Panther Chameleon Care Sheet
The Panther Chameleon is a species of chameleon found in the eastern and northern parts of Madagascar. Additionally, it has been introduced to Réunion and Mauritius.
Panther Chameleons became highly desired by chameleon hobbyists since first imported from Madagascar to the U.S. in the 1980s. However, even if prized for their dazzling array of colors and interesting behavior, they soon got a reputation for their challenging caring needs.
Panther Chameleon care might indeed be somehow challenging for the amateur hobbyist. But since this species has been successfully bred in the U.S., it became fairly hardy.
Imported wild-caught specimens are usually extremely stressed, carry a heavy parasite load, and have difficulty acclimating to captive conditions. On the other hand, captive-bred individuals are healthier and enjoy a larger life expectancy.
As follows is some insight on what it’s like to care for a Panther Chameleon and what kind of work they require.
Quick Reference Section
- Family: Chamaeleonidae
- Scientific Name: Furcifer pardalis
- Habits: Diurnal
- Length (male): 38-53 cm
- Length (female): 23-33 cm
- Weight: Males weigh between 140 and 180 grams, while the females are generally between 60 and 100
- Lifespan: About 5 years in captivity (2–3 for birthing females)
- Diet: Omnivorous
- Predators: Snakes, birds such as shrikes, coucals, and horn-bills, and sometimes, even monkeys would also prey upon the Panther Chameleons
- Conservation Status: Least Concern on the IUCN Red List
Panther Chameleon Facts
The ability to rapidly change color cannot be achieved until a Panther Chameleon is nearing sexual maturity.
Panther Chameleon males and females can reach sexual maturity as early as 5 months of age, but more commonly within 6 to 9 months.
They are called ‘Panther’ because they are very aggressive.
What Does A Panther Chameleon Look Like
The coloration of Panther Chameleons varies by location. Different color patterns of Panther Chameleons are commonly referred to as ‘locales’, which are named after the geographical location in which they are found.
Currently, these are the locale types that have been identified:
- Nosy Ankarea
- Nosy Be
- Nosy Boraha
- Nosy Faly
- Nosy Mitsio
- Nosy Radama
Panther Chameleons from the areas of Nosy Be, Ankify, and Ambanja and are typically a vibrant blue, and those from Ambilobe, Antsiranana, and Sambava are red, green or orange. The areas of Maroantsetra and Tamatave yield primarily red specimens.
Numerous other color phases and patterns occur between and within regions. Females generally remain tan and brown with hints of pink, peach, or bright orange, no matter where they are found, but there are slight differences in patterns and colors among the different color phases.
Source: Ferguson, Gary; James B. Murphy; Jean-Baptiste Ramanamanjato; Achille P. Raselimanana (2004). The Panther chameleon: color variation, natural history, conservation, and captive management. Krieger Publishing Company. pp. 54, 62–63. ISBN 978-1-57524-194-4.
Feet: 5 toes fused to two groups of two and three fingers that have given their feet an appearance of tongs. The group of two is on the outside, while the group of three on the inside.
Eyes: Eyes are conical in shape that can rotate freely. Each of the eyes can focus separately on two different objects.
Nose: Two small nostrils above their mouth like most other chameleon species. They have white mucus around their nose.
Other Distinctive Features
Its generic name Furcifer is derived from the Latin root furci meaning “forked” and refers to the shape of the lizard’s feet. The specific name pardalis refers to the animals’ markings, as it is Latin for “leopard” or “spotted like a panther”.
Panther Chameleon Reproduction
Panther Chameleons are polygamous.
The breeding period is between January and May. When the male chameleons want to mate, they bob their heads up and down, and from side to side.
After a gestation period of 30-45 days, the female will descend to the ground and dig a burrow into which 14-34 eggs are laid.
Depending on the temperature, incubation ranges between 160-362 days.
The hatchlings come out typically in 240 days after incubation.
The female will not be involved in the hatching of her offspring and they will be independent at birth.
A baby Panther Chameleon would take a minimum of seven months to attain the ability of reproduction.
Panther Chameleon Habitat
Like other chameleons, Panther Chameleons are arboreal, meaning they live exclusively in trees. Therefore they need vertical enclosures.
The more room you provide for your Panther Chameleon the better. Also, longer enclosure will allow you to provide a warm end and a cooler end for your chameleon’s well-being.
