What to Know About Panther Chameleons

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 22, 2022
5 min read

A panther chameleon, also known as furcifer pardalis, is a reptile with extremely vibrant colors native to the island of Madagascar. They’re called ‘panther’ chameleons because the male chameleons are very aggressive toward each other. Their skin color changes with their moods, a sign they also use to indicate when they want to mate. Known for their beautiful coloration, panther chameleons are popular pets among reptile enthusiasts.

A panther chameleon is one of the most colorful reptiles in the world. Male and female panther chameleons have distinct appearances. Males display shades of blue, orange, yellow, red, and green. They are larger and have a thicker tail base.

Females are more uniform pale green, pink, or brown. They are smaller in size with a thinner tail base. Sometimes, you can detect eggs through their body walls. 

Male panther chameleons can grow to 21 inches in length but are typically smaller at 12 to 18 inches. Females grow to be about 12 to 14 inches long. Males usually weigh between 140 and 180 grams. The females are smaller and weigh between 60 and 100 grams.

Panther chameleons can live between five to eight years in captivity, depending on their care and breeding history. However, most panther chameleons in the wild only live for one to two years. Females have a shorter lifespan than males in both cases due to the stresses of reproduction and egg-laying.

Panther chameleons are native to the island of Madagascar. They are indigenous to the tropical forests but have been distributed throughout the island. They mainly live in lowland areas that range from 80 to 950 m above sea level, though they are less common above 700 m. Males tend to live in a higher elevation than females, most likely for territorial reasons. 

Panther chameleons prefer open habitats that are not overly shaded. Even though they live in dry deciduous forests, they are more likely to live in areas near rivers and roads with fewer trees. Scientists believe this behavior may be due to their need for an open space to bask in the sun. Males may also use these open spaces to direct visual signs to females during courtship and territorial establishments.

Panther chameleons have been introduced to the main island of Mauritius and the adjacent island Réunin.

Panther chameleons are insectivores. While they typically feed on crickets, panther chameleons also enjoy eating mealworms, super worms, waxworms, and other captured insects. In the wild, they tend to capture green insects, as other colors like red or black may indicate that the insects are toxic or disgusting. They very rarely eat plant material.

Panther chameleons are considered opportunistic hunters. They wait patiently for their prey to pass within the range of their long tongues before striking and capturing their prey. Their tongue is specialized for capturing insects. In addition to the adhesion on their tongue that makes insects stick, the shape of their tongue and the speed at which they move it also create a suction force. The combination of the adhesion, shape, and speed working together make their tongue an effective tool for seizing prey.

Panther chameleons can also rotate and focus their eyes separately. This allows them to observe two different things at the same time. They have a full 360-degree view around their body even when they stay still, and they can camouflage with their background. When they finally locate their prey, they quickly focus both eyes in the same direction.

Like most chameleons, panther chameleons can be affected by common problems like stress, eye infections, parasites, kidney failure, and gout

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is another common health problem that affects panther chameleons. Symptoms include:

  • Bow leggedness
  • Difficulty grasping onto branches or walking
  • A crooked back or jaw

MBD can be caused by improper diet, poor lighting, or a lack of UVB light. Sometimes, salt crystals may form on their nostrils.

Dystocia, or difficult birth, is another health problem that affects female panther chameleons. The cause of this may be parasites. Dystocia can occur in live-bearing, which occurs when the female carries the egg in her body until it hatches. In panther chameleons, the female has trouble passing the egg and may show distress signs.

Panther chameleons are tamer than many chameleons and are one of the best for adapting to indoor housing. That makes them an excellent choice for beginners, even though no chameleons are easy to take care of. 

Cage setup. Ensure the cage allows for air circulation and is at least 24 in x 24 in x 36 in. Good air circulation usually means that two or more sides of the cage should be made of screen. Some good options include an aluminum screen cage, a reptarium, or a glass terrarium. Only one chameleon should be kept in the cage, as they are solitary animals and can become distressed easily.

Temperature. Reptiles are cold-blooded and do not create their body heat. That means they rely on their environment to regulate body temperature. Panther chameleons will move from hot or cold areas as needed. They will change their color and slight body shape to regulate temperature. Make sure to provide a range of temperatures inside the cage so that your panther chameleon can adjust as needed. Try keeping one end of the cage at a preferred ambient temperature and the other at the basking temperature with a heat lamp.

Humidity. Mist the cage with warm to hot water several times daily. Also, mist your panther chameleon two to three times a day. That helps them shed and maintains the optimal humidity of 50 to 70 percent. Planting lots of greens around the cage also helps keep the inner part of the cage humid.

Lighting. Include a basking light and UVB output bulbs. Place the basking light near the top to create a warmer area. The UVB setup will help your panther chameleon properly absorb and metabolize calcium.

Feeding. You must feed your panther chameleon enough calcium to prevent MBD, especially when they are babies. Try gut-loading the feeder insects with a high-calcium diet to help your panther chameleon reach its needed intake. Don’t overfeed your panther chameleon, especially the females. Overfeeding females causes an increase in the number of eggs she has per laying and can significantly reduce their life expectancy.