Have you noticed that it is not necessarily easy to keep plants alive in your chameleon cage? There are two main reasons for this and today we will talk solutions. For those that have thought of this before you may have gotten stuck on how to get ¼” tubing into the cage. By the end of this article you will have your solution. First, let’s talk plants and why they do not thrive in our captive environments.
Problem 1 – Lack of Light
The first main reason plants die in a cage is light. Just one look at posts on social media will show how we tend to grossly underlight our cages. They often will resemble caves with a single weak point of light and the rest of the cage in deep shadow. This is not a healthy environment for chameleons and certainly not for plants which literally eat from light.
Solution 1 – Greater Strength Bulbs and More of Them
The solution to this issue is to invest in strong lighting. And, yes, it will take some money to do it right. The most effective way to light a cage is using current T5 High Output linear fluorescent bulbs. Over my cages I use a quad fixture and run three 6500K daylight bulbs and one appropriate strength UVB bulb. This is enough light to produce growth in many of the low light plants that we call “indoor plants” such as pothos (Epipremnum aureum), Umbrella Plants (Schefflera arboricola), or spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum).
Problem 2 – Lack of Water
The second killer of chameleon cage plants is dehydration. Plants need light for food and water to drink. But, you say, you have misters going on all over the place multiple times a day! How can they be dehydrated? Simply, because the water is not getting to their roots. We arrange our misting systems to hydrate our chameleon which means mist on the leaves. This means that the soil only gets what drips down. While that may work for the Umbrella Plant, plants that form a dense canopy of leaves may have all the water trapped on the leaves to evaporate off or just drip away from the soil to the bottom of the cage.
Solution 2 – Get Water to the Roots
The most simple way of solving the water issue is to make watering your cage plants a weekly habit. Get a nice watering can with a spout that allows you to reach all plants in the cage. Don’t worry about using a small watering can that can navigate amongst the branches.
Another way of solving this problem using equipment you already have (and a couple odds and ends you don’t have yet), is to hook a drip system to your existing misting system.
There are indoor plant watering pumps and timers that are designed to automate the watering process for indoor houseplants. Indoor plant watering spikes allow you to fill up a container which will water your plant slowly over the course of days. Thus you need only to replenish the water when it runs out. The issue with this is that the water basin is often a plastic bottle you add and, although the plants are happy and the chameleon doesn’t care, it looks pretty bad. An option I really like automatic drip irrigation systems that are designed for this exact purpose! Of course, there is often a misting system running on your chameleon cage. How about using that?
Getting Tubing Into the Cage
No matter what kind of method you decide on, if you are using an automated method you most likely will run into the problem of getting ¼” tubing into the cage. For today’s project, we will build this entry point. We need a clean entry into the cage and if we go through the screen (which we do) we need a way to do away with screen edges that could hurt your chameleon. This is what we will produce:
Step 1: Create mounting wedge. We are wanting to create a firm anchor for the entry point of the tubing. If you already have a misting nozzle then you probably already have a wedge in place. You can probably just use this. If not then you will have to create a wedge such as pictured below. We are going to be drilling a pretty large hole in it with our 7/16” drill bit. I suggest drilling the hole before cutting the plastic down to size. This is just because it is easier to control a large piece of plastic when drilling a relatively large hole. Once the hole is drilled, cut the triangle shape out. (If you are making your own). You can also pre-drill mounting holes for your screws. Just use a drill bit no larger than the threads on your screw. We need the screw head to have as much material to hold on to as possible!
This wedge can be made of any sort of plastic that can hold its shape and take holes drilled in it. As long as it is flat you are good! You can get chloroplast material, PVC, or just the standard misting system screen cage mount like I have here.
Note: The wedge does not have to go in the corner! You can drill holes along one edge and mount it on any of the framing sides. Dragon Strand cages have thicker framing than most of the other cages on the market so if you are doing this with any other cage just be careful with your measurements.
Step 2: Install Your Wedge in your chosen location. The screws I linked to can self-tap into the aluminum framing just press firmly and screw the screw into the framing. No pilot hole is necessary, though it will make it easier. If you want to make a pilot hole before screwing in the screw then use a drill bit half the diameter of your screw.
Step 3: Create an Entry. This is where many people freeze up. Poke a hole in my screen?!? Yes, we are going to be poking a hole in your screen just like you do for a misting nozzle or Dragon Ledges. But the grommet we got will hide the hole. To poke a hole I get a sharp knife and push it through the screen into the hole for an X pattern.
Step 4: Place the Grommet in the 7/16” hole and weave your ¼” tubing through. There will be a respectable amount of friction holding the grommet in the hole once the tubing is pushed through. But it will be easy to knock it back out by pulling the tubing out. The assumption is that the grommet is there to hide the frayed screen and not to provide structural support. If you drilled the hole too large or want the grommet placement to be more permanent, then a couple dabs of super glue will take care of that. Just remember that the screen is tuck on the top so there is no clean way to reverse any supergluing!
