If you had to picture one of the most colorful reptiles there are, you may very well picture the panther chameleon. These elegant lizards with fast tongues are beautifully colored and they can adapt these colors to their surroundings and moods. While they may be spectacular to look at though, that doesn't necessarily mean they make great pets for everyone. Knowing how to care for these unique animals is important for any potential, and current, chameleon owner.
Common Name: Panther chameleon
Scientific Name: Furcifer pardalis
Adult Size: Males grow to be 14-21 inches long while females grow to be 8-14 inches long
Lifespan: Males live an average of 3-5 years and females live an average of 2-3 years but can live up to 8 years if they are not bred
Can You Own a Pet Panther Chameleon?
While each state has its own laws on exotic pets, panther chameleons are not considered dangerous or wild animals so they are legal in most places. Panther chameleons are not native to the U.S. and are non-venomous, but you should always check with your local laws before acquiring an exotic pet to ensure they are legal where you live.
As with any animal, if you cannot provide proper care, you should not own it. Electing to have a pet of any kind, means you are choosing to care for it. It is widely accepted that if your pet does not suffer and you treat it well, then it is not unethical to have a pet but knowing how to treat a panther chameleon well is key.
Things to Consider
If you are considering getting a panther chameleon as a pet, be prepared to feed it live crickets and understand it is not a cuddly pet. Panther chameleons aren't going to eat pre-packaged kibble or want to snuggle up to watch a movie. Depending on what your expectations for your pet are, this may or may not mean this is the right pet for you.
Panther Chameleon Behavior and Temperament
Panther chameleons are diurnal, slow moving (except for their tongues), territorial with other chameleons, docile, and quiet reptiles. Their moods are often reflected in their colors, but the color- changing magic that these lizards are so well known for does not develop right away. Panther chameleons must be sexually mature, which is between 5 and 9 months of age, before they are able to change colors rapidly. They also have prehensile tails and independently moving eyes that add to their uniqueness.
Since panther chameleons are arboreal reptiles, they need an enclosure that is taller than it is wide. 24 inches x 24 inches x 48 inches is the minimum size for one adult panther chameleon. They also need plenty of things to climb on, so branches, plants, and screened walls are a must for these animals. Panther chameleons do not walk around on the ground so bedding is not a concern, but the branches and plants will need to be cleaned from time to time.
High humidity levels are important for proper panther chameleon health. Misting and dripper systems are necessary to maintain a 50-60% humidity level during the day, especially since they are primarily made of screens and not glass, with even higher levels at night. A hygrometer can be placed in your panther chameleon's enclosure to monitor these levels.
Heat and Lighting
Panther chameleons need both heat lights and UVA/UVB lights. During the day, your chameleon's enclosure should be kept at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit with a basking spot between 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit using heat lights. At night the enclosure can drop to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Thermometers can be placed in areas in the enclosure to ensure the temperatures throughout it are appropriate or even a temperature gun can be used to measure temperatures. Just make sure the heat lights aren't placed too close to where your pet sits as it can cause thermal burns even though they are outside the enclosure.
A separate UVA/UVB light should be shining for 12 hours a day, about 6-12 inches away from where your panther chameleon sits. Do not place any glass or plastic between this light and your chameleon or the invisible UVB rays will be blocked. Make sure to change your UVB bulb every 6 months as the bulb stops emitting UV rays even though the bulb turns on still.
What Do Panther Chameleons Eat & Drink?
Panther chameleons are insectivores which means they eat insects. Crickets are the most popular option but no matter what kind of insect you offer, and you should offer a variety of insects always, they should always be gut-loaded and never be wild-caught.
A dusting with calcium powder should be done every other day or every feeding as well along with a multivitamin daily. Following these basic guidelines for your chameleon's food will help ensure maximum nutrition is fed while avoiding potential pesticides and parasites from the outdoors. Hydration needs will be met from lapping up drops of water that accumulate on plant leaves from your misting and dripper systems.
Common Health Problems
By providing an appropriate environment and food for your panther chameleon, you can avoid the majority of health problems that are commonly seen. Internal and external parasites, eye injuries, foreign body ingestion and obstruction, vitamin deficiencies, calcium deficiencies, and infections are the most prevalent concerns. If you suspect your panther chameleon is sick, seek veterinary attention.
If you have appropriate housing for your panther chameleon, it will get all the exercise it needs. Plenty of branches and vines with varying diameters to climb on should be available for your chameleon in its enclosure.
Reptiles may not have fur but that doesn't mean they don't shed. A panther chameleon will shed their skin periodically but not in a single piece like a snake. If your panther chameleon has difficulty shedding, it may indicate an environmental or health concern.
Male panther chameleons grow to be 14-21 inches long while female chameleons only grow to be 8-14 inches long, including their tails. These are lightweight reptiles with adult males weighing between 140-180 grams and adult females weighing between 60-100 grams.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Panther Chameleon as a Pet
Panther chameleons are quiet and colorful and once you have their environment set up appropriately, they aren't that difficult to care for. They may only live to be a few years of age though and need to be housed alone so if you want more than one panther chameleon, you'll need more than one enclosure.
Purchasing Your Panther Chameleon
When purchasing a panther chameleon, make sure it has been captive-bred. Historically, wild-caught chameleons were prevalent and also came with more health problems and shorter lifespans. Thankfully captive-bred reptiles are far more common today but you should still make sure you are getting what you want. If you see the initials "CB" next to the name of the reptile you are looking at while shopping at a reptile expo or store, that means it has been captive-bred.
Expect to pay several hundred dollars, if not $600, for a healthy, well-bred panther chameleon. Males typically cost more than females since males usually live longer and get larger. Additionally, panther chameleons that originate from different parts of Madagascar may also vary in price.
Panther chameleons are territorial reptiles but when a female chameleon is showing softer color hues like peach and violet, they may be receptive to breeding. If these colors continue to be displayed, you can attempt to introduce the female to the male but must make sure the male doesn't get too aggressive. If the female is receptive to breeding, multiple mating sessions that last several hours may occur over a day or two.
Similar Lizards to the Panther Chameleon
Panther chameleons are just one of about 200 species of chameleons in the world. Check out these other chameleons that are commonly kept as pets:
- Senegal Chameleon Species Profile
- Veiled Chameleon Species Profile
- Jackson's Chameleon Species Profile
Are panther chameleons hard to take care of?
Panther chameleons are one of the hardest lizards to care for; their husbandry is very difficult to mimic. Be sure to set up the enclosure correctly and provide appropriate lighting, food, and humidity in order for them to thrive. Maintaining an appropriate environment for a panther chameleon is critical to their health.
How long do panther chameleons live as pets?
Most panther chameleons only live a few years but with proper care, a captive bred chameleon that is not bred can live up to 8 years with the right husbandry. Males typically live 3-5 years and females typically live 2-3 years though.
Do panther chameleons do better in their natural, wild habitats or as pets?
Panther chameleons arguably do much better as pets, assuming they are well cared for. A captive bred, pet panther chameleon will typically live between 2-5 years and up to 8 years of age while a wild panther chameleon lifespan is only 1-2 years.
Ferguson GW, Jones JR, Gehrmann WH, et al. Indoor husbandry of the panther chameleonChamaeleo [Furcifer] pardalis: Effects of dietary vitamins A and D and ultraviolet irradiation on pathology and life-history traits. Zoo Biol. 1996;15(3):279-299.