Panther Chameleon Care 101: Diet, Habitat, & Setup Guide for Beginners

With its large size, crazy colors, prehensile tail, and zygodactyls feet, the panther chameleon is a wondrous species.

They have fascinating behaviors and are readily available for purchase. Sound appealing?

But before you decide to get one, read this complete Panther Chameleon care guide.

This is one lizard that you CANNOT afford to make a mistake with!

Thinking of purchasing a new pet reptile? Read This First!

 

What is a Panther Chameleon?

Panther Chameleon In Tree
Panther Chameleons were first imported into the United States in the 1980s. They quickly became a “wish list” specimen because of the male’s outrageous coloration and intriguing behaviors. 

One of the larger species of the chameleon family, the panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis), is native to Madagascar and its neighboring islands.

They inhibit the deciduous forests of coastal areas and open habitats that are not heavily shaded. 

 As with most chameleon species, panther chameleons are arboreal, and their bodies are beautifully designed for this.

They have zygodactyl feet, which means that their feet are like tongs in addition to sharp claws that allow them to climb surfaces that are too wide to grasp.

Appearance

Colorful Panther Chameleon
The ability to change colors does not occur until the chameleon reaches sexual maturity, normally reached at 5-9 months.

In panther chameleons, coloration and patterning vary according to their location of origin.

In the Madagascan island of Nosy Be, for example, panthers are colored emerald green, turquoise, or blue-green.

In contrast, on the northwest coast of Madagascar, male chameleons are bright pink with yellowish stripes.

But regardless of their location of origin, female chameleons, in general, lack the brilliant colors of their male counterparts. Their colors have a softer hue, with colors ranging from violet, rose, or peach

It is commonly believed that chameleons change color to match their surroundings, a form of camouflage. In truth, the color changes in chameleons are due more to their emotional state and temperature

The chameleons’ ability to change their skin color is due to small particles in their skin cells, known as nanocrystals. Nanocrystals have the ability to reflect light.

Chameleons can control the density of the nanocrystals within the cell.

When the nanocrystals are close together, their skin takes on a darker tone. When the nanocrystals move further apart, the chameleon’s skin takes on a lighter tone.

Size

Adult male panthers are larger than females.

Adult males reach 20 inches (50 cm) and weigh from 200-220 grams. In contrast, females are smaller and normally reach 14 inches ( 35 cm) with a weight of 140-160 grams. 

Additionally, the tail base in males is thicker due to the hemipenes, which is their sex organ. The base of the tail in females is slimmer.

Life Span of the Panther Chameleon

In the wild, it is believed that panther chameleons have a life span of only a few years. This may be due to predation, parasites, or disease.

In captivity, however, a well cared for male panther chameleons can live over five years! There are even reports of captive-born males living for 8-9 years.

Wild-caught mature males usually have a shorter life span in captivity, living only one or two years.

Captive-born females on average live approximately 2 to 3 years in captivity.

Panther Chameleon Care Sheet

As stated earlier, the knowledge of how to maintain panther chameleons has advanced greatly. We now know what it takes for this species to thrive.

The challenge is that the panther chameleon is unforgiving when it comes to its husbandry. You need to get it right the first time.

Follow the care outlined in this care sheet and you will dramatically increase your chances of this amazing species thriving.

Diet

Panther Chameleon Eating Cricket
The amount that you should feed panther chameleons depends on their age. Discover how their diet varies based on age below!

Panther chameleons are opportunistic predators, so they should be fed a variety of insects.

The following are commonly fed prey items:

  • Cricket (They are the mainstay of the panther chameleon diet)
  • Locust
  • Roaches
  • Butter worms
  • Silkworms
  • Flies
  • Grasshoppers
  • Mealworms
  • Super worms
  • Waxworms

It is recommended that you do not feed wild insects as they may have the residue of pesticides on them.

All insects should be gut loaded, which means that you should feed the insect prey nutritious foods 24-48 hours before offering them to your panther.

Your lizard will then absorb the nutrients from the prey items.

Foods that are recommended for gut loading are:

  • Collard greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Sugar snap pea pods
  • Baby food
  • Other fresh vegetables

In addition to gut loading insect prey, it is also important that you offer your panther chameleon insects that have been dusted with a calcium supplement. This should be done 2-3 times a week.

That means you place the prey item in a plastic bag or bowl filled with a powdered calcium supplement and then shake the bag until the insects are covered with the powder.

The importance of gut loading store-bought insects cannot be overstated. Oftentimes, insects by themselves may lack important nutrients that are crucial for our pets to thrive.

Breeders often use brands like Calcium Plus, which is manufactured by Repashy Superfoods. 

Calcium Plus contains calcium, vitamins, and a D3 supplement. Some keepers also offer their panther chameleon Vitamin A supplements, commonly in the form of beta-carotene.  

When choosing a calcium supplement, select one that is low in phosphorous.

Also, panther chameleons do not tolerate the over-supplementation of vitamin A. You may want to check with a veterinarian or professional breeder for advice.

Professional breeders recommend that young panthers should be fed six days a week.

Prey size should be appropriate for the young panther’s size.

