled species. I try to keep to the scientific names whenever possible to avoid confusion. C.lateralis is called the jewel and the carpet chameleon in the pet trade, most commonly referred to as the carpet chameleon. Contrary to popular belief, chameleons do not change color to match the exact color of their surroundings. Instead they change color due to temperature and emotional changes. This remarkably swift change is believed to occur from a shift in hormones, or a reaction by the nervous system. Color change is also a response to environmental factors such as stress, heat or cold, or a willingness to mate. Difficult as it may be, try to control urge to make them color up for your entertainment.

C.lateralis is a very nice animal with interesting habits and can be kept in a smaller environment, which is important to a person desiring a chameleon species for a small home. Female carpet chameleons are even more ornate and colorful than the males and are often preferred by pet owners for this reason. They will do very well on a simple diet of medium sized crickets, house flies that are gut loaded and other small insects. There are two types of c.lateralis I have worked with. C.lateralis major and c.lateralis, a smaller more common species of C.lateralis. C.lateralis grows between 6-10 inches in overall length and tends to be a more delicate species than C.laterlais major in that they are more prone to stress related illness due to improper captive environments.

Although not as available in the pet stores or trade shows, C.lateralis major, a larger sub-species, has proven to be a much hardier animal that the C.laterlais  in captivity. These animals grow from 10-14 inches in over all length. Being a hardy species, the larger of the carpet chameleons will survive easily within a wide temperature range, but prefers temperature in the mid seventies. Carpet chameleons like to bask in the sun and should be given the opportunity to do so. Be careful to watch for signs of being over heated while in direct sun. Blanching (turning very light green, yellow or even white) is an indication the animal should be removed from the sun and allowed shade and water. A trip to the shower for deep hydration is a good idea if the chameleon is found blanched or panting open mouthed in the sun.

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This beautiful species is the most common and most plentiful species of chameleon found on the Island of Madagascar, located off the coast of Africa. It lives in a wide array of habitats favoring humid areas in the central to southern regions, where most of the native population can be found. Carpet chameleons have adapted over the ages to mountains, deserts, and rain forest habitats but seem to be most numerous where there is ample humidity. In captivity they fare better in 70% or better humidity. C.lateralis is one of the most attractive and available chameleons on the market. Unfortunately they have a shorter life compared to other easily attainable species in the pet stores, like C.pardalis (panther) chameleon, or a C.calyptratus (veiled).  C.lateralis can be found as imports (wild caught) quite often in the local pet store due to the amount and wide distribution of this particular species in the wild. Be careful purchasing an adult in a store or trade show. They may not live long if purchased too old, or the parasite issue is not controlled. When you purchase any chameleon from a trade show or pet store please do the animal and yourself a favor and get a fecal check. This is the only way to be completely assured the animal doesn’t have parasites. Any vet, even one who has no chameleon experience is capable of doing a fecal check, costing on the average 25$. This is a simple test, which can save lives if parasites are detected early. Simply take a stool fresh sample to the vet leaving the animal at home. Even a healthy looking chameleon, with full skin, a tight grip and strong tongue can harbor a fatal load of parasites, which become agitated and grow to unmanageable levels in a relatively short amount of time in captivity. Parasites are aggravated by stress, which is a huge issue with any chameleon. There is no reason for responsible chameleon owners to allow a chameleon to die from a parasite load. Even a very heavy load of parasites, if caught early, in an otherwise healthy chameleon, can be treated and cured. Not all parasites can be detected by only a fecal check. Additional tests such as blood tests may be needed as well. The average prospective chameleon owner needs to be prepared to spend not only time on this creature, but money. The chameleon itself will normally be the least expensive of the start up costs for your pet. Although I believe chameleon should be in natural sunlight as much as possible, an indoor environment is fine for most animals. You will need the right cage (full screen a minimum of 2 foot by one foot), lights (a full spectrum florescent and a heat dome light), plants (something non toxic like a ficus benjemin), Hudson Sprayer for the water, humidifier (do yourself a favor and pay for the more expensive one with the auto shut off), sticks and vines etc.  The hidden costs will include the parasite check, possible treatment, follow up vet visits as well as a follow up fecal check and possible blood work or other tests for bacterial infections may be needed.  Parasites sound scary. But in reality not only do chameleons usually come from the wild with some sort of parasite, captive animals can contract them at any time from their feeder insects. This is perfectly normal. An annual fecal check is a wise precaution for all long your chameleons, wild caught or captive bred.

