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Diet

Like most chameleons, pardalis are primarily carnivorous, eating smaller live prey. While mammals and reptiles (to include smaller chameleons) may occasionally eaten, the primary source of nutrition is insects. While in the wild, Mother Nature always seems to provide an adequate diet, it is not known to what extent the chameleon chooses specific insects or other nutritional sources to meet its current needs, or how much of it is just opportunistic feeding, where enough random variety is present and consumed to meet the chameleon?s nutritional needs. Whatever the actual scenario, it is certain that the nutritional needs of the chameleon will not be met in captivity without the keeper taking specific care in managing not only the variety of live insects offered, but in the diet of the insects prior to their being offered as food as well. Not every chameleon will eat every insect put before it, and where one specific animal might ravish mantids and cockroaches, the one in an adjacent cage might eat only super worms and crickets. That said, the ability to provide fresh-caught wild insects is believed to be the best nutrition source. Be warned, for while a panther chameleon in the wilds of Madagascar will instinctively know which bugs pose a digestive risk to the hunter, that is not always the case with insects from a non-native land, such as the United States. Chameleons seem to be wary of brightly colored insects, such as ladybugs, and fireflies are to be avoided as a diet for all lizards, as they have been shown to cause death in many species if consumed.

Due to climate and other concerns, relying on wild-caught insects is often not practical, and most hobbyists will inevitably rely on commercially available insects. This would include, but not be limited to, crickets (Acheta ssp.), superworms (Zophobus morio), mealworms (Tenebrio molitor), waxworms (Galleria Mellonella), hornworms (Manduca sexta), mantids, roaches, houseflies (Musca domestica), and fruit flies (Drosophila ssp.). Here at The Chameleon Company, we use primarily crickets, as they are the easiest for us to manage in large quantities, propagate, and control the diet on. Whatever your choice, it is important that you expose your insects to a nutritious diet prior to presenting it as food to your chameleon. Often referred to as "gut-loading", this is required because commercially available insects are usually raised on a diet which is economical and effective for the supplier, but deficient in much of the nourishment necessary for a healthy chameleon. The most common example would be crickets purchased from your local pet store, which were likely maintained on a diet of potatoes.

There are still many theories as to the proper gut-load, and the average hobbyist will likely not have access to what a commercial chameleon breeder might prepare. In its simplest form, table scraps of meat and green vegetables are good. This can be supplemented with other easily purchased items such as collard greens, and any brand of fish flakes from your local pet store. Different brands of cricket or insect gut-loads are also commercially available. The authors use the dietary supplements available at CricketFood.com. Whatever food you choose, your insects should be allowed to gorge themselves on it for at least 24 hours prior to themselves becoming food for your chameleon.

In addition to a good gut-load, it is recommended that you also use both calcium and vitamin supplements. Calcium supplements are usually available as a powder, and can be dusted onto the crickets 1-2 times per week, just prior to putting the crickets in as food. Vitamin supplements are also available as a powder, and can be dusted once a week. The authors have gotten best results using both liquid vitamins and liquid calcium supplements, designed specifically for chameleons. These are available at CricketFood.com.

If using crickets or roaches as the insects of choice, the appropriate maximum size for your chameleon should be of a length roughly equivalent to the distance between your chameleon?s eyes, as measured across the top of the head, and of a diameter 1/3rd the width of the chameleon?s head. Narrower insects, such as mantids and super worms, may be much longer.

Chameleons almost always prefer "free ranging" (loose) prey. If this is not practical, you may choose to mount a deli-type cup, using a piece of wire formed as a loop, within the cage. The cup is usually mounted within easy sight of the basking perch (4-10 inches), such that the chameleon can easily see at a downward angle into it, and move without difficulty to the rim. The cup should also be positioned where it will not accumulate any water from your drip system, as insects drown easily. While this will contain all worm-type insects, it will also contain many of the crickets placed within it, as they don?t know to jump to escape, unless they perceive danger as being imminent. You can also place a small portion of your gut load mix in this cup, along with a piece of carrot or other vegetable for moisture, to keep your insects well fed prior to their demise.

Whether using free-ranging or cup-contained insects, it is important that the number of loose insects not exceed what your chameleon would normally eat in one day, This is especially true of crickets. Chameleons are not prone to overeating, but may become stressed, and possibly nibbled on, if there is an excess of loose bugs.

Although not common, panther chameleons, especially juveniles, will occasionally eat plant leaves or other greens. It is not known if this foraging is driven by a self-perceived deficiency, or just random. This can include the attempted consumption of artificial plants. If observed or suspected, you can hang a sprig of greens (collard, turnip, mustard, etc) in the cage, in a spot frequented by your chameleon, and rotate as needed. For reasons not fully understood, chameleons may consume dirt and/or small pebbles. For this reason, do not allow anything artificial in your cage that could be mistaken for the real thing.

While watching a chameleon eat is one of the many fascinations we have with these marvelous creatures, it may take quite a bit of patience before you actually observe it. To "not see it" does not mean that it is not happening. An insect inventory of those left wandering the cage might lend itself to some peace-of-mind. But the best sign that your chameleon is eating is the presence of a "healthy defecation".