Hatchlings

Crickets that are 1/8th of an inch and fruit flies are good food items for hatchlings.

During the first seven weeks of life, there is no need to offer panthers supplements.

Young Juveniles

When panthers reach two to four months of age, you can offer crickets that are ¼ of an inch and house flies.

This is also the age when you can start them on supplements.

At five to 12 months of age, panthers can take crickets that are 1/2” to 5/8” in size and super worms. They can also take dubias (hissing cockroaches) and silkworms.

Feeding Time

As each lizard has its own appetite, feed your pet as much as it will eat.

As chameleons are cold-blooded, wait till your panther warms up before offering it food.

It is important to remove uneaten insects from the enclosure. Insects that have been left for an extended period of time have been known to bite chameleons.

Habitat and Enclosure Setup

Panther Chameleon Basking Inside Habitat
When it comes to housing your Panther Chameleon, the mantra bigger is better applies when it comes to the size of the enclosure.

The enclosure for panther chameleons needs to be given special consideration due to this species’ unique requirements and other variables, such as the sex and the age of the animals.

Further, you must have the enclosure completed and ready BEFORE receiving your new pet.

The age and sex of your panther chameleon will determine the size of the enclosure that is needed.

Both young and adult female chameleons can be housed in an enclosure that is 18 ” x 18” x 36”. Adult males, however, should be kept in an enclosure that measures 4′ x 4′ x 2′. 

The above dimensions are just a minimum requirement. The mantra bigger is better will definitely apply here. In fact, it is preferred that you provide the largest cage possible with an emphasis on the enclosure’s height. 

Screens for the Enclosure

Panther chameleons need an enclosure where a minimum of two sides is made of a mesh screen.

Mesh screen cages are needed as Panther chameleons require ventilation, and screen cages will prevent the humidity level from getting too high.

Additionally, male panther chameleons are very territorial. They will react to their reflection, which could be a problem if the enclosure has a glass side.

When using screens, it is recommended that you do NOT use fine metal screens or fiberglass mesh. These kinds of screens can cause health issues for your pet.

Instead, use a PVC coated screen. The sides of the enclosure that are not screened should be made of plastic or wood.

Lightening and Temperature

Captive Panther Chameleon Climbing Branch
Did you know? Research has shown that panther chameleons can detect UV light and adjust their exposure to it to compensate for low Vitamin D levels.
Temperature & Lighting Summary
Basking Spot Temperature: 89°F-95°F
Ambient Temperature: 75°F-77°F
Nighttime Temperature: 72°F-76°F

The basking light should be positioned on top of the enclosure so that your chameleon cannot come into contact with it.

Branches should be positioned directly below the basking light so that your pet can take advantage of the heat. 

Use a thermometer to measure the air over the basking site to ensure that it falls within the correct temperature range.

Your panther chameleon’s behavior can determine if the bulb is providing enough heat to the basking area.

If your panther is spending over 30 minutes under the bulb, if it is hanging under the screen where the bulb is located, or if your panther maintains a dark color and is lethargic, it is likely NOT getting enough heat.

Panther chameleons need both UVB and UVA lighting.

For lighting, professional breeders recommend using either a Zoo Med Reptisun t5 10.0 lamp or an Arcadia 12% lamp.

The taller your enclosure is, the greater the UVB % is needed.

For example, a four-foot cage should have a lamp with a 10%-12% range, while a 30-inch cage could use 6-10% UVB light.

Lighting should be on a 10-12 hour schedule so that your pet can experience the day/night cycle. The bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months to ensure that they are giving off UVB/UVA’s full potency.  

Humidity Requirements

Panther Chameleon Climbing On Branch
Panther chameleons will not drink water out of a dish; they are attracted to moving water.

Panther chameleons do best with a humidity level of 65-85%. It is recommended that you equip the enclosure with an automated misting system.

The misting system should be adjusted to not leave lingering pools of water at the bottom of the enclosure.

If your misting system allows it, set it for two or more mist cycles, each with a five-minute duration. 

Position the misting system so that the spray runs off the leaves and branches in the exhibit.

Further, panther chameleons need water to keep their eyes clean. If needed, you can manually mist them for this purpose.

Recommended brands for misters include Zoo Med, Mist King, and Exo Terra. Little Dipper, made by Zoo Med, can dispense a drop of water per second for two cycles per day. 

Whatever method you use, it is important to allow dry periods in the enclosure. The enclosure must not be continuously wet.

Substrate

Cleanliness must be maintained in the enclosure to avoid bacterial or mold growth.

One of the simplest ways to do this is by using newspaper as substrate.

If you are breeding chameleons, do not use newspapers for females. Females need to be able to bury their eggs in the soil.

If they cannot do so, they could retain their eggs, leading to health issues or death for female chameleons. Also, use newspaper for baby chameleons.

Using other forms of the substrate, like soil, provide hiding places for insects. Baby chameleons could become malnourished as a result. 

For a more natural look, use products like Terra Firma. Avoid wood chips or other substrates that could be ingested by the chameleon when feeding.

