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How To Feed Your Panther Chameleon

by Vincent on November 1, 2011

The following article will answer some common questions about the feeding and nutrition of panther chameleons.

What should I feed my chameleon?

Panther chameleons will readily accept almost any feeder insect.  Some common feeder insects include crickets, roaches, walking stick bugs, silkworms, super worms, mealworms, wax worms, hornworms, butter worms and flies. Each feeder insect has its pros and cons. Some can be fed daily, while others should be offered only as treats.  The most common daily feeder is the cricket, which is also the easiest to acquire.  The rest of the food items listed above should be offered only as treats.

Chameleon Food

Chameleon Food

When should I feed my panther chameleon?

We recommend feeding shortly after their lights are turned on.  Avoid feeding in the evenings and nights.  In the long run, this can be very unhealthy to the panther chameleon.  Panther chameleons need the heat and activity during the day to digest their food.  Any food that is not consumed during the day should be removed at night.  Crickets are known to chew on panther chameleons in their sleep, which can lead to open wounds.  However, 1 or 2 left over crickets should not pose a problem.

What size food and how many?

The general rule of thumb is that the length of the insect should not exceed the width of the panther chameleon’s head.  Panther chameleons are known for eating some pretty big feeders relative to their size, but the possibility of them choking is very real.  This is especially true with juvenile panthers.

Baby panther chameleons under 3 months old typically feed on fruit flies and pin head crickets.  Most of the other feeder insects are generally too large for them. You should avoid purchasing a panther chameleon that is feeding only on fruit flies and pin head crickets.  These food items are not as easy to maintain and are harder to find.  Also note that panther chameleons currently feeding on pin head crickets and fruit flies are probably too small to purchase, and typically do not acclimate as well to their new homes.  Panther chameleons at this age require food that is available to them throughout the day.

Juvenile panther chameleons typically feed on 1/4″ to 1/2″ crickets.  You may also begin offering small worms, such as silkworms.  Offer 10-15 crickets daily.

Sub-adult to adult panther chameleons can be offered treats.  It is normal for panther chameleons to avoid a newly introduced feeder insect at first.  They might not recognize it as a food item, and it will take some time before they take the first bite.  But once they take that first bite, they usually go crazy for the new treat.  At this age, they are generally eating full-size crickets.  You should feed your panther chameleon daily until they are fully matured at 18 months old.  An adult panther chameleon should be offered 6 to 8 crickets daily.  You may also offer your panther chameleon 12 crickets every other day.

Why should I limit his diet?

Many panther chameleon keepers are reluctant to feed their adult panther chameleons less food.  The reason why you need to cut down their food intake is because your adult panther chameleon is no longer growing.  Panther chameleons in captivity are not as active because of the limited space in their enclosures.  Panther chameleons in captivity also receive a consistent supply of food.  Both of these factors can lead to an overweight pet.  Your goal is to keep your panther chameleon lean.  Being overweight is just as unhealthy as being underweight.  You want to aim for a balance that is right in between too fat and too skinny.

How do I feed my panther chameleon?

There are two feeding options: Free Roaming and Cup Feeding .  Free roam feeding is just that.  Food items are released into the cage and the chameleon is free to hunt them down on there own.  Cup feeding is done by placing a small deli cup in the cage (preferably not clear). The food items are then placed into the cup and the chameleon can then eat the items being offered. There are pros and cons for both feeding methods.

Chameleon feeding cup

Chameleon feeding cup

Advantages Disadvantages
Cup Feeding
  • Keeps feeders in one place
  • Keeps feeders clean
  • Prevents feeders from escaping
  • Easily monitor food intake
  • Not Natural
  • Chameleons may not get exercise from hunting.
Free Roaming
  • Keeps your chameleon active
  • Exercises your chameleon’s tongue
  • More natural
  • Feeders can hide
  • Feeders can get dirty from items on the floor
  • Feeders can eat through some screen cages
  • Feeders may escape from the cage

 

Important Cup feeding Tips

  1. Only cup-train chameleons that are 6+ months old. It requires starving them and you never want to starve a baby.
  2. We don’t recommend cup-feeding females. Due to their tendency to lay eggs, it is better that they are constantly exercised to keep them lean.
  3. Always keep your chameleon’s feeding cup clean! Your chameleon can become sick from bacteria if the cup is left dirty.
  4. Do not use a “see-thru” cup, as most chameleons will attempt to shoot through it and damage their tongue.
  5. When training your panther to eat out of a cup, start off with multiple cups at opposite ends of the cage.
  6. When training your panther to eat out of a cup, offer a few crickets in the cup and a few to free roam.