And you have completed the ¼” tubing insert!
Step 5: Get Drippers to the Plants. Use the 1/4″ tubing and standard 1/4″ tubing elbows and “Ts” to get dripper to each potted plant. This is where planning becomes important. The more water spigots you put on the system the lower the mist pressure will be. The lowest micro-dripper rate I have found so far is .5 gallon per hour. Wind the 1/4″ tubing behind plants and keep it out of sight as much as is possible. The 1/4″ tubing is not suitable as a chameleon perch so we are not so lucky to be able to string it across the middle of the cage. Make sure the drippers go to the soil so they get the water where it needs to be.
Timing. You will need to optimize your misting schedule to accommodate both your chameleon and your plants. Your chameleon will have to take priority so you may be changing out plants to ones that can thrive with whatever watering schedule you have. Many of our ornamentals/indoor plants like to have their soil dry out before the next watering and that won’t be happening with this system. You will get a consistent watering every day. You may now run into he problem of over watering depending on how much you mist your cage. Switching your hydration to fogging, night misting, and a dripper will reduce the amount of misting you have to do to hydrate your chameleon and may be the balance you need to keep you plants happy. (If you would like to explore a more naturalistic hydration that uses less water you can listen to Episode 89: Naturalistic Hydration of the Chameleon Breeder Podcast.)
Pump. This is a great reason to get one of the higher power pumps that can mist more cages. This means they can handle more “load” and this will decrease the effects of putting micro-drippers on the line. Ideally, you would have a pump for the plants and a pump for the chameleons. Then you would have full control!
We are always looking for ways of doing things better. Plants are a critical piece of our captive environment and need the same attention to detail as our chameleons do. And it is well worth it. A living environment is a wonderful place for your chameleon to grow up in and live its life.
Note on shipping list: The products listed in this how-to article are Amazon affiliate links. If you follow that link and make a purchase on Amazon (even if it is any other items) I will get a small percentage of what you buy (no extra cost to you) as a finder’s fee. Of course, it is cage sales that support what I do here. But I also want to get this information out to people with other cages so they can provide better chameleon husbandry and be more successful in their hobby. Shopping on Amazon through one of the links is a way that you can support my efforts here even if you do not have Dragon Strand products. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm. My purpose for these articles – and this entire caging company – is to constantly push forward with new and better ways of doing thing!
Note: This tutorial is available as a .pdf. To download, click here:
To watch a video on creating your own Chameleon Feeder Run Cup click here!
As we come to the end of 2018 we are celebrating the 16thanniversary of the chameleon feeder run! This concept solved the standard problems of feeder insects sitting in feeder cups not providing the required movement to attract a chameleon’s attention. By adding a back to the cup, the insects would climb and provide the movement to attract the chameleons’ eye, but still stays contained in their cup. These feeder runs were first conceived and publicized in January 2003 in an issue of the Chameleons eZine by yours truly. (Click here for a slice of past goodness January 2003 ChameleonNews Hints and Tips) And it has been a staple in chameleon husbandry ever since. It works beautifully so I’d like to take this time to go over the basics in creating your own feeder run cups.
Step 1: Cut Out Opening
Cut an “L” shape out of the jug. Tip 1: leave enough of a wall on the bottom that the feeder insects you use will not be able to climb out. Tip 2: allow enough material on the sides of the vertical part so that the climbing insects cannot just reach over and grab the side to escape.
Step 2: Drill Drainage Holes
Drill drainage holes in the bottom. This is to ensure that the feeders do not drown or create an unhygienic mess if water gets in. Obviously, keep the holes too small for the feeders to escape. I use a 1/8″ drill bit.
Step 3: Add Climbing Surface
With the first ones I made I used fiberglass screening and made sure the edges were all safely glued. I now use sun shade material made of nylon as it is softer. I glue the strip of sun shade using a hot glue gun, though silicone would work as well. If you use nylon sun shade remember that it will melt with high temperatures so practice using the glue gun. I apply the glue and wait until it starts to cool before pushing down the sun shade.
Step 4: Add Hanging Hook
Two small holes drilled in the top, above the climbing cloth allow me to weave in a bent out paper clip which gives me an easy and convenient way to hang this feeder run in my cages.
Now just hang inside a cage and watch your chameleon find its food!
For maintenance, wash them after every usage. This is an easy and inexpensive way to make yourself some feeder runs!
Now, this is a good way to make a lot of runs. But it looks pretty cheap. If you have a nice cage set-up that you put some work into, please do not put a cut-out milk jug in there! It is worth it to get a professionally made feeder run. My favorite is the one made by Nick Barta at Full Throttle Feeders. The feeder runs are attractive and are painted camouflage colors so they do not stand out. Since I do a great deal of taking pictures of my chameleons and their cages I picked up a number of the Full Throttle feeder runs and I am happy I did so. Nothing is more annoying than getting a great shot and seeing a plastic container in the background! So make them and have a blast, but for the show cage in your living room, here is a link to the page for the classy feeder runs!
