The Panther Chameleon is indigenous to the warm and humid coastal lowlands and islands and coastal regions of northern, northwestern, northeastern, and eastern Madagascar. It has also been introduced to Reunion and Mauritius Islands and neighboring islands. One of the most common species on Madagascar, this highly sexually dimorphic species was first described by Cuvier in 1829. The larger mature males can reach total body lengths up to 21 inches but are generally smaller in captivity (12-18 inches).
Adult males, in addition to being significantly larger have a more defined helmet (casque). Head ornamentation consists of a prominent dorsolateral ridge extending on each side from the occipital region forward over the eye, along the dorsolateral border of the snout to the tip of the snout or slightly beyond. This extends into a small shovel-like rostral projection. The rostral projection has slight variations between locals. The ridge is less prominent in all females. Juvenile to adult size males are easy to distinguish by the thickened base of the tail hemipenal bulge. Hatchlings are difficult to sex reliably at less than 4 months old but a thicker tail base is evident to the experienced eye at birth in males.
Spectacular color variations and subtle shape variations of the head in males in specific populations seem clinal
(i.e., exhibit a gradient/cline
between different regions) and have been used to differentiate areas of origin. Females are usually less than 13 inches in length and their coloration does vary within geographic location but generally are uniform in coloration. Subspecies have not been formally defined but more detailed study including genetic variation may reveal distinct populations in the near future.
Geographic variation within male Furcifer pardalis:
Nosy Be: One of the most commonly found morphs in the reptile trade and captive husbandry. This northwestern island population tends to be uniformly blue-green, emerald green, turquoise with spots or patches of red or yellow concentrated on the head and anterior torso. Sky blue coloration specimens are highly prized in the pet trade but such pure "blue phase" Nosy Be pardalis have not been observed in the wild (Pronk, personal communication). The lips are bright yellow or white. Red and/or gold often radiate out from the eye turrets. Morphs lacking yellow pigmentation that are turquoise are often referred to as blue phase. Dark vertical bars often appear on the lateral surface of the body and tail when the animal is stressed. Typically, the bars are absent or very faint. Climate: Heavy rainfall averaging over 88 inches (223 cm) all year round. Temperatures average 27ºC (high) and 2ºC (low).
Ambanja: The largest sized panther morph (Pronk, personal communication) found near this northwestern town possess a light green to a blue-green body with dark vertical lateral bands of red, blue or purple. Eye turrets are often all red or a mixture of red, yellow and green especially when displaying. There has been successful mating between Nosy be and Ambanja morphs with fertile offspring in captivity, however in wild collected pardalis from both localities, there is never any doubt of their origin. This means they are probably not close relatives (Pronk) . Ambanja and Nosy Be morphs are considered a blue morph and the body shape of males and females of these locals can differ from red morph varieties. Ambanja panthers have been called the "rainbow" because of its variety of colors. However, the term "rainbow" has also been used to designate hybrids and should be used advisably. Climate: Avg. 86 inches/yr. rainfall (218 cm). Temperatures average 27¡C (high) and 23¡C (low). Very similar to Nosy Be.
Diego Suarez: Found on the northern tip of Madagascar this morph is considered a red phase panther. They have red to green faces and red, green and orange to yellow stripes on there back. Normally relaxed an overall green with dark transversal bands ,when excited this chameleon can turn yellow with dark bands. Eye turrets are often burgundy and develop black and red patterns during social displays. The local population often refers them to as the yellow chameleon. Climate: wet summers and dry winters. 36-80 inches/yr. rainfall (90 cm). The change in rainfall /humidity levels may contribute to greater variation in diapause periods in egg incubation
Sambava: Adult males found in populations in Sambava and south along the shores of the Bay of Antongil south to Tamatave are considered a orange phase panther. Sambava morphs often have red faces with black stripes in the face through the eyes. Often dark green to almost black in some close regions, the males when displaying for breeding or territorial displays to other males can become completely orange or red throughout the whole body. The Sambava and Moroantsetra morphs are almost identical in appearance.
Moroansetra: This orange- red morph has one of the largest body size of the morphs of F. pardalis. They are typically orange (to red) and white with some black striping when stressed or breeding. At rest, they are ox blood color with green and white with vertical bars faint or absent. The dorsal body is usually lighter and forms a distinct light gray or bluish longitudinal stripe. Eye turrets can be black and gray when displaying to a female or rival male. Climate: Avg. 144 inches/yr. rainfall (366 cm). Temperatures average 26ºC (high) and 20.8ºC (low).
