Those of you who have been in to see us since November (2015) will have seen our lovely shop pet Hector. We’re often asked about him, so we thought we’d give him a blog entry all of his own.
Hector is an Ambilobe panther chameleon, which means that his forefathers came from a particular area of Madagascar – panthers from different parts of the island have different colours, and Ambilobes are particularly colourful. But Hector wasn’t born in Madagascar – he’s a british boy! He was born in September 2015, and will hopefully live for anything up to 10 years, although eight is more common.
He arrived with us from his breeder in November and initially lived out the back in one of the off show vivariums; sometimes young chameleons can suffer with stress after a move and we wanted him to be as happy as possible. Once he was settled, feeding and happy we moved him out to the big bioactive vivarium out in the shop itself.
We wanted him to have as much room to move and grow as possible. When he’s fully grown he will be quite a large lizard, and will need an extensive basking area – and as chameleons don’t like to be moved, it made sense to keep him in the home he will be living in as an adult. He needs room to bask, but also places to hide; the vivarium he lives in may seem large, but it will give him the space he needs to be comfortable for the rest of his life. Chameleons need space, and we thought that having Hector in such a prominent position in the shop will help to demonstrate that to anyone wanting to buy one. Some people recommend a terrarium half the size of Hectors. We don’t think that is acceptable, once you see Hector in his terrarium you will see why.
When we first put the environment together we used the sprayer system to keep the humidity high, but that had a tendency to flood the bottom of the tank; we subsequently added a fogger to keep the background humidity up at 70%, and that works very well indeed. Humidity and temperature are controlled by an Evo pro thermostat, although we do have an extra dimming thermostat that controls a ceramic heater for night time use – it can get quite chilly in the shop overnight in the winter.
Some chameleons like to drink quite a lot all at once, but Hector likes to take little drinks several times a day so turning the sprayer on for just a few seconds over the course of the day works very well for him.
He appeared to adapt so well that we made a classic mistake and over-handled him. He went off his food for a while and seemed very unhappy, so we moved him out the back again where it is a little bit quieter and that really helped – he had a lovely quiet Christmas and was ready to start again in the New Year!
Since then he’s gone from strength to strength, and – as is very common with the species – he now knows that everyone is friendly and so wants to be out all the time. When he is out he’s quite happy to walk up your arm and makes a beeline for your head – the best place to perch and watch what’s going on!
What has been most satisfying is watching his personality develop. That’s not something we usually get to do; the new owner of any young animal we sell has that pleasure. But being part of Hector’s world as he’s grown has been great fun, although it’s hard to resist the sad face through the glass when he wants to come out!
We realised what amazing colour vision he has when he got terribly upset one weekend in May. The shop was full of people and suddenly Hector was at the front glass, all puffed up and a brilliant scarlet colour with turquoise bars, and black starburst markings on his face. We’d never seen anything quite like it, and wondered what on earth had set him off.
It turned out that a little girl who was watching his display was wearing a salmon pink t-shirt. The colour of it was a very close match to the colour of a mature female panther chameleon, and Hector was reacting to the colour rather than the shape.
There’s obviously nothing wrong with his hormones – he was giving the full breeding display that a sexually mature male gives to attract a female!
He also has a very particular way he likes to be fed. Whilst he does enjoy being hand fed, he really likes it when you hold the bucket containing the locusts (the easiest way for us to dust them before feeding them to our animals is to put a handful or two in a bucket with a good pinch of calcium powder and give them a shake) close enough to him that he can step out and perch on the edge of the bucket. Then he can sit and look in, and pick the locust he wants to eat. This method works for us too; he’s quite happy to perch and have a leisurely dinner while we serve customers. It probably looks a little odd if you’ve never seen it before though!
The only thing that sometimes can be slightly problematic with him is that he can be a little bit too friendly. If he sees someone standing close to his house he tries to climb on them, and of course the glass is in the way. He doesn’t understand glass – very few reptiles do – so he just tries harder and harder to climb out, and sometimes people touch the glass to encourage him. He can become quite distressed sometimes so please don’t be offended if we ask you to step back – we want Hector to be as happy as possible, and have all his interactions with people to be positive and happy ones.
We’re very much looking forward to seeing him mature and fill out – and who knows, maybe one day we’ll find him a nice girlfriend, and see more baby Hectors in the shop!