If you have a nicely set-up cage or one in your living room don’t ruin it with a plastic container! Do this!
I know it isn’t standard for me to sending you to another company, but here is a link to Full Throttle Feeders where you can get the Chameleon Feeder Run shown above. Because, hey, I want the Dragon Strand cages to look their best! Let’s not show off a cheap feeder cup! As of this blog post they are $16. With all the effort you have spent making the cage look nice, don’t stop at the last part.
Unfortunately, at Dragon Strand we sometimes run into unexpected production delays. This can happen for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are materials that don’t pass our quality inspection (and must be replaced) and shipping damage. Today, let’s explore shipping and what happens when things don’t go was planned.
When you unpack the Dragon Strand cages you can tell we take packing seriously. The boxes are all 275lb test and when we design a cage we actually do so considering how we will stack the pieces for shipping to create the strongest shipping unit possible.
Dragon Strand cages are packed in 275lb bursting test boxes. This shows the packaging of a Large Keeper Kit. Like all our cages, this one was designed with packing in mind. They are packed to form a strong shipping unit.
Most of the time things go smoothly, but sometimes it doesn’t. It is interesting that reports of shipping damage tend to come in waves as if some particular hub had issues. Last week I got yet another report of shipping damage with a picture of boot marks on the box. Sometimes this happens. Usually there are no marks on the box so I cannot submit a claim with FedEX. But damage can be done anyways. Regardless if I can submit a claim with FedEX or not, I take care of you first and quickly. I will deal with FedEX
If a Dragon Strand product comes to you and it has any sort of damage please send me pictures of the box and of the damaged pieces. It is important that I get a picture of both the damage and the identification label that is stuck on the damaged piece. In this way I know what needs replacement. Two points to remember:
In the end, I will make sure you get your Dragon Strand quality cage. Even if there is a rocky start, you will get years of use out of your cage. I have people who have had Dragon Strand cages going on five years now and they are still going strong while other cheaper cages have been replaced. I believe this is why customers come to Dragon Strand when there are so many other cheaper options on the market. And we will make sure that remains the case.
The simple answer to this question is truly the old saying “bigger is better”. The person asking the question is usually sincere and wanting to give their chameleon a good home, but not waste money. It boils down to the smaller the cage, the more difficult it is to create all the microclimates and gradients that our chameleon needs. Our margin for error, or not getting it perfectly right, goes way down. With a larger cage we have more options. We have a bigger space to work with (in relation to the size of our chameleon). The larger the space our gradients are spread over the more options our chameleon has to find a spot that has the conditions she needs. You have more opportunity to do it right.
In the case of a female panther, so often I will hear the minimum is the 18”x18”x36” high cage. While it is true that chameleons have been kept alive, long term, in this cage size. And it is true that a properly set-up cage of this size could effectively house a female panther chameleon I would like to encourage you to use the biggest cage you can no matter what size the chameleon. And if the space you have is bigger than what cages are commercially available and you have the time and skills I would encourage building your own cage to those dimensions. (Yes, the guy selling cages is encouraging you to build your own if it gets your chameleon a bigger space to live!)
Way too often the females of the chameleons are just seen as part of a breeding program. They don’t usually have the colors or the horns. But take a look into the gentle eye of a female Jackson’s Chameleon or the incredible orange/pink of a female panther chameleon. They are incredible creatures on their own right and it is a great joy setting up a large cage where they can travel through different zones in the enclosure.
The standard methods of draining your drainage tray include evaporation and using a wet/dry vac to suck out the water. But what if you would like to have it just drain into a bucket below the cage and then just empty the bucket every week or two? This is actually quite simple to do with standard 1/4″ drip irrigation parts. Although, it does take some careful drilling skills! All these parts are available at your nearest home improvement store, but there is an Amazon shopping list at the end of this article in case you would like the convenience of tacking it on to an order you were planning on doing anyways.
It is quite easy to install a gravity drain that will allow water to flow into a bucket under your cage. A drain with the common drip system 1/4” tubing (the same tubing used with most misting systems) will be good for draining water only. (If you end up with feeders and such in the drain tray then you might want to jump to the 1/2” drip system tubing.)
Not all version of drip irrigation elbows have the flanges that will give you a surface to glue against. Carefully select which manufacturer you use!
I start with finding a 1/4″ elbow (or 90º angle) for drip irrigation. A straight coupler may be used, but my set-ups on racks and such benefit from having the drainage line run parallel to the cages. These can be installed anywhere on the drainage tray. I prefer to have it come out the back. Often people chose to have it come out the bottom. While this makes logical sense, the back works best for me using these materials because this keeps the elbow out of the way if I have to move the tray.
This can be done with 1/2″ tubing, but I find that is not necessary, at least with my situation.
Not all elbows are designed the same. I prefer elbows that have a flange which gives me a large gluing surface.
