Furnishing A Panther Chameleon Enclosure With Plants And Vines

male furcifer pardalis panther chameleon sheddingIt is incredibly important to furnish a Panther Chameleon enclosure with suitable plants (both live and artificial), vines, and branches. Doing so provides the structure required by Panther Chameleons for navigating the enclosure. In addition, the presence of plant foliage gives chameleons a sense of security by providing them with cover and places to hide.

Sturdy climbing structures (e.g. branches and vines) in a range of diameters of suitable size for the individual Panther Chameleon to grip should be provided. Artificial vines are widely available in a range of diameters from reptile dealers and pet stores. 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. Horizontal and vertical structures should be provided throughout the enclosure, enabling the Panther Chameleon being housed to navigate all parts of the temperature, light, and humidity gradients within the enclosure. Establishing gradients and providing structures for the chameleon to navigate them allows the chameleon to position itself according to its current needs. It is especially important to provide plenty of structure beneath sources of heat and light, allowing the animal to bask.

In addition to furnishing a Panther Chameleon enclosure with climbing structures, it is also important to add artificial and/or living plants. Plant foliage within a Panther Chameleon enclosure provides cover and places to hide, giving the chameleon housed in the enclosure a sense of security. Artifical plants work well and are very popular among chameleon keepers. Artificial versions of a wide range of tropical plant species are available to purchase from reptile dealers and pet stores. Living plants can also be used, and have the added advantage of helping maintain humidity levels within the enclosure. Live plants are also more aesthetically appealing. When furnishing a Panther Chameleon enclosure with live plants it is incredibly important to only use plant species that are non-toxic to chameleons. Prior to placing a living plant in a Panther Chameleon enclosure the plant should be thoroughly washed in soapy water in order to remove any harmful pesticides. Live plant species that are successfully used to furnish Panther Chameleon enclosures include:

  • Ficus benjamina
  • Ficus elastica (Rubber plant)
  • Schefflera arboricola (Dwarf umbrella, Hawaiian umbrella)
  • Schefflera actinophylla (Umbrella plant)
  • Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
  • Epipremnum aureum (Pothos)
  • Dracaena deremensis (Corn Plant)
  • Codiaeum variegatum (Croton)

Live plants can be kept in pots within the enclosure, although covering the soil with stones too large for the chameleon to ingest is recmmended. This will prevent the Panther Chameleon from accidentally eating any substrate when hunting insects in the enclosure. Ingesting soil or other substrate is a problem because it can cause chameleons to sustain serious intestinal impaction injuries. Leaving plants in pots has the advantage that they can easily be removed from the enclosure for cleaning.

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.