Authored by Karen Venaas of The Chameleon Farm


I love the Internet. I love Internet shopping and having news and information available any time of day. I love being able to work from home because I can access needed files and co-workers via email. I especially love social media–where else can I mind other people’s business from the comfort of my own home?
That said, could I just rant for a bit?

The amount of incomplete, misleading and just plain wrong information being spread all over the internet about keeping reptiles, and in particular chameleons, is just staggering and frustrates me to no end.

I am active in many online groups and forums and see some of the same questions/issues/discussions coming up over and over again. Often with the same people giving the same poor information, which other people then begin to repeat. It becomes nearly impossible get people to understand the difference between fact and fiction, or in the case of keeping chameleons, the difference between proper care and fads that will do more harm than good.
I could probably fill a book with all the oft-repeated and incorrect information but for space I’ll just go over a few of the biggies—the ones I see repeated on pretty much a daily basis.

“Your chameleon’s eyes are sunken, it’s dehydrated, give it a bath.”


Sadly, giving chameleons baths is becoming the “in” thing to do, whether for dehydration or other health issues or just the very incorrect belief, chameleons enjoy bathing. Many people proudly post photos of their chameleons in bowls of water, completely oblivious to the fact that the chameleon is clearly showing signs of stress.
Why would anyone think putting a chameleon in a tub of water is a good idea rather than extremely stressful one at worst and useless at best? Most species of chameleons are arboreal; they live mainly in trees and bushes. Their skulls are designed to have dew and rainwater run down to their mouths and they lap water droplets from leaves. They do not go to the ground to drink from pools of water and they certainly do not sit in them either.
To be absolutely clear, chameleons do not absorb water through their skin at all. They also do not absorb water through their vent/cloaca in any quantity.
From top reptile vet Dr. Douglas Mader:

“If you don’t see the animal drinking while soaking, however, don’t assume it will be rehydrated just because it is soaking. There is an old wives’ tale that a herp will suck fluid up through its cloaca. While it is true that some turtle species do experience electrolyte exchange across their cloacal membranes, and some turtles do reabsorb urinary fluids in their bladders, I have seen no proof that herps in general are able to absorb enough water through their cloacas to replace fluid deficits.” (Mader, Douglas. “The Vet Report: Fluid Therapy in Reptiles.” Reptiles Magazine October 2014: 12-13)

Unfortunately, bathing a chameleon does not help with hydration and can lead to increased stress and delay finding the real problem. Also unfortunate is that some vets do recommend this as an option for hydration, believing that it may help.
Also important to remember is that despite the common belief that sunken eyes always mean dehydration, that is not the case. Stress, illness, parasites, infection, extreme weight loss can all cause sunken eyes.
If you have determined that your husbandry is correct, especially that the temperature and humidity is at appropriate levels and the chameleon is receiving adequate water via misting or drippers and still has sunken eyes, an exam and fecal test done by a qualified veterinarian would be a much better idea than a bath, and much more likely to keep your chameleon healthy and happy.

“Chameleons like to have friends.”

Defensive Posturing in Chameleon

Defensive Posturing in Chameleon

Chameleons are mainly solitary animals. Some will tolerate handling–panthers and veileds have been bred in captivity for many generations and are often accepting of handling and interaction. Some chameleons will also tolerate the presence of other chameleons for a short time.
Unfortunately, people see photos of chameleons with other chameleons and think their chameleon needs a friend. What they don’t see are the clear signs of stress in the photos, and sadly, neither do the keepers of the chameleons in those photos.
I was guilty of this as well. When I first began keeping chameleons, I kept many together in creative free ranges. I thought it was awesome. I also failed to see the signs of stress.
Over time they would have to be separated. One or more would be showing signs of stress that were too obvious to ignore—weight loss, hiding, eyes closed, trying to leave the area. Or they would begin fight and try to dominate each other. Fortunately no serious injuries resulted but I feel that cohabitating and the resulting chronic stress likely shortened the lives of a few of those chameleons.