Tamatave: This morph is in the southeastern extreme of the range of F. pardalis. Generally the body is dark green and is very similar to the Moroansetra morph, however they tend to have more red than orange. This morph may have the most intense red coloration of all morphs. Climate: rainfall of 140 inches (366 cm) per year, falling 240 days. Absolute maximum temperatures is 35.5¡C , mean maximum temperature, 23.8 - 30.0ºC(July-Jan.) and Absolute minimum temperature of 17.7ºC (Aug.), mean minimum temperature 17.7 -23.3ºC (Aug. -Jan.). June is the coldest month and January the hottest. October is the month with the least precipitation and January the month with the most, but mean relative humidity is remarkably stable year round ,81-86% (Pronk, personal communication).
Ankaramy: This morph, known as "pink pather," is found in rolling hills near the village of Ankaramy on the northwest coast of Madagascar , about 35 miles north of Ambanja. Males when in an excited state exhibit a beautiful pink coloration with a yellowish-white lateral line at mid body. This morph has a slightly elevated casque (compared to Nosy Be morph) and the 70 dorsal spines are large but narrow. Another
distinguishing characteristic is the heterogenous scalation with enlarged scales within the mid body lateral stripe. In non-stress colors the males always have the upper edges of the casque and rostral projection colored in a very light blue. Pink morphs are less abundant in disturbed agricultural and suburban areas than other pardalis morphs
preferring less disturbed habitats. Eggs and hatchlings are smaller than other pardalis morphs. The smaller hatchlings demand more attention and are more difficult to raise than the other panther local babies. The climate of the this panthers habitat is very similar to that of Ambanja. (Olaf Pronk, personal communication).
Ste. Marie: The island of Nosy
Boraha (Ille Ste. Marie), just north of Tamatave on the northeastern coast, is home to another distinct morph. The panthers from this local are a light gray-blue and can have greenish blue vertical stripes. This local can reach large sizes. This same form also occurs on the Madagascar mainland opposite of Nosy
Boraha. The females are
prodominantly "army" green with lime-green mix. When gravid ,the females bodies can be grayish-white with lime-green highlites in the eyes/dorsal/ventral regions with black vertical bands. Rainfall is heavy year round. (Pronk, personal communications)
Andapa: Southwest of Sambava, this plateau with an elevation of 1375 ft (419 m) has a heavy population of panthers. The color variants there generally resemble the reddish-green (morphs) from Sambava but often seem to have more yellow, especially when stressed. (B. Love,
For photos of
F. pardalis color morphs, please see our pardalis morph page.
General notes: All males have a continuous white stripe running the length of the body from the head almost to the vent. Adult females from all populations are highly metachromatic, especially when gravid. The basic color of a mature female in a nonsocial context is gray, brown or faint green with indistinct vertical bars and lateral stripe. When the females become receptive, the color becomes a pale, sometimes rich, orange to pink hue and any darker bars/banding lighten and disappear. When gravid or non-receptive to breeding advances by males, they attain an overall dark-brown to black with contrasting vertical bars of pink to orange in bold color patterns. The borders of these bars are very irregular and very distinct form individual to individual. A bold lateral stripe is also often present. Trained eyes can distinguish the different localities of origin of females.
F. pardalis is one of, if not the best, chameleon for adapting to indoor housing. For this reason it is highly recommended for the novice. However, it should be emphasized that NO chameleon is "easy" when compared to other, commonly kept reptiles. Females are much more reclusive and nervous than males. Adapting to a variety of enclosures, temperatures should vary from 65¡F at night to 95¡F during the day. UVB fluorescent lighting and a basking light is recommended with indoor caging. Exposure to morning sunlight outdoors is preferred. Originating in a humid natural environment, the panther chameleon readily drinks the drops off of leaves and other wet surfaces. Panther chameleons require the same regimen of misting and drip systems as do most other chameleons. Cages as small as 12"x12"x18" have been used successfully with adults but with their large size, a screen cage of at least 24"x24"x36" or 24"x24"x48" is much preferable. Sexes are best kept separate both physically and visually except for mating as panthers are quite aggressive toward conspecifics and often, but not always, toward their keepers.
Panther chameleon breeding and ecology has been described extensively by multiple authors including, R. Bourgat (1970), W. Schmidt (1994) and R. Tremper (1994). In Madagascar, active breeding occurs during the spring and summer (October through March). West coast color phase panthers (Nosy Be, Ambanja), in a more stable climate, can breed all year. East coast panthers, however, living in a more variable climate, may have a defined breeding season (e.g., Diego Suarez, Tamatave, Maroansetra) but in the controlled environments of captivity breeding can occur year round in acclimated WC and CB animals.