If you have a misting system then you probably already are familiar with 1/4″ drip irrigation tubing. The tubing used by Mist King or Cli-Mist is the exact same. The 1/4″ tubing comes in rolls of 50′ or 100′. No matter how small my project, having this tubing around in case I need to reroute my misting system or such has been wonderful so do not fret about having to buy extra footage!
An advantage of using 1/4″ tubing is that there are other couplers easily found. From Ts to straight couplers to even valves, there are many options for you to connect drainage trays or create any configuration your situation requires.
The first thing to do is drill a hole in the place you want your drain. Here are some considerations.
Drill Bit Size. I drill a hole in the side wall of the drainage tray as close to the bottom as possible. Watch out for lips on the tray! Sometimes the bottom edge of the side is not the bottom of the tray! Drill a hole with a bit just barely big enough to fit the barb through, but not big enough to fit the flange through. I’ll not give drill bit sizes here because they will all be different depending on what size and brand drip fitting you get.\
Hole Placement. Be very careful that the placement of the hole allows the entire elbow piece to sit above the floor of the tray. There is a lip on the bottom of the tray and the floor is actually slightly above the edge. Before you drill your hole, study the area and mark with a pencil where you want to drill. You want to make the hole as close to the floor as possible, but definitely above the floor! If the hole is just small enough that you struggle to push the elbow in that is a good thing.
Glue Seal. Be generous with the glue. Once the elbow is pushed in, you will line the flange and surrounding area with Super Glue and put the two pieces together. I use the gel version of the glue which does not run. It allows me to make sure the coverage is solid before hardening. The key to making a water proof seal is to make sure there is ample glue all around the opening to seal it off. Do not be shy in applying the glue.
Look for the Gel version of whatever super glue type brand you are looking at. The gel is more viscous and will help fill in gaps that may exist to make the seal waterproof.
Patience. Do not try to push the 1/4″ tubing on before the glue is fully dry. I give my seals 24 hours to dry.
Apply Heat. You will need enormous pressure to force the tubing over the barb of the elbow. Heating the tubing makes this much easier. To do this, microwave a cup of water until it is very hot. The actual temperature isn’t important. I put a cup of water in for two minutes. Soak the end inch of the tubing in the hot water for 30 seconds to soften it up. Once it is soft, the tubing will go over the barb and will cool in place creating a nice, water tight connection.
Once the glue gel has hardened, test the water tight nature by dumping in a couple gallons of water. Block the drain and see if the glued area leaks. If the seal is good then just attach a length of tubing to the output and lead it to a bucket.
An option that makes sense if you installed this fitting in the back is to also attach a length of tubing on the inside of the tray that takes water from the front of the drainage tray. This allows you easy access to the intake in case it needs unclogging. Just remember that to be an effective gravity drain the entire length of tubing needs to be below the level of the elbow. I also like to wrap the intake with a small piece of cloth to keep any stray chunks of matter from getting into the tube and clogging it.
There are a variety of fittings that can be used including straight couplers and even on/off valves if you would like to be able to control the flow. Of course, you are free to place the drain hole anywhere that best suits your design.
1/4” (or 1/2”) drip system components and the Super Glue Gel presented here are represented at just about any home improvement store and are the easiest of the many solutions, but clicking on these links will send you to suitable parts on Amazon.
1/4” (or 1/2”) drip system components and the Super Glue Gel presented here are represented at just about any home improvement store and are the easiest of the many solutions, but clicking on these links will send you to suitable parts on Amazon.
For the actual piece that comes out the back I like to use elbows. Straight couplers could work, but for the bend required to daisy chain multiple drainage trays together or to simply go down to drain in the bucket I just go for a corner. These usually come in bags of 10 to 50 or 100. I specifically look for ones that have some sort of flange that the glue can grab hold. I use elbows for 1/4″ tubing
Very basic. Not many ways of going wrong when shopping for 1/4″ drip irrigation tubing.
There is a special consideration to get the “Gel” version of whatever super glue variety you get. The gel versions are much more viscous and could fill in the minute gaps that may exist between flange and drainage tray side wall.
When using 1/4″ tubing there are a rich number of other couplings that can be used depending on what you need for your particular situation.
The same strategy can be used with 1/2″ tubing. You can use this if you need more flow. The components are more expensive, but still readily available.
The Dragon Strand Chameleon Caging Company was started to solve the problems we chameleon keepers have in keeping chameleons. One perennial problem was how to build up inside a cage with screen walls that can offer no support. There were, and still are, all sorts of hacks that place stress on the screen or else look less than natural. The patented Dragon Ledges are the answer to that problem.
Dragon Ledges are anchors that are mounted to the sides of a cage that offer convenient mounting surfaces for branches. They are permanently attached to the aluminum frame and take all the weight of the branches or potted plants and transfers it to the side frame.
