Dragon Strand Caging Systems

Keeping Plants Alive in Your Chameleon Cage

chameleon cage filled with plants

green strip for chameleon cage

Keeping Plants Alive in a Chameleon Cage

Have you noticed that it is not necessarily easy to keep plants alive in your chameleon cage? There are two main reasons for this and today we will talk solutions. For those that have thought of this before you may have gotten stuck on how to get ¼” tubing into the cage. By the end of this article you will have your solution. First, let’s talk plants and why they do not thrive in our captive environments.


Problem 1 – Lack of Light

The first main reason plants die in a cage is light. Just one look at posts on social media will show how we tend to grossly underlight our cages. They often will resemble caves with a single weak point of light and the rest of the cage in deep shadow. This is not a healthy environment for chameleons and certainly not for plants which literally eat from light.

Solution 1 – Greater Strength Bulbs and More of Them

The solution to this issue is to invest in strong lighting. And, yes, it will take some money to do it right. The most effective way to light a cage is using current T5 High Output linear fluorescent bulbs. Over my cages I use a quad fixture and run three 6500K daylight bulbs and one appropriate strength UVB bulb. This is enough light to produce growth in many of the low light plants that we call “indoor plants” such as pothos (Epipremnum aureum), Umbrella Plants (Schefflera arboricola), or spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum).


Problem 2 – Lack of Water

The second killer of chameleon cage plants is dehydration. Plants need light for food and water to drink. But, you say, you have misters going on all over the place multiple times a day! How can they be dehydrated? Simply, because the water is not getting to their roots. We arrange our misting systems to hydrate our chameleon which means mist on the leaves. This means that the soil only gets what drips down. While that may work for the Umbrella Plant, plants that form a dense canopy of leaves may have all the water trapped on the leaves to evaporate off or just drip away from the soil to the bottom of the cage.

Solution 2 – Get Water to the Roots

The most simple way of solving the water issue is to make watering your cage plants a weekly habit. Get a nice watering can with a spout that allows you to reach all plants in the cage. Don’t worry about using a small watering can that can navigate amongst the branches.

Another way of solving this problem using equipment you already have (and a couple odds and ends you don’t have yet), is to hook a drip system to your existing misting system.


Automatic Plant Watering Project

There are indoor plant watering pumps and timers that are designed to automate the watering process for indoor houseplants. Indoor plant watering spikes allow you to fill up a container which will water your plant slowly over the course of days. Thus you need only to replenish the water when it runs out. The issue with this is that the water basin is often a plastic bottle you add and, although the plants are happy and the chameleon doesn’t care, it looks pretty bad. An option I really like automatic drip irrigation systems that are designed for this exact purpose! Of course, there is often a misting system running on your chameleon cage. How about using that?

Getting Tubing Into the Cage

No matter what kind of method you decide on, if you are using an automated method you most likely will run into the problem of getting ¼” tubing into the cage. For today’s project, we will build this entry point. We need a clean entry into the cage and if we go through the screen (which we do) we need a way to do away with screen edges that could hurt your chameleon. This is what we will produce:

grommet entry point

This entry point for 1/4″ tubing is going through the top panel of a screen cage. I am using a standard misting nozzle mounting wedge and a top hat grommet to clean off the frayed screen edges.

Materials/Tools needed:

  • ¼” Top Hat Grommets. Easily found on Amazon. Link below. This is the most important part. For everything else you can find alternatives.

  • Wedge of PVC or some plastic. We’ll have to make this one or use a standard screen cage mounting wedge.

  • Four stainless steel screws 

 

  • 7/16” Drill Bit and the drill to drive it

 

  • ¼” tubing to hook up to your pump

 

  • .5 gph drippers (or lower)


Step 1: Create mounting wedge. We are wanting to create a firm anchor for the entry point of the tubing. If you already have a misting nozzle then you probably already have a wedge in place. You can probably just use this. If not then you will have to create a wedge such as pictured below. We are going to be drilling a pretty large hole in it with our 7/16” drill bit. I suggest drilling the hole before cutting the plastic down to size. This is just because it is easier to control a large piece of plastic when drilling a relatively large hole. Once the hole is drilled, cut the triangle shape out. (If you are making your own). You can also pre-drill mounting holes for your screws. Just use a drill bit no larger than the threads on your screw. We need the screw head to have as much material to hold on to as possible!

