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red panther chameleon

How to Care for Your Panther Chameleon

Panther chameleons (Furcifer paradalis) are moderate-sized diurnal, arboreal lizards native to Madagascar. Adults are 16-20” long, and can live up to 6 years, with males living longer than females. 

Panther chameleons have a typical chameleon appearance with a large, triangular head, protruding eyes, vertically flattened bodies, zygodactylous feet, and a prehensile tail. Panther chameleons are known as the most colorful type of chameleon, as they come in a wide variety of colors and patterns that make them striking pets to look at. To an extent, coloration is dependent on their locale of origin, although this has been enhanced by captive breeding.

Although panther chameleons are easier to keep than they were when first introduced into the hobby, they have unique needs that make them challenging to keep.

How much space do panther chameleons need?

A single panther chameleon should be housed in no smaller than a 24”L x 24”W x 48”H enclosure. Of course, larger is better! Despite common claims that they “require” a full-mesh enclosure, it is actually better to use an enclosure with 2-3 solid sides, which can be done by covering the sides and back of a mesh enclosure with thin PVC panels. This helps retain humidity and give the chameleon a better sense of security in its enclosure.

Cohabitation (keeping multiple chameleons in the same enclosure) is not recommended.

Do panther chameleons need UVB?

Yes!

UVB lighting is required for panther chameleons to stay healthy. Aside from helping provide a day/night cycle and providing an infinite supply of vitamin D, UVB is also good for the lizard’s overall health. Here are the best UVB bulbs for panther chameleons housed in a 24”L x 24”W x 48”H enclosure:

The basking branch should be positioned so the chameleon’s back is 6” below the top of the enclosure. The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective T5 HO fixture like the Arcadia ProT5 Fixture. Make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is housed in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover, as plastic and glass block UVB.

Panther chameleons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This means that it’s beneficial to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. The 22” Arcadia LED Bar or similar is a good choice for this.

Provide 13 hours of light per day during summer and 11 hours per day during winter to simulate seasonal changes in day length. This helps regulate your chameleon’s hormonal rhythms.

What basking temperatures do panther chameleons need?

Panther chameleons need a basking area temperature of 85°F and a general air temperature of 75-80°F. Nighttime temperatures should drop down to 60-70°F. Temperatures should be measured with digital probe thermometers, with probes placed on the basking spot and the floor on the cool side.

The basking surface itself should be a sturdy wood branch or vine placed near the top per the specifications listed previously.

Provide heat for your chameleon with a cluster of two halogen heat lamps placed on one side of the enclosure. For best results, use a Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture and elevate the lamps above the top of the enclosure with Exo Terra Light Brackets. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.

Heating should be turned off at night.

What humidity levels do panther chameleons need?

Panther chameleons do best with a high humidity environment of 50-60% during the day and 75-100% at night. Mist 2x/day with a pressure sprayer first thing in the morning and in the evening, then run a humidifier on and off over the course of the night. 

Reptile humidifiers and foggers should only be used with distilled water and require frequent disinfecting to keep your reptile from getting sick.

Humidity should be measured with a digital probe hygrometer with the probe in the middle of the terrarium. Humidity levels that are consistently too high or low will make your chameleon sick!

What substrate is good for panther chameleons?

Because panther chameleons are strictly arboreal, and because of all the water that goes through their enclosures every day, it’s best not to use a substrate with this species. Instead, use a solid bottom with a drain into a large bucket. This will require some DIY, but is well worth it in the end.

What décor can you use in a panther chameleon terrarium?

A bare, minimalistic enclosure leads to a stressed chameleon — and a stressed chameleon is a chameleon that quickly gets sick. In order to create a functional setup for your panther chameleon, you will need plenty of thin branches, vines, and plants (preferably live). Arrange the foliage to create hiding places for the chameleon to use as needed, with an open area under the heat lamp.

What do panther chameleons eat?

Panther chameleons are strictly insectivorous, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects to get the nutrition that they need. How much they need to eat varies depending on age:

  • Babies (0-6 months) — As much as they can eat, 1x/day
  • Juveniles (6-12 months) — 5 bugs, every other day
  • Adults (over 1 year) — 3 bugs, every other day

Feeder insect options: crickets, discoid roaches, dubia roaches, banana roaches, red runner roaches, black soldier flies, hornworms, silkworms

Remember, variety is key to great nutrition!

Supplements

You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your chameleon from developing a deficiency. Follow this schedule for supplementing a panther chameleon:

It is also important to make sure that all feeders are well hydrated and gutloaded!

Do panther chameleons like to be handled?

Truthfully, few reptiles actually “like” to be handled. When it comes to panther chameleons, they’re generally “hands-off” pets that are better to simply admire than to try to play with. However, if you can build a trusting relationship with your chameleon, they may climb onto your hand when offered. 

The key to building a trusting relationship with your pet is to provide as many positive interactions as possible. Offering food from feeding tweezers is a good way to start.


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.

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