Dragon Strand Caging Systems

Keeping Baby Chameleons in Adult Size Chameleon Cages

Baby Chameleon in a large chameleon cage

Baby Chameleons in Adult Size Cages

We in the chameleon community have had a curious habit of using grow out cages for our juvenile single pet chameleons. This practice advocates using a small cage to grow the chameleon up until adulthood. It is then transferred to the adult size cage. The thinking is that the baby chameleon can find food, water, and basking spot easier in a smaller space. So we have a two cage lifecycle for our chameleon. As a cage manufacturer, this is a wonderful protocol and, perhaps, we should add in a subadult cage in the progression so they can hold onto their childhood just a bit longer. I would be happy to create a three cage bundle I can call the “Growing Up Cage Kit”! But as a community educator I need to present the truth that you need only one cage for your chameleon from hatching to full adult.

Dragon Strand Chameleon cages

Two Dragon Strand Large Keeper Kits set up to house a pair of Panther Chameleons

baby chameleon in the plants

Your baby chameleon will have great freedom starting off in their adult cage and will grow up comfortable in its final home.

How will they find food in such a big cage?!?

Chameleons are designed to be self-sufficient from the moment they hatch out of the egg. Their first missions in life are to find food and safety do they can grow up as fast as they can. And they do this within a continent sized enclosure. It will be controversial for me to say to keep your hatchlings in a Large Keeper 48” size cage. (I have done it with great success, by the way). My purpose here is not to convince breeders to change their care protocols, but to speak directly with the keepers who are buying one three month old baby and are making first time caging decisions. They are self-sufficient out of the egg. By three months they are now highly experienced in how this captivity situation works. It really isn’t that hard. Feeder bowl = food; strange big foot creature = food and bizarre camera thing that must die; Proper Cage = border of protection. The difference between a two foot tall and four foot tall cage is immaterial to a chameleon whose main sense is sight. They know exactly where everything is in that cage.

Feeder behavior is an issue in any size cage. Specifically we are talking about feeders hiding under pots and in the plants. This is the use and purpose of those feeder run cups. Have one place where you hang the feeder run cup and make sure there is a perching branch conveniently placed nearby with easy tongue slinging access. If you hang the feeder in the same place at the same time every day you will be surprised to find your chameleon on his eating branch ready and waiting for you at feeding time. Chameleons are quite smart – especially when it comes to food.

Trust Your Chameleon's Ability to Survive

Understanding chameleon behavior you can create a dense leafy area where you suspect your chameleon will sleep and a basking spot where your chameleon will warm up in the morning. Your job is to simply provide the environment. Trust that your chameleon will do his part in figuring out how to be where he needs to be.

In the end, not only will I say you are fine getting the adult cage right away, I will actively encourage you to do so. With the smaller body of a juvenile you can create very diverse areas and enjoy watching behavior and habits change as he grows up. This is only possible if there is enough room in the cage to have options to choose from.

For standard size chameleons including the panther chameleon, veiled chameleon, and Jackson’s chameleon, the Large Keeper Kit is the most commonly used successfully from baby to adulthood.  But even if you get the Large Atrium Enclosure, do not go through the effort of building a false bottom within the cage. This is absolutely not necessary. The best that can be said about it is that it is not a dangerous practice. But, honestly, it is sad for you to deprive yourself of having all the space to build a beautiful home for your baby chameleon.

Baby Chameleon in Adult Chameleon Cage

A baby chameleon in a large adult cage will have many microclimates and gradients to choose from.

sleeping baby chameleon

In a large cage with many options your baby chameleon will have many places to choose a sleeping spot from.

Conclusion

Smaller “grow out” areas are a necessity for breeding groups because of the need to be efficient with space. They are especially useful for panther chameleon breeding projects where you want to select your next breeding generation from panthers that are colored up. But a grow out cage has no place in pet keeping. This is one of those cultural folklores that needs to be retired. Your social media advisors may continue to advise it as it is one of those safe concepts that hasn’t been challenged. It isn’t dangerous to the chameleon so we won’t attack it too fiercely, but just know, you don’t have to do it.