When chameleons are kept together they are living with a constant low-level of stress. You may not see the signs but one will be dominant. One will be eating less than the other. Sometimes stress is shown by bright colors, extending their gular pouch (puffing out their chin), raising a foot in a defensive posture or just trying to leave the area. It can also be the opposite. When chameleons are kept together long-term their coloring is often drab and dull and they become more lethargic. Regardless of how fine they may seem to be doing, eventually their immune system will begin to fail and one or more will become ill.
While babies under a couple of months old can live in small groups, keeping adult chameleons separate makes it much easier to care for everyone and monitor individual health and make sure everyone is eating and drinking (and pooping!) their share.
Also important to remember is that chameleons are not dogs and they do not want to be our best friends either. They do not want to be wrapped in blankets, cuddled, or carried around a store. You may enjoy the attention but your chameleon does not. Some may tolerate it, others will not. If you are going to take your chameleon out, be aware of the signs of stress. Dark colors, bright colors, closed eyes, sunken eyes, gaping and hissing are a few signs of stress but they can be much more subtle. And again, just because you think they are “fine” does not mean the chameleon is not experiencing stress.
A better idea than keeping chameleons in prolonged stress by cohabbing them or parading them around town, is to spend the time to create a functional and beautiful habitat for them and enjoy watching them be chameleons.

“Never keep your chameleon in a glass enclosure or use substrate—it will kill your chameleon!”

There are over 200 species of chameleons, living in varying environments, with different requirements in regard to temperature, humidity, and space.
There are people keeping chameleons all over the world, often in settings very different from their natural habitats.
People select many different ways to house chameleons in captivity and are successful with many different methods.
Screen or mesh cages are most often recommended and they certainly do have benefits. They are lightweight, inexpensive and allow plenty of air to circulate. The downside is that the airflow is so great it becomes difficult to maintain proper humidity and keepers compensate by misting more frequently or wrapping the cage in plastic.

Chameleon Terrarium

Chameleon Terrarium

Glass enclosures make it much easier to maintain humidity, as the airflow is not as great. However, they are heavy and expensive, especially those in sizes large enough for many species of chameleon.
To clarify, when I say glass enclosure, I do not mean a fish tank or aquarium that is all glass with a screen lid. Those do not have enough airflow to be a good choice for a chameleon. The glass enclosures that are suitable for chameleons are those designed for airflow with a full screened top and vents at the bottom such as those made by Exo Terra.
Glass enclosures are an excellent way to create a living, bioactive environment for your chameleon. Yes, this does involve using soil, which leads us to another myth—chameleons will swallow substrate and become impacted and die.
Is it possible? Yes, but the risk is minor. A chameleon that is kept correctly, with proper temperatures and humidity, fed a healthy diet and supplemented appropriately is very unlikely to have any issues with impaction, even if they so swallow a small amount of soil or substrate.

Glass set of Terraria for Chameleons

Glass set of Terraria for Chameleons

One of the keys in keeping chameleons healthy, which new keepers often fail to do is to monitor temperatures and humidity, regardless of whether you are using screen cages or glass terrariums. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that this is too important to not monitor. A chameleon that is kept too cold will not be able to digest properly which can increase the risk of impaction. Being too cold and too wet all the time can increase the risk of respiratory infections.
In my experience, screen cages are often a little more forgiving for beginners but the reality is any type of cage needs to be set up properly for the species of chameleon that will be living in it to thrive. A planted bioactive terrarium may be a bit more work to start but easier to maintain in the long run and when done correctly will provide an excellent habitat for a chameleon.

. . .

Despite all the myths, fads, and misinformation, the Internet is a great place to share knowledge and keep learning how to continually improve as a keeper. The key is to do A LOT of research, find reputable groups and forums, and learn who has the background and expertise and listen to what they say. Even ask them directly. Most long-term keepers are more than happy to share information, even if they are not posting a lot on social media.

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Chinese Water Dragon | Fire Breather or Toothless?


Authored by Todd Cornwell Unique Birthday Party Parties for Kids & Reptile Rescue

Chinese Water Dragon (Physignathus cocincinus)

A Fire Breather or Toothless?

Water dragons are one of my favorite lizards. They get pretty big (18-32 inches), typically have none of the iguana attitude, and don’t require a ton of special care like bearded dragons. Water dragons like a jungle type setup.  Lots of climbing branches, leaves to hide in, and a nice large water feature.  They will be found all over the cage, climbing, hunting, and basking.

Enclosure, Lighting, and Heating

Water Dragon Baby

When I set up a water dragon tank, I use a non molding substrate that handles moisture very well. Cypress, Eco Earth by Zoo Med, coconut fiber, etc.  several inches deep, so that any spillage can just be absorbed.  The water dish needs to be deep enough for swimming, and big enough they can stretch out in it.
Heat is fairly standard, 85-95 basking spot, 75-80 on the cool side. (Make sure to read up on Cold Blooded Keeping)  As with most lizards, I use a UVB bulb on a timer for at least 4 hours a day, right above the highest basking spot.


