Monday, August 24, 2009

Oustalet's chameleon

So I got an interesting rescue about a month and a half ago. I got a call that the rescue got in a Veiled chameleon that was found here in Colorado in a tree at 9,500 feet elevation. Two hikers saw it up a tree and climbed up it and got him down. They said it looked like it had wax on it's casque (head/helmet) and that it could not use it's tongue. It was also found with a neon band around it's neck where it looked like it had been tied to a tree and broke loose. I went to pick him up the next day and imagine my surprise when I see it is not a Veiled chameleon but a HUGE male Oustalet's chameleon! To be honest I didn't know what kind of chameleon it was but I knew it was definetly not a Veiled! I went and looked through a chameleon book and found out he was an Oustalet's chameleon as soon as I left. I also did some research on the net and turns out these are the world's longest chameleon species and can get over 2 ft long.

I took him to my vet and we both decided it looked like he had a burn on his head probably from a heat lamp. Other than that his overall condition was good and he was very heavy weighing in at exactly one pound! He is also just over 2 ft long! He could not have been out in the wild for very long or he would have died. Here it gets very cold at night and the humidity can get very low, 20%. These chameleons come from Madagascar where it is warm and the humidity is high, at least 70%. He was put on antibiotics and silver sulfa ointment for the burn. Everything seemed to be going great with this guy, whom my kids named Rex:) He was eating and drinking and looking better every day. He regained the use of his tongue and things appeared to be fine.

During this time I decided to do some research on Oustalet's chameleons because I noticed that Rex looked very different than all the pictures I saw of male Oustalet's chameleons, mostly it was his color. I decided since he was so beautiful I should breed him (once recovered) so his genetics would not be lost after he died. I found a website that discussed Oustalet's as having color locales/morphs. I was trying to figure out which one Rex was so that I could find a suitible female for him from the same locale giving me better odds of reproducing babies that looked like him. I thought I had a good idea he might be an Ambanja locale based solely on his color so to be sure I contacted the author of the site who studies these chameleons in Madagascar. He looked at the pic I sent him and told me he was not from Ambanja and the reason was not just because of color, it was because of his casque. He said Ambanja locales have a more rounded casque than all other Oustalet's chameleons and that the area around the eye is always black and right around the tip of the eye lids are yellow. He sent me a pic high lighting the differences. He also said that if a splitting taxonomist were to really study them that they would prob be declared a separate species. He also said that because of this the color locales should not be mixed. The other locales also have physical differences to them besides just color. Oustalet's from the south west are much larger than other locales especially ones from Morondava which he said would be worth keeping a captive colony of. He said he thinks Rex is probably from the Tulear region because the shape of his casque. Rex has a more pointed casque than some of the other locales. Then he explained my chances of finding a female from there are very slim and why. His quote: "I would estimate that there is about 90% chance that oustaleti imported are from the Antananarivo/Ambatolampy regionand less than 10% that the animals originate from the Tulear region. Very few animals come from Ambositra and even fewer from Ambanja. This is for commercial reasons. There are specialised oustaleti "hunters" in the Antananarivo/Ambatolampy regionwhere the species is common, even in the town center and in people's yards. Oustaleti from Antananarivo are the cheapest oustaleti an exporter can get and because importers overseas generally do not care what local of oustaleti they get and pay the sameprice no matter what locality, almost every oustaleti exporter is from the Antananarivo/Ambatolampy region. Exporters are also all based in Antananarivo so it is convenient to get animals from not to far away." Then he told me what I should do about breeding, his quote: " If I would live in a country other than Madagascar, I would buy several young animals from a single shipment as chances that there are more than one locality oustaleti in a single shipment are slim. In your case, I would either pair your male with an Antananarivo/Ambatolampyor Ambositra female (I think they are , although slightly different, the same phenotype). In the meanwhile , please spread the word that oustaleti "morphs" should not be mixed. If enough people ask, may be one day exporters here will care." Since talking to him through email and learning all of this I thought it was important that I share this info with everyone else who is interested in this species. The website for color locales/morphs is:

Since then I have searched for a suitable female for Rex and found a young (captive hatched) 11 month old. She seemed perfect for him so I bought her and she has been with me for 2 weeks now and doing great. At the time I bought her I also had to buy the male of the same age that came with her as they were being sold as a pair. They are both around a foot long and the female should be ready to breed soon so I am very excited.

This is Rex
Me and Rex
This is the female I got for him:)
Both of them sitting on me (Rex was head bobbing at her in this pic)

Crested gecko care sheet

Crested gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus)

Native Habitat: New Caledonia, in shrubs and trees. Highly arboreal.

Average size: 7-8 inches including the tail. 4-5 inches without the tail.

Life span: It is estimated 15-20 years if kept properly.

Lighting: They are a nocturnal species and do not need a UV light if you supplement their diet with calcium and vitamin D3. This is already in Crested Gecko Diet, and you can dust insects with powdered calcium w/ D3. If you choose a natural set up with plants that need a light then use a regular florescent but make sure you turn it off every night so the geckos can wake up and roam around.

Compatibility: Males are territorial and can never be put together or they will fight and bite off tails and/or could injure the other male gecko killing it. Females get along and do well together in the same cage.

