Dragon Strand Caging Systems

Q&A: What is the Minimum Cage Size for a Female Panther Chameleon?

Female Panther Chameleon

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

 

A Simple Gravity Drain For Dragon Strand Drainage Trays

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.

Getting the Most From Your Dragon Strand Dragon Ledges

floating garden cage with Dragon Ledges

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&A: Chameleons Climbing the Walls

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.

Drainage Solutions for Chameleon Cages

Chameleon Cage Drainage Tray

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.