It is important to familiarize yourself with nutritional contents of the feeders you are feeding to your chameleon. Just as you would not feed your children junk food as their main diets, you should also be aware which insects are healthy and which are considered to be snacks.
Chameleon in the wild will eat many different species of insects to complete their nutrition need. Although it is almost impossible to exactly simulate that in captivity, you should varies his diet as much as possible. Try to have at least 3 different feeders on hand. Chameleon can pull a long period of hunger strikes when he is subjected to the same diet over and over.
I usually have 4 or more different feeders ready for my chameleon. I rotate the feeder type to avoid getting him bored.
These are insects that I consider as good feeders:
- Phoenix worm
- Hornworm (Common in US/ Illegal in Europe)
- Butter worm
- Cricket or Grasshoppers (Common in Europe but illegal in US -so, whichever available for you to buy)
- Blaptica Dubia
- Super worm
Insects #1-4 are very nutritious and can be fed without dusting
Insects #5-7 need to be dusted to balance the Ca: P ratio.
These are treat only feeders. Some insects become treat only basis due to their inefficient gutloading method (i.e: Mantis). Some due to their poor quality of nutrition (i.e: Waxworm and mealworm). And, others because of their rare availability in store (because their slow nature in reproduction or simply because of restrictions by law).
I could just eliminate insects that cannot be attainable here, but I realized there are people outside of US reading this blog. So, I decided to put them into consideration since some of the illegal insects in US are actually legal in Europe. Anyway, I compile everything into this one list:
- Wax worm
- Black Soldier Flies/ House flies/ Blue Bottle Flies/ Fruitflies and Spring tails (for neonates)
- Silk moths or hornworm moths
- Butterflies: Make sure you check the toxicity of the butterflies. Painted Lady and Cabbage White Butterflies are generally safe. Monarch butterflies, on the other hand, are Toxic.
- Rolly pollies (pill bugs/ sow bugs/ wood lice): Extremely high in calcium and chitin.
- Praying Mantis
- Snails (Illegal to breed/ purchase in couple of states -Consult your local law)
- Earthworms (Anecdotal/ feed on your own risk)
- Indian Walking Sticks (Available in Europe/Illegal in US): According to testimonies from fellow European chameleon keepers, their chameleon go nut for this insects. They are also very easy to gutload. Unfortunately, they are not available for US chameleon keepers.
I advise you not to use wild caught insects unless you are absolutely sure that they have not been subjected to Pesticides or Insecticides, parasites (i.e: snails), and metal poisoning (Rolly Pollies).
Wild caught specimens that can be used are:
- Locust/ Grasshoppers/ Katydids
- Moths (research about their toxicity)
- Certain Pantry Pests (research first before feeding them to your chameleons)
- Dragon Flies
- Spiders (i.e: Black widows, Brown Recluse, etc)
- and other poisonous insects - ALWAYS MAKE SURE THAT INSECTS YOU FED TO YOUR CHAMELEONS ARE SAFE AND NON POISONOUS
Babies (0-4 months): 8-12 small crickets (1/8 - 1/4"). You can also feed them flightless fruit flies. The rule of thumb is never feed your chameleon insects that are bigger than the width of his forehead. Some exception applies to soft-bodied feeders such as silkworms and hornworms.
Juveniles (5-12 months): 5-6 medium crickets (1/2 - 3/4") daily. Over feeding your chameleon can put your chameleon in risk of developing MBD. Here is a quote taken from Kammerflage caresheet: "The very real risk of overfeeding during this life stage is a high potential for MBD (metabolic bone disease) by misjudging the calcium ratios to food intake. It's too difficult to manage proper supplementation when offering large volumes of food. By growing your chameleon slowly and steadily through this period of their life, you are much more likely to provide them with strong, dense bones as opposed to weak, brittle bones from accelerated growth rates the chameleons can't keep up with."
Adult Males (a year and older): 10 adult crickets per feeding every other day.
Supplementing is very IMPORTANT to keep a healthy chameleon.
Wild chameleons eat a lot of variety of insect based on their nutrition need. Unfortunately, chameleons in captivity do not have that luxury. Thus, a proper supplementation and gut loading are REQUIRED to enhance the nutrition of your feeder. It is also important to notice that Gutloading SHOULD be the main method of delivering nutrition, vitamins, and minerals to your chameleon. And, supplement should act according to what it suppose to act (as a supplementary source/ as addition of the gutloading regiment).
There is no exact formula that ensures the health of your chameleon. Each chameleon is unique and you should approach with extra attention to what your chameleon needs individually. There is no STRICT guideline on how much and how often a supplementation is needed.
However, a general rule of thumb is babies and juveniles need more of it than an adult, since they are still growing.
Supplementation is achieved by LIGHTLY dusting your feeders.
