Dragon Strand Caging Systems

Q: What is the minimum size cage for a female panther chameleon?

 

A: The Bigger the Better

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!)

This female Panther Chameleon is in a Large Keeper Kit (48″ tall cage). With this much room she is able to fade in and out of the foliage. This creates a dynamic where I do not always see her and I love catching glimpses. Here I was able to spy her through the Nepenthes leaves starting her shed.

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.

Female Panther Chameleons are an incredible orangish/pinkish color with purplish accents. Where else in the reptile world do you get to see these colors?

eye of the Jacksons chameleon

The soulful eyes of the female Jackson’s Chameleon

 

What is a Gravity Drain?

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.

Parts for a Gravity Drain.

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.)

1/4″ Drip Irrigation Elbow

 

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.

1/4″ Drip Irrigation Tubing

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!

Other 1/4″ Couplers

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.

Installing a Gravity Drain.

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.

This hole was drilled to clear the bottom fo the floor enough that the elbow could rest on the floor of the drainage tray. Note how far up the side this hole needed to be.

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.

Enough glue was used on both sides of the drainage tray to ensure a water proof seal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Shopping List

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.

90º Elbow 

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

1/4″ Tubing

Very basic. Not many ways of going wrong when shopping for 1/4″ drip irrigation tubing.

Glue

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.

 

Other Couplings

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.

 

1/2″ System

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.

Introduction to Dragon Strand

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.

 

What are Dragon Ledges?

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 Ledge

Each Dragon Ledge in the set comes with a “Ledge” which is the one piece that goes inside the cage, a Spacer which makes sure the screen wall is not stressed, and a Back Brace that will attach to the outside frame.

 

Large Clear Side Chameleon Cage

On this Large Clearside Enclosure, the mounted Dragon Ledges are inconspicuous. Their job is to provide solid support without being obvious.

How to Attach Dragon Ledges

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 Ledge Installed on Chameleon Cage

This image shows the mounting hardware for the Dragon Ledges.

 

How to Use Dragon Ledges

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.

Dragon Ledges from top to bottom

By attaching vertical branches and forming a grid on the Dragon ledges you are free to mount horizontal branches at any level.

Chameleon cage setup: mounting plant pots

With strong vertical branches attached to the Dragon Ledges, branches and pots may be mounted at any level.

Installing pots for plants on the Dragon Ledges

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.

A crossbar branch between the two vertical support posts provides a strong and convenient platform for a plastic pot.

If another anchor point is needed to achieve three points, a branch can be run along the side of the pot.

Chameleon Cage Setup: Anchoring pots

There are many ways to give your pots three points of support using the Dragon Ledges and your branch network.

Conclusion

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.

floating garden cage with Dragon Ledges

A floating garden style cage made possible by Dragon Ledges

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.

Introduction to Chameleon Cage Drainage Trays

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.

 

Chameleon Cage Drainage Tray vs. Substrate Tray

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).

Chameleon Cage Drainage Tray

A Substrate Tray goes inside the cage and is meant to provide a planting area (not for drainage). A drainage tray sits underneath the cage and collect excess water. By being outside the cage, a proper drainage tray will prevent contact between the chameleon and the waste water.

The proper use for a Substrate Tray is to create a living floor. This is an amazing vivarium experience, but takes planning and research to do it successfully. Hold off using a substrate tray until you understand how to do it.

Maintaining the Water Level in the Drainage Tray

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.

Home Depot Bucket Head

A simple wet/dry vacuum provides an easy way to empty a drainage tray. The Home Depot “Bucket Head” is the cheapest, yet effective vacuum I have found. Add on a standard 5 gallon bucket and a crevice tool nozzle set and you have all you need.

Check the following links:

Home Depot Bucket Head

Crevice Tool Kit

5 Gallon Bucket

 

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.

Common 1/4″ drip irrigation 90 degree elbows can provide a simple gravity drain into a bucket. Select a design that has a wide flange that will provide a strong glue point to seal the drilled hole.

 

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.

By initiating a regular fogging period during nighttime hours your chameleon will be less dehydrated during the day and need less misting. In fact, you could do misting only during the early morning hours. Keepers in dry climates will also notice their plants beginning to respond positively to the increase in humidity.

 

 

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!

 

Selecting Your Chameleon Cage Drainage Tray

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.

Chameleon Cage Drainage Tray

When using a drainage tray, keep the standard floor that comes with your cage. The cage bottom is not water tight, but I still suggest drilling small holes (1/8″ drill bit) in the floor panel too facilitate water draining quickly into the 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.

chameleon cage with foam used in background

In this cage design with a Drip Easy Drainage Solution your eye is kept on the chameleon and the beautiful plantscape. The floor is not even noticed.

 

The following chart provides and easy reference:

Application Standard

Drainage Tray

Heavy Duty Drainage Tray Drip Easy

Drainage Tray

Comments
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 bill@dragonstrand.com.

