Panther chameleons (Furcifer paradalis) are 16-20” long, diurnal, arboreal lizards native to northern Madagascar. They prefer a lowland rainforest habitat and spend most of their lives in the trees.
Like other chameleons, panther chameleons have large, triangular heads, protruding eyes, vertically flattened bodies, zygodactylous feet, and a curled prehensile tail. What makes them unique is their incredible diversity of bright colors! Coloration is typically dependent on locality, but selective breeding in captivity has enhanced their natural colors. Males are much more brightly-colored than females.
Panther chameleons are not easy animals to keep as pets, despite their ready availability in the pet trade. They are very sensitive to poor care, although somewhat more hardy than other chameleon species. However, when properly housed, then can be rewarding pets that live up to 6 years.
Minimum terrarium size for panther chameleons
The absolute minimum enclosure size for a single panther chameleon is 24”L x 24”W x 48”H. Despite common claims that they “require” a full-mesh enclosure, it is actually better to use an enclosure with 2-3 solid sides, which can be done by covering the sides and back of a mesh enclosure with thin PVC panels. This helps retain humidity and give the chameleon a better sense of security in its home.
Housing multiple panther chameleons in the same enclosure is not recommended.
Do panther chameleons need UVB?
Yes! Panther chameleons require UVB lighting for their survival. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
Here are the best UVB bulbs for panther chameleons housed in a 24”L x 24”W x 48”H enclosure:
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Make sure that the fixture your UVB bulb is housed in does not have a clear plastic bulb cover, as plastic and glass block UVB. Place the basking branch so the chameleon’s back will be 6” below the lamp.
Panther chameleons also benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment. Add a bright ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.
Lights should be on for 12 hours/day. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for panther chameleons
Panther chameleons need a basking area temperature around 85°F, and between 75-80°F everywhere else, as measured by digital probe thermometers. Night temps should drop down to 60-70°F.
Provide heat for your chameleon with a couple of halogen heat bulbs placed above the basking branch. Halogen bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
For best results, use the Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture and elevate the lamp above the top of the enclosure with Exo Terra Light Brackets.
Best humidity levels for panther chameleons
Panther chameleons need low humidity during the day and high humidity at night for best health. Aim for 50-60% humidity during the day and 75-100% at night. Humidity should be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting the enclosure every morning and night with a large pressure sprayer or automatic misting system. You will also need a cool mist humidifier to run at night, connected to a humidistat to maintain humidity levels above 75%.
Reptile humidifiers and foggers should only be used with distilled water and require frequent disinfecting to keep your reptile from getting sick.
Best substrate for panther chameleons
Panther chameleons are strictly arboreal, so they don’t really need substrate to dig in or walk on. Plus, because of all the water that goes through the enclosure every day, it easily gets soggy. So, it’s best not to use a substrate with this species.
Instead, use a solid bottom with a drain into a large bucket. This will require some DIY, but is well worth the effort.
How to decorate a panther chameleon terrarium
An empty enclosure makes for a bored and stressed panther chameleon, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet relaxed and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
You will need plenty of vines, thin branches, and foliage to decorate your terrarium. Arrange them in such a way that the chameleon has somewhere to hide as needed, with an open area under the heat lamp for basking.
All climbing branches should be securely anchored to the walls of the enclosure.
What to feed to a panther chameleon
Panther chameleons are insectivores. This means that they only eat insects. Here’s a basic feeding schedule:
- Babies (0-6 months) — As much as they can eat, 1x/day
- Juveniles (6-12 months) — 5 bugs, every other day
- Adults (over 1 year) — 3 bugs, every other day
Feeder insect options: crickets, discoid roaches, dubia roaches, banana roaches, red runner roaches, black soldier flies, hornworms, silkworms
Make sure to offer a wide variety of insects, not just one or two different kinds!
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your chameleon from developing a deficiency. Follow this schedule for supplementing a panther chameleon:
- Every feeding: Arcadia EarthPro A
- Once per month: Repashy Calcium Plus LoD
Make sure that all feeder insects are well hydrated and gutloaded prior to feeding.
How to handle your panther chameleon
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Some tolerate it more than others, but generally panther chameleons prefer to be left alone. That being said, some of them learn to tolerate low levels of handling and will walk onto their keeper’s hand when offered.
If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet, you will need to develop a foundation of positive interactions. Offering food from feeding tweezers is a good way to start.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!