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The Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is a relatively large chameleon species originally from Madagascar. In its natural range, the Panther Chameleon lives in a wide range of semi-humid to humid habitats in the coastal belt and offshore islands of the northern half of Madagascar, Reunion and Mauritius.
A common misconception with chameleons is that they are very difficult animals to keep in captivity. Fortunately, captive bred panther chameleons purchased from a reputable breeder are actually quite hardy when provided with consistent care and a proper enclosure. In the past, it was difficult to obtain chameleons that were not wild caught. These wild caught chameleons are difficult to acclimate to captivity and often did poorly, even for experienced reptile keepers. Now that dedicated, reputable chameleon breeders are reliably producing high quality panther chameleons, this stigma is no longer an issue.
Panther Chameleons are a large species, which are easily recognized by their vibrant color patterns and short bony appendage at the tip of the nose of males. With males reaching a total length of as much as 21 inches and females reaching a total length of approximately 13 inches, this is one of the larger chameleon species seen in captivity and one of the most beautiful.
Experienced breeders can sex this species from a young age by looking at the tail base and at their coloration. As hatchlings, this species is mostly brown or tan in coloration. Adult females typically exhibit brown, tan or orange base coloration with some slight blue, green or purple spotting on the head. When gravid, however, they exhibit intense dark patterns to display their unwillingness to breed. On average, females live 4-5 years because even when not bred, they will produce infertile clutches of eggs, which take a lot of energy. Males of this species have a large, shovel-like bony appendage at the tip of the nose then females and on average live 5-7 years. They are extremely variable across their range and this variation in coloration and pattern is exhibited in specific ways at different locations. The coloration and pattern typically expressed at different places are often named for the towns or islands they occur at. These names are referred to as locale names and are used to describe where the animal's originated and as a result, what coloration and pattern they should show. While each locale has a certain amount of variation within specimens from that area, many can be easily recognized and described. The following are some of the locales of Panther Chameleons with description of the color and pattern typically shown by males:
A locality from northwest Madagascar. Male Ambanja Panther Chameleon specimens are known to show lots of blue, green and red. Their body is typically green to blue with either red or blue barring. Body coloration can also show yellow and the eyes typically have red radiation patterns.
A coastal peninsula locality slightly to the North of Ambanja in northwest Madagascar, which is occasionally marketed by the designer names "Turquoise Blue" or "Blue Diamond" Panther Chameleons. Male Ambato Panther Chameleons are known to show high blue, white, maroon and yellow. Their body is typically blue to white with maroon barring. Their eye turrets and around the rear of the jaw are typically yellow. Their eye turrets do not show red radiation patterns and the body lacks red spots like that seen in Ambanja and Nosy Faly males respectively.
A locality from northwest Madagascar between Ambanja and Diego Suarez. Ambilobe Panther Chameleons are occasionally referred to as Sirama Panther Chameleons after the neighboring town as well as by the designer name "Picasso" Panther Chameleons. This locale is generally divided into two main color patterns – Blue-bar Ambilobes and Red-bar Ambilobes. The overall color combinations are quite variable and consist of green, blue, yellow, orange and red but the red- and blue-bar ambilobes are divided based on the primary color of their bars.
A coastal locality from northeast Madagascar south of Sambava. This locale exhibits a rest coloration of green and maroon and display coloration of orange with green or darker red-orange colored bars.
A locality from the mainland of northwest Madagascar near the islands of Nosy Mitsio and Nosy Ankarea. Specimens from this locale tend to look like a cross between males from Ambilobe and Nosy Mitsio. Display coloration tends to be a yellow base coloration with green bars and red eye turrets. Red barring in the gular and ventral areas are also known.
A locality from northeast Madagascar a little inland from Sambava. Animals from this locale are very similar in color and pattern to those individuals from Sambava but are regarded as typically slightly more vibrant in their coloration. A "U bar" on the flanks and coloration of green, orange, red and yellow with dark pattern lines and a blue tint to the lateral line are typical of male Andapa Panther Chameleons.
A locality from near the southern most extent of the species' range in the northwest of Madagascar which are often marketed by the designer name "Pink Panther". Male Ankaramy Panther Chameleons are a vibrant pink coloration with light blue crests. The lateral line down the flanks of males is solid down the length of the body without being broken up by the barring and is colored white. The lips are also white and the body can be speckled with darker pink spots. Gray bars are occasionally seen during some display patterns.
A locality from the northwest of Madagascar, Ankify is located on a peninsula slightly to the west of Ambanja and south of the island of Nosy Be. Males from this locale are predominantly green with a lot of red speckling and blue bars. The green background coloration is known to turn yellow.