Diet: Insects, fruit and nectar in the wild. In captivity you can feed them a variety of insects, crickets, roaches, superworms,mealworms,waxworms and the moths that waxworms turn into. Careful with feeding too many worms because they are fatty. Especially the waxworms, they are like lizard candy. You can also feed Repashy or T-Rex crested gecko diet. Follow the directions on the bottle to mix it. Put it in a shallow dish or jar lid(what I use). You do not need to add anything to the crested gecko diet. It includes calcium,D3 and vitamins already. Crested geckos can be fed this diet exclusively if you choose to. I feed this to them every other day and once a month or so I'll give them a few crickets to chase around:) When feeding them insects it is important to always dust them with powdered calcium with added vitamin D3. Otherwise they could get Metabolic Bone Disease. Sometimes as a treat I let them lick a small bit of natural applesauce from my finger tip. Some will eat whole pieces of fruit too. I have one that takes tiny pieces of grapes or apples from my fingers. I would only give them a treat like this once a week at the most. It is best to feed them mostly crested gecko diet which you can also feed like a treat from your finger tip. Do not use baby food as a food source. It is not natural, can have additives and does not have any calcium or vitamins in it, you could add them but it's guesswork and if you add too much or too little your gecko could get sick and even die.

Heating and Humidity: Crested geckos do not come from a very hot area and do not need a heat source as long as your house does not go below 65 degrees. You also have to make sure they are not subjected to temps higher than 85 degrees or they could die. Normal house temps in the 70's are the preferred temps for crested geckos. Humidity should be around 65%-75%. You can achieve this by misting the cage every morning and night. The night time misting should be heavier because they are just waking up and will drink the water droplets. They do not drink water from a bowl so misting is very important so they can drink. For adults you can use Eco-Earth substrate and it will help keep in the humidity also. If you have trouble with humidity you can add a waterfall or cover most of the screen top with foil to trap humidity in your cage.

Cage requirements: Adults can live singly in a 10-15 gallon size aquarium. Pairs need at least 20 gallons and trios need at least 29 gallons. Bigger is always better if you can provide it. Tall space is also more important then long space since they are arboreal. Babies need to be housed in small-med critter keepers so they are able to find their food easier. When they are around 6 months old you can transfer them to a 10 gal size cage. Use lots of climbing branches and vines through out the cage. If you choose you can add a cave for them to hide in but if you have a lot of thick leaves they can hide in it is not necessary. Substrate should be paper towels, newspaper or Eco-Earth. Eco-Earth can only be used with adults because babies and juveniles will accidentally ingest it and become impacted and die. Babies and juveniles should be on newspaper or paper towels. Cage carpet,sand,bark, etc should never be used because of impaction causing death and cage carpet will snag on their delicate toes and could cause injury.
Handling: Adults tend to be more calm and will hang out or slowly walk around occasionally jumping from one place to another. Babies are more flighty and will be everywhere walking and jumping. Babies should be held for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day until they are halfway grown. They are small and could get stressed or accidentally jump somewhere and get hurt. Never grab your geckos. Always try to get him/her to walk on you or if you must, very gently pick them up and be careful that the tail and toes do not get caught on anything. If you grab or pull on the geckos with their tail or toes stuck to something the tail will come off and the toes will get injured. Tails once off never grow back. Be very careful to not scare your gecko either or it will drop it's tail by itself. Most wild crested geckos do not have tails from fighting each other, breeding or predators.

Breeding: A male can be put with 1-3 females for around a month or so or until you see mating or find eggs. Females should be a little over a year old before breeding and males can be just around 9 months when they are ready. After breeding takes place a female will lay 2 eggs 3-4 weeks later in Eco-Earth or moss provided in an egg laying area or if your whole cage is filled you will have to dig around gently to find them. Females can retain sperm and will continue to lay eggs without a male around for several months. You want to remove the male after a month or so because you want to give the female a break. He will continue to harass her and cause stress or she will get fed up and bite him on the head and could hurt him. The eggs incubate at room temp for around 60-90 days in moss, Eco-earth or Hatchrite inside of a small plastic rubbermaid container. When placing eggs in the container make sure you do not rotate or jiggle them because they can drown in their own yolk. Make an indent in the moss, Eco-earth or Hatchrite with your finger and place the egg in it so it is half way buried. Once a week open the plastic container and check to see if it is damp or drying out. The hatching medium should be damp but not soaked and if it starts to dry just spray a small amount of water on to it but not on to the eggs.

Interesting facts: Crested geckos were thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 1994. They have no eye lids and clean their eyes by licking them. Their toe pads are actually tiny rows of hair that grab and hold on to any imperfection on a surface, including glass. Their tails are semi-prehensile and they can curve them around branches for extra support and even hang upside down with them. At the tip of the tail underneath is also an extra "toe pad". It has an area with the same type of rows of hair that help them grab and hold on to branches. Crested geckos have a "cool" color during the day when they sleep and at night when they are awake they have a "fired up" color which is more bright and might even make them look like a totally different gecko.

A great informational site/forum on Crested geckos is Repashy Forums. There is excellent info as well as a lot of knowledgeable people on there about this species.
Here's the link Check it out!