The Eight-Year Journey with the Midlands Dwarf Chameleon By Seth Gavin Brendenkamp

By Christopher V Anderson
By Christopher V Anderson

I have a passion for breeding chameleons, in particular the Midlands Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion thamnobates). I have been working with this particular species from South Africa for the last 8 years, since 2006, and have learned so much about them during this time.

I first came across The Midlands Dwarf Chameleon when a beautiful elderly lady by the name of Lynn introduced them to me in the Midlands of KZN. We were in a small town called Tweedie, where my wife and I would go sometimes for breakfast or lunch and stay over in some of the many chalets available in the KZN Midlands. Lynn knew of my passion for Chameleons and introduced me to a pair of Midlands Dwarfs she found coming down the side of a pine tree in her garden. When I saw them I nearly fell off my chair, I was so amazed at the unusual nature of these little animals. From that day I filled my head with every last bit of research available on this species, however, I did not find much in terms of helpful information. I was 20 years old at the time and did not know what the species status was in the wild and/or in captivity, so I started working hard to find out. I am now 28 years of age married with 2 young daughters.

My collection started with a total of 6 Midlands Dwarf Chameleons, which became my founding breeding stock, and where I began my breeding. I made sure that the chameleons I was breeding with were not related, as the Midlands Dwarf can spend its entire lifetime on just one tree!

My wife Megan and myself had bred Veiled Chameleons successfully in captivity already and had gone through the incubation process with them, as the Veiled is an egg laying species. Watching baby Chameleons emerge from their eggs after 7 months of incubation is absolutely amazing to witness, however a Chameleon giving birth to live young, such as Bradypodion thamnobates, is incomparable.

Habitat and Distribution of the Midlands Dwarf Chameleon
Bradypodion thamnobates (from the Greek word thamnos, meaning “shrub” and “bates” meaning to “crawl or climb over”) inhabits the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. It is restricted to the Midlands at an elevation of 3000 – 4200 ft.

Current wild populations exist in Howick, Tweedie, Mooi River, Nottingham Road and small populations exist in Bulwer. The preferred habitat is bushes, shrubs and large forest trees such as maple and pine, but they have also been seen crossing telephone wires in suburbs, along the side of roads, and along garden fences.

The rainy season is from October to April, with a possibility of 100cm annual rainfall. Above 80% of rainfall in these regions falls during summer between October and April.

Summer in these areas can reach highs of 30°C+ with a humidity factor of 80 – 100%, making it very hot. During the cold season, chameleons in the mentioned areas of distribution can endure extremely cold weather, even snow, sometimes as low as -10°C, causing night frost and turning water to ice. Although not all of them could possibly make it through these harsh conditions, a large majority of them do. This tells us that this species is a hardy one and can do well in captivity with the correct requirements met.

Current Threats Faced by the Midlands Dwarf Chameleon
After 8 years of observation and dedication to this chameleon, I have concluded that the top 10 threats to this chameleon can be listed as follows:

  1. Habitat loss and destruction
  2. Traditional medicine
  3. Local superstitions
  4. Cats
  5. Dogs
  6. Deforestation for commercial gain
  7. Cars
  8. Snow
  9. Hail Storms (in October 2010 a severe hail storm nearly removed the entire population of wild chameleons in Tweedie. A reintroduction project of 150 chameleons was established and the wild population has grown since then.)
  10. Cattle grazing (baby chameleons are accidentally eaten this way)

Captive History
I started with 3 pairs of chameleons. You will see in the images accompanying this article a few pictures of my first startup enclosures, progressing towards the facility I own today.

By Tyrone Ping
By Tyrone Ping

I could have gone the quick route and just inbred all of my chameleons but I specifically worked out my bloodlines and have given each bloodline a specific “line name”, chosen via specific colour patterns and shades, produced over the past 8 years of breeding. This has been done in order to flow more and to make things less complicated. It becomes easier to keep the bloodlines from in-breeding this way.

All enclosures were built and designed by me. Currently my breeding facility is indoors. Each enclosure is fully equipped with the correct spectrum UVA/B lighting, ZooMed’s 5.0 uvb tubes used in conjunction with ZooMed’s 2.0 NatureSun tubes for natural light, fans for proper ventilation, 50w halogen heating lamps for thermoregulation and real plants for humidity factors.  Ficus plants work very well for most chameleon enclosures. Thermometers are set in various locations to monitor heat levels inside enclosures. If the heat levels rise above 30°C, the heat lamps are then switched off while the fans cool down the enclosures. On very cold days on-board fans are switched off while allowing the heat lamps to raise the heat levels inside the enclosures. The appropriate size enclosure for this species should be no less than 90cm high x 57cm across x 40cm deep.

One should be creative when creating a new home for a chameleon. Just be careful not to over-crowd the enclosure. Make sure there is not too much, but not too little. A ficus tree with some small fake vines and some climbing branches make a good home for this chameleon. The chameleon must be able to bask underneath the heat lamp. Caution is practiced when installing the heat lamp as the chameleon can be burnt by the light if it is accessible.

The bigger the better for any chameleon. I believe that cold weather is not good for any chameleon, although these chameleons can endure extremely cold temperatures as well as very high, caution and consideration should be practiced when it comes to the correct temperature for this amazing chameleon; a night time drop in temperature is ok but it must not be too much. Do not let the heat levels raise above 30°C or drop below 10°C.

