Basic Information Sheet: Panther Chameleon

Panther Chameleon (Furcifer or Chamaeleo pardalis)

panther chameleon Dr. Lauren Thielen

Natural history

The panther chameleon is indigenous to Madagascar.

Most specimens in the pet trade used to be wild caught, however with changes in Madagascar’s export regulations and better understanding of the care of these exquisite lizards, most are now captive-bred.


Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Family: Chamaeleonidae

Color and size

Males may reach 20 in (50 cm) long, while females typically measure about 14 in (35 cm) long. By 2-2.5 years of age, adult males typically weigh 200- 220 grams while females weight 140-160 grams.

The panther chameleon is variably colored in green, brown, red, orange, or turquoise.

Chameleons change color as a result of complex internal and external cues involving such factors as recognition of nearby conspecifics, adjustments to environmental temperature, breeding behaviors, and basking in sunlight. Color change is generally not used as camouflage. Instead, chameleons utilize their stillness and halting gait, and to a lesser degree their coloration, as protection from predator detection.


Feed a variety of gut-loaded insects such as crickets, mealworms, waxworms, superworms, grasshoppers, silkworms, and Madagascar roaches of appropriate size.

Dust the non-breeding adult’s diet with a calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate supplement once weekly, perhaps more often if exposure to UVB light is limited. Calcium supplements should be devoid or low in phosphorus with a minimum Ca:P ratio of 2:1.

A general vitamin/mineral supplement may also be offered once weekly. The panther chameleon may be relatively sensitive to over-supplementation of vitamin A so use caution.

For more information, download the client handout: Feeding Insect Eating Reptiles.


Temperature Maintain a temperature gradient of 70-90°F (24-32°C) with a basking spot that reaches 95°F (35°C). Cage temperature may drop to 65-70°F (18-21°C) at night.
Humidity/water Maintain 60-80 % relative humidity. Offer water either by misting the plants every 4-8 hours or with an automatic watering system.
Cage size and design House adults in a large, vertical wire enclosure. Plastic-coated wire-welded mesh enclosures serve well. Minimum cage size is 2 x 2 x 3 feet but much larger is recommended.
Cage furniture/supplies Provide multiple branches or twigs for climbing, potted plants (e.g. Ficus benjamina or hibiscus) to provide visual security, and a full-spectrum light source for normal absorption of dietary calcium.
Social structure Chameleons are generally solitary creatures and do best when housed singly, however, one male with one or two females can usually coexist well in a large cage with many visual barriers. Males are moderately territorial and should not be housed together.


2-5 years
Chameleons typically reach sexual maturity between 6-9 months.

Anatomy/ physiology

Dermatologic: “Chromatophores” or specialized cells in the skin allow color change.
Respiratory: Lizards have incomplete tracheal rings.
Musculoskeletal: Chameleons are didactyl:  five toes are fused into groups of two laterally and three medially giving the foot a mitten-like appearance.
Gastrointestinal: The tongue is a complicated structure that sits within a structure at the base of the oral cavity. The tip of the tongue is normally darker where the taste buds are found.
Acrodont dentition: Teeth are not set in sockets, but instead are weakly attached to the jawbone surface.
Ophthalmic: The upper and lower eyelids are fused with only a pinhole opening for the pupil. The eyes can rotate and focus separately.
Urogenital: A renal portal system is present.
Like many lizards, the chameleon has a thin-walled bladder.
The male copulatory organ is the hemipenes.
Sexual dimorphism: Males are larger than females (see Size above).


Chameleons are most comfortable when allowed to perch on a wooden dowel or finger. When manual restraint is necessary, place one hand underneath to allow the chameleon to grip with its feet. Place the palm of your other hand over the chameleon’s back. Grasp the head behind the eyes with the thumb and index finger.


Ventral tail (coccygeal) vein

(The ventral abdominal vein is not easily found).

Preventive medicine

  • Regular physical examination
  • Fecal parasite testing
  • Quarantine
  • Use ivermectin with caution; toxicity has been reported. Avoid use in debilitated animals.

Important medical conditions

The panther chameleon is a relatively hardy species as long as its somewhat extensive and complex husbandry needs are met. Conditions that may be seen include:

  • Endoparasitism
  • Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (metabolic bone disease)
  • Stomatitis, periodontal disease
  • Egg binding or dystocia
  • Ophthalmic disease

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Bartlett RD, Bartlett P, PB, Griswold B. Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates:  An Identification and Care Guide, 2nd ed. Hauppage, NY: Barron’s Educational Series; 2010.

Coke R. Medicine & surgery of Old World chameleons. Proc Western Veterinary Conference 2004.

Coke RL, Couillard NK. Ocular biology and diseases of Old World chameleons. Veterinary Clin North Am: Exot Anim Pract 5(2):275-85, 2002.

Coke R. Medical management of chameleons. Proc Mid-Western Exotic Animal Med Conf. 2000. Pp. 24-28.

De Vosjoli P. Care and Breeding of Chameleons (Herpetocultural Library). Singapore: Advanced Vivarium Systems, inc; 1995.

Karsten KB, Ferguson GW, Chen TC, Holick MF. Panther chameleons, Furcifer pardalis, behaviorally regulate optimal exposure to UV depending on dietary vitamin D3 status. Physiol Biochem Zool. 82(3):218-225, 2009.

Szell Z, Sreter T, Varga I. Ivermectin toxicosis in a chameleon (Chamaeleo senegalensis) infected with Foleyella furcata. J Zoo Wildl Med 32(1):115-117, 2001.

Veterinary Information Network. Nosy be panther chameleon weight. VIN Boards. Available at Accessed on February 20, 2011.

To cite this page:

Pollock C. Basic information sheet: Panther chameleon. June 26, 2012. LafeberVet Web site. Available at