Dragon Ledges are screwed into the side frames. A common concern is that you are making holes in the frame and the screen to install a Dragon Ledge. This is true, but it is okay because this will be a permanent addition to your cage. All holes are covered and out of sight. Once your Dragon Ledges are installed your cage is actually structurally stronger so there really isn’t a reason to take them back off! But if you want to trash the cage and reuse the Dragon Ledges in another cage, this is not a problem.
Dragon Ledges can certainly be used to attach horizontal branches directly. They have holes and surfaces that make it convenient to zip tie just about anything on. But I would like to share the way to get the most out of your Dragon Ledges. Select two thick branches and zip tie them on vertically. If you get branches that span from a couple inches from the floor to a couple inches from the top panel you have given yourself anchor point all along the side – not just where the Dragon Ledges are mounted.
If you want to install a potted plant in “mid-air” you will need three points of anchor to fix it in space so it does not swivel on any axis. I like to use each of the vertical posts as well as a crossbeam that I install for the pot to sit on. If I am placing the pot somewhere where I don’t have three points of contact, a firmly lashed down stick strategically placed so it brushes the side of the pot gives me that needed stability. I use a double pot method where I use an identical pot to mount and then just slip the potted plant in afterwards. This allows me easy replacement if necessary.
The end result is a cage with a hanging garden type feel with vines trailing down. This allows you to create hidden glens for your chameleon to retreat to when he wants to get out of sight and rest or sleep. By creating these micro-environments in your cage you can allow a wide range of natural behaviors in your chameleon. Here are some examples of the end result.
The purpose of the Dragon Ledges is to be functional without being noticed. Part of our quest for having a naturalistic cage is it looking natural to our eyes. Thus the Dragon Ledges do their job of supporting multiple potted plants while still being as unobtrusive as possible.
For Further Study
To dive deeper into how to use Dragon Ledges please check out the following content
Q. My chameleon constantly climbs the screens walls and I am worried about his nails getting pulled out. How can I ensure his safety?
A: Your first question to answer is why he is climbing the walls of his cage. Chameleons generally will find horizontal perching spots and be content to move from a basking spot to a eating spot to a hidden spot. They do not pace their cage to get energy out. The two main reasons your chameleon will not be content is either the cage is not meeting his needs or else he has an internal signal to go find a mate. The cage not meeting his needs may be something inside the cage such as insufficient environmental conditions or else lack of areas he can feel safe. It could be something outside his cage such as your pet cat spending regular time in eyesight or constantly checking out the cage when you aren’t looking.
Many people just hang netting or a branch network along the inside of the cage and let their chameleon continue to wall walk. This addresses the issues of the nails, but does not address the root issue with the cage. It is at this point that a keeper can get defensive and say their chameleon loves their cage and you don’t know their chameleon like they do. The discussion has become personal and is no longer about chameleon husbandry. If you find yourself in that situation step back. Here is the issue: you may have done everything “right” according to the best advice of the day and your chameleon could still be wall walking. This does not mean wall walking is okay! It is still a sign of discontentment! What it shows is that you have a challenge ahead of you to figure out. This is what chameleon keeping is all about – being a detective and figuring out what your individual chameleon needs in your particular situation. Everyone’s advice reflects their experiences. It can be incredibly helpful to jump start your husbandry. But there will come a time where you have to figure it out. You may have two chameleons in identical situations and one is happy and the other not. This is not the time to justify your husbandry. This is the time to dive deep into that one unhappy chameleon and figure out what his issue is. Do not give up until he is happy. You owe it to him. And these experiences are also what creates an expert in you. In this Facebook land it only takes six months of regurgitating what you have been told that you start being called an “expert”. But, really, it is when you have solved the problems of the outlier chameleons that aren’t happy with the standard husbandry advice that you start giving back to the community in the form of true understanding.
An important consideration in every chameleon cage is your drainage strategy. You will want the water from your misting or drip system to flow out of the cage once it has done its job of hydrating your chameleon or watering your plants. Standing water at the bottom of your cage creates an unhygienic mix of poop, feeder, and water. It is, what I call, “poop soup”. This is why a substrate tray, which goes inside the cage and on top of the floor is a bad idea unless you have a bio-active strategy in mind. This is the reason why every cage in the Dragon Strand line-up has an available drainage tray. It is unfortunate, that Dragon Strand is the only cage manufacturer that provides drainage trays for their cages.
A drainage tray is a tray that is outside the cage and catches excess water. The entire cage actually sits on top of the drainage tray. A substrate tray goes inside the cage and is what is offered as a drainage solution for other manufacturers. Substrate trays should not be used for a drainage solution as they keep the chameleon in contact with the bacterial nightmare of mixing top, water, and feeder insects (living and dead/decaying).
If your hydration strategy includes a great deal of excess water then evaporation may not be able to remove the water faster than it is provided. There are three solutions to this issue.