Also referred to by the Malagasy name Antsiranana, this town is at the northern most tip of Madagascar. This locale is similar to Sambavas but rather then having a "U bar" typically have a "V bar". The body coloration is green with maroon-red colored bars and eye turrets. In display, the green background tends to show more orange, yellow and red colors.
A locale between Diego Suarez and Ankarana in north-northwest Madagascar. This locale has a base color of green with maroon-red bars and a red gular region.
This locale is located at the northern tip of the bay created by the Masoala peninsula on the east coast of Madagascar. Males from this locale have a yellow-green base coloration which changes to a orange-red color during display. This locale is very similar to specimens from Tamatave but show more orange then red in display.
Masoala is a large peninsula on the east coast of Madagascar South of Sambava. The peninsula forms a bay with the town of Maroantsetra at its northern most tip. Animals from the Masoala peninsula look similar to animals from Maroantsetra and Sambava with attributes from both locales. The ventral portion of the body tends to show coloration and patterning like that of Sambavas with yellow background and orange bars. The dorsal portion of the body tends to look more like Maroantsetras with yellow-green background color.
An island locale off the northwest coast of Madagascar near Nosy Mitsio. This locale shows a blue-green background coloration and red eye turrets. Thin red bars on the jaw. Display coloration is overall yellow with orange-red eye turrets and bars. This locale is very similar to Nosy Mitsio but tends to show more orange-red barring during display on the flanks and along the dorsal crest.
An island locality of the coast of northwest Madagascar. Male Nosy Be Panther Chameleons are known to show green, blue, yellow and red coloration. The body is typically green with darker green bars. The rear of the mouth tends to be yellow. The eye turrets show red radiation patterns and red speckling is typically present over the head and body. Some animals are known to be blue with blue barring rather then green with green barring but these individuals also show the red radiations, speckling and yellow on the lips.
An island locality off the coast of Eastern Madagascar, which is occasionally marketed by the English name for the island "St. Marie". Male Nosy Boraha Panther Chameleons are known to have high concentrations of gray or silver and red coloration. Their bodies typically show gray or silver with varying degrees of red barring.
An island locality just off the coast of Ambato to the North of Ambanja on the northwest coast of Madagascar, which is occasionally marketed by the designer name "Oorana Mena" meaning "red rain". Male Nosy Faly Panther Chameleons are known to show blue, white, red and yellow colors. Their body is typically blue with white barring and red spots around the body. Their eye turrets and the rear of the jaw are typically yellow in coloration.
An island locality off the coast of northwest Madagascar between Diego Suarez and Ambilobe, which is occasionally marketed by the designer name "Soabana" or "Mafana". In rest coloration, male Nosy Mitsio Panther Chameleons are typically all green in coloration with an orange to red eye turret. As they color up, their body coloration goes yellow with green barring, an orange to red eye turret and occasionally showing some orange in the gular area. This locale is very similar to Nosy Ankarea but has less orange and red on the flanks and dorsal crest during display.
An island locality off the coast of Northwest Madagascar close to Ankaramy. Male Nosy Radama Panther Chameleons are very similar in coloration to Ankaramy Panther Chameleons except their body coloration appears to be more reddish then pink. Their crests are also light blue and their lateral line down the flanks are similarly solid, without breaks and white in coloration.
An island nation locality far off the eastern coast of Madagascar. Male Reunion Island Panther Chameleons are very similar to Nosy Be Panther Chameleons with green and red coloration. The body and barring in this locale is typically green in coloration with red speckling around the face and body.
A locale from northeast Madagascar. This locale is very similar in color and pattern to those of Andapa. Male Sambava Panther Chameleons are often characterized by the presence of a "U bar" rather than the typical "Y or V bar" on the flanks. Coloration typically includes green, yellow, orange and red with dark pattern lines and occasionally a bluish lateral line.
A locale from the east coast of Madagascar. This locale has a green base coloration that turns red when in display with white speckling. Tamatave males are very similar to specimens from Maroantsetra but with more red then orange.
Panther Chameleons do well in captive environments with consistent care. The first step toward successfully keeping your chameleon happy and healthy is to set up their enclosure. Panther Chameleons do best in screen sided enclosures because of the increased airflow. Glass tanks, on the other hand, are difficult to find in appropriate sizes and create stagnant air, which can lead to upper respiratory infections. With adult chameleons, the general rule is that bigger is better as far as their enclosure is concerned. An adult male would ideally be housed in a screen enclosure around 2’ x 2’ x 4’ tall, although they can tolerate somewhat smaller enclosures. Female would ideally be kept in a screen enclosure around 18” x 18” x 3’ tall. Babies and juveniles can be kept in smaller screen enclosures (16” x 16” x 30”) until they are approximately 10-12 months old, at which point they will need to be moved into a larger enclosure. If you are purchasing a baby, it is best to start with a small enclosure and then move up to a larger cage when the animal gets older. Finally, it is generally best to keep chameleons individually after they reach sexual maturity at around 12 months old to avoid potential stress and fighting.
