What to Feed Panther Chameleons

male furcifer pardalis panther chameleon blue yellow head

Panther Chameleons are carnivorous reptiles and feed on a wide variety of insects in the wild. In captivity Panther Chameleons will feed on a relatively diverse range of commercially available insect prey. It is important that captive (pet) Panther Chameleons are given a well balanced diet that includes a variety of insects. Ideally a captive Panther Chameleons diet would include 5 or more species of feeder insects. At a minimum Panther Chameleon keepers should ensure that no one prey insect species makes up 50% or more of the day-to-day diet.

Many Panther Chameleon keepers supplement their Chameleons diet by capturing periodically available insects from the wild. Wild prey insects should only be collected from pesticide free sites. It is also important to remember that some suitable pesticide free areas are protected by law (e.g. National Parks etc) so chameleon keepers collecting prey insects from the wild should check that there are no restrictions in place forbidding the collection of insects where they intend to collect.

Feeder insects should be suitably housed and provided with a range of their natural food sources. Most Panther Chameleon keepers “gutload” their feeder insects prior to being offered to a Panther Chameleon. Gutloading involves feeding the insects foods fortified with nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Another commonly adopted method of supplementing feeder insects is to dust insect prey with commercially available nutrient rich powders specially designed for Chameleons. Supplemental calcium and vitamin D3 are also given by dusting feeder insects prior to them being offered to Panther Chameleons. The commonly available brands of powder supplements differ from one another in terms of what they contain, so it is important to read the label before deciding how often to administer them.

Insect prey species commonly given to chameleons include (in alphabetical order):

Butterworms

Butterworms (Chilecomadia moorei) can constitute up to 20% of a Panther Chameleons diet.

Crickets

House crickets (Acheta domestica) are widely available, inexpensive, and are easy to gutload. They can constitute up to 40% of a Panther Chameleons diet.

Dubia Roaches

Dubia roaches (Blaptica dubia) can constitute up to 40% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Relatively easy to gutload.

Fruit Flies

Fruit flies (Drosophila sp.) are a good option for baby Panther Chameleons due to their very small size.

Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers can constitute up to 40% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Relatively easy to gutload.

Hissing Cockroaches

Hissing Cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa)can constitute up to 40% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Relatively easy to gutload. Adult Hissing cockroaches may be too large.

Hornworms

Hornworms can constitute up to 20% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Relatively easy to gutload.

Houseflies

Houseflies (Musca domestica) can constitute up to 30% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Many Chameleons seem to enjoy the process of capturing flying prey, making House flies a good option.

Locusts

Locusts (e.g. Locusta migratoria; Schistocerca gregaria) can constitute up to 40% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Relatively easy to gutload.

Mealworms

Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) can constitute up to 10-20% of a Panther Chameleons diet. They are relatively easy to gutload but are difficult for Panther Chameleons to digest, so should only be offered occasionally.

Silkworms

Silkworms (Bombyx mori) can constitute up to 40% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Relatively easy to gutload.

Stick Insects

Stick insects can constitute up to 30% of a Panther Chameleons diet. Relatively easy to gutload.

Superworms

Superworms (Zophobas morio) can constitute up to 20% of a Panther Chameleons diet. They are relatively easy to gutload but contain high levels of fat.

Waxworms

Waxworms (Galleria mellonela) are not considered to be a particularly good feeder insect for Panther Chameleons. Most experienced herpetoculturalists (reptile keepers) only offer Waxworms as an infrequent treat.

Gutloading Feeder Insects for Panther Chameleons

male furcifer pardalis panther chameleon tail green orange“Gutloading” is the process of feeding prey insects in a way that provides the nutrition that a Panther Chameleon needs to maintain good health. The process of Gutloading insect prey is more successful in some feeder insect species than others (see What to feed Panther Chameleons).

Commercial insect gutloads are widely available. Many Panther Chameleon keepers have had good success using commercially available gutloads, but it is important to bare in mind that they are not sufficient alone. Ideally feeder insects should be fed a diet of fresh plant material, fruit, and veg in addition to commercially available (or home made) dry gutload. When choosing a dry gutload remember that the food should be higher in calcium than phosphorus, as high levels of phosphorus impairs calcium absorption. Inadequate calcium levels causes metabolic bone disease. Below are lists of good and bad gutloading ingredients, as tried and tested by Panther Chameleon keepers over the years.

  • Wet Gutload Ingredients: Dandelion leaves, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, escarole lettuce, butternut squash, carrots, mango.
  • Dry Gutload Ingredients: Bee pollen, alfalfa (powdered), kelp (powdered), brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, uncooked sunflower seeds, uncooked pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, small amounts of whole grain cereals, spirulina algae, tortoise pellets.
  • Bad Gutloading Ingredients: Avoid incorporating Broccoli, spinach, beets, and parsley, lettuce, cabbage, dog food, cat food, and fish food flakes in to the diet of Panther Chameleon feeder insects.

