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P.O. Box 173
Sun City, CA 92586

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A Giant Among Chameleons

At up to 2 feet in length, the Oustalet's is the world's largest/longest chameleon. One of my first breeding projects in the early 1990s was with the Oustalet's chameleon (Furcifer [Chamaeleo] oustaleti), the giant chameleon from Madagascar's spiny desert. Sticky Tongue Farms was just beginning, and one day we received a
call from a man who needed to find a home for his chameleon because his wife didn't like it. We agreed to pick up the lizard.
I had never seen a captive-bred Oustalet's before, and this man had hatched his pet, named Oliver, on his own with very little breeding information available to him. This impressed me. The man was adamant
that we take Oliver only if we would promise to never sell him, as Oliver was
his baby. When we saw Oliver we knew he was special. He had so much personality
and spirit. He was a gentle giant.
We brought Oliver home to the farm, where he would later breed with the females of his choice. He liked to ride on the handlebars of my bike,  and he would often sit on my hat, flattened out and black to soak up the sun,
while eating flies as I did my gardening. His coloration was not as flashy as a panther chameleon's, but what he  lacked in flash he made up for in personality. The squamation (scale configuration/pattern) on his large body was fascinating. Oliver is the reason I became forever amazed by breeding chameleons.

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Signs of Health
If you're buying imported or store-bought Oustalet's go through the usual checklist of ailments. Dehydration is the number one priority as this is usually symptomatic of another condition, such as parasites, stress or improper care. The chameleon's skin should be plump. The eyes should be bright, round and alert. Mouths should be free of lesions or abrasions. The parasite load of imported F. oustaleti can be high. I have had more difficulty getting rid of the parasites in this species than any other with which I've worked. Because of the size and severe parasite load that is possible, I highly recommend that a veterinarian who is experienced with chameleons handle the treatment. If the chameleon's parasite count is low and taken care of quickly there is a good chance for a long, healthy life.

The parasite check/treatment regimen I have used with success is as follows: Always get a fecal check so you know what you are dealing with. If needed, a round of Panacur is my first course of action. This is followed by Flagyl, if necessary. After both treatments are completed a follow up fecal exam is done. If all tests are clean, I get a blood test to rule out
any other possible parasites. If all are negative, I wait three months and get another fecal. If the veterinarian says it's necessary, I repeat the process. I recommend an annual fecal exam as a preventative measure for all chameleons, even if they're captive bred. Oustalet's are often labeled as "advanced" chameleons, and I believe this may be due to the parasite issue, or the cost of the treatments involved to deparasitize the lizards. Once the parasite problem is resolved, however, Oustalet's are pretty much bullet proof in my experience.

Large Cages a Must
I encourage chameleon enthusiasts to as closely as possible simulate a species' natural environment in an outdoor situation. An outdoorenclosure with the closest possible match to the chameleon's natural
habitat will afford a longer, healthier life for your chameleon, and automated systems will make cleaning and watering easier. Chameleons that are kept outdoors can catch wild insects, too.
The Oustalet's chameleon is the world's largest and can attain a maximum adult length of about 2 feet. Therefore, they need large enclosures. A single adult should be kept in a screened enclosure measuring at least 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide and deep. Indoor enclosures need a dome light with an incandescent bulb to provide a hot spot, as well as reptile-specific UVB fluorescent lights on top of the enclosure. A cool mist humidifier with an automatic timer is also recommended to combat dehydration, especially if the area in which you live can get hot and dry. Some keepers build their own custom enclosures. As a rule, the taller the enclosure is the better. Keep in mind during construction to make it vermin proof using tough screening that rodents would not be able to chew through. Don't use chicken wire as this can injure a chameleon's feet. I recommend constructing enclosures using the PVC-coated fencing found at home improvement centers. It is sold in quarter-inch and half-inch square mesh.

If you might someday have a gravid female in the enclosure that is inegg-laying mode and will be digging into the substrate, be sure you construct the enclosure in such a way as to prevent her from digging out of it. Some keepers will construct a wire mesh floor to prevent digging altogether. We often choose pet chameleons by their looks and not their ability to adapt to the environment we can provide. This can result in complications. I reside in the Inland Empire of Southern California, where outdoor temperatures are conducive to keeping chameleons from the southern regions of Madagascar, a habitat with a typical annual rainfall of 14 inches.

