In this caresheet I’ll be covering comprehensive information – all you need to know about keeping Panther Chameleons in captivity. I’ll be covering Panther Chameleon housing, heating, lighting, the importance of UVB, humidity and water needs, handling, keeping them together and even more comprehensive care such as the locality differences and breeding Panther Chameleons.

If I miss anything, don’t hesitate to drop us a message on Facebook, email or leave a comment.

Meet the Panther Chameleon

Panther Chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) are a medium sized chameleon that is native to Madagascar and now bred in captivity for their amazing colours and displays.

Panther Chameleons come in a range of localities which result in different colour forms, but are typically green, blue, yellow, orange and pink, with the ability to turn brighter or darker, including brown and even blank, to demostrate their mood or camoflauge from danger.

On average this is a fairly light bodied chameleon, with males measuring from 12 to 18 inches and weighing around 150g in weight. Females are smaller, measuring around 10 to 14 inches and weighing from 60 to 100g in weight. Their light bodies allow them to balance on the smallest of branches, reaching the tops of the trees to sun themselves.

Like most chameleons, Panther Chameleons have relatively short lives, living around four to seven years in captivity.

Housing

There are several options for Panther chameleon setups. I’m going to give you several options to think about.

Size Requirements

We recommend a minimum of 24 x 18 x 36″ for a Panther Chameleon. This is an arboreal species that you will rarely see on the floor and bear in mind that males will be bigger than females. There is no maximum size as long as you can obtain your temperatures and humidity and there are a range of much larger setups on the market. We always recommend exceeding the minimum requirements wherever possible!

Wooden Vivariums

Wooden Vivariums are a popular option for chameleons. The advantages of using wooden vivariums for chameleons is that they’re easily available, there are a few size options, they hold heat extremely well and hold humidity fairly well. The downsides of using wooden vivariums for chameleons is that the ventilation is low. The solution is that you will definitely need to modify a wooden vivarium by adding additional ventilation. Our chameleon vivariums come with extra ventilation which we install ourselves.

ReptiBreeze Mesh Enclosures

ReptiBreeze is a brand of mesh enclosures made by Zoo Med. It has an aluminium lightweight frame with mesh panels instead of the more traditional wood or glass. This makes this the most “open air” enclosure possibly, meaning it has maximum airflow and ventilation. On the downside, it’s available in very limited sizes and in my opinion, the largest size is the only viable option for an adult Panther Chameleon, at 61x61x122cm (24x24x48″). Another downside is that mesh doesn’t hold heat or humidity well, and some people find they need to add a perspex panel to one or two of the sides to help maintain heat and humidity. You have to purchase a substrate tray at additional cost, and even with this, there’s no allowance for a deep layer of substrate.

Glass Tanks

With the advent of the new range of Habistat Glass Tanks we are now happy to recommend the larger sizes of Habistat Tank as a viable option for a Panther Chameleon. Glass is the most expensive option and these larger tanks are very heavy, but glass holds heat better than mesh (less so than wood, but chameleons are not high temperature species), and holds humidity the best of all three options. Whilst you can’t modify your enclosure for ventilation the way you can in wood, and it has far less ventilation than a mesh cage, the Habistat enclosures do have open topped mesh lids and we find the ventilation adequate.

Which is best?

Our standard enclosure for Panther Chameleons is the wooden enclosure as this usually meets peoples heating needs, but all three have their pros and cons. We’re happy to chat about your specific needs if you remain undecided.

Heating and Basking

We would recommend a basking spot of approximately 90F during the day at the top of the tank, falling to 70F at the bottom of the tank. Temperature in the middle would usually be in the low 80s. To get this basking temperature we recommend a basking lamp at the top of the enclosure, controlled by a thermostat.

Turn off all your lights at night time.

Night time Heating – Night time temperatures can be 70-75F throughout. As the night time temperature requirement is fairly low, if the enclosure is in a warm room you may find you do not need any night time heating. If you do need night time heating, a heat mat is an option for smaller setups, or we prefer a ceramic bulb. Whichever you use, make sure it’s attached to a thermostat.