- Panther Chameleons are very territorial. Thus, it is mandatory to house males singly. However, two females can safely be kept together, and babies and young ones can live together with other individuals of the same age
- Some experts debate that, in captivity, the two genders of Panther Chameleons would never live together peacefully, in the sense that, the female would starve to death even being in sight of a male
- Neonates can be housed singly, or they can be housed in groups for a month and then separated into smaller groups as long as aggression or competition for food is not an issue
- Avoid placing the enclosure in drafty or noisy areas of your house. This is a stress trigger
Best known pet enclosure suppliers offer enclosure kits specially designed for Chameleons, for example, there is the Zoo Med Reptibreeze Chameleon Kit.
Other options are the Zoo Med Reptibreeze Open Air Screen Cage and the Zoo Med ReptiBreeze LED Deluxe Open Air Aluminum Screen Habitat.
No specific substrate is needed for Panther Chameleons, but flat newspaper, paper towel, coconut fiber, or potting soil with no added chemicals or perlite work well.
Newspaper is an inexpensive, easy to clean, and very safe substrate to use. However, it doesn’t look “nice” and of course it should be replaced once a day.
A good looking alternative to the newspaper is a paper towel substrate. In addition, paper towels hold moisture well and help stabilize the humidity of your terrarium.
If you choose coconut fiber, you can check the Zoo Med Eco Earth.
If a particulate or natural substrate is used avoid the following: beddings with small particles (sand, kitty litter, etc.), cedar, gravel, corn cob bedding, and beddings that would hold excess moisture.
Moisture trapped in bedding can promote bacterial and fungal growth.
Plants & Branches
As Panther Chameleons are arboreal, they need climbing facilities -branches and plants (live or fake) to climb on.
Plants do also play a critical role in providing a sense of security, so be sure to provide your chameleon with one or two “areas of refuge”. Create a dense area of non-toxic plants on one side for hiding. And on the other side create a more open exposed area of branches for basking.
Some safe live plants commonly used are weeping fig-trees, umbrella trees, and Pothos.
You may choose to simply collect wood from a forest. However, this is not 100% safe unless you make sure you remove any harmful microorganisms.
To do so, first, scrub the wood with a 5% diluted bleach mixture. After the scrub is complete, preheat your oven to 300°F and bake the wood for 30 minutes. This should sterilize the wood and make it completely safe for your chameleon.
Panther Chameleons require a daytime temperature gradient of about 75°F, with a basking spot of 88 to 95°F in each enclosure.
At night, they should have a temperature drop of about 10°F (5 to 10°C).
It is key to set up an environment that provides a gradient of temperatures. Temperatures in different parts of the cage can be easily monitored by placing thermometers in a few places.
Provide a ceramic heater for a basking area all day and night.
Another good heat source that can be used outside your chameleon’s enclosure (placed 12-24 inches from the cage walls) is 50-75 watt incandescent bulbs.
Ceramic elements and incandescent bulbs can be used 24 hours per day, without affecting the chameleons’ daily light rhythms.
However, heat rocks or other heating elements under the cage or at the bottom of the cage are not recommended because they can cause burns in your chameleon.
You must provide your Panther Chameleon with 12 hours of UVB rays. This spectrum (290-320 nm) can be provided by special light bulbs or natural unfiltered sunlight.
Remember that these bulbs need to be replaced every six months or based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Without this spectrum, chameleons are unable to properly utilize calcium inside their body, regardless of how much they ingest and might get a condition called metabolic bone disease, or secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism.
Panther Chameleons need a high humidity level. It’s best to aim for between 60 and 85 percent.
Managing excess water is an important health issue, and stagnant water pooling on the cage floor should be avoided.
Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl, but they will drink water from droplets sitting on objects (usually leaves) in their surroundings. Therefore, misting serves as a water source.
Misting can be done by hand or with commercially-made foggers. A reptile fogger will make water vapor to condense on the cage walls and furnishings, raising the humidity and providing water droplets for drinking.
See your Fogger guide for more.
Misting the animal itself is controversial, as it seems to stress some individuals.
This guide explains the difference between misters and foggers more.
Cleanliness in the cage is vital in preventing bacterial and mold growth.
Clean your chameleon’s enclosure at least three times per week. Once a month, remove the chameleon and plant to give the enclosure a thorough cleaning using a reptile-safe disinfectant.
Panther Chameleons are mostly insectivores.
In the wild, they prey on insects, centipedes, isopods, millipedes, spiders, small lizards, small birds, and snails.
But in captivity, they are fed mostly with crickets and some other insects such as mealworms, super worms, waxworms (all in limited quantities), roaches, silkworms, flies, fruit flies (for young chameleons), and grasshoppers.
