Panther Chameleon

Panther Chameleon
Photo © Martin Harvey / Getty Images

Panther chameleons exhibit many different brilliant color morphs or phases named after the geographic location they come from in their native habitat of Madagascar.

Females show less variation in color (often orange or brownish) and have a less dramatic "helmet" than males (comprised of ridges along the sides of the head), as well as being smaller.

  • Names: Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)
  • Size: Panther chameleons can reach up to around 21 inches in length, although those in captivity tend to stay a bit smaller (this includes the tail). Males tend to be larger than females.
  • Lifespan: Approximately 5 years in captivity.

Behavior and Temperament of Panther Chameleons

Panther chameleons are territorial and should be housed individually. Handling tends to be stressful, so as with other chameleons, they are pets that are better suited to being watched rather than handled a lot.

Panther chameleons, like most other species of chameleon, is territorial; if two males are housed together in captivity, they change color and sometimes attack each other. In the wild, this is part of the ritual of males choosing female mates. 

These lizards have exceptionally long tongues, with which they can snatch their prey out of mid-air. 

They don't live very long in captivity, but their generally docile demeanor and the fact they're relatively easy to care for compared to other lizards make panther chameleons a favorite among lizard owners. 

Housing the Panther Chameleon

Chameleons should never be kept in glass terrariums.

They need the ventilation provided by a mesh enclosure. Fine metal or fiberglass mesh is not recommended for chameleon enclosures; PVC coated hardware cloth is good.

Vertical space is essential to allow the chameleon to climb, and a cage size of 36 inches by 24 inches by 36 to 48 inches tall is recommended (the bigger and taller the better - chameleons like to climb high up off the ground).

An outdoor cage can be used when the weather is warm enough, as long as overheating is prevented.

Provide lots of sturdy non-toxic plants and branches. Ficus trees have often been used in chameleon housing, but require some caution as the sap can be irritating. Other plants you could try include pothos, hibiscus, and dracaena. Artificial plants may also be added, and artificial vines are a great addition. A good selection of branches of different diameters should be provided, making sure there are secure perches at different levels and temperatures within the cage.

Substrate

Cleanliness in the cage is vital to prevent bacterial or mold growth. Using paper towels or newspaper to line the cage makes cleaning easiest. Potted plants can be placed on a plain paper substrate for easier cleaning while still allowing live planting in the cage. Do not use wood chips or any other substrate that could be accidentally ingested and cause blockages. 

Temperature

A daytime temperature gradient of between 75 and 90 degrees should be provided, with a basking spot at 95 degrees, At night, the minimum temperature should not drop more than 15 degrees. Heating is best accomplished by a basking or incandescent light in a reflector or a ceramic heat element, any of which should be placed outside of the cage to prevent burns.

Lighting

Chameleons need an ultraviolet (UVA/UVB) light source, so invest in a good bulb such as the Zoomed Reptisun 5.0. Keep the UV light on for 10-12 hours per day. Remember these bulbs need to be replaced every 6 months. Chameleons also benefit from spending time outdoors in natural sunlight when the temperatures are appropriate (but beware of overheating -- make sure shade is always available).

Humidity

Panther chameleons need a high humidity level; it's best to aim for between 60 and 85 percent. This can be accomplished by misting the plants regularly, and a drip or misting system is also recommended.

Chameleons rarely drink from a water bowl, but they will lap up droplets of water off plants, so the misting/drip system also serves as a water source. Position a drip system so the water droplets cascade over the plants in the enclosure.

Invest in a hygrometer to measure humidity.

Food and Water

Panther chameleons are insectivores so should be fed a variety of insects. Crickets are usually the mainstay of the diet, but locusts, roaches, butterworms (good for calcium), silkworms, flies, and grasshoppers can be fed, as well as mealworms, superworms, and waxworms.

Be wary of wild-caught insects due to possible exposure to pesticides and avoid fireflies.

All insects should be gut loaded (fed fresh veggies and vitamin/minerals) before feeding. In addition, some chameleons will also eat a bit of plant matter, including collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, and sugar snap pea pods.

If you find uneaten insects or your chameleon seems to be gaining a lot of weight, you can cut back on the amount you're feeding, or how often you feed it. And remember to never leave live prey in the cage for extended periods as insects may attack the chameleon.

Make sure you gut load your insects well, and it's prudent to dust insects with a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement (e.g. Rep-Cal) two to three times a week, and use a broad vitamin-mineral supplement once a week. Some experts recommend choosing a supplement that does not contain vitamin A (use beta-carotene instead).

Choosing Your Panther Chameleon

Look for a chameleon whose eyes are clear, and who doesn't show the signs of a respiratory infection: difficulty breathing or wheezing, lethargy and a lack of appetite. If it has dry skin patches, that may be a sign of a parasitic infection. 

As with all exotic pets, the best option is a reptuable breeder who specializes in reptiles.

Common Health Problems

Calcium and vitamin A deficiencies are common among chameleons including the panther. This condition is usually the result of a poor diet.

And like other chameleon breeds, panthers are prone to mouth rot, or stomatitis, an infection around the mouth that shows redness and excess saliva or drooling.

Perhaps the most serious illness for captive chameleons is metabolic bone disease.

This condition, which can be fatal if not treated in a timely fashion, causes a chameleon's bones to become weak and brittle. A chameleon with this disease will appear lethargic and may lose their appetite.

As with any condition where your pet seems ill or stressed, consult a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.

Species Similar to the Panther Chameleon

There are many breeds of chameleon that are good pets for both novice lizard owners and beginners:

You can check out our other chameleon breed profiles here if you want to explore all the varieties of this special lizard.