Controlling Heat – You should always control your heat sources with a thermostat. Your heat source plugs into the thermostat and a probe goes into the vivarium. The probe detects the temperature and then automatically adjusts the heating element to the correct heat output. This gives your animal the correct temperature at all times, whilst also saving electricity!

Measuring Heat – You should have a thermometer – either analogue, or digital – in the enclosure as it is possible for thermostats to be faulty and you want to double check that your temperatures are correct. Ideally having one on the hot end and the cold end, or having one with two probes provides you with the best information.

UVB Lighting

UVB lighting is essential for Panther Chameleon health. We use the research from the Arcadia Lighting Guide to provide Panther Chameleons with a UV Index of 3-4.

It’s very important to take the height that your chameleon basks and spends their time at as your distance, and not the bottom of the tank. If this distance is between 12-15% from the light, you can use a T8 12% UVB or a T5 6% UVB. If your enclosure is much larger and your basking zone is 15-24″ away from the UVB light, you can use a T5 12%.

You can read more about the differences between T8 and T5 lighting in our UVB guide.

Your UVB lighting should be on for 10 – 12 hours a day, which you can set on a timer if you’d like. Always turn off your UVB lighting and your basking bulb at night time.

Water

Panther Chamelons will rarely go to the bottom of the tank and are unlikely to drink from standing water, and they do not bath in a water bowl. However, having a water bowl in the enclosure does raise the humidity and covers all options if they did want to drink. In the wild Panther chameleons will drink from leaves, so when you spray the tank make sure you spray the leaves. Having some silk plants in the enclosure can be very good for holding water droplets, and there is also the Dripper plant which we recommend. This pumps water up from the water bowl to the top of the plant, creating moving water the chameleon is more likely to drink from, as well as increasing humidity in the air.

There’s no need to ever take your chameleon out and bathe them, unless recommended by a veterinarian or similar for shedding problems or dehydration. In general, this would be very stressful.

Humidity

Panther Chameleons require an optimal humidity of around 60% – slightly higher than Yemen Chameleons – with spikes up to 80% with a daily misting to simulate rainfall and encourage them to drink from the plants. That being said, this is a hardy species that has very variable levels of humidity in the wild, so as long as your humidity is above 50% then they shouldn’t experience any problems.

It’s important not to go too high on humidity. Humidity too high can cause respiratory problems and skin problems. You don’t want your enclosure to be soaking wet and your glass shouldn’t be covered in condensation if there is adequate airflow. You only want to increase the humidity by spraying long enough to encourage them to drink.

You’ll need a hygrometer in the tank to measure the humidity.

Decor and Substrate

Whilst your Panther Chameleon is unlikely to spend much time on the ground, having a substrate that mimics the natural environment and holds humidity is recommended. We use Orchid Bark, but you could also use something like Coco Fibre, Forest Bedding or Arcadia Earth Mix. It needs to be able to hold moisture without getting moldy.

You’ll need a wide range of branches at different sizes and thicknesses up the entire length of the vivarium. Try to have some horizontal from side to side, as well as diagonally vertical. Lots of plants, whether plastic, silk or real, will help hold moisture and provide hiding places that simulate the foliage of the jungle.

There are lots of live plants that can be kept in with Panther Chameleons, but be aware that if you do keep live plants embedded in the substrate you’ll need to add a drainage layer and you’ll also need a plant bulb such as the Jungle Dawn LED bar if you want longevity and growth from your plants.

Shedding

Panther Chameleons shed frequently, especially as they grow. Babies seem to be eternally shedding as they grow constantly. It may come off in small pieces, or it may come off in one piece.

Often, they will eat the shed, so you might not even notice. As long as your humidity is correct the shed should not get stuck to the chameleon and seeing them shed very frequently is no cause for concern. As they mature they will shed less and less, but even adults shed their skin regularly.

Social Needs and Housing Together

Whilst babies are often housed together for practical purposes for the first three to four months of their life, mature Panther Chameleons should never be housed in the same enclosure. Even being within eyesight of another chameleon can cause them to be stressed and display territorial behaviour. Male panther chameleons are especially combative, but even females will be stressed and need to live alone.

Sexing Panther Chameleons

Sexing hatchling panther chameleons can be challenging, but certainly by several months of age you should be able to start spotting differences. Males grow larger, have a more elongated head and a thicker tail base, and most importantly, males display vivid colouration compared to females.