Products Discussed in this Post

World Chameleon Species Tour Series

chameleon species of the world
chameleon species of the world

I would like to invite you to join an educational outreach effort I am doing on the Facebook group The Chameleon Enthusiasts. It is a tour of the world’s chameleon species meant to give a look into the diversity that are found within chameleon species.
I have teamed up with Jurgen Van Overbeke who is one of the community’s most experienced breeders. Every Monday we will highlight another species. We have started on the west coast of Africa in the lowlands of Cameroon and we will slowly make our way across the continent and to the outer reaches of where chameleons live. These will be short bite-sized profile introductions. So far, we have covered Trioceros cristatus, Trioceros oweni, and Rhampholeon spectrum. We will be working our way up in elevation to cover the prominent species of Cameroon before moving to Uganda.

To check out the full profiles of these, and future chameleon species, click the button below to find The Chameleon Enthusiasts Facebook group and search for “World Tour” to find the posts. You’ll get more pictures and breeding notes from Jurgen. It is a closed group, but answering two simple questions gets you in!

You can also follow along with this series on the Chameleon_Breeder Instagram account

How To Feed A Chameleon

Jacksons Chameleon eating

How to Feed a Chameleon (in Dragon Strand cages!)

There are three main feeding strategies.

Hand Feeding. This is where you perform some variation on you holding the feeder and the chameleon shoots it from your hand. You simply open the door, present the food and wait. If there is hesitation then try closing the door enough that you can put it between you and your chameleon so there appears to be barrier between the two of you. Chameleons learn that a closed cage means they are safe. This can help them feel safe around your hand.

Jacksons Chameleon Eating
female panther chameleon

Controlled Release. To produce a hunting response, feeder insects are released in the cage for the chameleon to hunt down. Usually this takes the form of releasing the insects to climb a wall that is near the chameleon. To do this I place my feeders in a deli cup that has the appropriate mineral/vitamin powder, gently shake to get a coating of powder, and then tip the cup up against the screen side of the cage. I sometimes give a tap to get the feeders to go to the cup opening. The feeders will generally start climbing the screen and you just let them climb up. I do this in tongue range of the chameleon, but as far away from him as possible. Ideally this is done below him and the feeders are allowed to crawl up the screen. Doing it below him will make the activity less stressful as chameleons have a security when they are looking down on things. The main challenge with this method is the stubborn feeders that decide they want to climb down. Dubia roaches can have this tendency. Adjust you application as needed.

Cup Feeding. Using a cup keeps the feeders contained in one place. This has the huge advantage that it keeps the feeders from running and hiding. The disadvantage is that feeders tend to stop moving once they figure out they are trapped. The Feeder Run Cup construction (see how to make one here) solves this by giving a climbing wall to give them somewhere to move. This, of course, attracts the chameleon’s attention. Feeding cups have had two complaints. The first is the idea that chameleons should hunt to exercise. While a fine idea, chameleons are meant to stay still for long periods of time and the calories burned by moving 12 inches are probably not the basis of a fitness program. The second issue is that chameleons may get bored with food in a bowl. What is really happening here is that the chameleon is probably over fed and is just not hungry. Quick movements of free range feeders can tap into the automatic eating response and elicit a feeding, but this kind of feeding is for our peace of mind, not their health. If a chameleon gets bored of eating the solution is to stop feeding so much, not to find bigger and better ways to overcome their full feeling.

Jacksons Chameleon eating

Feeding in Dragon Strand Cages

(Hand feeding is the same for any cage type.)

There is always a screen wall available for controlled release. In the Keeper series, all walls are screen so you just take your pick! In the Clearside series you will find that the one screen wall is the side closest to where the door opens. This was done specifically to allow for easy controlled release. By having the screen where the door opens you are able to open the door just enough to stick your hand and cup inside to access the screen wall. Breeder style cages have all PVC walls so controlled release must be done with on the front main door. This can be done simply by opening the door, letting the feeders crawl onto the door and closing it. This can be tricky if you are feeding crickets that are not dusted with supplement as they may instinctively jump when there is any movement with the cage door (unless you remove the jumping legs). But any other feeder, and dusted crickets, tend to stay hanging on the screen door and climbing.