Feeding water dragons is easy,  for the most part, water dragons are carnivorous. Eating dusted crickets, small roaches, and most other bugs. Occasionally, I would feed a pinkie mouse. Too many and you can have kidney issues, but say 1 pinkie a month. Meal worms I feed sparingly, as the hard exoskeleton on them can cause impaction if they eat too many. I usually have a tub of them around, and will feed them fresh from shedding when they are soft. I like to make a nice water feature for them, a waterfall, or river running through it.  Some tend to like moving water instead of stagnate water for drinking.

Captive Issues

One issue that tends to occur with water dragons on a consistent basis is nose rub.  They don’t seem to recognize glass. So when they run along the bottom of the tank, they rub their noses on the glass over and over till their noses are raw.
An easy fix for this issue is to tape some of the picture background at least 4 inches up, or even black paint that far up.   Just something so they can’t see out from the floor.

Overall, water dragons make wonderful pets, friendly, easily handled (after they grow up a little, as babies, almost everything is scared).
We had one that lived to be 20+ years old.  He would ride on our shoulders, and take crickets from our fingers.

Chinese Water Dragon Resting on limb

Todd “The Snake Man”

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Bushmasters and Pink Gin | Origins of Herpetoculture


Bushmasters & Pink Gin | Origins of Herpetoculture

A Book Review

What does one of the worlds deadliest and largest viper species have to do with Pink Gin? Thankfully, not as much as you might think. However, both play a role in Bushmaster Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the Worlds Largest Viper which I was given an opportunity to read immediately following its release. For those who enjoy not only reptiles, but nature in general Raymond Ditmars in my estimation should be one of the foremost sought out names when it comes to nature or being a naturalist as it were. To bring this even closer to home albeit now a somewhat distant memory for some of us now.

Marlin Perkins is most likely a name those with four decades of life would remember. For the younger crowd the name Steve Irwin should be enough to spark some recognition of where I am going with this. If it wasn’t for Raymond Ditmars and his sometimes odd escapades into Central Park we probably would’ve never seen the likes of any of those I mentioned. Ditmars was and still is today a man who had captivated me with his written work. Until I’d met Tom Crutchfield and a few others whom I now consider colleagues in my earlier years of herpetoculture I’d never known the name Raymond Ditmars and by that time Ditmars had already passed on to the happy herping ground and any chance at meeting much less seeing more of his work was lost among memories. As was the case for such notable persons like Romulus Whitaker.

Then comes Dan Eatherley a British author and film maker with a mission to discover just what driving force was behind Ditmars and what really happened on those ‘failed expeditions’ in search of the worlds largest viper. While I’ve met a few people who had met Ditmars and they described him as a gentleman and a scholar to use and old euphemism no one could have described the man as Eatherley has done within Bushmaster. Dan Eatherley at first explains why he chose to write the book in the first place and then without the reader realizing it they’re woven seamlessly into the life and times of a boy who would very quickly become one of the worlds most respected herpetologists and pioneer of nature documentary film making. Dan walks in the footsteps of Ditmars through interviews which don’t read like interviews but as if you’re there beside Ditmars as he sips a pink gin.
Maybe we are stage left as a Kangaroo Rat makes an impromptu leap of faith during a presentation. You can smell the tension in the air, the hairs on your nape raise in anticipation, a large venomous snake sets out to seemingly end a life, in retaliation at being filmed for educational purposes. All of this and more awaits within a book which provides the truest adventure of being a ‘snakeman’ I’ve had the privilege of reading in the last year or more.
We are privy now not only to Dr. Ditmars accomplishments but we’re given first hand accounts of Ditmars admitting his faults within the captive world of wild animals. In today’s world this is something which we defend all to vociferously via the media.

Ditmars admits learning from his charges that which in my opinion, cannot ever be taught in a classroom setting.

He learned or so it seems, what it meant to be a captive reptile and from those very experiences coordinated his own innovative care efforts. Never once did Ditmars dismiss what is now coming to the forefront of herpetology. Reptiles are in fact capable of much more than simple reactions to stimuli. They are capable of learning and quite possibly experiencing emotions. It may not be how we as human primates experience emotion but in his experiences which are shared in great detail in Mr. Eatherley’s book, Ditmars saw firsthand what science is only now beginning to accept.