This wedge can be made of any sort of plastic that can hold its shape and take holes drilled in it. As long as it is flat you are good! You can get chloroplast material, PVC, or just the standard misting system screen cage mount like I have here.

hole drilled in wedge

Note: The wedge does not have to go in the corner! You can drill holes along one edge and mount it on any of the framing sides. Dragon Strand cages have thicker framing than most of the other cages on the market so if you are doing this with any other cage just be careful with your measurements.

 

Step 2: Install Your Wedge in your chosen location. The screws I linked to can self-tap into the aluminum framing just press firmly and screw the screw into the framing. No pilot hole is necessary, though it will make it easier. If you want to make a pilot hole before screwing in the screw then use a drill bit half the diameter of your screw.

 

Step 3: Create an Entry. This is where many people freeze up. Poke a hole in my screen?!? Yes, we are going to be poking a hole in your screen just like you do for a misting nozzle or Dragon Ledges. But the grommet we got will hide the hole. To poke a hole I get a sharp knife and push it through the screen into the hole for an X pattern.

making a hole in a chameleon screen cage top

Step 4: Place the Grommet in the 7/16” hole and weave your ¼” tubing through. There will be a respectable amount of friction holding the grommet in the hole once the tubing is pushed through. But it will be easy to knock it back out by pulling the tubing out. The assumption is that the grommet is there to hide the frayed screen and not to provide structural support. If you drilled the hole too large or want the grommet placement to be more permanent, then a couple dabs of super glue will take care of that. Just remember that the screen is tuck on the top so there is no clean way to reverse any supergluing!

Inserting the grommet

The grommet will hide any frayed edges from making the hole in the screen

 

Grommet from inside cage

A view of the grommet from the inside of the cage

 

compression fit with tubing

Inserting the 1/4″ tubing will create a tight fit which will hold the grommet in place.

And you have completed the ¼” tubing insert!

Users of the Monsoon misting system can use this method to get their mist nozzles inside screen cages.

Step 5: Get Drippers to the Plants. Use the 1/4″ tubing and standard 1/4″ tubing elbows and “Ts” to get dripper to each potted plant. This is where planning becomes important. The more water spigots you put on the system the lower the mist pressure will be. The lowest micro-dripper rate I have found so far is .5 gallon per hour. Wind the 1/4″ tubing behind plants and keep it out of sight as much as is possible. The 1/4″ tubing is not suitable as a chameleon perch so we are not so lucky to be able to string it across the middle of the cage. Make sure the drippers go to the soil so they get the water where it needs to be.

.5 gph micro-dripper

A micro-dripper can get the water to the soil of your plants. But it also will put a strain on your pump.

Timing. You will need to optimize your misting schedule to accommodate both your chameleon and your plants. Your chameleon will have to take priority so you may be changing out plants to ones that can thrive with whatever watering schedule you have. Many of our ornamentals/indoor plants like to have their soil dry out before the next watering and that won’t be happening with this system. You will get a consistent watering every day. You may now run into he problem of over watering depending on how much you mist your cage. Switching your hydration to fogging, night misting, and a dripper will reduce the amount of misting you have to do to hydrate your chameleon and may be the balance you need to keep you plants happy. (If you would like to explore a more naturalistic hydration that uses less water you can listen to Episode 89: Naturalistic Hydration of the Chameleon Breeder Podcast.)

Pump. This is a great reason to get one of the higher power pumps that can mist more cages. This means they can handle more “load” and this will decrease the effects of putting micro-drippers on the line. Ideally, you would have a pump for the plants and a pump for the chameleons. Then you would have full control!

Conclusion

We are always looking for ways of doing things better. Plants are a critical piece of our captive environment and need the same attention to detail as our chameleons do. And it is well worth it. A living environment is a wonderful place for your chameleon to grow up in and live its life.

green strip for chameleon cage


Note on shipping list: The products listed in this how-to article are Amazon affiliate links. If you follow that link and make a purchase on Amazon (even if it is any other items) I will get a small percentage of what you buy (no extra cost to you) as a finder’s fee. Of course, it is cage sales that support what I do here. But I also want to get this information out to people with other cages so they can provide better chameleon husbandry and be more successful in their hobby. Shopping on Amazon through one of the links is a way that you can support my efforts here even if you do not have Dragon Strand products. Thank you for your support and enthusiasm. My purpose for these articles – and this entire caging company – is to constantly push forward with new and better ways of doing thing!