Option 1: Wet/Dry Vacuum. Remove excess water using a wet/dry vac. Home Depot offers a cheap “Buckethead” wet/dry vac that can be purchased along with a crevice tool for about $30. You would simply insert the crevice tool in the space between the drainage tray lip and the front of the cage and suck it out.
Check the following links:
Option 2: Install a gravity drain. If you would like the tray water to drain into a bucket you could drill a hole in the tray and superglue in a coupler for ¼” drip irrigation. Attach some ¼” tubing (the same that the high end misting systems use) and let it drain. This method will keep the water level in the tray at a minimum. Please do this option carefully as you must be confident in your drilling and gluing skills.
Option 3: Re-evaluate Your Hydration Strategy. Adopt a hydration strategy that uses less water. Most chameleons commonly kept do not live in areas where there is always rain. They live perfectly healthy through months where there is no water available during the day. This is due to very high humidity nights that prevent dehydration due to moisture loss from breathing and finding condensed dew in the morning. Adopting a night time fogging strategy can drastically reduce how much water you need to use during the day. The common perception is that chameleons need high humidity. This is only partially true. They are expecting high humidity during the night – but it is not necessary during the day (and excess humidity can be unhygienic). Your chameleon will probably do very well with fogging during the night to simulate the fog rolling, a misting session a couple minutes long in the morning before the lights come on to simulate the morning dew, and then a dripper during the day to provide water if your chameleon is at all still thirsty. With this regimen I no longer need to remove water from my drainage tray. Different regions will have different results, of course.
Note: You do not want to move a drainage tray full of water to empty it or for any other reason. This will give a quick education in the difficulty in controlling a body of water. Many people envision an easy drainage system being a drainage tray that slides out from under the cage. Just trying this once in reality will convince you that moving a tray full of water is not a good idea!
So which decision is the right one? Let’s lay some groundwork and we will get to that question.
To start, each cage comes with a white PVC floor. This floor panel lays on top of the bottom frame. This arrangement is not watertight. Water from misting and dripping will puddle until enough is gathered together and then the puddle will flow to the edges and seep out of the cage. If potted plants or any other object is placed on the floor, it will cause an indentation which will attract these puddles. It is suggested that you drill a number of holes in the floor panel to provide quick drainage. These holes must be large enough for water to drip through, but too small for feeders to escape. I generally use a 1/8” drill bit.
This water needs to go somewhere and, unless you are keeping the cages outside, you will want to collect the water in a drainage tray.
At Dragon Strand there are three drainage trays options. A standard drainage tray, a heavy duty drainage tray, and the Drip Easy Drainage Tray.
Standard Drainage Tray: The standard drainage tray has a support in the middle and is suited for cage interiors that will use one main central potted plant. The tray supports that single middle area of the floor. Each cage Dragon Strand makes has, at least, a standard drainage tray option. Though specialty cages may have a different configuration.
Heavy Duty Drainage Tray: The Heavy Duty Drainage Tray has a strong X pattern that provides support across the entire floor. This tray is useful if you intend to have multiple potted plants on the floor or just want to have the option of switching things up in the future. The Heavy Duty Drainage Tray was specifically designed to provided the widest compatibility with Dragon Strand, and other manufacturer’s, square footprint cages. There are two sizes: 25” and 19” square. These trays will fit and square footprint cage with sides less than the maximum dimension stated (25” or 19”).
Drip Easy Drainage Tray: The Drip Easy Drainage Tray is a combination of the standard Drainage Tray with a screen panel and was originally introduced into the chameleon community by Ed Kammer of Kammerflage Kreations. The screen panel is meant to replace the white PVC floor panel. This gives maximum drainage as well as making the bottom of the cage visually disappear. This drainage solution is intended for the designer that is taking full advantage of the Dragon Ledges and has mounted all their plants along the sides of the cage keeping the floor completely clear. In this case, the floor no longer must provide support. Its only function is to keep the chameleon and feeders inside the cage and away from the drainage water. By using a screen panel, the black of the drainage tray shows through and the floor fades to the background. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to the plants in the cages as they should be.
The following chart provides and easy reference:
|Heavy Duty Drainage Tray||Drip Easy
|One main plant in center of cage||Yes||Yes||No||The Heavy Duty Drainage Tray will work perfectly, but is over qualified for one pot!|
|Many plants on floor of cage||No||Yes||No||The Heavy Duty Drainage Tray is specifically designed to provide wide spread support|
|Plants are all up on walls with Dragon Ledges||No||No||Yes||Any tray will work, but replacing the white floor with screen is a significant visual upgrade.|
|Repti-Breeze or DIY cages||No||Yes||No||Heavy Duty trays are the ONLY Dragon Strand drainage solutions compatible with other manufacturer’s cages.|
|Have no idea. Want to try different approaches||?||?||?||Create a Drip Easy Heavy Duty Drainage Tray.*|
*The most versatile of all the drainage tray solutions is to include a drip easy screen with a 25” Heavy Duty Drainage Tray. Combined with the white PVC floor that comes standard with each cage you are able to experiment with any of the options. This is not offered as a standard product as there are so many cage sizes that this general purpose tray is compatible with. If this is a solution you are interested in please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each chameleon cage is a system in which all components must be addressed. The drainage component is just as important as any other. There are other solutions that cheaper and less attractive, more expensive and custom, or completely do-it-yourself variety. Which you choose will reflect your skills, your specific needs, and the time you have available to dedicate to the drainage solution. Whatever your choice, put drainage on the list of questions to answer.
