Panther Chameleon Care Sheet provided by Reptifiles

(Furcifer pardalis)
Difficulty: Hard

Panther chameleons are diurnal, insectivorous, arboreal lizards native to the coastal forests in the northern region of Madagascar. They prefer to inhabit trees, very rarely coming down to the ground.

Panther chameleons are widely known as one of the most colorful lizards on Earth. They are also one of the largest types of chameleon. At 16-20” long, they exist in a stunning array of colors and have been bred in red, yellow, green, blue, and even rainbow! Males are typically much more colorful than females. And like other chameleons, panther chameleons have wide, splayed toes (“zygodactylus feet”), bulging independently moving eyes, and a curled tail.

Panther chameleons are beautiful, fascinating pets, but they tend to be more difficult to keep than most other popular reptiles, as they are sensitive and require lots of specialized equipment. Even if you take care to provide only the best panther chameleon care, they have very short lifespans. Males of this species generally live for up to 6 years, while females only live up to 3 years.

Shopping List: 

  • 2’x2’x4’ Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure or 4’x2’x4’ Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
  • small fan
  • 5.5” dome heat lamps
  • 2x 50w or 1x 100w halogen flood heat bulb (white)
  • plug-in lamp dimmer
  • infrared thermometer
  • digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
  • 22-24” UVB bulb and fixture
  • LED plant grow light(s)
  • live potted plant(s)
  • climbing vines
  • thin branches
  • zip ties
  • reptile humidifier or mister
  • plug-in outlet timer
  • pressure sprayer
  • dripper
  • funnel
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • calcium powder without D3
  • calcium powder with D3
  • multivitamin with retinol (vitamin A)
  • bee pollen powder
  • soft-tipped feeding tweezers

Terrarium Size

Panther chameleons need an enclosure that is large enough to give them adequate opportunity to thermoregulate, explore, hunt, and generally exercise natural behaviors. They are also arboreal, which means that they are a tree-dwelling species, and generally prefer to live in tall terrariums.

This is why the minimum recommended enclosure size for a single panther chameleon is a 2'x2'x4' enclosure. If at all possible, larger (such as 4’x2’x4’ enclosure) is always better! In fact, it may be required for particularly large males.

Although it is commonly stated that chameleons “must” be housed in full-mesh cages, the truth is more complicated than that. If you live in a particularly dry climate, a full-glass, wood, or PVC enclosure may be a more suitable choice. If you live in a moderate or high-humidity climate, it’s still ideal to cover two sides of a mesh enclosure with sheets of opaque plastic to increase the chameleon’s sense of security in its environment (and thereby decrease stress).

Can multiple panther chameleons be housed together in the same enclosure?

No. In the wild, veiled chameleons are fairly solitary. They may cross paths with other chameleons in the trees every once in a while, but they don’t actively seek each other out unless they’re looking for a mate. For this reason, it’s best to house only one chameleon per enclosure.

Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity

Panther chameleons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they need exposure to bright light and UVB during the day. UVB and daylight lighting should both be on for 12 hours each day.

Lighting

UVB lighting can be tricky because, to get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), the distance must be considered. As a rough estimate, to provide appropriate UVB to a panther chameleon in a 2'x2'x4' enclosure with a basking branch that places the chameleon’s back 6” below the top mesh.

A UVB bulb isn’t bright enough to meet a panther chameleon’s light needs, as bright light is important to their mental health. So, you will need to supplement with a bright, 6500K T5 HO fluorescent or LED lamp, long enough to span at least most of the top of the enclosure.

Temperatures

Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Panther chameleons, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, veiled chameleons warm up by basking in a warm patch of sunlight. In captivity, sunlight can be replicated with a heat lamp.

  • Basking area temperature: 85-90°F (29-32°C)
  • General temperature: 72-77°F (22-25°C)
  • Nighttime temperature: 60-70°F (15-21°C)

The heat lamp should only be on for about 4 hours each morning.

Generally speaking, it doesn’t take much to achieve such a low basking temperature. A couple of white 50w reptile heat should be plenty. Using two bulbs creates a larger basking area to heat your chameleon more evenly. However, if you notice that the basking area is too warm, dial down the heat down with a plug-in lamp dimmer or switch to lower wattage bulbs. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.

The basking area should be a vine or branch placed directly under the heat lamp, placing your chameleon’s back about 6” below the mesh. Because your veiled chameleon is arboreal and will be living in a tall enclosure, the warmest temperatures will be at the top (near the heat lamp), and the coolest temperatures will be toward the bottom. You will need vines, branches, and foliage at all levels to allow for proper thermoregulation.

To measure the general temperature of different areas of your terrarium, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed on the basking surface under the heat source.