 

Conclusion:

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.

A Dragon Strand Large Clearside Enclosure (48″ high) on display at a reptile show. Reflections can occur, but rarely enough to cause a problem. If your chameleon does seem bothered then change the light position, basking branch position, or obscure the reflection with plants (depending on where the reflection occurs)

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.

Clear Side vs Screen

The front of this cage is clear while the side is screen. This picture shows the difference in visibility. Having one side screen and the other side solid clear a humidity gradient may be realized.

 

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.

Great Stuff foam for chameleon cages

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

Using Expandable foam in a chameleon cage

This before and after picture from Luis Wiedemann shows how the standard variety of Great Stuff comes out and what it can look like after dressing it up.

Naturalistic Adult Chameleon Cage Setup

This photo shows a cage that was done using the Pond & Stone variety of Great Stuff. The foam can be used to hide connection points for branches and plants which is what is being done here.

 

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.)

example of foam covering connection hardware

This spray of foam was to disguise stick and Dragon Ledge connections. If the texture of the foam is not agreeable it can always be shaped once it dries

 

foam can make small outcroppings in your chameleon cage

Foam accents can make potted plants look much more natural. If you didn’t notice them at first – perfect! They have done their job!

 

The Great Stuff foam can be layered enough that it will form a sizable mound that can be shaped when dry.

 

When the foam dries, it can be shaped and carved as I have done here in preparation to create planters in the cage.

Making a mini-planter to keep carnivorous plants was easier with the freedom to place them where I wanted and adjust light/heat, etc…

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.

Great stuff seeping through screen of chameleon cage

Sometimes, Great Stuff will push through the screen. This is harmless and can be easily cut off.

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.

 

Application

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!

 

Final Thoughts

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.

 

chameleon cage with foam used in background

In this application you can see how the foam was used to hide the connections and pots. The foam components in this cage are meant to be in the background and not noticed on first glance.

Introduction:

One of the advantages of purchasing a Dragon Strand cage is that it is rust proof and the screen cages can be used outdoors. The cages are designed to keep both chameleons and their feeders in the cage, but if you are using the cages outdoors it is a shame to keep naturally occurring diurnal insects from making their way into your cage and providing a nutritious meal. In this application note I describe a cage modification that will modify a Dragon Strand screen “Keeper” series cage to allow flying insects in the cage. We will replace the top face panel of a Dragon Strand Large Keeper Kit cage with a ½” square hardware mesh.

Male Jackson's Chameleon Jackson's chameleon

Yes, there is a cage hiding under all of that! One of the best parts of letting the insects in is that the plants can now get out and the unnatural shape fo the cage is obscured.

Before we get started….

First of all, when using a cage for in an outdoor application there are many things necessary to do it safely. Only use screen cages as solid side cages will trap heat and can kill your chameleon. If you are considering putting your chameleon outdoors and would like information on how to do it safely please listen to this episode of the Chameleon Breeder Podcast.

Chameleon Breeder Podcast on outdoor chameleon keeping

Second, providing an entry for flies, bees, praying mantises, and butterflies does no good unless they have a reason to use it. Therefore, choose your cage plants to be varieties the produce flowers or make sure there is some bait to encourage them to come.

Third, just remember your cage is no longer feeder proof! Do not use this cage indoors unless you make sure your feeders are confined to a feeding dish. Along the same lines, for you breeders of livebearer,

 

Summary: To provide inside access to flying insects we will remove the screen on the Top Face Panel and replace it with 1/2” PVC coated hardware mesh.

 

Tools & Materials required:

Top Face Panel from your screen cage

A piece of ½” PVC coated Hardware Cloth (ask for this at your local home improvement store)

Eight 4” black zip ties

Drill with 1/8” bit

Wire Snips

Optional: clamps to hold hardware cloth in place

Materials list for Projects

 

Instructions:

1) Unscrew the Top Face Plate from the Large Keeper Cage. Place the screws in a bowl so they do not get lost

You can use this technique with any of the screen panels to get the effect you are looking for. In today’s example I will be replacing the Top FacePanel of the Large Keeper Cage

 

2) Remove the screen by finding the end of the spline holding it in and pulling it up.

Spline in Chameleon cage

The spline end will be protected by the white PVC strip. Find this end, pry it up, and then the rest should unravel easily.

screen off chameleon cage

When screen is fully removed.

 

3) Cut a length of Hardware cloth to match the frame. It needs to overlap the entire width and height of the screen panel frame. It is not necessary to have overlap to the end of the strip of white PVC. It will not hurt, but we will only use the frame portion that the PVC is attached.

hardware cloth on frame

Make sure the shape you cut of the hardware cloth is as close to the size of the panel as possible.