The below panther chameleons are Red Bar Ambilobes from the same clutch. As you can see even at five months, the male is already starting to display an array of vivid colours, a different head shape and thicker tail than the much more drab female.

The difference in colour leads males to be much more popular, and causes them to cost up to five times as much as females.

Diet

Panther Chameleons are keen hunters and great eaters. They have a long sticky tongue which allows them to catch livefood with great speed and precision from quite a distance. Their 360 degree rotating vision allows them to spot movement easily.

They will take a wide range of live insects such as crickets, locusts, dubia roaches, mealworms, and waxworms as an occasional treat. You can free feed by dropping the livefood into the vivarium and allowing the animal to hunt, or if you’re worried they may not find it, for example if it’s a young chameleon in a very large tank, you can put the livefood into a deep bowl or cup that it can’t escape from, but make sure it’s not too deep – you want the chameleon to be able to get out if they fall in!

With time and patience, most chameleons will feed from the hand as well.

Livefood should be kept in cool, well ventilated containers and gut loaded with fresh dry vegetables, or a pre-made mixture such as our Livefood Care Pack which comes with both nutrients and hydration. Don’t use a water bowl with livefood, the humidity will cause them to die and they’re prone to drowning.

Supplementation

Food should be dusted with a multivitamin D3 supplement once a week and straight calcium on all other days.

Handling

Most Panther Chameleons are not keen on being handled. Whilst you might get some exceptions that are happy to be out and about, you need to listen to your chameleons body language and don’t try to force a stressed or angry chameleon.

A clear warning to leave alone!

It’s easy to tell when a chameleon is telling you they don’t want to be handled. An unhappy, stressed or angry chameleon will become dark with mottled spots. They can fill themselves with air and expel it as a threat, and although they don’t tend to bite, they can open their mouths to threaten you, and may even headbutt if they feel seriously threatened.

Some Panther Chameleons are okay to come out of the tank on their terms. That means you can’t grasp them or hold them in place, but you can pretend to be a branch and let them walk out on you. Some will be quite happy to sit out on you until they get cool – don’t keep them out for too long and make sure the room is warm. On warm sunny summer days, some will enjoy basking in the sun and some people even have an outdoor enclosure for them. A reptibreeze is particularly handy for this since it can be easily folded down when not in use and is very lightweight, but always pay very close attention to the temperatures.

In short, I always warn people that a chameleon is not a lizard you can handle a lot and you should generally consider them a display species.

Panther Chameleon Localities

There are many different regions that Panther Chameleons come from in the wild, and each locality has a different look. Some are quite similar to others, whilst some are strikingly different. In captivity we rely on breeders to keep locality lines as pure as possible by sourcing chameleons from the same locality to breed, but here in the UK we don’t have as wide a range of localities available as the USA, and some localities have been crossed many times. It can be hard to tell what a chameleon will look like when you buy them, as males don’t develop their colours until they get older, but buying a specific locality can help give you an indication of the colours you’ll see.

It’s worth noting that within localities individuals are still extremely variable, so going via pictures of the parents is the best way to judge the colours you’ll see in your offspring, but often not possible when buying from reptile shops as we don’t have access to that information.

Ambilobe – Ambilobe is the most common locality you’ll see in the UK. This is a brightly coloured green and red base with red or blue bars. Even the blue bars tend to have quite a lot of red on them, especially around the face and legs. They have very variable colouring.

The two photos below show a juvenile blue bar (top) and red bar (bottom) but these are young males who do not have their full colouring yet.

Nosy Be – Nosy Be’s have a green base with high blue banding and some blue markings on the face and legs. They may have light red, orange or yellow markings as well, but the predominant colours will be blue and green.

Adult male Nosy Be in the wild.

Nosy Faly – These are similar to Nosy Be but have higher white and the red is variable, often spotted rather than banded. You may see a bolder white body stripe, as well as white spotting on the body, legs and chin giving a very interesting contrast.

Sambava – This is a very colourful locality with a range of colours, usually yellow, red and green. They don’t usually have any blue or white on them and can be pale or brightly coloured.