Where do I store the food?

There is no one way to store insects, each food item will need a slightly different setup. Most of the odd food items like wax worms, butter worms, hornworms, and flies come in cups. These cups will be just fine for housing these food items until you can feed them off. Mealworms can be put in the refrigerator to slow down their growth.

Crickets do best in a vertical position.  Crickets bought by the 1000 come boxed with egg crate, which works perfectly for positioning vertically. 18 gallon Rubbermaid tubs work great for housing crickets. These can be purchased at a hardware store or Walmart. You will need to cut an opening on the lid and cover it with screen, preferrably Aluminum.  Attach the screen with silicone, rivets, staples, hot glue, or duct tape.

Cricket box lid

Cricket box lid

Roaches can be kept using the same method outlined above.  Climbing roaches can climb just about anything. To prevent them from climbing out, apply a 3” thin line of Vaseline around the inner lip of the container. The non-climbers don’t require anything special to keep them contained.

What should I do if I go on vacation?

Panther chameleons can go without food for a couple of days.  If you plan on taking a weekend trip, your panther chameleon will be fine without food.  Anything longer than a couple of days will require somebody to stop by to offer some food.  The most important thing is to keep him hydrated while you are gone.  Water is something that cannot be skimped on.

The biggest mistake you can make is placing a week’s worth of crickets in the enclosure and leaving your panther chameleon unattended.  Here is a list of reasons why you should not do this:

  • Too many crickets will confuse your panther chameleon
  • Too many crickets will stress out your panther chameleon
  • Crickets may chew on your panther while he sleeps

In any event, you should arrange to have somebody stop by and check on your panther chameleon even if you are only gone for a couple days.

What is gut-loading?

Gut-loading is the process of feeding your crickets a healthy diet.  It is absolutely essential in raising a healthy chameleon.  For a complete guide to gut-loading, please read our article on Gut-Loading by clicking here.

Conclusion

This should be enough information to get you started on feeding. It was meant to be a quick guide, and you should continue to research other resources on this topic. If you are interested in reptile nutrition, you should also search the Web to find out how others are gut-loading. Thanks for reading!

{ … read them below or add one }

postage rates November 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm

i love your blog, i have it in my rss reader and always like new things coming up from it.

Reply

Maddie January 9, 2012 at 9:01 pm

How do you get crickets out without releasing them?

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Vincent January 9, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Just tap them out of the cup!

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Maddie January 13, 2012 at 12:43 am

I mean out of the cricket container where I store the others. Just scoop?

Reply

Farrah January 13, 2012 at 7:20 am

You can put a paper towel roll in there and the crickets tend to hide in it. The tap the roll into a cup.

Reply

Maddie January 22, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Thanks!

Reply

Jon February 11, 2012 at 2:41 pm

What’s the best method for releasing free range crickets so that they just don’t fall to the bottom every time I dump them over leaves or in side they just fall or hide for most part

Reply

Farrah February 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm

You can allow them to crawl on the screen by gently releasing them on branches and the screen itself. I personally enjoy placing them on branches, since they get a bit more work out.

Reply

Justin May 24, 2012 at 1:53 am

Hi, I have another question. The Giant Day Geckos I owned had no fear of people. When I would open the enclosure to feed them, they would approach me, and follow my hand. It got so normal, I began hand feeding them dusted crickets and baby food with my fingers or rubber tipped tweezers. I did this to prevent the crickets escaping into the heavily planted enclosure. They can easily reproduce in that type of enclosure and become a problem. So, can I just hand feed my chameleon like this? The positives seem to outweigh the negatives to me… Right? Thanks 🙂

Reply

Farrah May 24, 2012 at 10:55 am

Hi Justin,

You can eventually teach your chameleon to eat from a cup. You can do this when they are a bit older. However, you want the younger ones to hunt on their own so they learn to use their hunting skills and get exercise as well.

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