Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)
Welcome to the ReptiFiles Panther Chameleon Care Sheet! This care sheet was written by a professional reptile husbandry specialist, compiled based on reputable sources such as scientific research papers, natural history data, and the experiences of longtime keepers and breeders of this species. You can find a list of these sources at the bottom of this page.
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Panther chameleons are a diurnal, insectivorous, arboreal lizard native to the coastal forests in the northern region of Madagascar. They prefer to inhabit trees, very rarely coming down to the ground.
Panther chameleons are widely known as one of the most colorful lizards on Earth. They are also one of the largest types of chameleon. At 16-20” long, they exist in a stunning array of colors and have been bred in red, yellow, green, blue, and even rainbow! Males are typically much more colorful than females. And like other chameleons, panther chameleons have wide, splayed toes (“zygodactylus feet”), bulging independently-moving eyes, and a curled tail.
Panther chameleons are beautiful, fascinating pets, but they tend to be more difficult to keep than most other popular reptiles, as they are sensitive and require lots of specialized equipment. Even if you take care to provide only the best panther chameleon care, they have very short lifespans. Males of this species generally live for up to 6 years, while females only live up to 3 years.
Panther Chameleon Shopping List
These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional panther chameleon terrarium. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.
- Front-opening 24” x 24” x 48” mesh cage, or larger
- Zoo Med Mini Combo Deep Dome Lamp Fixture
- 50w Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot bulb, x2
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge, x2
- Lutron Credenza plug-in lamp dimmer, x2
- 22″ Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 OR Arcadia Forest 6% UVB bulb
- 24″ Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO fixture
- 22″ Arcadia JungleDawn LED Bar
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- Exo Terra Mister
- Zoo Med The Big Dripper
- Zoo Med Repti Cooler
- 5 gallon plastic bucket
- Live or artificial foliage (preferably live)
- Zip ties
- Arcadia EarthPro A supplement
- Repashy Calcium plus LoD supplement
Panther Chameleon Enclosure Size Requirements
Panther chameleons need an enclosure that is large enough to give them adequate opportunity to thermoregulate, explore, hunt, and generally exercise natural behaviors. They are also arboreal, which means that they are a tree-dwelling species, and generally prefer to live in tall terrariums.
This is why the minimum recommended enclosure size for a single panther chameleon is 24”L x 24”W x 48”H. If at all possible, larger (such as 48″ x 24″ x 48″) is always better!
Here are some enclosures that are appropriate for housing panther chameleons:
- Zen Habitats 2’x2’x4′ PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- Zen Habitats 4’x2’x4′ PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- Dragon Strand Tall Screen Chameleon Cage System
- Dragon Strand Tall Hybrid Chameleon Cage System
- Dragon Strand Large Screen Atrium + Drainage
- Dragon Strand Large Hybrid Atrium + Drainage
- Zoo Med ReptiBreeze 24″x24″x48″
Although it is commonly stated that chameleons “must” be housed in full-mesh cages, the truth is more complicated than that. If you live in a particularly dry climate, a full-glass, wood, or PVC enclosure may be a more suitable choice. If you live in a moderate or high-humidity climate, it’s still ideal to cover two sides of a mesh enclosure with sheets of opaque plastic to increase the chameleon’s sense of security in its environment (and thereby decrease stress).
Can multiple panther chameleons be housed in the same enclosure?
In the wild, panther chameleons are fairly solitary. They may cross paths with other chameleons in the trees every once in a while, but they don’t actively seek each other out unless they’re looking for a mate. For this reason, it’s best to house only one chameleon per enclosure.
Lighting & UVB for Panther Chameleons
Panther chameleons are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they need exposure to bright light and UVB during the day. UVB and daylight lighting should both be on for 12 hours each day.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (measured by UV Index, or UVI), distance must be considered. As a rough estimate, ReptiFiles recommends using one of the following bulbs with the basking branch placed so the chameleon’s back is 6″ below the lamp:
The lamp should be placed on top of the enclosure mesh, not inside the enclosure. For best results, use an Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO fixture.
(The above recommendations are approximations. It is strongly recommended to use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of ~3.0 at basking height.)
A UVB bulb isn’t bright enough to meet a panther chameleon’s light needs, as bright light is important to their mental health. So you will need to supplement with a bright, 6500K T5 HO fluorescent or LED lamp, long enough to span at least most of the top of the enclosure.
I recommend using one of the following daylight lamps for this purpose:
Panther Chameleon Heating Requirements
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Panther chameleons, however, are poikilotherms, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. In the wild, panther chameleons warm up by basking in a warm patch of sunlight. In captivity, sunlight can be replicated with a heat lamp.
- Basking area temperature: 85-90°F (29-32°C)
- General temperature: 72-77°F (22-25°C)
- Nighttime temperature: 60-70°F (15-21°C)
The heat lamp should be turned off about 4 hours before the other lamps turn off for the night.
Generally speaking, it doesn’t take much to achieve this low basking temperature. A couple of white 50w reptile heat bulbs such as the Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot should be plenty. Using two bulbs creates a larger basking area to heat your chameleon more evenly. However, if you notice that the basking area is too warm, dial down the heat down with a plug-in lamp dimmer or switch to lower wattage bulbs. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.
The basking area should be a vine or branch placed directly under the heat lamp, placing your chameleon’s back about 6” below the mesh. Because your panther chameleon is arboreal and will be living in a tall enclosure, the warmest temperatures will be at the top (near the heat lamp), and the coolest temperatures will be toward the bottom. You will need vines, branches, and foliage at all levels to allow for proper thermoregulation.