Constructing a Chameleon Feeder Run

Chameleon feeder run

Note: This tutorial is available as a .pdf. To download, click here:

How to Make a Chameleon Feeder Run Cup

To watch a video on creating your own Chameleon Feeder Run Cup click here!


Chameleon feeder run

A Brief Introduction & History of the Chameleon Feeder Run

As we come to the end of 2018 we are celebrating the 16thanniversary of the chameleon feeder run! This concept solved the standard problems of feeder insects sitting in feeder cups not providing the required movement to attract a chameleon’s attention.  By adding a back to the cup, the insects would climb and provide the movement to attract the chameleons’ eye, but still stays contained in their cup. These feeder runs were first conceived and publicized in January 2003 in an issue of the Chameleons eZine by yours truly. (Click here for a slice of past goodness January 2003 ChameleonNews Hints and Tips) And it has been a staple in chameleon husbandry ever since. It works beautifully so I’d like to take this time to go over the basics in creating your own feeder run cups.

 

Chameleon Feeder Run Parts List

Parts list for Chameleon Feeder Run

Parts Needed:

  1. Washed out plastic water jug, milk jug, soda bottle, etc…
  2. Shade cloth or any other climbable surface you can glue to plastic
  3. A extra large paper clip

 

Tools Needed:

  1. Scissors
  2. Glue Gun
  3. drill with 1/8″ bit

 

Directions to Build Chameleon Feeder Run:

Step 1:  Cut Out Opening

Cut an “L” shape out of the jug. Tip 1: leave enough of a wall on the bottom that the feeder insects you use will not be able to climb out. Tip 2: allow enough material on the sides of the vertical part so that the climbing insects cannot just reach over and grab the side to escape.

Cut out on chameleon feeder run

 

Step 2: Drill Drainage Holes

Drill drainage holes in the bottom. This is to ensure that the feeders do not drown or create an unhygienic mess if water gets in. Obviously, keep the holes too small for the feeders to escape. I use a 1/8″ drill bit.

Drainage holes in chameleon feeder run

 

Step 3: Add Climbing Surface

With the first ones I made I used fiberglass screening and made sure the edges were all safely glued. I now use sun shade material made of nylon as it is softer. I glue the strip of sun shade using a hot glue gun, though silicone would work as well. If you use nylon sun shade remember that it will melt with high temperatures so practice using the glue gun. I apply the glue and wait until it starts to cool before pushing down the sun shade.

sun shade in the chameleon feeder run

 

Step 4: Add Hanging Hook

Two small holes drilled in the top, above the climbing cloth allow me to weave in a bent out paper clip which gives me an easy and convenient way to hang this feeder run in my cages.

paper clip hook for chameleon feeder run

 

 

Now just hang inside a cage and watch your chameleon find its food!

feeder items on a chameleon feeder run

 

 

For maintenance, wash them after every usage. This is an easy and inexpensive way to make yourself some feeder runs!

Conclusion and Advice on Chameleon Feeder Runs

Now, this is a good way to make a lot of runs. But it looks pretty cheap. If you have a nice cage set-up that you put some work into, please do not put a cut-out milk jug in there! It is worth it to get a professionally made feeder run. My favorite is the one made by Nick Barta at Full Throttle Feeders. The feeder runs are attractive and are painted camouflage colors so they do not stand out. Since I do a great deal of taking pictures of my chameleons and their cages I picked up a number of the Full Throttle feeder runs and I am happy I did so. Nothing is more annoying than getting a great shot and seeing a plastic container in the background! So make them and have a blast, but for the show cage in your living room, here is a link to the page for the classy feeder runs!

If you have a nicely set-up cage or one in your living room don’t ruin it with a plastic container! Do this!

Nick Barta Chameleon Feeder Run

I know it isn’t standard for me to sending you to another company, but here is a link to Full Throttle Feeders where you can get the Chameleon Feeder Run shown above. Because, hey, I want the Dragon Strand cages to look their best! Let’s not show off a cheap feeder cup! As of this blog post they are $16. With all the effort you have spent making the cage look nice, don’t stop at the last part.