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Take precautions to make sure they have been deparasitized if they are wild caught, keep humidity at a high level and house separately. Chameleons will become stressed by viewing another chameleon in a cage across the room. If you notice solitary the chameleon being stressed, coloring up, hissing or puffing up for no apparent reason, they may be seeing their own reflection or have view of a chameleon in another cage.

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Breeding

If you are intending to try to breed your animals, and I hope you will, then please purchase only unrelated animals to start. If every breeder does this, it will insure the future gene pool of all species currently kept in captivity. Some species are represented by very small gene pools and extra effort must be made to keep these animals genetically divergent and pure to avoid genetic depression and hybridization. Captive breed or wild caught c.lateralis mature and breed at an early age and are subsequently gravid for the rest of their reproductive lives, reaching sexually mature a 8-12 months of age. Breeding only the strongest and healthiest chameleons will also add to the future strength of the gene pool. Most acclimated wild caught chameleons that have adapted to our seasonal changes for at least a year will choose to mate in our springtime. Both species of C.lateralis are avid breeders and will produce a clutch every 6-8 weeks, this can total upwards of 200 babies per year or more. These little breeders really never have an off  season so breeding can literally happen year round in some females. There are some species that are not particular about a breeding season and will mate throughout the year. The flip side of this short lived species is that they reproduce clutches of eggs that are usually 15-20 eggs per clutch with a high to perfect hatch rate every 6-8 weeks from time of sexual maturity until they expire. Probably from all those kids.

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After having kept chameleons a while, most people have caught the fever of maintaining and studying these fascinating animals and will usually follow the natural progression and will want to breed their animals. The challenge of keeping and finally breeding these animals under captive conditions is both fascinating and a worthwhile objective and can be accomplished if the keeper has done his homework and knows his animals well. Breeding animals need to be in healthy condition, well fed and filled out. A thin, undernourished animal might mate, but the number and health of the offspring often reflect the malnourishment of the female. Offer 5to6 feeder insects of your choice per meal. I generally feed twice per week. I allow the feeder insects to roam the cage freely. This allows the chameleon to use it’s hunting abilities and keep the tongue strong. Dish feeding is also an option, but there is a higher risk of tongue damage using a dish.  Supply water to your chameleon twice daily in the form of a mist, spray or dripper. Make sure to wet the chamelons body as well as the plants in the enclosure. If the humidity in the enclosure is below 70 percent, a weekly deep watering is necessary. I prefer the shower method. Place gently chameleon on a clothes-drying rack or plant in the shower stall. Turn the shower on, so a light rain is falling on the chameleon. Leave in shower to fully hydrate for 30 -60 minutes, once a week. During dryer climates the shower method may be used twice a week or more. Outdoor enclosures can be fitted with a mister system to go off automatically each day reducing the risk of dehydration.

It is important to note that overly nourished animals should also not be bred. When a female chameleon of any species is too fat she becomes an egg producing factory that often overloads with an inordinate amount of fertile, growing eggs within her body. I have seen young over weight females that have been bred and have developed so many eggs within their bodies that they were unable to expel the eggs when the time was right, becoming egg bound, toxic and finally dying.  Females that are full of eggs usually do not have much room for food intake and this can also be a problem with the overly productive female. Egg production takes a lot out of the female’s system and she must be adequately nourished with proper calcium, vitamins and minerals. Sticky tongue Farms Miner-All and Vit-all were developed for our breeding farm to provide adequate nourishment which enables the female to produce viable eggs, that in turn produce strong healthy young. A strong healthy female can endure this life of egg production and fulfill her destiny to go forth and propigate. During this time of internal egg development a female should be fed on a varied diet of high quality insects. The females and the babies suffer and often die from poor diets.

