Breeding Jackson’s Chameleons
One of the joys of chameleon keeping is raising baby chameleons up. There are few greater joys for a chameleon enthusiast than to see those horns grow out and those cryptic browns and whites turn green. Breeding chameleons and getting the babies is pretty straight forward. It is the raising of chameleons from birth that is the challenge. The difference between this being a stressful and disappointing experience and this being a life enriching event comes down to how well you planned for it. This page is for the keeper who is in the early stages of considering a Jackson’s Chameleon breeding project. If your female just had babies then you have skipped a few of these steps! Please jump on over to the “Jackson’s Chameleon Babies – Surprise!” page for more of an immediate crash course designed for this exact situation!
Jackson’s Chameleons are viviparous, meaning they give live birth. This makes the breeding process simpler, as the mother does the work, but it also adds an element of unpredictability. Females can store sperm and impregnate themselves at a later date. Therefore, sharing that the gestation is about six or seven months is helpful only in establishing the minimum time you have after a mating. People who purchase a single female can end up with babies in the second year with no access to a male. It is safe to assume that any wild caught female that was green when you got her is likely carrying viable sperm. Being prepared for babies is a worthwhile activity. You can find information about preparation at this . This page will be about the planned breeding program.
If you have a choice of females for your first breeding I suggest getting a small female. Young females will have smaller litters which are much more manageable. First litters for the females can be around eight babies which is a reasonable number to juggle as you get your feet under you.
The first step in the planned breeding program is to make a comprehensive plan.
1) Maternal nutrition. The health of the babies starts with the health of the mother. She will be eating for 8 to 40. Before you breed you should have worked the bugs out of your UVB/supplementation/gutloading strategy. Make each feeder packed with nutrition and allow the mother to regulate her intake.
2) Caging babies. The most involved part of this is planning on how you will keep up to 40 babies growing up healthy and where you will place them. Jackson’s Chameleons have the extra challenge that it is wise to hold on to them for at least four months, but, ideally, six months to ensure they are well started. There is a strange characteristic where many people have experienced a sudden death at four to five months of seemingly healthy off-spring. It is unclear yet what is causing this sudden decline. Until we get to the bottom of this, it is strongly suggested that you sell three month old Jackson’s Chameleons only to experienced keepers and not on the open market. You need to plan for how to handle raising up 8 to 40 baby chameleons. Your biggest challenge will be caging these babies. If you plan for this ahead of time and have it sitting ready then you take much of the panic out of walking downstairs and finding babies crawling all around the female’s cage. The basic strategy is to keep babies together in large plastic tote bins or cages for the first few months separating them as some grow faster or start being aggressive. As size differences become apparent separate them into smaller, like-sized groups. I like to have enough bins that I can have groups of four. Though it is worthwhile to have as many single residence cages as you can for the alpha males and the stragglers to be isolated. The dominance play starts immediately. They were not designed to be forced to live together in close quarters. I, personally, will split babies into single apartments or groups of no less than four. This has worked for me to provide enough community so no one chameleon becomes the brunt of focused bullying. This is my personal strategy only. Others may have different approaches that have worked for them. This has worked for me.
3) Feeding babies. It is best to feed babies as much as they will eat and as great of a variety as you can provide. Usually the easiest starter is fruit flies. T. j. xantholophus can be started on the larger of the commonly available flightless fruit flies, Drosophila hydei. For T. j. merumontanus, Drosophila melanogaster is appropriate. For T. j. jacksonii, some could take D. hydei, but if you do not know the size of the babies that you will get, D. melanogaster is the safest bet. Other feeder options include pin-head crickets, baby super worms, and aphids. They soon grow into bean beetles and larger versions of the food items. Chameleons will grow slowly on fruit files. Transition them to crickets or other, more substantial, food items as soon as they will take them. Your only warning that babies may be imminent is when a female with a voracious appetite sudden stops eating. So you might get a couple days notice. Don’t count on it though! I actually suggest chameleon keepers with live bearing females keep a dart frog or two. This way, the fruit fly cultures are always available!
4) Selling babies. Have a plan on how to will sell any babies before you breed. Jackson’s Chameleons are not high ticket chameleons. This means that it may be challenging to find homes for the babies. Talk to keepers that you have access to. Make arrangements with pet stores that you respect. Calculate out your costs fairly to develop pricing that supports your efforts. The older the babies when you sell them and the more solid your industry reputation the more you can and should charge. People who breed and then put babies out in classifieds have a hard time selling their babies. Breeders that are open with their efforts, discuss on social media and are in the public eye through out the baby raising process tend to be sold out by time it is ready to ship the babies.
The actual mating is as simple as introducing a male and female together. Even for breeding, keep the male and female together for a day or two maximum as long as she is receptive. If the female is not receptive she will puff herself up, gape, rock back and forth menacingly, and literally bite the male who is not getting the message. If the female is not receptive then separate them and try again later. To initiate the breeding ritual, the male will jerk his head in a bouncing motion while he methodically makes his way towards the female. It is at this stage that you will get a great idea as to whether the female is receptive. If not, then she will be defensive or downright aggressive. Once you get a successful mating, the male and female go back to their respective cages. At this point, it is a good idea to visually isolate the female from male chameleons for her comfort.
As the female progresses in her pregnancy, she will gain a more rotund appearance. She will have a satisfying appetite, though it will decrease as her pregnancy continues and the babies take up more and more room in her body cavity. And then her eating may suddenly stop. It is noticeable even by the beginning keepers. In fact, on social media, a keeper will post about how they are concerned about their female who was eating so well and looks great, but now refuses to eat anything. A couple days later they are asking how to take care of babies and how in the world this happened because they do not have a male!
The birthing starts very early in the morning. The female will deposit the babies as she climbs around the cage. Do not worry about them falling to the floor as their bones are very soft and they should not be harmed. The babies will crawl out of their sac and immediately disperse. This is why you will find the babies crawling all over the sides of the cage instead of hiding in the underbrush. Remove the babies as you find them and bring them to the cages or bins you have ready for them. There is a grace period where the female will not eat her babies. We do not know how long this grace period lasts, but it does mean you do not have to panic about them being in the same cage as her for the morning. The babies will start eating within 24 hours.
The babies were not designed to be forced to live in close quarters. While it is true that chameleons can be found next to each other in the wild, that is just a snapshot. What is really happening is that chameleons are moving in and out of these spaces at will. The problem with co-habitation is not when chameleons are with each other, but when they can’t get away from each other. Problems with dominance play will start almost immediately and the more experienced you are with their subtle language the more you will notice the signs. Over time you will find that some grow faster than others. The fastest growers are the dominant babies and are taking the most food. It is at this point where you will want to separate them. Make a bin or cage with the smaller babies. For any baby that is much larger or much smaller than the others it is time to put them into their own enclosure. Small babies will catch up quickly once separated. The important thing is that you have extra group cages and extra individual cages waiting for when they are needed.
Our last stop on the guided tour is a visit to the Kenyan Xanth Project where dedicated chameleon breeders are working on preserving the T. j. xantholophus bloodlines from Kenya in captivity. Stop by, and see what’s up!