Q: I hear about people using glass aquariums, but I keep reading how they will stress my chameleon by showing reflections and cause respiratory infections by the low ventilation. How does your Clearside material work?
A: The material used by Dragon Strand to create the Clearside cage line is a clear, flexible PVC. As with glass or acrylic, the main concerns are reflections and respiratory infections. So let’s tackle reflections first. When our clear materials are hit by light at a certain angle, we will get a reflection. Chameleons will react to these reflections in different ways. Many chameleons are not bothered by whatever reflections may occur. There are multi-generational breeders that have used glass and do not report experiencing problems with reflections. In my personal tests I had trouble getting my chameleons to take the reflections seriously enough to react. Then I’ll hear from someone who is insisting their chameleon is reacting to reflections and further I’ll have breeders who had a reflection experience and refuse to use glass ever again. It is difficult to nail down what the problem is and when reflections become a problem. With so many people using glass or the Clearside material without an issue there is a much more complicated answer than reflections = stress. I do not have an answer to that dilemma just yet (I continue to seek an answer to this contradiction). But what I can say is that there are reasons you get any cage material (ventilation, insulations, size available, etc…). If that cage composition, or any aspect of the cage, is giving us a benefit and is causing us an issue we do not swear off the material. We solve the issue and retain the benefit! In this case, if you are getting a reflection and your chameleon does see it as a threat there are two approaches. 1) see if your chameleon gets used to the intruder that never comes into his cage. 2) Change the light position or switch up the internal decorations and plant life to block the offending area.
Respiratory infections occur when the immune system is compromised by any substandard husbandry. The early experimenters would get RIs because of putting too much water and too much heat into the cage (Jackson’s chameleons are incredibly exotic so that means hot and humid, right?). By drastically reducing the misting and limiting the time the heat lamp was on there would have been much more success. The Dragon Strand Clearside cages have ample ventilation so it would actually be difficult to create a condition where there would be standing or stagnant air. Having one whole side and the top screen means you will have to put in effort to create a humidity pocket and you will have to use live plants as they will continually produce humidity (during the day, at least). You will need this to maintain humidity with the ventilation of the clear side cage line.
Glass cages, like screen cages, have their advantages and disadvantages. When evaluating anything I prefer to address characteristics instead of making a judgement. Glass, Acrylic, and the clear flexible PVC used in the Dragon Strand Clearside cages have the characteristics that they limit air flow and they are clear. The limitation of airflow means that heat and humidity is trapped inside. If your home is 90F and 80% relative humidity a glass cage is a death trap without some serious attention to the energy and water input into the system. If your home is 68F and 10% relative humidity, a glass cage can be a lifesaver. With the Dragon Strand Clearside cages I am looking to create a middle ground that provides more ventilation than a glass cage, but allows the keeper to more easily create a humidity pocket within the cage in a way not possible with a screen cage. Once again, it is all a balance. I created the Breeder series and Clearside series, in part, because I wanted both ventilation and an area that would retain humidity. This is why my Clearside cages have one full side screen. Especially on the Large Clearside Atrium, I was wanting to create a cage that allowed one end to be humid and one end to have ventilation. This replicated the “forest edge” that many of our chameleons live in.
Working with the Dragon Strand Clearside cages is just like using any cage. Know what environment you are trying to create (this depends on species) and get the cage that will help you maintain those conditions in the environment you are in. The Clearside cages are specifically designed for keeping chameleons in standard homes that are kept at the human environmental comfort level. Any heating up in the morning can be done with a basking lamp by the screen side and humidity can be increased by creating a dense collection of plants on the opposite clear side.
What is Expandable Foam and “Great Stuff”?
Expandable foam is a hardware“Great Stuff” is a certain brand of expanding foam. This foam was designed to be used in home repairs to seal cracks. Reptile keepers have discovered that it works great to create vivarium landscapes. When using Dragon Ledges, we chameleon keepers can get the same benefit to create a floating garden look.
There are a number of brands of expandable foam. The most well known is the “Great Stuff” brand. Whether using Great Stuff or any other I look for the versions designed for repairing fish ponds. For example, the Pond & Stone variety of Great Stuff pictured here. It is designed to repair fish ponds and so is the color black, is designed to work in wet areas, and is non-toxic. Other Great Stuff varieties come out an unnatural cream color and require an extra step of silicone and substrate to look natural. Luis Wiedemann demonstrated how he used the regular foam, coated it with silicone, and then sprinkled natural material into it as it dried. You can check that out here Uroplatus Leaf-tailed Geckos in Dragon Strand Cages
Caution When Using Expandable Foam!