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In those species it is generally the rule that these are the multiple clutch species where the females  need to be bred shortly after laying eggs to make sure there is enough sperm to fertilize subsequent clutches. Sperm retention is prevalent in all species of chameleons. It is possible if a female breeds once, she can have fertile eggs clutch after clutch. Normally the fertility in this case diminishes per clutch allowing for more infertile eggs, as the sperm is being used and not replenished. Allow the female to rest at least a week or two and reintroduce the female to the male in his enclosure. This will ensure subsequent clutches are fertile. The female with retain the active sperm and autofertilize more than one clutch of eggs so it is possible to have an impregnated female lay several clutches of fertile eggs with out being exposed to a male for many months. Unfortunately with all chameleons, especially the short lived ones, a female can potentially breed with an infertile male and not show signs of infertility until the female has expired and the eggs all turn up useless. I recommend that all chameleon females breed with several males per season to ensure proper fertilization. A gravid female chameleon does not like to be in the proximity of an amorous male and will usually exhibit gravid-nonreceptive coloration, which is different from what she normally displays at rest. This beautiful display of color will announce to the males that she does not want anything to do with them. Even when the females exhibit this defensive pattern, some males will try to mount them repeatedly and it is advisable to remove a gravid female after mating has taken place so that she does not become overly stressed. Reintroduce the females into the males cage for a few hours per day over a weeks time. The female should show gravid coloration at that point if breeding was successful. A gravid female will display this coloration, hissing and possible biting of the male even if they are carrying infertile eggs. After the female lays eggs, has time to fatten up and feel stronger, reintrocution to the male may show a gravid, non receptive coloration. The time period for actual mating can vary from a few minutes to more than an hour and the animals should not be disturbed during this time. After the mating has taken place the pair will pull apart and the female will usually try to escape the vicinity of the male. I usually remove the female to her own enclosure, offer food and water and let her relax. If female doesn’t show any signs of being gravid mating should be retried. Sometimes breeding does not go as planned and the animals will take their sweet time. The male may be uninterested in this particular female. Therefore, a back up male is always a good idea not only for the viable sperm and another bloodline but to make sure she get an uninterested male, interested. Sometimes a break of a few days between breeding attempts will get the male interested. Make sure they can not see from their cages. Absence makes the heart grow fonder in a lot of males, especially the young ones.

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It is important to remember that the gravid female will most likely go off her food after her body becomes so engorged with eggs that she no longer has room for food. It is important to give good concentrated nutrition to her during the initial period shortly after breeding has taken place. When a gravid female is ready to lay eggs, she should have a nesting site available. I provide a plastic tub or a new, clean trash can filled with at least 12 inches of potting soil. Rule of thumb is twice as deep as the length of the female’s body. Provide a nontoxic plant, sticks and a clamp light on dome light near the egg laying container. I use damp potting soil that’s wet enough so as not to collapse in on its self when a hole is dug. Take care to not allow water pooling at the bottom of the container. This could drown the eggs. The females may dig several test holes. This may take days or hours, or days to accomplish. Leave her alone and let her dig. Do not remove her until she is finished covering her holes or returns to her branch for a length of time. She may return to the test holes and cover only a few them. Be patient. Carefully dig up the eggs, and place them in a plastic container with a sealed lid for incubation. The container should be filled ½ up way with damp vermiculite that can be purchased at a garden center. Mixed with enough water so when squeezed, few drops of water droplets dribble off. Too much water will drown the eggs. Place eggs in rows half buried in the vermiculite. Place the container in an incubator or a closet where the temp is an average of 68-72 degrees fahrenheight . I recommend a high low thermometer be placed in the incubation area. Check the eggs for temperature and moisture once a week. Hatchlings can be kept in much the same way as the adults, though even more care should be taken to make sure the temp and humidity are precise. Hatchlings are very strong and usually eat in a day or two with a vengeance. This species grows so quickly it is imperative that the supplements are a high quality form of calcium to ensure proper growth of bones and muscles. Hatchlings may be kept together in a screen cage for a month or so before separating.  Both species is a quick to mature and quick to grow old and die species, having a normal life span of only a couple of years. Because it is so prolific and will produce a couple hundred young during its lifetime, it is still worth keeping.

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