Caring for a Panther Chameleon in Captivity

Panther chameleons are an exotic species coveted by many lovers of terrariofilia due to their magnificent colors and curious customs.
Caring for a Panther Chameleon in Captivity

Last update: 26 October, 2021

Furcifer pardalis, or panther chameleon, as it’s better known, is a species of chameleon native to Madagascar. As hard as they are to breed and get hold of, caring for a panther chameleon is also very, very difficult, so this exotic animal is definitely not suitable for beginners.

However, if you’re a reptile enthusiast who has the money, this species could be a really special animal to bring into your home. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about caring for a panther chameleon.

What is the panther chameleon like?

The panther chameleon’s most striking features are its vibrant colors and large size. An adult can reach up to 9 inches long, so they’re quite big compared to other chameleons. The two sexes also look very different and it’s easy to tell them apart.

  • Males are larger and have a bulging tail base, where their hemipenis is. They also have a wide range of different colors and patterns, which vary depending on the area they come from.
  • Females, on the other hand, are smaller, pale green or pink, and have a thinner tail base.

It’s possible to identify a chameleon’s sex after six months of age. Most reptile enthusiasts tend to prefer males because of their truly amazing colors.

Caring for a panther chameleon

This is a delicate species with very specific needs. The panther chameleon’s natural habitat is in lowland deciduous forests near rivers, but they can also be spotted by the roadside in different parts of Madagascar.

They prefer open spaces where they can bask in the sun. They also use visual cues to attract females and will compete with males for territory.

What should their terrarium be like?

For this species of reptile, you will need to use inert, non-toxic materials that are easy to clean and are resistant to the temperatures that they need. Most people use mesh enclosures because they require levels of ventilation that are simply impossible with a glass or plastic terrarium.

The dimensions that you need will depend on the animal’s body length (BL), not including the tail. For example, the length should be 3 x BL, the width should be 2 x BL, and the height should be 2-3 x BL. This generally works out at about 4 feet long and 2 and a half feet high and wide for a single adult.

The substrate should preferably consist of organic soil, such as pinewood or coconut fiber. It’s also important to make sure they have plenty of plants as these reptiles can get easily stressed. Few species are quite as sensitive to their habitat as this one.

The location of the enclosure is important too, and you should place it in a peaceful place to keep any potential stress to a minimum.

Environmental conditions

As with all reptiles, lighting is really important. Some 60% of this reptile’s vitamin D is synthesized under UV-B light between 290 and 300 nm. This UV-B light also helps to disinfect their skin and get rid of parasites.

The best lamps are metal halide lamps because they emit bright light and heat, but they need resistant materials to support them. Furthermore, the bulb won’t last forever and you will need to replace it every 6-12 months.

Again, as with other reptiles, the temperature is a key factor for their bodily functions. Monitoring it closely will be essential for their survival.

In their natural environment, the temperature will vary between area and time of year, but the average is between 75 and 90 °F in the warmer seasons. You should also keep the humidity between 60 and 70%. Furthermore, these reptiles need a temperature gradient in their enclosure, with a warm area and a cooler area. Here are a couple of ways of achieving this:

  • Place a thermal blanket on the outside at one end of the enclosure. It must be on the outside so that they don’t burn themselves!
  • Place a heat-emitting light source in one part of the terrarium.

The coldest part of ​​the terrarium should be at around 75 °F and the warmest at around 84-90 °F.

You should try to use a substrate and plants that simulate their natural environment. Try using ficus, devil’s ivy, pigmyweeds, or sansevierias, and choose branch diameters that are suitable for the size of your chameleon.

Feeding a panther chameleon

Chameleons obtain water through small droplets, such as rain or dew, so you’ll need to simulate this. They can also get water from food and can obtain up to 60-80% of the water they need by eating insects or other invertebrates.

Try and maintain a balanced and nutritious diet for your chameleon, but remember that the amount of food they need will depend on their size and how developed they are. Insect larvae are high in fat whilst adult crickets, flies, beetles, mealworms, and cockroaches are rich in protein.

Make sure you remove any insects that your chameleon doesn’t eat. Otherwise, the insects might attack your chameleon while they’re resting.

If necessary, you can also sprinkle supplements, such as calcium or vitamin D, onto their food or into their water. You could even feed them to their prey shortly before putting them in the enclosure. This last method is particularly effective.

Breeding in captivity

Reproduction follows natural climatic cycles, and the males will try to attract the females using visual cues. Once the female is pregnant, she’ll show orange spots around 24 hours after mating and she’ll be more aggressive than usual.

Females usually spawn in quite deep holes, so you’ll need to make sure that they have somewhere to dig. They can lay up to 93 eggs at a time, but it’s more normal for them to lay around 30 or 40.

The incubation period also varies depending on the temperature. Treat the eggs carefully and try to avoid moving them. Since they don’t have a chalaza, the slightest movement could damage the embryos.

A panther chameleon against a black background.

As you can see, caring for a panther chameleon is a very complex task. This definitely isn’t a species for beginners.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Beatriz Álvarez Carrión. Influencia de los factores ambientales sobre la aparición de enfermedades en Chamaeleo calyptratus y Furcifer pardalis mantenidos en cautividad, 2018.
  •  Furcifer pardalis
  • reptiles magazine. Breeding Panther Chameleons, 2014.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.