Females may lay up to 4-6 clutches per year but 2-3 is more typical (and preferable). Under optimal growing conditions, sexual maturity is reached at 5 months of age. It is ideal to allow females to reach mature size before attempting breeding. With high nutritional needs including growing bones and a greater need for calcium, young females can be stressed physically by breeding/egg laying and can have difficulty recovering strength following multiple clutch laying. It is important to replenish nutritional, mineral and vitamin needs
(especially calcium, vitamin A and D3) after egg laying. This will help promote optimal long-term survival and reproductive success. Direct exposure to sunlight and/or high UVB fluorescent lighting is highly recommended.
Most males at 5-6 months of age will not have obtained their mature colors (12 months of age) but the hemipenal bulge is quite evident and they are active breeders. Courting males will display a brightening of colors with striped coloration standing out (similar in territorial displays to rival males), and begin vertical, jerky head bobbing when a female comes into view.
Females exhibit sexual receptivity upon reaching sexual maturity, 2-3 weeks before
oviposition (egg laying). The brightening or lightening of coloration marks receptivity. In some morphs, this may involve a decidedly peach-colored tone along with a subduction in vertical/patterned markings. If this coloration is maintained in the presence of a male it is an indication of a willingness to mate. Receptive females allow males to approach from behind, with copulation typically lasting from 10-30 minutes. The female will often turn to gravid coloration during or within minutes following copulation but this change may take as long as a day or two. Intense black/brown and orange coloration mark gravid coloration. Females retain sperm and may require only a single mating to lay two or more consecutive fertile clutches. Males can be very aggressive during mating and it is best to remove the male once a female displays gaping with gular extension, rocking, darkening of color patterns and lateral compression. Gradually increasing visual contact (without physical contact) may lead to a later, more ritualized courtship and acceptance by a female in some cases. Pairs can be separated after a single copulation or left together for days/weeks until the female displays the threat posture and darkened coloration.
Three to six weeks after mating the female will become restless, reduce feeding and actively search for a nesting spot. The female may be removed to a large container (e.g., 30 gallon trash can) with moist potting soil, moist sand or a mixture of the two that is at least 6 -12 inches deep. A 24" depth is preferable. The laying bin should be supplied with a plant and rocks as well as proper UVB and basking lights. An alternate technique is to introduce a smaller (5-10 gallon rectangular or round) container into the home cage if room allows. Using the larger, separate, container makes it more likely that the female will find an acceptable laying site. Using the smaller, in-cage box avoids the need to move the female.
Eggs are often laid near plant roots in potted plants. Do not disturb the female once tunnel excavation begins. Allow the female to dig the tunnel, lay her eggs and complete the covering of her eggs before removing any of them. Clutches can range from 12-45 eggs depending on the female's size and nutritional intake. If an inadequate laying site is provided, the female may retain the eggs (i.e., suffer dystocia) or scatter the eggs on the cage floor.
Egg incubation: The standard technique involves spacing eggs in a vermiculite-filled container with a tight lid to retain moisture. Perlite can be used also. Vermiculite should be at 400 (0.4 to 0.7 parts water to 1 part dry vermiculite). Incubation varies from 6 months to 12 months (or longer) depending on the temperature, moisture content of the incubation medium and perhaps the locale of origin (climatic variation). If the temperature is kept at 65-78ºF hatching can occur in 6-9 months. The eggs are laid before vascularization and a 3-6 month diapause (no embryo development-dormant) is associated with this species. If incubation temperatures are too high in the early stages of incubation, diapause is extended. It is recommended that temperatures in the mid-high 60's to low 70's be used in the first couple of months with a gradual warming if one wishes to break diapause. Candling of the eggs can determine if the eggs are in diapause (yellow light) or are undergoing vascularization (pink color-blood islets). Eggs incubated at over 80ºF in early incubation can remain in diapause for over 12 months in some cases.
In Madagascar, the beginning of rainy season may cue the hatching process at 5-7 months (after diapause). Some breeders will introduce a small amount of water to the vermiculite (but not directly on egg) at this time. This is risky for inexperienced breeders because too much moisture can cause suffocation of the neonate. With extended diapause and without simulating rainy season, it is common for this species' eggs to hatch at 12 months or more with high hatch rates. Average hatchling size is 0.51 grams (Pronk, personal communication).
Contributed by Jim Amirian with special thanks to Olaf Pronk
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