I do mean LIGHTLY. Do not smother and choke your crickets with supplementations.
Overdosing your chameleon with supplementation can also be fatal.
M ------- Multivitamin with Beta Carotene (I use Herptivite)
T---------- Calcium with D3 (I use Repcal with D3)
WThFSat------- Calcium without D3 (I use Miner-All 0)
Sun--------- No dusting required
Another supplement that your chameleon need is a preformed vitamin A (Retinol). Currently, there are not enough studies that delve with this subject matter. One argument brought up is that, unlike other animals, chameleons seemingly unable to convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A (See Dr. Gary Ferguson's interview in July Folder). In the wild, chameleons get their share of retinol by eating some tiny vertebrates (lizards and small baby rodents).
This is where it gets blurry. Some people recommend using them and some do not.
I do, however, supply my chameleon with this pre-formed vitamin A once a month. Vitamin A, just like D3, is a fat-soluble type meaning that your chameleon will not be able to dump the excess. Thus, there is a risk of over supplementing your chameleon. Always remember to use precaution when you do this supplementation regime. The less the better!
There are two ways for supplementing your chameleon with retinol:
- Via feeders if your chameleon happened to like them (small pinky mice and anoles)->Be careful not to overfeed your chameleon with pinkies. Although they contain retinol, they also contain high protein that can prove to be detrimental to your chameleon's overall health.
- Via supplementation (such as fish liver oil or preformed Vitamin A soft gel for human). Puncture the gel capsule with clean needle and take A VERY TINY MINUSCULE drop and brush it on your insects once a month. Remember, human vitamin A gel has an excessive dosage of 8000 IU per capsule. The RECOMMENDED dosage according to Professor Larry Talent at Oklahoma State University is 50 IU of retinol in corn oil/week. As of today (June, 2009), I no longer use this method of delivering Retinol, due to the difficulty in dosaging the right amount. I have opted to use Reptivite without D3 (a vitamin supplement that use Pre-Formed Vit A instead of Beta Carotene. I used this once a month).
Different feeders require a different method of gut loading.
Silk worms and Hornworms ate a specific food in order to survive. Their chow are available commercially.
There is no need to add another type of gut load for these feeders. They are nutritious enough for your chameleon.
For crickets and roaches, I used dry gut load specifically made by a fellow avid chameleon keeper. Long time ago, I used gutload made by cricketfood.com; unfortunately, as of today, they are no longer in business. Hydration can be provided by water crystal or Fluker Orange cubes . In addition, I also give them fresh fruits and vegetables, such as apples, oranges, dandelion, kale, and collard greens. Avoid using lettuces (as they generally are not that nutritious), broccoli, spinach, potato, tomato, and other types of foods that contain high oxalate contents.
I would also avoid using high protein food as gut load for roaches. Many will suggest you to feed your roaches with cat food, dog food, and fish flakes. Those types of gut loads are fine, if you want to keep ROACHES as pets. But, it is NOT acceptable for Chameleon. A high protein gut load can give your chameleon gout.
You can feed your roaches dog food to stimulate them into breeding mode. But, separate the one you are going to feed to your chameleon. And, gutload them with cricket gutload and veggies I mentioned above for ABOUT 3 TO 5 DAYS before feeding them to your chameleon. This will ensure the roaches to no longer have traces of dogfood in their system.
- Free roam method: dump the crickets inside the enclosure and let your chameleon hunts. Do not let feeders overnight. The bugs will bother your chameleon at night by biting him. The benefit of free roam is the way it mimics the nature. Your chameleon will get a good exercise from hunting his food. Unfortunately, free roam makes it hard for you to monitor the exact amount of food that your chameleon eat daily, some insects might not get eaten and manage to survive and possibly escape.
- Feeder Cup method: use a semi opaque or opaque cup inside the cage. Put your feeder inside of the cup. The benefits of cup feeding are the ability for you to accurately monitor your chameleon's daily intake, minimize insect escapees, and keeps a cleaner cage since the dead feeder will be in the cup. The negative thing about cup feeding are not all chameleons get accustomed to eat from a cup and chameleon tends to become lazy since no hunting required to get his food.
- Combination method: This is the best way in my opinion. Put half of the insects free roam and another in a cup.
Do exercise cleanliness while keeping feeders, especially crickets. If you let the container, where you kept the feeders, gets dirty and moldy, guess what! Those nasty things will also get into your chameleon’s tummy and making him sick. Also, ironically, cricket cannot stand their own nasty smell. You will start to see massive death when you let the cricket container gets too dirty and too smelly.
Do not let dead feeders in your chameleon cage. Pick it up and throw it away at sight.
A chapter will be dedicated for specific feeders and their care in the future.
Source(s): Kammerflage Kreations and chameleonforums.com