Fresh gutload ingredients should always be available for feeder insects to feed on. Please remember though that gutloading feeder insects is usually not sufficient on its own to provide necessary nutrition for captive Panther Chameleons. Panther Chameleon keepers also have to consider using powder supplements. More information on using supplements can be found on the Panther Chameleon Supplements – Calcium, Vitamins, and Minerals page.

How Much to Feed a Panther Chameleon

female furcifer pardalis panther chameleon headThe quantity of food required by any given Panther Chameleon depends on the individual animal’s age as well as what species of insect prey are being offered as food.  The following advice should be thought of as a good rule of thumb only, and Panther Chameleon keepers should refine the quantities offered as required by closely monitoring the health and well being of their animals. The following feeding guidelines are for growing juvenile Panther Chameleons, as well as maintaining healthy adults. Please bare in mind that the dietary requirements of Panther Chameleons during reproduction, egg production (females), and brumation are different from the requirements for normal growth and maintenance of health given below.

Hatchlings

Panther Chameleon hatchlings require feeding multiple times daily with feeder insects of a suitable size (e.g. Fruitflies – Drosophila sp.). Very young Panther Chameleons just past the hatchling stage should be fed every day ad libitum (insect prey always available, feeding self regulated).

Juvenile Panther Chameleons

Juvenile Panther Chameleons require large volumes of prey insects (relative to their body weight) in order to promote the rapid growth characteristic of this stage of life. The exact number of feeder insects required varies depending on the size of the juvenile Panther Chameleon and the size of the insect prey. A good rule of thumb is to weigh the juvenile Panther Chameleon to be fed every 2 or 3 weeks. Once the juvenile Panther Chameleon’s mass has been established weigh a cup full of appropriately sized feeder insects until the mass of the insects in the cup is roughly equal to 0.3 x the mass of the Chameleon. The number of insects in the cup should then be counted, and this amount of food should then be offered 3 times per week. Alternatively you can offer 0.1-0.15 x the mass of the Chameleon daily. This process should be repeated every 2 or 3 during the juvenile phase of life.

Adult Panther Chameleons

Adult Panther Chameleons should be offered feeder insects every other day, or every day if smaller prey insects are offered in smaller quantities. Fully grown adults (both males and females) can maintain their body mass and reproduce successfully if offered between 30 and 50 medium sized crickets per week. This equates to about 8-12 grams to be offered over the course of a week (1.5g daily or 3g every other day).

How to Feed Panther Chameleons

male furcifer pardalis panther chameleon tongue

There are several factors to be considered when deciding how to offer feeder insects to a Panther Chameleon. A Panther Chameleon needs to be able to feed on prey insects during the morning. This means that they will have time to digest the food properly during the day when a basking light is available. This is important because Panther Chameleons are ectothermic and therefore require fairly high temperatures  (usually regulated by a daylight basking bulb) to properly digest their prey. Also, its important that feeder insects are not able to escape from the enclosure.  Many feeder insects (e.g. crickets, mealworms, superworms) can be offered to a Panther Chameleon in an opaque cup, allowing a feeding station to be established. Some insects (e.g. locusts, grasshoppers) will be able to escape most feeding cups but will provide additional stimulation to a Panther Chameleon by forcing it to hunt them. Its important however to remember that prey insects should ideally be removed from Panther Chameleon enclosures at night in order to prevent the insects from causing harm to the Chameleon. Some feeder insects (e.g. hungry crickets) can injure Panther Chameleons by nibbling their skin. This commonly happens during the night when Panther Chameleons are asleep and defenseless.

Many Panther Chameleon keepers enjoy hand-feeding prey insects. Panther Chameleons can become accustomed to hand feeding fairly easily, although the process can take time and can be fairly time consuming. A major benefit of hand-feeding is that it allows people to observe a Panther Chameleon capturing prey with its tongue.

Panther Chameleon Supplements – Calcium, Vitamins, and Minerals

male furcifer pardalis panther chameleon back green blue redIn the wild Panther Chameleons feed on a huge diversity of prey. As each prey species feeds on a different range of foods, the diet of wild Panther Chameleons provides all the carbohydrate, fat, protein, micro-nutrients, trace elements, and vitamins the animals require. This diversity in prey items and associated “gutloading” is very difficult to replicate in captivity, where Panther Chameleons are generally fed on only a few different prey species. The goal of Panther Chameleon keepers is to replicate (as closely as possible) what their animals would eat in the wild. In order to achieve this, Panther Chameleon keepers employ two main methods. The first method is known as “gutloading“. The second method is “dusting” with supplements, the focus of this article.