Check out these DIY guides if you want to raise your own food:
- Cricket Breeding Guide + How To Keep Crickets Alive
- Mealworm Farm Guide
- Wax worm Farm Guide
- Super worm Farm Guide
- Dubia Roach Breeding Guide
Wild-caught insects should only be fed if you are certain they have not been exposed to pesticides, and always avoid fireflies.
Besides insects, they can be fed commercial “gut-loading” food in addition to dark leafy greens (collards, kale, dandelion leaves, mustard greens), oats, broccoli, alfalfa hay, and other fruits and vegetables.
Adding calcium supplement powder to the crickets’ diet is also recommended (i.e.: Zoo Med Repti Calcium with D3).
Be careful how you use supplements with Panther Chameleons. They are especially sensitive to excess amounts of synthetic vitamin A.
Vitamins given improperly might cause too little or too much of the vitamins to be ingested. Too little creates vitamin deficiencies. Too much spur vitamin toxicity, which can lead to gout, edema, or even death.
Gut loading feeder insects is the best way to transfer vitamins to your chameleons. It ensures the insects are rich in vitamins and free from toxins.
Chameleons can be fed either by hand or by placing all its food items into a bowl. Adults should be fed once per day, while juveniles require feedings several times per day.
Chameleons frequently become ill for many reasons in captivity, but mostly they become ill because of captivity.
As previously mentioned, captive-born chameleons are recommended over wild-caught chameleons, who tend to have more health problems.
However, all chameleons are susceptible to get sick from a variety of sources: stress-related diseases, parasites, kidney failure, metabolic bone disease, and respiratory infections are the most common.
A pet chameleon should visit the veterinarian every six to 12 months for a checkup and should have regular fecal and blood tests to check for parasites and other diseases.
Stress is a very common reason for poor health in Panther Chameleons. Chronic stress depresses the immune system and increases susceptibility to disease, usually culminating in death if the stress is not relieved.
Captive-born chameleons are as susceptible to captivity-related stress as wild-caught chameleons.
Avoid common sources of stress like placing more than one chameleon together. Also, avoid exposing your chameleon to excessive handling, noises, excessive movement outside of the enclosure, inappropriate temperatures, or changes in the environment.
2. Bacterial, Fungal, and Viral Infections
Chameleons are susceptible to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections. You can prevent these infections by keeping the enclosure clean, removing uneaten prey items daily, and keeping your chameleon from coming into contact with another chameleon.
- Chameleons are sensitive to many chemicals and toxins in the environment and should be kept away from household cleaners, aerosols, etc.
- As with any reptile, you should wash your hands after handling it or items within its enclosure as there are diseases that can be transferred from reptiles from humans in this manner (Salmonella infection is one example).
Chameleons can harbor gastrointestinal parasites. Parasites can be contracted through food, especially if hygiene is poor or if wild insects are fed.
Wild-caught chameleons usually harbor parasites, even when retailers label them as parasite-free.
Veterinary testing and treatment can eliminate parasites. Pet chameleons should have yearly fecal tests by a veterinarian to check for them.
4. Upper Respiratory Infections
Upper respiratory infections are common among pet chameleons, and the cause is typically environmental.
Signs include a gaped mouth, excessive mucus, popping or wheezing sounds, and inflammation and bubbling around the mouth and nose.
To prevent infections, proper enclosure temperature and air quality should be maintained.
Other problems that can occur in chameleons include egg-binding, organ failure (especially kidney and liver), cancer, and bone fractures due to insufficient vitamin D, calcium, or UVB radiation.
Kidney failure is a common cause of death in pet chameleons. It is often caused by long-term dehydration or by certain veterinarian-prescribed antibiotics. Appropriate enclosure humidity and an effective water drip system should keep your chameleon hydrated.
Metabolic bone disease is probably the top cause of pet chameleon growth defects and deaths. As previously indicated, metabolic bone disease can ve prevented with at least 12 hours of UV-B light daily.
Behavior and temperament
Handling is stressful to them, so as with other chameleons, they are pets better suited to being watched than handled. Panther Chameleons are territorial and should be housed individually.
Price & Availability
There is a very nice selection of Panther Chameleons available for sale at CB Reptile.
Panther Chameleons are one of the most readily available chameleons in the pet trade. In fact, they are amazing creatures, prized for their color display.
Even when bought from reputed breeders, Panther Chameleons frequently become ill for many reasons. But mostly they become ill because of captivity itself and the stress this situation produces on them. They would also become ill for reasons related to poor husbandry.
However, captive-bred Panther Chameleons sourced from quality breeders are fairly hardy. With a proper enclosure and consistent care, Panther Chameleons should enjoy a happy life.