With cup feeding you will need to find a way to mount the cup up with the chameleon. How you do this depends greatly with what you are using for a cup. If you are using a Feeder Run Cup with a hanging hook then it gets very easy to hang it off of any of the Dragon Ledges that come standard in all but the smallest of cages or from branches in the cage. If you are using a feeder run cup that affixes with a magnet you will have to bring the cup and holding magnet together to sandwich the cage side. People using commercially available feeder run cups have been confused that the holding magnets do not stick to Dragon Strand screen walls. This is because our sides are made from aluminum. Anything a magnet sticks to will rust and Dragon Strand cages are rust proof! 

chameleon feeder run cup in Breeder style cage

The PVC walls of the Breeder series may be too thick for the magnets to have a solid hold so mount the feeder run cup on the top face panel. If you have a Medium Tall/Wide Breeder you will not have that Top Face Panel. You can mount them to the main door, but please do so close to the hinges where there is the most strength.

I, personally, hand feed or control release the first two feeders and then cup feed the rest. This gives me the opportunity to observe eating each time to verify that the chameleon is looking and acting healthy. The rest of the meal can be eaten from the feeder cup at the leisure of the chameleon.

Resources

If you are interested in how to make your own Feeder Run Cup click this button for an online guide or watch the video below.

Make Your Own Feeder Run Cup Video

This Chameleon Breeder Podcast episode may be of interest as it goes over feeding and nutrition for Veiled Chameleons. But, except for the section on eating vegetation, this can be applied to any chameleon species

Ep 92 Facebook post 2

Which Chameleon Should I Get?

If you are considering a first chameleon, and you are not doing it as an impulse buy, you are probably considering a Veiled Chameleon, a Panther Chameleon, or a Jackson’s Chameleon.

I put this video together to help with the decision making process

If you are looking for positive chameleon experience and just want the the easiest one then this video will explain the differences between the most common three chameleons (at least in the US market).

Dragon Strand: Looking Forward to 2019

chameleon laying eggs

Looking Forward to 2019…

A Brief Review of where we have been

Dragon Strand was started because I, selfishly, wanted better caging options. Most specifically, I wanted an easy and organized way to raise up a clutch of baby chameleons in their own cage. Thus was born the Dragon Strand Nursery Cage System which remains one of the most popular cages today.

Cleaning rack row of baby chameleon cages. Dragon Strand Nursery Cage System

The original Nursery Cage System concept that started it all

But once I got started, I realized I was in a position to solve many of the problems that faced me as a chameleon keeper over the decades. First and foremost was the need to mount plants and horizontal branches on the sides of the cage in a way that did not look thrown together. This is where the Dragon Ledges, which I was able to patent, came in. But this wasn’t just a product development exercise. It was a step towards giving us the tools to create beautiful, naturalistic cages. I was always envious of the dart frog community and their cage set-ups which were mesmerizing in their natural beauty. The standard chameleon cage, by contrast, was a screen cage with a Ficus tree plopped down in the middle. We really had little more than the minimum recommended size cage wrapped around a chameleon. I wanted to make it easy for keepers to make a cage environment that was both better for the chameleon and more aesthetically pleasing for humans.

The updated Dragon Ledge design

Fast forward a couple years and now heavily planted chameleon cages are common. We certainly still have much work to do, but it is time to start on the next step.

Our Next Step

I would like to further the awareness of the natural environment that we are attempting to create. I would like us to view the cage environment as a living organism of which the chameleon is only one part. This will include more education and awareness surrounding substrate, including the art of bio-active keeping. To be clear, Chameleons do not need a substrate to live a long healthy life. This movement is to push our awareness of the natural world and its interactions. You do not need a substrate to have a healthy chameleon. But if you have a cage system that has a thriving bioactive environment with living plants and clean-up crews then your awareness of the inside of your cage is to the point where your chameleon will be getting excellent husbandry.

Having a chameleon caging company allows me a great opportunity to create tools that go along with the education necessary to move us forward. By combining Dragon Strand, the Chameleon Breeder Podcast, and liberally distributed tutorials, the next two years promise to be a period of dynamic growth for us. We will steadily move towards more nature in our cages until our cages just become the borders of a slice of nature – where every corner has life. And, yes, like the drive that started the Dragon Strand company, this is a growth area for myself. It is where I feel I must go in my chameleon life. As I learn from the experts, I will create cage systems that facilitate chameleon people to take this next step and make it easier. You are welcome to watch the growth, but, of course, I invite you to grow along side me! I’ll share everything I know and learn through tutorials, podcasts, and videos. Please enjoy your holidays. 2019 will open an exciting new chapter for us!