The average temperature in the Oustalet's native environment is 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but recorded temps have measured between 104 and 130 degrees. These chameleons survive very comfortably outside almost year  round in my area. Part of the enclosure should offer direct sun for part of the day, and areas of full shade should be available at all times. This will allow your chameleon to thermoregulate, which is a must to maintain health. A broad-leaf
evergreen bush I RECOMMEND FICUS TREE OF APPROPRIATE SIZE TO FIT IN THE ENCLOSURE. TEXAS PRIVIT  IS ANOTHER SPECIES I USE. ANY TREE OR BUSH THAT IS NON TOXIC IF EATEN BY CHILDREN OR ANIMALS IS FINE FOR ANY ENCLOSURE. will provide protection from heat and cold, as well as security. TREE OR BUSH IS FINE AS LONG AS THERE IS SOME COVER FOR THE FEMALE TO FEEL SAFE.
FOR SMALL ENCLOSURES A SIZE APPROPRIATE BUSH OR TREE WITH MEDIUM TO DENSE LEAF COVER.
ANY PLANT THAT IS NON TOXIC CHECK THE LOCAL HOME IMPROVEMENT OR GARDEN CENTER FOR LSIT OF PLANT SPECIES.
Add some sturdy branches for your chameleon to perch on, too.
The temperature in an Oustalet's enclosure can rise safely to the high end of the species' native habitat as long as the humidity rises too. Dry heat is much more dangerous to a chameleon than humid heat.
IN A SMALL CAGE WITH THE MILLIMEAN BOTTOMS I USE PAPER TOWELS. MOST SUBSTRATE CAN GET CAUGHT ON A CHAMELEONS TONGUE CAUSING INJURY. GRAVID FEMALE ENCLOSURE I USE POTTING SOIL, OR PROVIDE ACCESS TO A TRASH CAN DEPOSITORY OR NESTING BOX.
Chow
Offering a variety of food items is always better for the health of any chameleon. Prey items can be fed free range (my preference) or dish fed. Dust them with your choice of supplements per manufacturer directions (I, of course, use Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-All and Vit-All). Oustalet's will eat standard insect fare such as crickets, mealworms, etc. In the wild, they have been known to eat large hissing cockroaches, mice, other lizards and small birds. Oliver loved to eat paper wasps. He would stalk them, take aim and bite them in the middle every time. The wasp's head and stinger would fall to
the ground, leaving him a tasty wild treat.

My friend Debbie let her trio of Oustalet's roam free in her half-acre yard that was full of trees. The chameleons would descend from high in the trees to the lower branches when she brought food out. When the trio was down looking for Debbie she knew they were hungry and would take them food. I'm not sure who trained who.

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Breeding Oustalet's Chameleons
Introduce a pair by placing the female into the male's enclosure, and allow them to remain together for several days. If any violent behavior is detected separate the chameleons and try again in a few days. One breeding will provide the female enough sperm to produce many viable clutches of eggs.

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If a female is not bred often enough, the clutch viability will drop off due to the lack of usable sperm. This sperm retention ensures subsequent viable clutches even in the absence of a male. Approximately three to four weeks after copulation, try palpating the female for eggs. Hold her in one hand and, using two fingers, carefully massage her abdominal wall in a gentle circular motion moving toward the spine. If the female is gravid, eggs the size of jelly beans can be felt. Pacing back and forth in the bottom of the enclosure or exhibiting other restless behavior is a good indication that a gravid female is ready to lay her eggs.

