A successful mating between female and male of a chameleon species is followed by gravidity. Right after mating, the female usually does not want to be with the male anymore. In Madagascar, mating and gravidity fall within rainy season, so depending on season somewhen between October and April. In captivity outside Madagascar, it is possible that mating and gravidity take place outside these months, too. The length of gravidity varies between the different chameleon species. You can find data about the length under our species descriptions in “chameleons and habitat data”. In many chameleon species, females soon show a certain graviditiy colouration which is very different from their normal colouration. See some examples below.
Already before mating, follicles have been growing on the female’s ovaries. At the time of ovulation, the follicles rupture and let the egg cells escape. The fallopian tube receives the egg cells. Fertilisation of the female egg cells with male sperms takes place shortly after mating right inside the fallopian tube. The epithelium of both tubes builds the egg membranes. After few days, lime begins to deposit on the egg membranes. This process continues until the egg membrane is completely covered by a thin lime shell. In chameleons, eggs are soft shelled and not hard as in birds or tortoises.
Concerning feeding, females may get a little more food during the last third of gravidity. Before gravidity, females should not be fed too much since this may lead to huge clutches that weaken the female enormously. During the whole gravidity, you have to take especially care for supplementation. The vitamin content of the eggs directly depends on the vitamin supply of the mother. Additionally, the female needs more calcium during gravidity to build the egg shells. Studies prove that an ideal supply of the mother with UV-B radiation improves hatching success of a clutch.
Test tunnels and egg laying
It needs some preparation before a chameleon female can lay her eggs without problemlos. The female should be inside a terrarium with deep soil of 20 to 30 cm in height. A mixture of sand and forest soil has proven to work especially well for burrowing. During the last days of gravidity, the soil should always be kept humid, because it is easier to dig in humid ground. Most females stop eating shortly before egg laying. Plants rooting directly in the soil are very attractive for chameleon females. Heat mats under the soil are rather counterproductive – the soil becoming warmer in the depth may disturb the female while burrowing or in worst case, prevent her from laying eggs at all.
Better place a privacy screen in front of the cage when the female begins roaming around the bottom of the terrarium – she is looking for a suitable place for her eggs. The less you disturb the female, the less problems she has in laying eggs. Especially young and unexperienced females dig test tunnels some days for the actual tunnel for the eggs. They dig burrows but do not lay eggs yet. This behaviour is normal and disappears with with increasing age and increasing numbers of gravidities. Has the female finally found the right place – they love to dig between roots – she digs a deep hole. If deep enough, she turns around and usually only the heads looks out the burrow while she lays her eggs one by one. After egg deposition, the female turns around again to put the soil back in place carefully. She even puts leaves on top of the burrow so you cannot recognize where she digged afterwards. This behaviour is part of the egg laying process, so do not disturb the female until she has finished her works completely and climbs back up on branches. If you have carefully peeked into the terrarium before, you however already know where she laid her eggs.
From some species such as Furcifer lateralis it is known that some females let eggs drop from branches instead of digging a hole. We have never watched such behaviour in Madagascar yet. Leaf chameleons (Brookesia ssp.) usually lay only one or two eggs and they do not bury them, but hide them under pieces of wood and foliage. Every egg laying is very exhausting for a chameleon female. So please grant your female peace and silence after successfull egg deposition. Offer supplemented feeders and a working dripper. The chameleon female does not care for her offspring after egg laying.
If a female stops digging completely but has not laid eggs or if the female becomes unusual calm or even closes her eyes during the day, you will need to see a vet as soon as possible. Your female may be egg-bound which will end deadly if left untreated. Please do not hesitate and act quickly.
It is good to know that females may build eggs even without mating. These eggs are infertile. Many Malagasy chameleons are able to “store” semen after one single mating and thus are able to build more fertile clutches without more mating. In these cases, the number of fertile eggs decreases with increasing number of clutches. Please dig out clutches quickly after egg deposition to move them into incubators. You can find more information about incubation of chameleon eggs in this article.