Great Stuff is propelled out with a highly flammable gas and must be used in an area with high ventilation (outdoors) and away from any source of flame. It is a very sticky substance and once it gets on your skin or your clothes it is very difficult to remove. Wear old paint splattered clothes if you have them. It is uncanny how this stuff makes it way places it shouldn’t no matter how careful you are! But once applied and dry, it is safe.
How to use Great Stuff in a Cage
Great Stuff shoots out like shaving cream and then slowly expands until it hardens. I suggest buying a can of the cheaper standard cream colored variety just to experiment and get a feel for how much it expands and how fast.
Each Great Stuff can comes with a dispensing straw. Unless you are quick and talented in cleaning out the straw after use, it will be a one time use. This means that it pays to plan out what you are wanting to do ahead of time. Foam the areas that you know will take the whole can first and leave the accent touch ups for last. The challenge we chameleon keepers have is that we are designing in 3D space up in mid-air. Most projects I do require a multi step process of doing one side, allowing it to dry, and then turning the cage over to do another side.
When you spray the foam out it will stick, but can fall if there is too much weight to the foam mass. You will have to be a quick and dynamic sculptor. The foam will expand and start hardening as soon as it is out of the can. The area exposed to the air will harden first. If you make a big enough mound of foam the outside will harden while the inside continues to expand. In this case you will have the inside burst through the outer shell for an unexpected result. In some cases have had incredible contours I could never have purposely designed in and in other cases I have had a mess. It is always an adventure!
When applying the foam you may squirt it directly on the surface of the cage wall or, in the case of a screen wall, putting the end of the nozzle directly on the outside surface. Squirting through the screen is a great way to fill in hard-to-reach gaps.
You can use Great Stuff to
1) Hide connection hardware (like zip ties)
2) Make a junction of branches, pots, and Dragon Ledges one strong, solid piece
3) Make small rock cropping-like accents
4) Make small pots. (Since Great Stuff hardens so well you can actually carve out a hole in a fully cured mound, drill a drainage hole, fill it with soil, and plant an accent plant.)
During expansion, the foam will sometimes squeeze through the screen panels and create a small mound outside the cage. This is harmless and you can leave it if you like or cut it off with a knife. With the clear PVC the expansion may create a bulge. The Clearside will mold to it and, although it is an unexpected, bizarre shape, is not a cause for worry. The clear PVC is quite strong and will not burst easily.
Drainage for your pots, whether plastic or carved, is important. You can leave the bottom of the pots hidden from view, free of foam, or you can use a standard drill to create a hole in the dry foam. You can also stretch a length of 1/4” drip system tubing through the area you want drainage and foam over it. Leave a generous length above and below so the foam does not expand over your ends. When the foam is dry you cut the tubing down to size and you have created a drainage pipe. If you are digging a planting hole in the dried foam then simply dig around the length of tubing coming out the top.
Keep the shipping box pieces as a great work surface. When applying foam remember to make it a point to foam all around and under/over the Dragon Ledges so you make one solid piece of the Dragon Ledges, branches, and pots.
1) You do not have to cover every surface, just the ones that can be seen from the front. Use black pots!
2) Leave the bottoms free of foam for drainage.
3) Beware of creating “caves” that will provide homes for spiders and hiding places for escaped feeders
4) Pictured is about one can of Great Stuff
Completing the Application
It is safest to do one side and then wait a day for it to dry and do the next side. If you turn the cage too soon and a clump of foam falls it is miserable trying to recover the look. Great Stuff is not easily cleaned up. If you do get some smeared somewhere unintentionally you can spray a little more and create a visual accent for aesthetic purposes only and hide the smear.
Once branches are firmly anchored by zip ties and foam let the foam expand around the branches randomly. Note how the branch on the back seems to come in and out of the foam background. The beauty of nature is that it is not predictable or “clean”. It is also not excessive. Avoid the urge to put more in just because you have more foam left. The foam background should functionally anchor your cage elements and provide some visual interest. It should take as little of the internal space as possible.
Remember you will get expansion. Use only the minimum necessary coverage!
This build took three cans of Great Stuff Pond & Stone foam. Most of what is seen here will be either hidden behind plants or fade to the background. My purpose for the foam is not to be a visual element itself, but to hide the artificial looking pots and mounting hardware.
In this build I used the foam to go over and hide the tops of the pots of the accent plants. I will plant the greenery directly in the pot. For the main foliage pot I have left the top clear so I can place an already potted plant inside and then, if need be, I can easily remove and replace the potted plant.
Foam is also effective for tricky areas where you were not able to get three anchor points on your pot. The pot in the lower left back area ended up with only two zip ties. The foam was used to immobilize the pot further. Note in this case I blocked the drainage with the foam and had to go in later and drill a hole through the dried foam.