I invite anyone interested in reptiles or any other animal to board the B or C line of the subway and journey with Ditmars and many other notable characters throughout a world of herpetology and herpetoculture which might be lost forever were it not for Dan Eatherley and Bushmaster Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the World’s Largest Viper.

pink ginP.S. Here’s a great recipe for ‘Pink Gin‘ for the evening when you take the adventure of Bushmaster: Raymond Ditmars and the Hunt for the World’s Largest Viper into your hands.

Cross Contamination | Reptile Health Risks

Authored by Pete ‘The Guv’nor’ Hawkins Chameleon Britain

Cross Contamination

Many reptile keepers are totally unaware of the risks of cross contaminationIt’s not just a beginner mistake. Like anything that’s a risk, it’s often just a bad habit you need to get out of doing. The best way is to practise the right way, and make that the good habit.

(Obviously this is more of a risk if you have more than one reptile.)

Now, you may think your reptile sanitation and hygiene husbandry is spot on. It may well be. But also as you’ll probably be aware, reptiles pick up parasites from live foods, greens etc, and can live quite happily without you knowing the internal issues caused by these little nasties. Many reptiles are great at hiding illness, often until it’s at its worse. This is why I recommended a faecal parasite test done 1 or 2 times a year.

You’re never going to know if any said bug has parasites? It’s just not possible. But you can stop unnecessary parasite/illness transfer from one reptile to another (even one species to another) by following some very simple steps.

Bug Handling

If you use your hands, wash them, before and after you feed one reptile. So you can then feed another with clean hands. Same goes for using tweezers/forceps, clean them between each reptile. Again, before and after each use.

Disinfectant wipes for tools

F10 Disinfectant Wipes

A spray with a reptile safe disinfectant like F10 or ProTect Ultimate will do the trick. Personally I use the ProTect Ultimate wipes, or F10 wipes before and after use.

I also have several sets of metal tweezers. All labelled for the reptile/amphibian they are to be used for. But still I clean before and after use. These also get a good steam clean when I deep clean the vivariums once or twice a month.

Putting Uneaten Bugs Back with the Rest of the Bugs

Don’t do this. If the vivarium, or tank that bug was running/climbing about in, housed a reptile full of parasites (or worse, Adenovirus for example), there is obviously a high risk that the bug can pick up these, via faecal matter, saliva, the food bowl etc. Putting that bug back with the other bugs, which will then be fed to your other reptiles…is not worth the risk. The contamination potential is huge. It’s a very common issue., I’ve even seen well-known pet/reptile shops do this.

I guess it’s something many just don’t think about, or even realise until you are forced to change what you do via a reptile’s illness.

This was the case for me around 8/9 years ago.
I had a a very sick dragon. It turned out, via faecal tests, bloods, and swabs, he had Adenovirus. I won’t go into the symptoms etc, you can research yourself. But I was told, there is no cure, and it is very very contagious. So for me, keeping at the time, 2 or 3 other dragons, it was a huge shock. The only way I was going to stop this spreading was to practise what I have spoken about above. Which being honest, I didn’t worry about at all before. I didn’t even think of the dangers.

So cleanliness and equipment hygiene was the key for the survival of my reptiles. I’m happy to say, it worked. I was lucky it had not spread to my others. Ultimately the virus did take my dragon a year or so after the diagnosis. His quality of life and ability to perform basic survival function ceased, so he was put to sleep. But the other lived many years after. Only age took them. (Please note, although the Adenovirus still has no cure. It’s NOT a death sentence as it once was. There ARE things you can do to aid the life of the infected reptile. They can live without other issues. But still, the hygiene is the number one rule.)

You may think that using one set of tweezers for multiple animals is fine. You may also have had no issues at all of cross contamination before doing this. I understand that. But this was also the case for me. The 15 years prior to that dragon getting Adeno, I had no issues.

It does happen. So don’t risk it.

Bathing of multiple reptiles (more often than not, Bearded Dragons)

A sure-fire easy way for parasites to get from one to another bathing reptiles together. As we know, often a bathing reptile will empty its bowels. It only takes a piece of faecal matter to get into the mouth of another. So why risk it. Yes agreed, it’s quicker bathing 2…3…4 dragons all at the same time. But YOU chose to have 2…3…4…dragons, so take the time to bathe them individually. Then empty the water and disinfect the sink/bath before refilling.

Personally I use ‘Dettol liquid’. It’s a hospital safe disinfectant. A cap full (or less if a sink) in some fresh water, leave for a while, empty, rinse, refill. Easy, yet safe.

So to conclude;
Keep it ALL clean.
Use separate feeding equipment.
Throw uneaten bugs away, never put them back in with others.
Bathe separately.

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