MAGNETIC CAMO FEEDER CUP

Shipping Damage

Unfortunately, at Dragon Strand we sometimes run into unexpected production delays. This can happen for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are materials that don’t pass our quality inspection (and must be replaced) and shipping damage. Today, let’s explore shipping and what happens when things don’t go was planned.

When you unpack the Dragon Strand cages you can tell we take packing seriously. The boxes are all 275lb test and when we design a cage we actually do so considering how we will stack the pieces for shipping to create the strongest shipping unit possible.

Certification for Box Strength   Dragon Strand Large Keeper Cage Packed   Bundling of a Dragon Strand Large Keeper Kit Chameleon Cage

Dragon Strand cages are packed in 275lb bursting test boxes. This shows the packaging of a Large Keeper Kit. Like all our cages, this one was designed with packing in mind. They are packed to form a strong shipping unit. 

 

Most of the time things go smoothly, but sometimes it doesn’t. It is interesting that reports of shipping damage tend to come in waves as if some particular hub had issues. Last week I got yet another report of shipping damage with a picture of boot marks on the box. Sometimes this happens. Usually there are no marks on the box so I cannot submit a claim with FedEX. But damage can be done anyways. Regardless if I can submit a claim with FedEX or not, I take care of you first and quickly. I will deal with FedEX

If a Dragon Strand product comes to you and it has any sort of damage please send me pictures of the box and of the damaged pieces. It is important that I get a picture of both the damage and the identification label that is stuck on the damaged piece. In this way I know what needs replacement. Two points to remember:

  • It was not packed damaged. I have many well meaning customers try to convince me that the parts had to have been packed damaged. I can tell you, by knowing my processes, a damaged piece will not (and in some cases, physically cannot) be packed. The idea that someone on my very small team thinks they can pack a damaged piece and “get away with it” just isn’t realistic. We can have shipping damage without obvious trauma on the box. Kind of like being beaten with a bag of oranges supposedly does not leave bruises. I don’t know if that is true or not, but if it is, it is like that.
  • Do a thorough check. Go through all the pieces and check them all for damage. It is my intention and commitment that you get a Dragon Strand cage in the condition that you were meant to get it. I do not play games or figure out levels of fault. If it came in damaged, I replace the damaged items! So there is no need to build a case with threats, warnings, accusations, or an account of your emotional duress. You will not have to convince me! I want you to have the best cage to represent my brand! Just give me the information I need and I will get your cage up to production level. But, in the rare case where you damage a piece, please be honest and not try to pass it off as shipping damage. Over many years of doing this we know what shipping damage looks like. And we know what it looks like when someone slips with a screw driver. FedEX is horrible for taking responsibility for their rough treatment and in 95% of the cases I have to eat the replacement costs and that wonderful shipping cost. This is part of the responsibility of selling cages. But let’s all keep it above board, please. But I do limit the replacements to one shipment to you. So look over all the pieces and give me a complete report right up front.
  • Send me an email with the images requested.
    • Damage on the individual pieces
    • The labels that are attached to each damaged piece
    • Any visible damage to the box

 

damaged cage parts

1) send picture of the shipping damage

Label on the damaged cage parts

2) Send pictures of the label on the damaged part

damaged box

3) Send pictures of any visible damage to the box

  • Save the box. If there is box damage I may ask that you hold on to the packaging. Sometimes FedEX wants to inspect the damage (As if delivering a box bent like a candy cane is at all acceptable).
  • Dragon Strand uses the top industry shipping services. I do not do the shipping myself. I use the best third party shipping companies such as FedEX, UPS, or USPS. They do a great job at shipping, but things do happen. What I am getting at is that sending me a lecture about how disappointed you are in my company because of something FedEX did is really not a good use of your time. I have to read it because you are a customer, but until there are better shipping options, this is as good as it gets. While I am not to blame for things that happen in shipping I am responsible for making sure you get the cage you ordered. As you can see, I will be very responsive in replacing anything damaged in shipping to the point of delaying other orders going out to fix the problem.

In the end, I will make sure you get your Dragon Strand quality cage. Even if there is a rocky start, you will get years of use out of your cage. I have people who have had Dragon Strand cages going on five years now and they are still going strong while other cheaper cages have been replaced. I believe this is why customers come to Dragon Strand when there are so many other cheaper options on the market. And we will make sure that remains the case.

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.