Questions and Answers

By Christopher V. Anderson


Anderson, C.V. (2004). Questions and Answers. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, August 2004. (

Q. They’re just so graceful!

We just got chameleons for the first time. We bought 2 of them from the reptile show in Raleigh, NC. We were told that these are called Graceful breed of chameleon. We are just learning. One of the new ones (9 months old, about 8 inches long each) died that same evening. We got a big cage, heat lamp, tree, etc. dripper, etc., all the stuff they said to get to take care of it.. oh and live medium crickets.... We need help and the most clear information webpages to learn about chameleons. Any video's we can buy would also be helpful.

A. The graceful chameleon, Chamaeleo gracilis, is a widespread chameleon species from mainland Africa that is imported into the US market in extremely high numbers. Very few Ch. gracilis being sold are captive bred and the majority are recent imports with a plethora of illnesses and disorders resulting in mediocre survival chances. Considering this fact and that one of them died the same day, I think it is safe to bet that you have wild caught specimens. With that established, they will more than likely require a vet visit (to a qualified reptile vet if at all possible) to treat for internal parasites among other things.

This species notoriously arrives in extremely poor condition due to a lack of care during the collection, exportation, importation and distribution process. Their low cost and high shipment numbers provide little incentive to importers and exporters to care for these animals correctly. Many arrive dead, many more almost dead and the majority of the rest do not live long enough to acclimate and reproduce.

The most important first step when dealing with imports of this species is hydration. Mist heavily a number of times a day for approx 15-30 minutes at a time to allow ample opportunity to drink. It is important that even with this heavy misting, the cage and branches are able to dry out between mistings and ample airflow is provided. A vet should be able to help provide further means of hydration should it be required.

With regard to their care, a medium to large screen enclosure with live plants and branches is appropriate for each animal. UVB lighting and a basking light is needed. The enclosure should provide a temperature/humidity gradient for the animal to determine its optimal temperature itself. It is also of particular importance to maintain their individual cages in a low traffic area.

Q. “Showing the Penny”

What is the reason for "showing the penny" as we call it, stretching the underneath of the neck to show a copper colored skin?

A. I have to admit that I’ve never heard this behavior referred to as “showing the penny,” but found it amusing none-the-less. The behavior you have observed is the extension of the gular pouch. In extending the gular pouch, the scales are forced apart revealing the interstitial skin. The interstitial skin in this area is often presented in strips called the interstitial or gular striations. Extension of the gular pouch and exposing the interstitial skin is generally a threat, territorial or courtship response. When a chameleon feels threatened, feels the need to defend his territory or is encountered with a courtship situation, they will often extend the gular pouch in display.

Photo courtesy of Chris Anderson

This female Furcifer minor has extended her gular pouch, exposing her red interstitial skin in a display of her gravid state to a courting male.

Q. The Night Light Myth

I live in Lake Tahoe, CA. I have a baby Jackson's Chameleon. Of the research I have done, it says to have a black light or red bulb night light to help the chameleon sleep. Is this true or should I have no light at all at night. During the day I have a full spectrum light and a basking light. When they turn off at night, the black light goes on until morning. I have also heard that they need a 10 degree drop at night, which I believe I accomplish when the two day lights turn off. Let me know the proper lighting for day and night.

A. This is a common myth that Ed Pollak discussed as myth #7 in a previous article “Common Myths of Chameleon Husbandry.” As he mentioned, most chameleons, including C. jacksonii, appreciate a temperature drop at night. As a result, unless the night temperatures are dropping too significantly, a black or red night light is generally not recommended.

Q. The babies are coming!

I just bought a male and female Jackson's and I was told the female is gravid. Can you give me some advice on the arriving babies, including food, habitat, misting, etc.? Thank you.

A. Preparing for babies is very important, especially with ovoviviparous species like C. jacksonii. In the following articles from previous issues, you will find a great deal of information on neonate care and preparation. Good Luck!

“Caging for Baby Chameleons,” By John Lucas

“Feeding Baby Chameleons,” By John Lucas

“A Hatching’s First Weeks,” By Lynda Horgan

Q. Sleeping chameleon

I have a Jackson. He has shed once about 3 months ago & ever since, I have had to hand feed him by opening his mouth. He WAS in an aquarium..WAS. But now I put him in a tree in the house & put a UV light on the tree during the day & put him back in the aquarium for the night. I mist him regularly. But the past couple of days, he has become lethargic to a degree. He seems to have stopped wanting to drink the water off the leaves when I spray also. He appears to be growing weak as he does not seem to be as strong when he holds onto something (not that I’m pulling him off). He also looks like he’s sleeping even during the day. He only opens his eyes for a few minutes, then he shuts them again. There are NO vets in my area that have a clue about chameleons. I will admit, I didn’t do ALL of my homework before buying. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

A. Unfortunately, in this case my answer may be of little help if you are unable to get your chameleon to a vet. Without seeing your animal in person, it is impossible to give you an accurate diagnosis or recommend treatment. A vet visit is your best option.

The symptoms you have described are clear signs of illness. Weak grip, sleeping during the day, lethargy and not eating or drinking are signs that an illness has been present for some time now and may be at a stage past recovery. I once again stress that it is very important to locate a vet for your chameleon. Based on the description of your case, my feeling is that the illness is a result of improper husbandry. There is a very good chance that the stress of being moved continually between habitats, in conjunction with poor ventilation and bacteria buildup in a glass tank, has caused some type of upper respiratory infection. Treatment by a vet is needed but providing a clean environment with access to adequate warmth in the mean time is important. This is the far too common result of not doing the proper research prior to purchasing a chameleon and I hope others will see the need for such precautions as research and locating a qualified vet prior to the occurrence of an emergency.

Q. Live Birthing Species

I had a quick question. I was wondering if jacksons chameleons were live bearing? if not, which chameleons are? thank you for your time.

A. The Jackson’s chameleon, Chamaeleo jacksonii, is in fact a live bearing, or ovoviviparous species. There are approximately 34 species of ovoviviparous species although many are uncommon in captive collections. Other relatively common ovoviviparous species include Ch. hoehnelii, Ch. ellioti, Ch. bitaeniatus and Ch. rudis.

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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