Feeding and Water
Feeding and watering is done on a daily basis. Feeding diet consists of fruit flies, maggots, blue flies, crickets and grasshoppers. I find that this species absolutely loves flies and flies can be fed to them even during handling. Crickets should be fed in accordance with size: pin sized crickets for babies, quarter sized crickets for sub adults and 3 quarter to adult sized crickets for adults. The same procedure should be followed when feeding grasshoppers.

Fruit flies are taken from birth through adulthood. Blue flies are usually taken from two months of age throughout the remaining life of the chameleon. Calcium (ZooMeds Reptivite) is dusted on the crickets and grasshoppers at least once a week. This aids in vitamin D3 synthesis, preventing metabolic bone disease (MBD) by allowing correct bone development, which is aided and initiated by the UVB lighting.

Feeding commences 5 times weekly and consists of 2 – 5 crickets per chameleon. Misting the enclosures with a watering mister allows water droplets to form and collect on the leaves inside the habitat, which the chameleons in turn drink by lapping the water off of the leaves. Water commences 3 times daily as a rule without exception for +- 3minutes at a time.

Cleaning and Maintenance
The facility is cleaned Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. All glass is taken out and cleaned as well as all the enclosures inside and out. All chameleons are taken out and temporarily “boxed” (housed) until the enclosure being cleaned is finished, at which time the chameleons are put back. Plants are taken out and all leaves, branches and stems are wiped down and cleaned from faeces etc. Astroturf is lifted and the bottom of the enclosures are cleaned thoroughly. Natural Safe Cleaner is used to clean. Myself, my wife Megan and my employee Promise do the maintenance together on a weekly basis, however, the facility does get a basic cleaning done on a daily basis.

Females are introduced to males individually. If the female is receptive she will allow the male to copulate. Copulation can last from a few minutes to an hour. The female is then removed after copulation and reintroduced to her habitat, where she receives water and food offerings. The internal gestation period lasts anywhere from 4-6 months. 5 – 30 babies are born, usually during the early hours of the morning. The babies are removed from the female’s enclosure and introduced into Enclosure “A” outside, where I keep my 0 – 3 month old babies. Once I am happy with the health of these babies, they are separated according to age and/or size and then moved to my large outdoor enclosure. A release project is then undertaken in where up to 150 juvenile chameleons can be introduced into designated areas of their distribution, which is currently helping wild populations increase in numbers. Others are kept aside for breeding. 2 – 3 clutches a year are possible per female. If conditions are maintained correctly and temperatures are monitored and controlled by being kept under 30°C with + – 70% humidity, then breeding occurs and chameleons stay healthy. Watering 3 times a day stimulates breeding behaviour as well. The more a female is fed the larger the clutch of babies is in numbers and in strength. Often at times the last 1 or 2 babies are still born, a reasonable conclusion would be due to the drowning in the sack before breaking through for their first breath.

Crickets are “gut loaded” for 24 hours with carrots and lettuce and then fed to the females weekly. Calcium is given more often to gravid females than to non-gravid females to assist in the best possible nutrients for strong, healthy babies. Lights are set for 12 hours on and 12 hours off. The lights run on a 24 hour day/night timer.

Bloodlines are never inbred. We have four solid bloodlines, in accordance with colour, which helps us to have more efficient breeding programs. The names of the bloodlines are as follows: 1. Sunset Pastel, 2. Orange Sunburst, 3. Yellow Sunburst, 4. Blueblood.

Survival Rate
The survival rate of babies born depends in a few factors. Firstly, if the babies are born prematurely then not many survive due to being too weak to catch prey. Force feeding cannot be done on babies.

Generally speaking most of the chameleons born survive (with the exception of still born babies) as a result of always having a fruit flies and pinhead crickets available upon arrival, as well as giving the female a complete diet during the internal incubation period, with more calcium being added to the diet to assist with the development of the babies. Fruit flies are taken within 24 hours from birth. Pin head crickets are generally taken from day 3.

The average lifespan in captivity is 7 years. Life span in the wild seems to be a fair amount lower, around 4 years. In the event of any deaths, the body of the chameleon/s are buried 30 – 40cm in the ground. I have learned over the years to be very careful and to treat our animals with respect. The survival rate of my chameleons is now close to 100%.

Health issues
Health issues are not as common in the Midland Dwarfs as in other chameleons, however I have noticed a few health issues that sometimes occur with this species.

Anal prolapse: Occurs in some females. I have not noticed any occurrence of anal prolapse amongst any of the males. Little is known on this subject; veterinary help is required if the problem cannot be resolved. From the 7 females I have witnessed this happening to, 3 died and 4 were successfully rehabilitated. Constant watering on the affected area seems to help the process of recovery. Veterinary surgery must take place if watering of the affected area does not help.

Upper respiratory infection: Caused from poor ventilation. Is easily corrected via installing proper airflow or allowing to be kept out doors in a fully ventilated screened enclosure.

Other health issues are at a minimum with this species if cared for correctly. I really hope that this article will teach more reptile enthusiasts about this species of chameleon that I am so passionate about. To contact me please see details below.

Visit Seth’s facebook page

By Christopher V. Anderson
By Christopher V. Anderson

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