Décor and Accessories

The enclosure for your panther chameleon should include plenty of plants and branches to climb on and provide it with a sense of security.

Though living or artificial plants can be used, natural plants provide the added benefit of adding to the humidity level.

Commonly used plants for panther chameleons include:

  • umbrella trees
  • pothos
  • hibiscus
  • dracaena
  • weeping fig trees

Before adding live plants to the exhibit, they need to be cleaned to remove any possible pesticide residue that may be on them.

To clean plants, get a bucket of water and add antibacterial soap. Turn the plant upside down and dip the leaves into the solution. If the plant is potted, cover the soil with aluminum foil.

After dipping, let the plants sit for approximately 10 minutes so that the soap can breakdown any pesticide residue.

If you decide to use artificial plants, Exo Terra and Zoo meds make plants that are both realistic in appearance and safe to use.

Do not use silk plants, as sold by craft stores, to contain toxic substances to reptiles.

The branches you use should be of varying diameter and positioned at different levels of the enclosure.

It is important to your panther chameleon’s well being that you arrange the vegetation to provide a densely leafy where they can hide when they want to.

Health Concerns for Panther Chameleons

Panther Chameleon Tongue Out

If its husbandry needs are met, panther chameleons are hardy and do well.

Medical conditions seen in panther chameleons may include:

Vitamin Deficiencies: Vitamin deficiencies, in particular Vitamin A deficiencies, are common in captive chameleons. This condition is the result of an inadequate diet.

Stomatitis: Also known as “mouth rot,” stomatitis is an infection in the mouth. Symptoms include redness of the mouth and excess saliva production.

Metabolic Bone Disease: Metabolic is a fatal condition if not treated. It is caused by an inadequate amount of Vitamin D.

Symptoms include a loss of appetite and the animal being lethargic. What you can not see is that the chameleon’s bones are are week and brittle. 

Metabolic bone disease occurs when proper lighting and calcium supplements are not provided.

Other diseases found in panther chameleons include parasites, ophthalmic diseases, and egg binding in females.

Handling Panther Chameleons

If you are looking for a reptile pet that you can handle, the panther chameleon is probably not the pet for you.

Like other chameleon species, panther chameleons often get stressed when handled.

The fact is, this species is more for viewing than it is for handling.

If you need to handle your chameleon, do not restrain it. Instead, let it walk on your hands and arms.

Also, try to keep your hand above your head. If you do this, your chameleon will feel more secure as it will be looking down at your towering figure instead of looking up at it.

Where to Buy Panther Chameleons

Pet Panther Chameleon Closeup

Panther chameleons should be purchased through a reputable breeder.

Most chameleons that appear in pet shops are wild-caught.

Besides suffering from a traumatic trip from the wild, wild-caught reptiles are more likely to have a compromised immune system, parasites, infections, wounds, or suffer from dehydration. 

Additionally, chameleons are short-lived compared to other lizard species.

When you buy a wild-caught specimen, you will not be able to determine its age.  Other than health concerns, the purchase of wild-caught reptiles puts more pressure on the wild population.

Most reptile hobbyists prefer to get male panther chameleons. Males are more colorful and live longer, though they are also more expensive than female panthers.

Among breeders, panther chameleons are grouped by their locales (the lineage’s original geographical location).

The panther chameleons from each locale have their own distinct colors and patterns. Regardless of the locale, the husbandry requirements are the same.

Depending on their lineage, male panther chameleons can range from $250 to $500, while females of the same lineage range from $150 to $250.

Remember, panther chameleons are very territorial, so do not plan to get two males and put them together.

The only time you will find panther chameleons together is during the mating season in the wild.

When selecting a healthy panther chameleon, check to be sure that its eyes are clear, that it is active, and free of any dry skin patches, which could be a sign of parasites.

Living in Captivity

Panther Chameleon Hanging From Branch

Traditionally, chameleons were believed to do poorly in captivity.

Today, we realize that their low survival rate was because specimens were wild-caught and would oftentimes arrive at pet shows with parasites and poor health.

Further adding to their high mortality is the fact that the care practices of the past were inadequate.  

The advent of captive breeding of panther chameleons was a game-changer. Professional breeders developed the protocols needed for successful husbandry.

Unlike wild-caught specimens, captive bred panther chameleons were hardier and healthier. This, along with advanced husbandry methods, opened the way for reptile enthusiasts to successfully keep this species.

Today, the panther chameleon is in more demand than any other chameleon species.

Panther chameleons are now listed as Appendix II of CITES, a multilateral treaty to protect endangered animals and plans. The panther chameleon is classified as Least Concern (LC) with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Are Panther Chameleons Good Pets?

Thinking of purchasing a new pet reptile? Read This First!

 

The answer to whether panther chameleons are good pets is that it depends.

If you are an experienced reptile collector and know what to do (as outlined in this care sheet), then yes! Panther chameleons can be amazing pets.

If you are a beginner reptile collector who is just getting started, then the answer is no. Instead, we recommend that you check out these other lizard species first.

As stated before, when keeping panther chameleons, there is no room for error.

This species can develop major health issues or die due to any of its husbandry requirements not being met.

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