“Dusting” refers to the practice of lightly coating feeder insects with a powdered calcium or vitamin/mineral supplement.  The most widely used method of dusting is to drop the feeder insects into a cup with a small amount of supplement powder. Swirl the insects around until they are lightly coated with powder, then place them in the Panther Chameleon’s enclosure (or feeding cup within the enclosure). Once lightly dusted, the feeder insects should be a lighter shade of brown, but should not be dusted so heavily that they resemble little white ghosts.

This is the tried and true supplement schedule recommended by the majority of forum members based on long time enthusiasts’ experience:

  • Calcium (without D3 or phosphorus): Dust feeder insects almost every feeding
  • Calcium with D3 (without phosphorus): Dust feeder insects once every two weeks (weeks 1 and 3 of the month)
  • Multivitamins: Dust feeder insects once every two weeks (weeks 2 and 4 of the month)

The above schedule may not be appropriate depending on the brand of supplement being used (among other factors), but should be though of as a good rule of thumb for administering the most reputable supplement brands as part of a maintenance diet. Other factors that need consideration when administering supplements include:

  • What brand of supplements are being used?
  • What species of feeder insects make up the Panther Chameleons diet?
  • What are the feeder insects being gutloaded with? (a diet characterized by good gutloading in combination with a high diversity of prey insect species may require lower levels of supplementation).
  • How often is the Panther Chameleon exposed to natural sunlight? (Panther Chameleons that spend a lot of time outside in natural sunlight need very little (or no) supplementary D3 in their diet.
  • What type of UVB lighting is being used?
  • What is the Age and Gender of the Panther Chameleon? (breeding females and growing juvenile Panther Chameleons have different nutritional needs than old male Chameleons.

Please remember that supplementing with a calcium and/or multivitamin powder is not sufficient alone to provide proper nutrition for Panther Chameleons. Panther Chameleon keepers also have to ensure that they offer as many suitable prey species as possible, and that feeder insects are correctly gutloaded. More information on gutloading can be found on the Gutloading Feeder Insects for Panther Chameleons page.

Panther Chameleon Enclosure Options

male furcifer pardalis panther chameleon red headPanther chameleons are able to adapt to a variety of different enclosures, and the most appropriate design and size for any given situation depends on a number of factors, including local climatic conditions and the size/age of the animal to be housed. Because Panther Chameleons are more active than other chameleon species, they are not well suited to “free-ranging” on a tree or shrub as they are likely to drop to the ground and wander off.

Social Requirements

It is essential that only one adult male Panther Chameleon be kept per enclosure. While hatchlings can be kept in small groups for several weeks (providing adequate space and food is available), older juvenile and adult male Panther Chameleons require enclosures of their own. This is because adult males in breeding condition fight, and can inflict serious injuries on each other. These fights often end with the death of one of the males involved. Groups containing multiple females and a single male can be maintained, but require very large walk in enclosures. Such enclosures are not feasible for most chameleon keepers, so it is therefore necessary to house Panther Chameleons on a one per enclosure basis.

Indoors or Outdoors

In some areas the local climate (temperature, humidity, and rainfall) will closely match that of the Panther Chameleons natural habitat. In such areas it is possible to house Panther Chameleons outdoors in mesh enclosures. In all other areas it is essential to house Panther Chameleons indoors, where climate (as well as a number of other factors) can be carefully regulated. Even when climatic conditions are suitable for keeping Panther Chameleons outside, chameleon keepers should bare in mind the added risk of escape, theft, predation by other animals, and the increased chance of the chameleon eating wild prey exposed to pesticides.

Recommended Panther Chameleon Enclosure Sizes

It is important to house Panther Chameleons in enclosures that are an appropriate size, as keeping Panther Chameleons in enclosures that are too small can cause stress and lead to ill health as a result. Below are recommended enclosure sizes for Panther Chameleons of different ages/sizes. The recommended enclosure sizes below provide captive bred Panther Chameleons with adequate room to roam, provide adequate space to furnish the enclosure with plants, branches, and vines, and will also allow the creation of tempertaure, humidity, and light (UVB) gradients within the enclosure. Remember that Panther Chameleons are arboreal (tree dwelling) animals, and therefore enclosures designed for Panther Chameleons should provide sufficient vertical space. While horizontal space is also important, Panther Chameleon enclosures should be taller than they are wide/deep.

Juvenile Panther Chameleon Enclosure Size

Young panther chameleons do not require enclosures as large as fully grown adult Panther Chameleons. In fact housing young juvenile Panther Chameleons in a smaller enclosure makes it easier for the animal to locate its insect prey. The main downside of keeping a young Panther Chameleons in a small enclosure is that they will quickly outgrow it, and a new larger enclosure will need to be purchased. Panther Chameleon keepers usually acquire pets chameleons that are around 3 months old. At this age/size an enclosure approximately 24”x 12” width/depth x 24″ high (approx 60cm x 30cm x 60cm) or 16”x16” width/depth x30” high (approx 40cm x 40cm x 75cm) is recommended.