To measure the general temperature of different areas of your terrarium, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed on the basking surface under the heat source. The Etekcity 774 is a good infrared thermometer, and most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well.
Panther Chameleon Humidity Requirements
Panther chameleons do best in an environment with fairly low humidity during the day and high humidity at night: 50-60% during the day, and 75-100% at night as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure. Humidity levels that are consistently too high or low can cause health problems for your chameleon. However, it is natural for humidity to be lower in the warm area and higher in the cool area.
To raise the humidity in your chameleon’s enclosure (and provide an extra source of drinking water), use a pump-style pressure sprayer to wet down the enclosure every morning and evening, preferably when it’s dark. It’s also a good idea to mist again (lightly) in the mid-afternoon, or provide a dripper. An automatic misting system like the Mistking Starter system makes misting less of an inconvenience.
It’s best to also use a cool mist humidifier or fogger on and off for a few hours prior to “sunrise”. Please note that humidifiers and foggers must be used with distilled water and periodically disinfected to prevent illness. There should be no need to use the humidifier during the day. If your enclosure dries out too fast, you may need to cover another portion of the mesh.
Chameleon Academy proposes the following schedule as a baseline for keeping a panther chameleon appropriately hydrated:
- Fogger — 1:30-6:00 AM
- Mister — 1:30 AM, 6:00 AM, 9:00 PM
- Dripper — 3:00-5:00 PM
It’s also best to use distilled water for misting and fogging, as tap water is likely to clog your equipment and isn’t very good for live plants.
Panther Chameleon Substrate Options
Because of the sheer amount of water that goes through a panther chameleon’s enclosure on a daily basis, a traditional substrate layer will quickly get saturated. Instead, most keepers opt for using a drain at the bottom of the enclosure. There are many helpful videos online on how to rig your own drainage system using a table/shelf and a bucket. Here are a few I’ve found helpful:
- This thread from Chameleon Forums is an easy DIY drainage system modified from a substrate tray.
- If that doesn’t appeal to you, Chameleon Forums has another helpful thread that features several alternative DIY ideas from a variety of cham keepers in the community.
- If your chameleon’s enclosure is a custom build, Olimpia Martinotti’s homemade drainage table might be a better (and more attractive) fit for your needs.
- I highly recommend listening to the Chameleon Breeder Podcast’s discussion on drainage options: Episode 10: Chameleons & Drainage.
Panther Chameleon Décor Options
Decorations play a vital role in your chameleon’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. These items provide hiding places, encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nicer!
Branches, vines, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a panther chameleon terrarium. You can secure vines and branches with the help of zip ties looped through the mesh. Many chameleon keepers prefer to use live potted or hanging plants to maximize available foliage. (Live plants also help maintain humidity!) Arrange these items in a way that encourages your chameleon to climb and explore, provides an unobstructed place to bask, and provides a variety of options for places to hide as needed.
Panther Chameleon Food
Panther chameleons are insectivores, which means that they need to eat a variety of insects in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a quick list of safe insects you can feed your pet chameleon:
- Banana roaches
- Black soldier flies and larvae
- Blue bottle flies and larvae
- Dubia roaches
- Hornworms and sphinx moths
- Mantis hatchlings
- Red runner roaches
- Snails (captive bred only)
- Stick insects
How often panther chameleons need to eat depends on age:
- Juveniles — As much as they can eat, daily
- Adults — 5 bugs, every other day
Part of providing excellent panther chameleon care is providing VARIETY in their diet! A highly varied diet is likely to create a healthier pet that always looks forward to mealtime. So make an effort to provide as many different insects as possible.
Chameleons tend to be extra sensitive to the vitamins and minerals present in their diet. However, supplementation is still needed. Feeder insects should be lightly dusted with an appropriate supplement prior to each feeding according to this schedule:
- Every feeding: Arcadia EarthPro A (contains bee pollen)
- 2x per month: Arcadia Revitalise D3 or Repashy CalciumPlus LoD
All feeder insects should also be gutloaded with nutritious, species-appropriate food and water for 24-48 hours prior to offering.
Panther Chameleon Handling Tips
Chameleons are generally best as elegant display animals rather than a “pet” that gets taken out regularly, but they can be tamed with persistent, gentle effort.
- After bringing your chameleon home, leave it alone for a 1-2 weeks to settle in. If your new pet hasn’t eaten by the time the 2 weeks are over, do not handle and make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet.
- Introduce yourself with food via feeding tongs.
- Once your chameleon regularly takes food from your hands/tongs, encourage it to come to you. Try placing an artificial tree in front of the (open) enclosure for it to venture onto. Then you can encourage it to climb onto you.
- Always associate handling with good things, like a chance to climb in a plant in a sunny window, a tasty bug snack, or some supervised time outside. Handling is a stressful experience, but fortunately, chameleons can be bribed.
As you handle your chameleon, keep your movements slow, and never restrain it, instead allowing it to walk from one hand to another. Never grab your chameleon out of its enclosure!
Where to Buy a Panther Chameleon
If you’re looking to buy a pet panther chameleon, the best place to go is ReptiFiles’ official partner, HappyDragons.com! All breeders listed on the HappyDragons marketplace are thoroughly vetted for legitimacy and held to high standards in ethics and husbandry.
The ReptiFiles Panther Chameleon Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care guide. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.