When you successfully mated your chameleons, the female laid her eggs also successfully and egg incubations went well, it is time for the juveniles to hatch and thus you have to rear the offspring. But actually, how do you raise young chameleons? What to pay attention to? In this article, we want to give some suggestions.
The right terrarium
For chameleon offspring you need matching offspring cages. Size of the cages depends on the species you want to keep. For example, hatchlings of a Brookesia species are naturally much smaller than a juvenile of Calumma parsonii. With panther chameleons we made good experiences with offspring terrariums in 30 x 30 x 50 cm (width x length x height) for five juveniles, in Parson’s chameleons we use 30 x 40 x 40 cm for each juvenile. Like adult’s cages, offspring terrariums should have spacious ventilation screens. It is also favourable to have easy-to-clean cages for young chameleons.
Whether you want to use “living soil” or keep the juveniles on paper towels during their first weeks, is a matter of taste. When choosing paper towels please be aware that you will have higher cleaning efforts. Every offspring cage should contain alive plants, may it be inside their pots or directly planted into soil. As thin branches, Hazlenut and Chinese Willow have proven to work perfectly for us. Especially important for juveniles is to get UV-B which is vital for their growth. You can either use fluorescent tubes with UV-B component or metal halide lamps right above the cage (be careful to use the required minimum distance) or use an additional Osram Vitalux 300 W daily for 30 minutes from a distance of 80-100 cm. With temperatures you have to be rather careful in juvenile chameleons. Many species do not tolerate high temperatures as juveniles. So we suggest to keep all offspring terrariums below a maximum of 28°C.
You need to clean your offspring cages on a regular base, at least weekly. Faeces, feeder and supplement residues have to be removed from leaves and branches. Kitchen towels should be changed every few days.
Single or groups?
Generally, chameleons do not like to be around other specimen. Juveniles are an exception, because you can often raise them for few months together in groups. In species such as Furcifer lateralis, Furcifer pardalis or Furcifer oustaleti we made good experiences in raising groups of juveniles. These juveniles feed better on insects when kept in groups and mostly tolerate each other well. Generally, in groups all juveniles need to have enough possibilities to retreat. All groups should be split up depending on size, so only same-sized juveniles are part of the same group. It might be necessary to re-arrange the groups from time to time because juveniles grow differently and some may be larger than others. Please always have some separate cages available just in case single juveniles are especially aggressive towards others.
When raising juveniles in single cages, you may need lots of terrariums depending on clutch size. This means a much higher financial efforts and shortage of space. In sensitive species such as Calumma parsonii parsonii, Calumma parsonii cristifer or Furcifer minor it has proven to be easier to raise offspring in single cages than in groups. This way you can better control ever individual juvenile, you know how much everyone ate and can put notice papers on each cage.
Freshly hatched juveniles usually still have a small yolk sac. As long as they have this, they do not need to feed on insects yet. As soon as the yolk sac is gone, the small chameleons should eat their first feeders. From the beginning on they are able to hunt, climb and shoot. You only have to adjust the feeders’ size to the small chameleons. As first food, fruit flies have proven to work well for all Malagasy species. When eating these well you can slowely expand the offered diet to aphids, firebrats, bean weevils and other feeders until they finally deal with the size of young crickets. Hatchlings should be fed daily so there is plenty of food inside the terrarium all day long and the juveniles can eat any time. The first time of less food may come with the juvenile moving to its new home.
Especially in juvenile chameleons, good supplementation of feeders are essentially. With each feeding, feeders are powdered with calcium and vitamin supplement in alternation. For years we have been using Korvimin ZVT + Reptil. A lack of supplementation may lead to rachitis quickly in juveniles.
Compared to adult chameleons, juveniles drink a lot. In Madagascar, they hatch during rainy season which means you should always care for a good water supply in captivity, too. Drippers are often not used by juveniles yet. Usually it is better so spray all cages with water several times a day. The juveniles will lick the water they need from the leaves. In juveniles of Calumma parsonii, you can begin to get them used to drink from a pipette at the age of few weeks.
Sex determination in juveniles
Beginners in chameleon keeping often have problems determining the sex of especially young chameleons. In many Malagasy chameleons, sex is easy to recognize even at young age, in Furcifer pardalis even at the day of hatching. Latest at the age of three months, males can be recognized due to their hemipenal pockets. These pockets cause a bulge right behind the cloaca in males that should not be confused with the cloaca itself that is of course visible in both species. Sex determination in different species is described on the species’ description pages. In few species, for example several Brookesia or Calumma parsonii, sexing the juveniles may be a bit tricky.
Generally, only healthy and stable chameleons should move to a new home and new keeper. That means juveniles have been eating autonomously and steadily for the last weeks, climb through the cage without problems and do not show any signs of disease. It makes sense to collect fecal samples of the juveniles and get those examined by your vet’s on a regular base. A juvenile free from parasites that has been raised under UV-B has best starting conditions. In most chameleon species, an age of at least three months is a good age to give them into their new home. If there are any matter of concerns please do not hesitate to keep your offspring longer.
The juvenile should leave its home in a suitable transport box. Further more, you need to give the new owners a certificate of origin and informations about general keeping of this chameleon species. Most chameleon breeders would love to stay your contact person for problems with “their” offspring or general questions about chameleon keeping – just ask!