 

4) Drill holes in the frame to be able to insert zip ties to hold the hardware cloth in place.

Notes for the drilling process:

  • Select a drill bit that is the width of the zip ties you are using. I am using 4” black zip ties and a 1/8” drill bit is the perfect size.
  • I use clamps to hold the hardware cloth in place while I drill holes. You may do this by hand instead. It is just a littlemore work to get it right.
  • Drill holes so the zip tie will hold a ‘square” of the hardware cloth tightly.
  • On the bottom edge with the PVC strip, make sure you drill into the frame. Although the PVC alone will be string enough, we need the other side to be flush for the door to rest against.
  • Remove burrs from the holes drilled in the aluminum framing.
  • Do not drill holes on the top frame piece. This piece will be screwed into the top panel of the cage. You do not want the zip tie to block this and create extra space between the frame pieces. Screwing the frame into the top panel will sandwich the entire frame length and no further attachment of the hardware cloth is necessary.

 

drilling holes in screen frame

When drilling your holes take advantage of the structure of the hardware cloth and drill close to the squares.

 

finished zip ties

Your work will be subtle when looking from the outside of the cage. Note that there are no zip ties on the top frame piece or in the white PVC strip below the bottom frame.

5) Install zip ties and tighten as much as possible

zip tie

The tighter the zip ties the firmer in place the hardware cloth.

6) Use wire drips to clip off zip tie tails

7) Install Top Face Panel back on cage. Screw tightly, but beware of stripping the screw hole by tightening too much. (If you do strip a hole you can create a new hole by using a drill bit smaller than the screw or just twist the screw through the aluminum. It will self-tap)

Conclusion: this modification will not only allow natural insects entry to the cage, but flowering plants and vines an exit point to grow out of, break up the unnatural lines of your cage and create a more beautiful environment for both you and your chameleon.

Cage finished!

Our goal as chameleon keepers is to create as natural of an environment within our unnatural houses as possible for our chameleons. This includes live plants, branches, and naturalistic hydration. In this guide I describe one way to incorporate these elements into a beautiful cage set-up.

 

Medium Atrium Chameleon Cage Application Note

Mounting Branches in the Compact Cage System

Mounting branches in chameleon cages has been a classic challenge for years.  The Dragon Strand Breeder series solved this by including Dragon Ledges standard with all models except for the Compact and Nursery Cage Systems.  These exceptions are too small for the “DLedges”.  But there definitely is a way to get solid wall anchors to mount branches.  In this article I will go over a simple way to mount perching branches in a Compact Cage System.

Our strategy will be to mount branch ledges along the inside and  we will attach our perching branches to these.  Pictures will be worth more than words so lets get started!

This is the interior of a compact cage.  I have already installed a foam area with two pots for planting live plants.  This feature has nothing to do with the technique so don’t worry if you have no plans for a foam feature.

Compact Cage Interior Decorating

 

Step 1) Select Branch Chunks

Your first job is to select thick branch chunks.  1/2″ diameter and above works well.  We are going to be screwing a screw into it so it will have to be thick enough to handle it.  These chunks can be a couple inches to the length of the cage.  It is up to you.  They provide the platform which you will rest or attach your perching branches.

 

Step 2) Drilling Mounting Holes

Once you have a basic idea where you will attach your branches and branch chunks, drill holes in the wall that will act as placement for screws to go through.  You can get a basic idea of where you should drill by placing the branch chunk on the outside of the cage.  Drill at lest two screw holes per branch chunk.

2 Drill Holes

Step 3) Gluing Branch Chunk

We now use a hot glue gun to give a generous bead of hot glue along the length of the branch chunk.

3 hot glue

 

 

Step 4) Placing the Branch Chunk

You will now place the branch chunk so that the wood touches the drilled holes.  These are where your mounting screws will come through so make sure they lead into solid parts of the branch chunk.

4 Mount stick

Step 5) Pilot Holes

Now that the hot glue makes the branch chunk stay in place come from the outside of the cage and drill some pilot holes for your screws.  These pilot holes should be smaller than the screw width.

5 Drill pilot holes

Step 6) Install Screws

Once the pilot holes are drilled, your mounting screw can go in.  Use pan head screws with a washer to ensure you do not go through the relatively soft PVC plastic.

6 Screw in wood screw with washer

Step 7) Repeat For More Ledges

Build a anchor network that will allow you perching branches at multiple levels and directions to make full use of the available space.

7 anchor branches

 

Step 7) Perching Branches

And now add your perching branches!  These branches may be hot glued to the branch chunks for a solid attachment.

8 branching

 

 

Conclusion

Use your imagination and make a cage that uses up as much of the space as is reasonable.  The design above gives me the basic climbing requirements and the two potted plants will provide cover and a drinking surface.  A misting nozzle in the top right of the top panel will keep the cage nicely misted without blasting the inhabitants.