Adult Male Panther Chameleon Enclosure Size

Adult Male Panther Chameleons require enclosures no smaller than a 2’x2’ width/depth x4’ tall (approx 60cm x 60cm x 120cm).

Adult Female Panther Chameleon Enclosure Size

Adult female Panther Chameleons require enclosures that are a similar size (or a little smaller) as those recommended for adult males.

Types Of Panther Chameleon Enclosures

The majority of Panther Chameleon keepers house their animals in screen enclosures. Aluminum framed screen cages and PVC framed mesh enclosures are commercially available in a range of sizes, although some Panther Chameleon keepers prefer to build there own wooden framed enclosures with screen sides and top. Screen enclosures are excellent options for all ages/sizes of Panther Chameleons, and can be used both indoors and outdoors. One of the biggest benefits of screen enclosures is the excellent ventilation that they provide. Good ventilation is important because it allows the enclosure to dry out between mistings, retarding the growth of bacteria and fungi which can cause illness and infection in Panther Chameleons. The major disadvantage of screen enclosures is that they make it difficult to control temperature and humidity within the enclosure.

Glass terrariums are another popular option among chameleon keepers. Glass terrariums consist of 3 solid sides made of a material that the chameleon cannot see through (e.g. wood or fibreglass coated wood), and a front consisting of glass doors (that usually slide open). The solid sides help to maintain humidity and temperature, making these terrariums especially popular in cold areas where the local climatic conditions are very different from the needs of a Panther Chameleon. Glass terrariums should be fitted with air vents on the back wall, as well as a mesh roof, in order to improve ventilation.

Terraria that are solid on all sides (e.g. glass aquaria) are not recommended. They offer poor ventilation meaning that moisture inside the enclosure is unable to escape. While Panther Chameleons require relatively high humidity levels, enclosures should be able to dry out between mistings. Solid-sided enclosures prevent drying out between mistings, providing a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi which can cause illness and infection in Panther Chameleons. The lack of ventilation can also lead to the build up of excess heat which is prevented from escaping. This poses the risk of lethal temperatures within the enclosure on hot days.

The majority of Panther Chameleon keepers house their animals in enclosures with a mesh roof. Basking and UV lamps can then be placed above the enclosure, allowing the required light and heat to penetrate into the enclosure through the mesh. The advantage of this approach is that the mesh roof prevents the Panther Chameleon being housed in the enclosure from getting too close to heat sources, eliminating the potential for burns. An additional advantage to siting electrical equipment above a mesh roof is that electrical equipment will not become wet when the enclosure is misted. An alternative option for enclosures with a solid roof is to install basking lamps and UVB sources inside the enclosure within a mesh guard. Either way, it is very important to ensure that the bulb is protected with a suitable barrier in order to prevent contact burns on the chameleons skin.

Furnishing A Panther Chameleon Enclosure

Furnishing a Panther Chameleon enclosure with plants, vines, and branches allows the animal structures on which to climb around. Sturdy climbing perches (branches/vines) in a variety of diameters suitable for the individual chameleon to grip should be provided.  Branches and vines should be smooth in texture and should be sited so that the Panther Chameleon being housed can access all areas of the enclosure. Plants provide Panther Chameleons with places to hide, and therefore give animals an added sense of security.

Floor Design And Substrate

The best materials for indoor enclosure floors are smooth and unbroken. Recommended materials include plastic, glass, and fibreglass coated wood. It is important that floors can be easily cleaned (hand-held vacuum cleaner) and disinfected (sprayed with reptile disinfectant then wiped with a damp cloth). Many Panther Chameleon keepers use only newspaper as a substrate covering the floor. The benefit of this approach is that the newspaper (and faeces) can be easily removed when cleaning the enclosure. Small particle gravel, sand, and soil are not generally recommended as substrates because of the added risk of the Panther Chameleon ingesting the substrate, causing intestinal impaction. The chances of ingestion can however be minimised by covering the substrate with rocks. Using gravel, sand, or soil substrates also makes it extremely difficult to control hygiene within the enclosure as pathogens can breed within the substrate.

A good alternative to a solid floor design is to have a mesh floor to the enclosure, with a collecting tray below. The advantage of this design is that Chameleon faeces can fall through the mesh into the collecting tray. Also, if a dripper is installed to provide drinking water to the chameleon, the drips can be caught in the tray below the mesh to prevent the enclosure flooding. The collecting tray should be inaccessible to the Panther Chameleon, and should be cleaned out daily (especially if being used to catch water dripping from a dripper) and regularly disinfected. The wire mesh floor should also be regularly cleaned and disinfected.