F. verrucosus is indigenous to the southern and southwestern regions of Madagascar's Spiny Desert, Bourbon Islands and Mauritius. Habitat destruction, migration and human intervention have helped spread its population along most of the coastal regions in the south and southwest of Madagascar. For these reasons its populations are considered to be extensive and non-threatened. F. verrucosus generally occupies semi-desert coastal environments where day time temperatures may reach 110ºF (37.5ºC). While such areas may have little rainfall they are often quite humid so keepers must consider their hydration requirements to be significant. In evaluating local temperature and humidity data the experienced keeper understands simply because some parts of a habitat may reach extremes in temperature and humidity does not mean that the animal necessarily exposes itself to such extremes. There are two recognized subspecies. The more widely distributed the nominotypic form, F. verrucosus verrucosus. F. verrucosus semicristatus is endemic only to southern Madagascar. F. v. semicristatus males have red heads and the females are metallic red all over with a lateral mid body stripe. F. v. verrucosus males have a blue head (Euan Edwards, personal communication).
Despite its considerable size, this is a very shy species. The "spiny giant " is one of the largest chameleons in Madagascar with unconfirmed reports of males reaching up to 2 feet in length. However, it is exceedingly rare to see a specimen of 22". Most adult animals are in the range of 16"-20". It has adapted to living in semi arid environments with extremes in temperatures and low rainfall. With slender form, it often remains motionless for hours on a favorite branch basking, hiding from the heat or waiting for prey to come within range. Three color morphs have been described in males: the green-blue morph, the red-headed morph (with dark green underbelly and light green or blue dorsal region) and a darker olive green morph with longer dorsal crest spines. Adult coloration varies between sexes; females are variable in color between morphs. Nonreceptive females can be gray, taupe, rust or beige with a light or white lateral band. When receptive/gravid, females can display various orange/red coloration with the gravid redheaded morph displaying a bright rust color or dark brown with purple. The spectacular dorsal crest spines in males give this species its nickname. Males have large tubercles in a line along the middle of the sides and smaller tubercles in oblique rows on the upper side of body. The male's head appears large in proportion to the body when compared to that of the female. Males are bigger than the females (at maturity generally twice as long and even larger by weight). Males have a raised parietal crest (casque) and hemipenal bulges are clearly visible. The dorsal crest in males runs to half the tail. There may be up to 40 spines on the dorsal crest of males that can reach 4 mm in height. The female's dorsal crest has 4-5 smaller, 1 mm spines.
The vast majority of animals found for sale are WC because of limited breeding programs of this species. Deparasitizing and (de)worming are highly recommended. Although shy, F. verrucosus adapts well to captivity after initial acclimation. Screen caging requirements are on a larger scale, especially for males. Minimum cage size for males is 4'h x 2'l x 2'w. Females: 3'h x 2'h x 2'w. Individuals should be raised apart and only put together for breeding. Because of their shyness, this species will often fail to eat or move if it is being watched. They will hide by hugging the side of larger branches with their slender bodies. Visual, as well as physical isolation is especially important. F. verrucosus readily eat large quantities of crickets, flies, moths, superworms, mealworms, etc. as juveniles and will grow rapidly. Larger adults prefer larger size prey. They prefer a habitat with many branches of various circumferences with live plants provided. Temperature requirements are similar to Chamaeleo calyptratus. Daytime temperatures should range from the low 80'sºF to the 90'sºF at the basking spot. A 10-15 degree drop at night is recommended. A winter cooling period (found in native Malagasy regions) for two months may help in the acclimation of wild caught animals and regulate the breeding cycle. Their habitat should be kept quite dry but water must be supplied by a daily drip and misting regimen. Despite the low rainfall in much of their home range, F. verrucosus has hydration requirements similar to those of other chameleons. The importance of a proper misting and dripping regimen should not be minimized. Outdoor direct sunlight is recommended.
F. verrucosus is oviparous (egg bearing) and a seasonal (spring) breeder. Females deliver 1 or 2 clutches of 30-50 eggs per year. With a pronounced winter cooling period, 1 clutch is typically laid. If the climate remains temperate all year, 2 clutches maybe laid in a year. Maturity for breeding is reached at 9-12 months although they achieve sexually mature at 6-10 months. Breeding is initiated by introducing a receptive female to the male's cage. The female's receptivity is indicated by a deepening of the cinnamon/reddish tint in her coloration. If female rejects the male's advances remove her and re-introduce her at a later time. If the female does not reject the male, breeding may take place over the course of days or weeks. Remove the bred female when her darkening color is accompanied by threat displays directed toward the male. This typically indicates gravidity. The female should then be isolated. Expect an increase in her food consumption. Gestation lasts from 4 to 6 weeks. She will lay eggs in a large receptacle with potting soil. Eggs should be incubated at 68-74ºF for 9-12 months in moist (but almost dry) vermiculite (2" deep). At 9 months water may be added to the vermiculite to simulate the rainy season. Eggs will swell and the thick shell will be thin enough for the neonate to break out. Raise neonates in high humidity (60-80%). The babies are relatively easy to raise. Males can be differentiated at birth by the pronounced spines on the dorsal crest. Females have fewer and smaller spines. Crossing color morphs when breeding is not recommended.
Contributed by James Amirian
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