Panther chameleon natural history

Panther chameleons are a large species of chameleon inhabiting in the tropical rainforests of Madagascar. They are an arboreal lizard found mostly in foliage, trees and shrubs, venturing to the forest floor only for egg-laying.

Panther chameleons are solitary animals, coming together only for breeding. This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, with female Panther chameleons being slightly smaller and remaining salmon pink colour throughout their lives, compared to the larger, more colourful males.

Panther chameleon colour patterns differ between localities, but can be any combination of blue, green, orange, red and yellow. Their colours can also change depending on their moods or to communicate with other chameleons.

Housing Panther chameleons

Due to their larger size and active nature, we recommend a minimum enclosure size for an adult Panther chameleon of 90x45x90cm (36x18x36"). However, if you have the option to go larger than this, your chameleon will certainly appreciate it. Generally, a glass terrarium is a better option for this, due to the higher humidity requirements, wooden enclosures are unlikely to last.

A good example of an adult Panther chameleon enclosure would be the Exo Terra Glass Terrarium 45x45x90cm, alternatively, our Platinum Chameleon Starter Kit is a great option to get everything you need to get started in one go.

Panther chameleon heating

Panther chameleons inhabit warm, humid rainforests, so they do best with a basking temperature of around 35°C (95°F) at the top of the terrarium, with the temperature gradient running to around 22°C (71°F) towards the floor of the terrarium. This should be achieved using either a basking lamp or a ceramic heater suspended over the terrarium to create a high basking spot.

All heating equipment must be hooked up to a compatible thermostat, for a basking lamp this would be a dimming thermostat, whereas, for a ceramic heater, this would be a pulse proportional thermostat.

Because of the enclosure size and orientation, the use of a heat mat is not recommended, as this will not work well enough to warm the ambient air temperature and create the required thermogradient for a Panther chameleon, rather, it would warm the immediate area around the heat mat and no further.

Unless your home drops below around 15°C (59°F) overnight, you will not require any additional heating for the night time, however, if it is required, a non-light emitting heat source such as a ceramic heater can be used, set to lower temperatures than during the day to mimic a natural overnight temperature drop.

Panther chameleon lighting

Panther chameleons require a UV index of 3-4 to enable them to properly metabolise vitamin D3 and process the calcium provided to them in their diet. The percentage of the UVB light required will depend on the distance between the light fixture itself, and your chameleon's highest basking spot.

If the light will be between 30-40cm (12-15”) then the Arcadia ProT5 Kit - 6% Forest should be used, or if this distance will be between 40-60cm (15-24”), then the Arcadia ProT5 Kit - 12% Desert is a better option.

Panther chameleon humidity

As rainforest reptiles, Panther chameleons prefer a high humidity environment, although they do not fare well with low ventilation which can lead to the development of respiratory infections. Care should be taken to maintain humidity levels at around 60-80%, whilst maintaining good airflow throughout the chameleon's enclosure.

This can be achieved using a simple handheld spray bottle to mist the enclosure, or you can opt for an automated fogger or rain system hooked up to a timer to do it for you. Panther chameleons will rarely drink from a water bowl, preferring to drink from running streams, so it is also important to incorporate a waterfall or dripper into the enclosure.

Panther chameleon substrate

Substrate choice is important for maintaining the high humidity Panther chameleons require. Generally, you should opt for a loose, moisture rich substrate such as coco soil.

Alternatively, if you are creating a bioactive terrarium, it is better to opt for a nutrient rich soil mix with more texture, which can either be created from soil components or purchased as a commercial planted terrarium soil mix, for example, ProRep Bio Life Forest or Arcadia EarthMix.

It is also beneficial, particularly if going bioactive to add a drainage layer to your terrarium to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged which will, in turn, prevent your plants from developing root rot. This is usually achieved using a layer of Hydro Rocks, covered by a sheet of Hydro Matting before adding the substrate. This layer can also act as a water reservoir, wicking water back up into the substrate as it dries out.

