Before a terrarium can be occupied by its new occupant, it needs suitable furnishings. In addition to living substrate, back wall, and living plants and needs a chameleon terrarium especially one thing: climbing opportunities. This article presents what all is possible and what is useful for chameleons.
A densely planted terrarium offers its inhabitant enough hiding and retreat possibilities. Chameleons that are “on display” usually do not live as long as they could with good husbandry. So privacy through dense planting is important for all Malagasy chameleons. In addition, climbing opportunities should be added so that the chameleon can reach any place in the terrarium. “Unused air” in the upper part of the terrarium does nothing for the animal. Chameleons are made for climbing. They move effortlessly from branch to branch and also use their tail as a fifth limb for reaching. The distance between climbing opportunities should not be greater than the chameleon’s length, including its tail. It is a good idea to arrange the branches and climbing opportunities within the terrarium so that the chameleon can walk “circuits” that are interconnected. This is used by both larger species such as Furcifer pardalis and terrestrial chameleons such as Brookesia superciliaris.
Depending on the size of the chameleon species to be moved into the terrarium, select the density of planting and branches. Very small, tree-inhabiting species usually benefit from extremely dense plantings of thin branches that you can barely see from the outside. Larger species need more space between branches and can do less with extremely dense foliage and branches. Basically, the longer you have to look for the chameleon in its terrarium, the better it is planted.
The upper third of the terrarium may generally remain somewhat light and should provide opportunities for direct “sunning” under the UV-B lamps. This requires branches up to below the lid gauze, but less dense planting. Caution: The UV-B radiation and the basic lighting must be adjusted so that the chameleon cannot burn itself even on its highest branch.
Branches are probably the easiest to find and correspond most closely to the wild because even in Madagascar chameleons live mainly on branches. Even ground-dwelling terrestrial chameleons use branches for sleeping. Branches that the chameleon can completely grasp with its hands and feet are well suited. A few branches of the terrarium may be somewhat thicker. Whole tree trunks are rather nothing for the chameleon terrarium.
Conifers should be avoided because of their resin. Instead, branches of fruit trees, hazelnut, alder, willow or other deciduous trees are well suited. Especially from old fruit trees you often get quaint overgrown branches that are covered with lichen or moss. The lichens do not always survive depending on the water supply and temperatures in the terrarium. Freshly cut branches can be obtained on friendly request in allotments or directly in your own garden, dead branches or branches broken off during storms can be collected in the forest. Be careful with branches collected from the ground: they should not be hollow and brittle. If you spray already brittle branches regularly with water, they will soon break completely – possibly exactly when the chameleon walks over them.
The risk of infection with parasites is negligible for chameleons in Germany, accordingly, the branches can be used directly. “Baking off” or similar measures are not necessary. In other countries, for example in Florida, where there are wild introduced chameleons, the branches should be freed from parasite stages or cleaned and disinfected before use.
Lianas are climbing plants that shimmy up trees or other sturdy plants. They form woody stems that can be used as climbing opportunities in the terrarium. In Madagascar, aerial roots are also often referred to as lianas, even though strictly speaking they are not. Lianas provide a more tropical flair in the terrarium and look decorative. In addition, they are usually gladly accepted by chameleons for climbing.
Pet shops offer an abundance of naturally grown lianas. Most are imported from Brazil, Malaysia, or India. These lianas are rigid and immobile, so they must be used “as is” in the terrarium. Only the length can be shortened with branch shears. In contrast to branches, lianas are relatively cost-intensive. It is best to buy where you can look at the lianas on-site because each liana is grown differently. On the Internet, you can usually not choose whether you get particularly beautiful curved or rather straight grown lianas.
You can also buy artificial lianas in pet stores. These are usually wire or other flexible materials that have an artificial coating that mimics a liana look. This has the advantage that the lianas are flexible.
Cork tubes and cork plates
Cork tubes are very popular in terraristics because they look natural and offer many reptiles a good shelter and hiding place. They are made of the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber). For chameleons cork tubes and plates are rather unsuitable. Cork tubes are usually not used by chameleons, but take up a lot of space in the terrarium due to their large diameter. Cork plates, which are attached horizontally to the back and sidewalls, are simply not needed by chameleons with their enormously good climbing skills. They do not need a “perch” wider than a branch. So cork is great as a back and sidewall in the chameleon terrarium, but unfortunately not for the interior part.