Tamatave – This is the reddest locality, often solid red with white markings, and some undertones of yellow. They would rarely have any green or blue on them.

There are many more localities in the wild and in other countries, but these are the ones I have seen in the UK.

Breeding Panther Chameleons

Before you even consider breeding you need to think carefully about the process involved. You’ll need two adult healthy (at least 12-18 months for your female) chameleons of opposite sexes and ideally, you’ll want these chameleons to be good examples of the locality. As we’ve discussed above, there are now only a few localities available in the UK, and in order to keep these localities going, we need breeders to continue to pick good examples of the locality and ensure localities aren’t mixed. There’s definitely some ethical consideration here when you pick your adults and how you advertise and sell them if you decided to mix localities.

You’ll need two permanent separate enclosures as you’ll only be introducing them for mating. You’ll need to have a veterinarian who deals with exotics and reptiles on hand, as there’s always the potential for injury during mating or problems during egg laying. You’ll need an incubator for your eggs, and you’ll most likely want several smaller enclosures for the babies to separate them out. You’ll have to correctly heat and light this like your adult enclosures and feed the babies for 6-8 weeks until they’re ready to go to new homes. Finally, you’ll have to be confident that you can sell them to people who have the correct knowledge and setups to keep them. Contacting reptile shops in your area to see if they will buy them is often the easiest option.

If you have considered all that carefully and still want to breed Panther Chameleons, then read on! Watching chameleons hatch and grow can be a very rewarding process.

Mating and Egg Laying

Males are almost always up for breeding and will go into the enclosure in full colours, displaying himself, puffing himself up and following the female. Female panther chameleons can be very clear if they aren’t interested, so you might see her going dark, headbutting, biting or even attempting to push him off his branch! The male will expect this and perservere, but if you’re finding that she’s not receptive, separation is needed to avoid injury or on-going stress. Try again in a week.

If the female stays fairly light, doesn’t gape, puff herself up or hiss, then she’s interested! She will still walk away usually, so that he can follow her and prove his interest, but slowly, and she’ll allow him to catch her and mate with her if she’s impressed. Once she’s gravid, she will not be receptive to repeat matings. She may also go brown, black and peach colours and this is normal.

It’s critically important to provide a deep bucket or container filled with soil or a sand and soil mix. She needs to feel like she is laying her eggs in a suitable and secure place or she may retain them, leading to serious health problems. She also needs privacy and panther chameleons can be nervous layers, so you don’t want to be constantly checking the cage, and make sure it’s not in a busy part of the house, or with cats and dogs peering in!

Around 20-30 eggs will be laid between three and 6 weeks, with around 4 weeks being the average. Let her eat as much as she likes for the week after laying eggs to regain much needed nutrition. She may lay another clutch in two months without being mated again, so you need to feed her well and make sure she’s back in perfect health as soon as possible.

Incubation

Eggs should be removed from the lay box and transferred with care to an incubator. We use vermiculite as an incubation medium. Leave about half an inch between each egg. Panther chameleon eggs are incubated cool. The strongest babies come from eggs incubated around 72-78F. Although eggs will hatch at 80 and 85F and they’ll hatch quicker, breeders quickly learned that hatching panther chameleon eggs faster results in much weaker hatchlings and higher hatchling death. It’s not worth it, so keep them cool if you can!

Panther chameleons take a long time to hatch – usually around 9 months but can be as long as 12 months. Breeding panther chameleons is definitely an exercise in patience.

Hatching and Hatchling Care

After hatching the chameleons will need to be removed into a smaller version of the adult enclosure. Panther chameleons grow slowly at first and there often weaker ones in the clutch. Having multiple enclosures will allow you to separate out any weaker or dominant ones, to ensure everyone has the best chance of survival. They won’t usually be ready to go to new homes until 8-12 weeks depending on growth, so you need to be prepared to care and feed them, and then ensure that the prospective new homes fully understand their care and have an adequate setup. An arrangement to sell to a local reptile shop can help skip this step for you and make your life a lot easier, but of course, you’ll be paid trade prices rather than retail.

I really hope that this Panther Chameleon Care Guide has covered everything you want to know. If you have a specific question for us about our chameleons or setups then please drop us a message on Facebook or an email. Thank you!

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