Panther chameleon decor

Since they are an arboreal species, Panther chameleons spend most of their time in the jungle canopy. Therefore, it is important to provide them with plenty of branches and vines so that they can utilise all of the vertical space they are given. Full and partial cover can be provided in the canopy using either artificial plants or live plants, with live plants generally being more beneficial as they aid with humidity levels and are also more aesthetically pleasing.

Panther chameleon diet

Panther chameleons are omnivorous, although they will consume a mainly insectivorous diet, so should be fed on a varied diet of feeder insects. In nature, Panther chameleons feed on vegetation mostly for hydration purposes, however, you can offer them the occasional leafy green to add variety and create a more natural diet for them.

Being arboreal and not necessarily the most nimble animals, it is important to regulate their diet to ensure they do not gain too much weight and can remain lightweight and agile for their arboreal lifestyle.

Variety is key with a Panther chameleon diet, but all foods offered should be supplemented according to a schedule to ensure they are getting all of the required nutrients to remain healthy. Here we recommend the following schedule - a calcium-rich multivitamin on every feed, such as Arcadia EarthPro-A, a calcium plus magnesium supplement on every fourth feed, such as Arcadia CalciumPro Mg and finally, a vitamin D3 supplement on every eighth feed such as Arcadia EarthPro RevitaliseD3.

Breeding Panther chameleons

Male Panther chameleons are usually ready to breed at around 8 months old/10-12" long, whereas, female Panther chameleons are best allowed to grow until they are around 12 months old and 14-18" long, displaying their adult, salmon pink colouration to avoid too much reproductive stress on their bodies.

Once you have two mature chameleons, you can consider introducing the pair. If they are not ready to breed, they will either show little interest in each other, or more likely, they will flatten, change colour and gape in an attempt to scare off the other chameleon.

When the male is ready, he will begin head bobbing and approach the female, if she is ready, she will allow him to approach. Copulation lasts around 15 minutes, at which point you can separate the pair (some breeders prefer to leave the pair together for a few days, to increase the chances of successful copulation).

Gestation usually lasts around 30 days, during which time you should keep your gravid female isolated and very well fed to avoid stress and ensure she is getting enough nutrients to sustain the eggs. Female Panther chameleons aren't too fussy where they lay, but you should provide her with a laying box to make things easier (although she may well decide to lay the eggs elsewhere anyway).

A typical clutch will contain around 30 eggs, which can be incubated at room temperature, around 23°C (75°F). It is best practice to dig out the eggs and lay them 1/2" apart in a laying medium such as damp vermiculite. At this temperature, your eggs will usually hatch between 7-12 months.

Care of hatchling Panther chameleons is more or less the same as that for adults, ensuring that your temperature gradient, UV index and humidity are all at the same levels required for an adult, simply in a smaller enclosure. You should ensure that there is almost always food available for hatchlings, offering your first food item 24 hours after hatching and supplementing to the same schedule as you would for adults.

Panther chameleons at a glance

Common names: Panther chameleon

Scientific name: Furcifer pardalis

Country: Madagascar

Captive-bred: Yes

Adult size: 25cm (10in) females, 35cm (14”) males

Natural habitat: Tropical rainforests

Housing: 90 x 45 x 90cm (36 x 18 x 36”)

Ideal temperature: 35°C (95°F) (warm end); 22°C (71°F) (cool end)

UV Index: 3-4

Ideal humidity: 60-80%

Diet: Insectivorous

Average lifespan: 7-10 years

Personality: Mostly friendly

Ease of handling: Easy-moderate

Cohabitable: No

Panther chameleon shopping list

  • 90 x 45 x 90cm (36 x 18 x 36”) terrarium
  • Heat lamp dome
  • Basking lamp or ceramic heater
  • Thermostat (dimming or pulse depending on the heat source)
  • T5 lighting kit
  • Digital thermometer x2
  • Humidity gauge (hygrometer)
  • Water source
  • Substrate and drainage if required
  • Branches, vines and decor
  • Formulated gecko diet
  • Supplements (multivitamin, calcium + mg and D3)
  • Spray bottle, mister or rain system
  • Reptile safe disinfectant