Theoretically, hemp, coconut fiber, and sisal ropes can be used in the chameleon terrarium, but they are not practical for chameleons. Chameleons climb ropes like everything else that is offered to them, but they often do not find a stable hold on them and like to “tip over” onto the underside of the rope. Various thick branches and lianas are certainly the better climbing opportunity.
Ladders and bridges
If you like it visually, you can also install small wooden ladders and bridges in the terrarium. For chameleons, these have no advantage over as many branches as possible. In natural terrariums, such “rodent and bird toys” usually look rather out of place.
Coconut fiber nets
These are already discussed in the back panels section.
Bamboo is used a lot in terraristics, especially for geckos. Bamboo poles can be used for chameleons, but they are often too smooth for good grip strength. In addition, chameleons in Madagascar almost never move over bamboo poles as long as other trees and plants are nearby. They generally prefer branches with different, grippy surfaces. Unlike geckos, chameleons cannot do anything with the hollow inner part of the poles.
Vines look visually very quaint. You can often get them for free, especially in wine regions, from winemakers who are just replanting an old vineyard or replacing individual vines. In the terrarium, they prove to be durable and stable but take up a lot of space in contrast to narrower branches. They have one major disadvantage: The bark-like surface is enormously fringy and slowly peels off over time. The loosening fibers can pose a risk of injury if, for example, the chameleon rubs its eyes against them.
You can get around this disadvantage by using sandblasted vines. These also look quaint but have a smooth surface. In most cases, sandblasting also brings out the color of the wood better, resulting in beautiful color gradients.
Mangrove roots, Mopani, Opuwa, and others
Mangrove roots are available in pet stores in all shapes and sizes. They are usually harvested in tropical countries – since mangrove forests are very sensitive ecosystems, one can certainly argue about sustainability here. Originally, mangrove roots were mainly used in aquaristics, but today they are also used in terraristics.
Also originally used in aquaristics is Mopani or Mopane wood. This is the wood of the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane). Mopane grows in South Africa and is used there as firewood, construction timber, and fences. Because of its enormous density, hardness, and resistance to weathering, it was also used for railroad sleepers. That is why it is also known as “ironwood”.
Opuwa wood is advertised under similar advertising promises. However, Opuwa is not a tree, but a town in Namibia. So-called “driftwood”, actually driftwood, suffers a similar fate. It is unclear exactly what kind of wood is involved.
For tree-dwelling chameleons, mangrove roots, mopani wood and the like are usually too small and therefore unsuitable. For terrestrial chameleons, however, they can be used decoratively in the terrarium. However, they should not remain the sole climbing opportunity for terrestrial chameleons, additional branches, especially as a sleeping opportunity, are a must.
The pet store now offers dried and cleaned pieces of banana roots that can be placed “upside-down” in the terrarium. The roots then protrude “branch-like” into the air. For terrestrial chameleons possibly quite interesting, but due to the extremely dense root parts rather unsuitable for climbing. Tip: Natural, similar-looking branches and root parts can be found with a little patience already dead in the forest and for free.
Visually extraordinary are cactus skeletons, sometimes called Vuka Wood or Cholla Wood. These are the sandblasted, dried inner parts of the cactus Chylindropuntia cholla from Mexico. For chameleons, they have no advantage over normal branches. On the other hand, their price is several times higher due to their appearance. Caution: Food animals like to hide inside the cactus skeleton.
Pods, fruits, and nuts
Natural decorative elements may look fancy in the terrarium, but usually do not add any value to the terrarium for your chameleon. Cocoa pods actually exist in some chameleon habitats in Madagascar, as some species live in secondary vegetation such as cocoa plantations. In contrast, virtually no chameleon species lives in coconut plantations. Baobab fruits with their velvety shells theoretically occur in some chameleon habitats, but practically the animals have nothing to do with them. And buddha nuts, the fruits of a stink tree plant from Asia, do not occur at all in Madagascar. In terrariums, when using such decorative elements, care should be taken above all that they are closed. Otherwise, feeders like to disappear into the decoration.
Artificial decoration elements
Whether Aztec ornaments, gargoyles, Groot figurines, dino eggs, plastic skulls, or other decorative objects: There is now a variety of decorative objects available in pet stores. Mostly they are made of plastic, sometimes also of epoxy resin or styrofoam. They all have one thing in common: they are simply unnecessary for chameleon terrariums. If you still want to put the artificial decoration in the terrarium, you should always keep in mind not to take unnecessary space away from the animal, so only use as little of it as possible.