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Most chameleons, including Oustalet's, seem to respond to the good old trash can method for egg deposition. Place a trash can filled with 12 inches of soil in the enclosure  where the female can see the soil. Try placing it under her favorite branch, and position another branch leading to the soil in the can for easy access in and out. A gravid female may dig and fill in several test holes when she is ready to lay eggs. Eventually she will lay eggs in one of these. It may take days until she is done digging, or hours. When she is finished laying she will look thinner, and she will stop covering up the holes she has dug. A female Oustalet's will lay 30 to 40 eggs per clutch potentially three times per year. Being aware of your chameleon's habits will help you recognize that the female may be ready to lay eggs. Inspecting females' claws every morning and evening to look for signs of digging is a good practice during laying season Wait until the female has covered all holes and returned to the tree before excavating the eggs. After a healthy female has laid her eggs it is usually safe to reintroduce her to a male two weeks after deposition. Breeding the female shortly after egg laying will ensure sufficient sperm retention for viable future egg clutches.

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Egg Incubation
Place eggs in Tupperware or a similar plastic container with a resealable lid. The container should be half filled with dampened vermiculite. Mix the vermiculite with enough water so that when you squeeze it, small droplets will emerge. Too much water will drown the eggs, and not enough will dry them out. To check dampness during incubation just pick up a pinch and squeeze it. Only a drop or two of water should be present when squeezed. Place the eggs in rows in the vermiculite so they are half covered. Seal the lid and place the container in an incubator. The eggs should be incubated for nine to 12 months at 68 to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Simulate a spring rain after seven months by adding more water to the eggs. I recommend placing a high/low thermometer in the incubation container. Open the container once a week to check the temperature and the dampness of the vermiculite. When the eggs begin to swell and/or sweat, purchase some fruit flies or pinhead crickets -- hatchlings are usually hearty eaters. Hatchlings can be kept together for before they should be placed into individual enclosures.
In Conclusion
Last August, at the National Reptile Breeders Expo in Daytona Beach, I tried to find people who were selling or breeding Furcifer oustaletti. I have found them at this show in the past but was disappointed after two passes through the booths not to find any Oustalet's. Only one of my customers has been breeding these chameleons. I sincerely hope that in the future people will consider this giant chameleon for a breeding project before the species becomes extinct. The natural habitat of Furcifer oustaleti, like much of Madagascar, is suffering the strainof human encroachment. I hope this article inspires you to consider trying your hand at keeping Oustalet's chameleons, so we can raise and protect them for generations to enjoy.

Always take safety measures when handling your chameleon. I don't recommend going bike riding or gardening with a chameleon that doesn't like human contact. If a chameleon jumps away when you attempt to hold it, it doesn't want to be held. Don't stress these individuals by frequent
interaction, and definitely no bike riding with them!

Oustaletti Oliver

Oliver's Worst Thanksgiving Oliver the Oustalet's chameleon was at the center of my single worst chameleon experience. In the midst of a cold snap we were bringing Oliver in at night to sleep on a large ficus, and then returning him outside when the sun came up. On Thanksgiving night we returned home late and forgot to bring Oliver inside. When I woke the next morning I went to put him outside as I had been doing all week, and only then realized I didn't bring him in the previous night. In a panic I ran outside to his enclosure and was horrified to find Oliver frozen in the bottom of the enclosure. The automated sprinklers went off in the early morning and this resulted in a layer of ice crystals covering poor Oliver. We were so mortified we could hardly contain our tears. As we cradled him in our hands, Oliver opened one eye, just a little. In a flash we got him under a dome light and began dabbing him with lukewarm water to wash off the crystals. After what seemed an eternity he was puffing up and taking deep breaths like a person who almost drowned. Slowly he started to wiggle and began walking around. It was truly a miracle. We never forgot to bring Oliver inside at night during a freeze again!

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The Shower Method
Offer water to your Oustalet's chameleon daily. Spray plant leaves and the chameleon's body twice daily if humidity is in the 70 percent or higher range. If the humidity is below 70 percent a weekly deep watering is necessary, and the "shower method" is very successful. Place the chameleon on a clothes drying rack or plant before placing it carefully into a shower stall or tub. Turn the shower on so a light rain is falling on your chameleon. Leave the chameleon in the shower to drink for 30 to 60 minutes once a week. During dry seasons showering may need to be repeated more often.

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If you keep your Oustalet's in an outdoor enclosure, an automated misting system is very handy. Regular lawn sprinklers can be set so individual stations activate one at a time during the day, and one of these might include the enclosure within its sprinkling radius.