The interior of the enclosure should be furnished with medium sized vines and foliage for the chameleons to hide in. The medium sized vines provide important horizontal perches for the chameleon to rest, bask and travel on. Synthetic plants with plastic leaves (not silk) can be used in conjunction with common, non-toxic plants to provide ample foliage. Commonly used non-toxic plants that can be used include Ficus, Schefflera, Hibiscus and Pothos. These live plants not only provide cover but they also help to maintain humidity inside the enclosure. The bottom of the enclosure should not have a substrate as substrates can cause impaction, provide a hiding place for feeders and harbor bacteria and fungus. Instead the floor of the enclosure can be kept bare or have a layer of paper towels, which should be changed regularly.
Panther Chameleons need two forms of light for approximately 12 hours a day. First, they need access to a light heat source to bask and regulate their body temperature. Heat rocks, heat tape, ceramic heat emitters, etc., do not provide chameleons with a heat source they recognize so it is important to provide them with a basking spot using a heat bulb and an incandescent fixture. Next, they need a special fluorescent bulb that provides UVB light waves. UVB, which is usually provided by natural sunlight, is important in calcium metabolism pathways but is filtered out by glass and therefore must be provided by artificial lights to help prevent disorders such as Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). As tempting as many bulbs that provide both UVB and heat may be, studies have shown that chameleons are able to regulate their body temperature and their UVB exposure independently so it is important to provide heat and UVB separately. Both these lights should be placed on the top of the enclosure with the closest perches approximately 8” below.
Panther Chameleons, like other reptiles regulate their own body temperature and it is thus important to provide them with a temperature gradient inside their enclosure. The best ambient temperature during the day for Panther Chameleons is room temperature, between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. By placing the basking bulb approximately 8 inches away from a basking perch inside the enclosure, a basking spot of approximately 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit is achieved. This arrangement provides the warmest temperatures directly under the heat bulb and cooler temps lower down in the enclosures. Additionally, chameleons do well with a night temperature drop so no additional heat source is needed at night as long as your temps stay above the high 40s to low 50s and the chameleons are able to bask in the morning. If your night temperatures do necessitate a heat source, it is important not to use one that emits light. Instead, a ceramic heat emitter should be utilized from a safe distance.
Being arboreal, Panther Chameleons do not typically encounter standing water such as a water dish. As a result, they typically do not recognize water dishes as a source of water for hydration. They drink water from morning dew and rain as it falls onto leaves. As a result, it is important to mist your Panther Chameleon with a spray bottle two to three times a day for approximately two minutes getting all the leaves and branches wet in the enclosure. Your chameleon will lap water up from the leaves. You can also create a drip system to provide water over a prolonged period. By taking a clean plastic water jug and poking a couple small holes in the bottom, water will slowly drip out over a period of time and fall onto leaves in the enclosure below. Finally, while waterfalls may seem like a nice addition to an enclosure and like they would help with humidity, chameleons are attracted to moving water sources to defecate. As a result, waterfalls quickly before cesspools filled with bacteria and can be extremely detrimental to your chameleon’s health.
Panther Chameleons can be fed a staple diet of crickets. In general, crickets should be as long as your chameleon’s head is wide. Baby and juvenile Panther Chameleons should be fed once or twice a day and have almost constant access to food. As they get older, you can feed slightly less often with adults being fed every other day. It is important to supplement your crickets with calcium and vitamins (Reptivite) to help promote proper growth and health. This is especially important for reproductive females and growing babies and juveniles. For babies and juveniles you will need to dust your crickets with calcium twice a week and dust with vitamins once every two weeks. As adults, this dusting regiment can be decreased. It also helps to provide your crickets with nutritious food including collard greens, mustard greens, squash, orange and/or commercial cricket diets.
It is important to keep in mind that panther chameleons do best as primarily display animals. While different panther chameleons will tolerate handling to different degrees based on their individual personality, veiled chameleons should not be handled like a bearded dragon. They can be carefully held for short periods but tend to get stressed with excess handling. With time you will learn what your panther chameleon’s personality is like and what your chameleon will tolerate. When you do handle your panther chameleon, do not restrain it but rather let the chameleon walk on you from hand to hand. You should be aware that panther chameleons are most comfortable when they are high up so often times when they are being held, they will attempt to walk up your arm and try to go onto your head. For long-term success with all chameleon species, limited handling is recommended.
With the proper setup and consistent care, your Panther Chameleon should do very well. The Panther Chameleon is a striking, beautiful and hardy captive, which is excellent for the first time chameleon owner. Their relatively simple care requirements, impressive features and odd behavior make them an interesting and conversation starting display for any dedicated enthusiast.