Caves and tunnels
The pet trade now offers a wide range of caves as hiding places for reptiles. They range from natural coconuts to plastic caves and imitation stones made of epoxy resin. Caves are generally unsuitable for chameleons. Chameleons do not hide in them, so caves only take up unnecessary space in the terrarium. It is the same with tunnels.
Fastening climbing possibilities in the terrarium
The easiest way to fix branches in the terrarium is to use aquarium or food silicone. The silicone can be bought in cartridges at the hardware store. For applying, you need a cartridge press, although here even the cheapest models will do. The branch is pressed into the silicone spots applied on the back and side walls and the silicone is pressed on with moistened fingers so that it forms a kind of “holder” for the branch. The silicone should dry for 24 hours. After that, the terrarium should be left to air out for a few days before a chameleon moves in. Silicone can be removed very well with ceramic scrapers, as long as it is not applied over too large an area.
But a certain size of chameleon and branches silicone is no longer enough for fastening. Then more stable solutions are needed. The easiest way is to use a cordless screwdriver to screw long screws through branches into the back or sidewall. The pointed ends of the screws must necessarily end in walls, otherwise, chameleons can injure themselves on them.
Clamping and canting
Very light, thin branches for equally small chameleons can sometimes simply be clamped between terrarium walls. With heavier animals, however, this often no longer works. And be careful: Often, the branches wedged in this way are under tension – if they come loose, they fly around the terrarium inhabitant’s ears with momentum or the animal simply falls off with them.
Raffia, cable ties
Another variant to connect branches is raffia or cable ties. Both often need to be tightened after some time, as they can loosen somewhat. With cable ties, cut off the protruding ends with string cutters and round off the plastic edges with a file so that nothing sharp-edged remains.
Examples of furnished terrariums
On the left, you have a terrarium made of aluminum profiles and Forex with a complete gauze door and gauze lid and living substrate. The back wall was covered with decorative cork. The terrarium is neatly overgrown, the upper third is kept a little brighter. On the bottom grow various maranths and Chamaedora, on the right a passionflower is growing upwards. In the back right, a green lily is attached to the wall, left centered on the wall is a nest fern and centered another fern. On the far upper right and on the top of the back wall, there are ivy plants climbing through the tank. In addition, there are three Lousiana mosses attached to branches. The branches are from apple trees.
The terrarium on the right is a very tall, large tank with live substrate and very many branches from an old plum tree. The back walls are covered by a mat of willow branches that can be climbed. The lower area is covered by a Kentia palm and a Ficus benjamini, and a passionflower grows in the upper area. On the left is a plant pot with another plant. The two climbing plants should still grow a little so that the terrarium is better greened.
The left terrarium shows a well set up terrarium for smaller chameleon species with the living substrates. The sides as well as the door and lid are made of gauze. It has many branches, the upper third is a bit thinner, the back wall is made of decorative cork. The tank is planted with various Asplenium species and Rademachera.
The terrarium on the right looks nice but is unsuitable for keeping chameleons: There is a plastic plant on the right, and a water dish on the front left – neither of which belongs in chameleon terrariums. In addition, the substrate is unsuitable for chameleons, it is bark mulch. Another problem is the little dense planting and the thick cork tubes instead of many thin branches. Chameleons cannot do anything with the cork tubes, they only waste valuable space.
The last two terrariums are made of aluminum profiles and forex plates. In each case, the lid and the entire door/front, in the left terrarium additionally the right side wall, is made of aluminium gauze. The left terrarium has a mixed back and sidewall with many different areas of clay, decorative cork, pressed cork, and branches. The right terrarium used an ornamental cork for the back wall. The substrate is bioactive and covered with foliage. In the right terrarium, an egg-laying site for females has been set up, it is made of sand unlike the rest of the floor. These two terrariums have been set up for very large chameleons, the attached branches are correspondingly thicker and overall the terrarium is “lighter”. Natural lianas as well as branches of a walnut and a cherry tree are used. In the left terrarium the following plants are used: In the plant pots on the left wall are a pothos, a parlour palm and two sword ferns. A kentia palm and a large fruit salad plant grow on the floor. The back wall was planted with a Rhipsalis, pothos and a small-leaved creeping fig. In the right terrarium, the floor was covered with various Calathea. In addition, three large blue star ferns hang. On the right side of the wall is a Rhipsalis. At the top front, an additional Lousiana moss provides privacy.