Humidity

Panther chameleons do best in an environment with fairly low humidity during the day and high humidity at night: 50-60% during the day, and 75-100% at night as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure. Humidity levels that are consistently too high or low can cause health problems for your chameleon. However, it is natural for humidity to be lower in the warm area and higher in the cool area.

To raise the humidity in your chameleon’s enclosure (and provide an extra source of drinking water), use a pump-style pressure sprayer to wet down the enclosure every morning and evening, preferably when it’s dark. It’s also a good idea to mist again (lightly) in the mid-afternoon or provide a dripper. An automatic misting system makes misting less of an inconvenience.

It’s best to also use a cool mist humidifier or fogger on and off for a few hours before “sunrise”. Please note that humidifiers and foggers must be used with distilled water and periodically disinfected to prevent illness. There should be no need to use the humidifier during the day.

Chameleon Academy proposes the following schedule for keeping a veiled chameleon appropriately hydrated: 

  • Fogger — 1:30-6:00 AM
  • Mister — 1:30 AM, 6:00 AM, 9:00 PM
  • Dripper — 3:00-5:00 PM

It’s also best to use distilled water for misting and fogging, as tap water is likely to clog your equipment and isn’t very good for live plants.

When your chameleon is actively shedding, resist the temptation to mist more frequently to “help” them with the process — this may actually make shedding their old skin more difficult!

Substrate (Bedding)

Because of the sheer amount of water that goes through a panther chameleon’s enclosure daily, a traditional substrate layer will quickly get saturated. Instead, most keepers opt for using a drain at the bottom of the enclosure. There are many helpful videos online on how to rig your own drainage system using a table/shelf and a bucket.

Decorating the Terrarium

Decorations play a vital role in your chameleon’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. These items provide hiding places, encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer!

Branches, vines, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a panther chameleon terrarium. You can secure vines and branches with the help of zip ties looped through the mesh. Many chameleon keepers prefer to use live potted or hanging plants to maximize available foliage. (Live plants also help maintain humidity!) Arrange these items in a way that encourages your chameleon to climb and explore, provides an unobstructed place to bask, and provides a variety of options for places to hide as needed.

Feeding Your Panther Chameleon

Panther chameleons are insectivores, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a quick list of safe insects you can feed your pet chameleon:

  • Banana roaches
  • Black soldier flies and larvae
  • Blue bottle flies and larvae
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Hornworms and sphinx moths
  • Locusts
  • Mantis hatchlings
  • Red runner roaches
  • Silkworms
  • Snails (captive bred only)
  • Stick insects

How often panther chameleons need to eat depends on age:

  • Juveniles — As much as they can eat, daily
  • Adults — 5 bugs, every other day

Part of providing excellent panther chameleon care is providing VARIETY in their diet! A highly varied diet is likely to create a healthier pet that always looks forward to mealtime.

Supplements

Chameleons tend to be extra sensitive to the vitamins and minerals present in their diet. However, supplementation is still needed. Feeder insects should be lightly dusted with an appropriate supplement before each feeding according to this schedule:

  • Every feeding: Arcadia EarthPro A (contains bee pollen)
  • 2x per month: Arcadia Revitalise D3 or Repashy CalciumPlus LoD

All feeder insects should also be gut-loaded with nutritious, species-appropriate food and water for 24-48 hours before offering.

Handling Tips

Chameleons are generally best as elegant display animals rather than a “pet” that gets taken out regularly, but they can be tamed with persistent, gentle effort.

  1. After bringing your chameleon home, leave it alone for 1-2 weeks to settle in. If your new pet hasn’t eaten by the time the 2 weeks are over, do not handle it and make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet.
  2. Introduce yourself with food via feeding tongs.
  3. Once your chameleon regularly takes food from your hands/tongs, encourage it to come to you. Try placing an artificial tree in front of the (open) enclosure for it to venture onto. Then you can encourage it to climb onto you.
  4. Always associate handling with good things, like a chance to climb in a plant in a sunny window, a tasty bug snack, or some supervised time outside. Handling is a stressful experience, but fortunately, chameleons can be bribed.

As you handle your chameleon, keep your movements slow, and never restrain it, instead allowing it to walk from one hand to another. Never grab your chameleon out of its enclosure!

Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.

Need to rehome your pet?

Don't let it loose! Remember - it is NEVER okay to release animals. Many pets released into the wild are unable to survive. If your pet does survive, it can become an invasive species that can be harmful to native wildlife, the environment, and the economy. If you are no longer able to care for your pet, you can reach out to friends, retirement communities, local shelters, or visit https://www.dontletitloose.com/rehoming-a-pet/ to find a rehoming partner near you.



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